Special/Signature Issues » Richmond Folk Festival

Rare Essence

Take Me Out to the Go-Go



When legendary hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh crowns you “the wickedest band alive,” your street cred is sealed. 

That's exactly what happened to the deliciously funky Rare Essence, a nine-piece go-go group out of Washington “Doug E. used to come through D.C. almost weekly and he'd call us up.  He's been a good friend to us for well over 20 years,” says founding member and lead guitarist, Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson. “We ended up doing a record with him called ‘Must Be Like That,' and in it he chants, ‘Bad, bad the wickedest band alive,' talking about us.”

The outfit also has shared the stage with Redman and Ludacris, who asked the group to accompany him live on “The Tonight Show” and the MTV Video Music Awards. Johnson isn't giving specifics, but says, “We have a few things that we're working on right now that are not definite, but it's definitely in that direction again.”

While the notable company is impressive, what really deserves attention is that Rare Essence has been throwing down sounds for more than 25 years — surviving even the death of frontman Little Benny in May.

Driven by a bona fide love for bass-thunkin' bands such as Parliament Funkadelic and Cameo, four childhood friends often would jam after school and ultimately found themselves playing go-go, a sub-genre not widely known outside of the nation's capital. The group of four grew to nine and Rare Essence was born. Its signature percussion-centric funk romps and rolls, paying homage to folks such as Chuck Brown, but also tips the hat to gritty hard rock.

Johnson has fond memories of River City. “We used to play Richmond all the time,” he says. “We did Virginia State a lot and some club where DJ Kool used to play. Richmond has always been great.” He's also quick to note for Folk Fest newbies that audiences will be surprised by the variety of music they'll experience. “Folk music is rock, reggae, R&B — everything. It's not just people playing guitars and singing ‘Kumbaya.'”

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