Second of a two-part series
Last–minute preparations continue for D.C.’s Summer Spirit Festival — an annual two-day concert (Aug. 5-6) billed by its promoters as an event that offers “great music for beautiful people.”
Two local favorites, DJ Kool and EU featuring Sugar Bear, say they’re anxious to take to the stage of the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia so they can get the party started.
Rapper DJ Kool: District Pioneer of Hip-Hop
DJ Kool has seen it all since he first began working local clubs in the late 70s where he mixed the music and rapped lyrical messages that helped people, as one old school song says, “forget about their troubles and their 9-to-5s and just sail along.”
The native Washingtonian, now living in Maryland, grew up in Southeast and says he’s always worn several hats — singing a little, rapping, serving as the MC and DJ — but always being the “hype man.”
“As the club DJ it’s all about the party, ‘raise your hands in the air,’ and I was determined to rock the place back then,” said DJ Kool who returns for the second year to the festival.
“I’d say I do a lot of things well and have always been musically inclined but rapping is really my thing,” he said. “I’m the first hip-hop artist to come out of the DMV and the first whose music went international with sales that earned me gold and platinum awards. Sometimes I wish I could have gotten the backing of a major label so even more people could have seen me on stage. But I’m not complaining. My song ‘Let Me Clear My Throat’ has been on the Billboard charts every year since we dropped it in 1996 and that makes me pretty proud,” said DJ Kool, aka John Bowman, whose greatest success came in the 90s.
He says he can’t imagine what road he may have chosen had he not found his niche in hip-hop but says he’d probably have become an instrumentalist.
“I often thought about hooking up with one of the local go-go bands as the keyboardist, in fact when I was young, I actually dreamed about joining Parliament,” he said. “I really liked Herbie Hancock too. But after I heard Melle Mel, that’s Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, I was so inspired that I knew that being an MC and rapping was my destiny.”
DJ Kool says he had a “blast” last year at the festival where he performed both days with the super-talented all-female go-go band Bella Donna and personal friends who hail from Philly, The Roots. And he’s ready for even more fun this year.
“I just want to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Arthur ‘Maniac’ McCloud, who remains a D.C. legend and the finest DJ I’ve ever known,” he said. “D.C. has some great talent and always had. I count myself blessed to be among that family.”
Sugar Bear, EU and ‘Da Butt’ … Owww!
When Experience Unlimited [EU], fronted by lead singer/bassist “Sugar Bear” Elliott, teamed up with the legendary filmmaker Spike Lee in the now-classic movie “School Daze,” America caught on to what folks in the DMV already knew about the go-go/funk band — that the group had phenomenal skills and the ability to make anyone want to dance.
And while they’ve often been referred to as a “one-hit wonder,” Sugar Bear says such descriptions of the band, who reached their height of popularity in the 80s and early 90s, breaking charts worldwide with their memorable classic “Da Butt,” continue to make him “proud.”
“Ethel Knight, a woman who watched me when I was little, said I looked like the bear on the cereal box — that’s how I got my nickname and it just stuck,” Sugar Bear said. “Our band always wanted to be large and in charge. ‘Da Butt’ helped make that happen. And what was so amazing is we went from zero to #1 in one week. Our lives changed forever. Some of our members have gone on but the spirit of EU remains,” said founding member Sugar Bear.
He says go-go is something that belongs to D.C.
“I’ve always loved rock music and it’s been part of our sound,” he said. “But go-go is our own creation here in the District. Chicago has house music and there’s the unique sound from the Dirty South. But we have go-go and people are just drawn to it. It doesn’t often get the kind of national exposure it deserves, other than ‘Da Butt’ or the music of Chuck Brown but we’ve never let that stop us.”
“Donnie Simpson broke the song on local radio and in just a few days we went from rags to riches. I had to literally quit my job. Back then there weren’t cell phones but we did have pagers. After the song hit the airwaves, mine began to explode. I’ve never looked back,” Sugar Bear exclaimed.
He notes that in 2018, he and EU will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their mega-hit single.
“Can you believe it’s still being played in medium and light rotation? We’ve had a few other top songs — none, of course, like ‘Da Butt,'” he said. “It’s great that we’re still being mentioned and that our music’s still being played. And for the record, I’d rather have one big hit than none, at all.”
“We can’t wait to hit the stage at the Summer Spirit Festival — we’re known as the party band. People will know that we’re in the house — guaranteed,” Sugar Bear said.