Music blasting, people playing double-dutch, and groups sitting on brownstone stoops enjoying glasses of lemonade. Despite some attendees being fully decked out in Michael Jackson-inspired costumes, Spike Lee’s 6th annual Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson block party was a Bed-Stuy event, through and through.
The party was located on Stuyvesant Avenue between Quincy and Lexington, also known as “Do the Right Thing Way.” The street was named for the iconic film Lee shot on that same block, and was inaugurated last year. For Lee, whose filmography is heavily-tinted with the colors of Bed-Stuy, the block party was a kind of homecoming. For the citizens of Bed-Stuy, it was a Saturday celebration for the ages.
Sway Calloway of MTV News fame and Lee himself co-MC’d the event, with DJ Spinna curating a playlist as danceable as it was varied. Besides the expected Jackson classics, David Bowie, Queen and Prince blared from the speakers. The party also featured a modern dance performance set to Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us,” and a section devoted to the legends of rap. “Before there was Jay-Z, there was Big Daddy Kane,” said Sway, before blasting Kane’s “Ain’t No’ Half-Steppin’.” He never stopped encouraging the crowd, well-aware that most of of the attendees were more familiar with rap’s newer moguls: “If you know this song, sing it. If you don’t know it, fake it.”
The rest of the rap section was devoted to other rap legends Black Star, Stetsasonic, and The Notorious B.I.G. After the dancing died down, Sway talked to the crowd about Brooklyn’s musical roots. He emphasized celebrating rap’s pioneers as much as we celebrate Michael Jackson. He also invoked a powerful message of unity, pointing out that the crowd encompassed everyone from 60’s era Brooklynites to the most recent gentrifiers. “We need to start talking to each other and stop hating on each other,” Sway said to rapturous applause. In the midst of this, a keyboard intro even the most casual Michael Jackson fan would recognize blared on the speakers.
Several of the best Jackson impersonators in the crowd took the stage, coordinating a “Thriller” routine that was as much a classic dance-off as it was an homage to the King of Pop. This trend continued throughout the set, as different costumes partiers of all ages took the stage to emulate Jackson.
Rap icon Fat Joe came onstage just as the party reached it’s peak, performing his 2004 hit “Lean Back.” Joe’s presence was marred by sound issues, but it did nothing to lessen his stage presence. Soon after, Sway came out with a fixed mic, but by then the party had begun to die down. In this silence, a Pastor came onstage to deliver a speech discussing gun violence and police brutality. Bed-Stuy being a predominantly black neighborhood that until recently had a reputation for being dangerous—the colloquial slogan for the neighborhood was”Bed-Stuy, Do or Die”—, the moment hit home. It was another moment of community before heading into the tail end of a good old-fashioned block party.
As the sun set over Bed-Stuy, with the bodegas and streets still teeming with life, there was only one possible takeaway: Brooklyn loves Michael Jackson, Spike Lee loves Bed-Stuy, and Bed-Stuy loves a good block party.