He’s Bringing Back D.C.’s Rhythm Section - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because good activism can also be good music.

By Joy Nesbitt

Activism is in Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson’s blood, pumping to the beat of his hometown’s distinct musical style. As the founder of the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Long Live GoGo, he seeks to give people a space for “freedom of expression in their own language.” Growing up just over the line in Silver Spring, Maryland, he has been a rapper, manager and artist in the D.C. go-go music scene since he was a teenager. An offshoot of funk born out of Black neighborhoods in D.C., go-go is characterized by the use of Caribbean drums in covers of popular music.

As many D.C. neighborhoods gentrified, you started hearing go-go less and less on the streets — with many business owners actively discouraged from playing it or holding shows, with white residents not fond of the noise or rowdy crowds. In 2019, after organizing a musical protest alongside the organization Save Chocolate City, Johnson launched Long Live GoGo as a means to protect the music and the original culture of the neighborhoods.

Go-go is D.C. Go-go is Black people.

Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson

A 180-day, Johnson-led protest in front of the White House followed, then an annual rally called Moechella, a concert featuring local go-go artists and community leaders. The success of Moechella inspired more go-go-centric protests, inviting community members to contribute to the music-making to make their demands unmistakable. 

With the recent national shift toward activism against police brutality, Johnson, 33, has shifted his focus, arguing that increased policing is a fundamental part of the danger of gentrification in Washington — with police often taking a heavy-handed approach at go-go shows. “Go-go is D.C.,” Johnson says. “Go-go is Black people. So I wanted to give people the freedom to express themselves through that.” 

Most recently, Johnson and his team led a Moechella March across the city in response to police brutality. Riding in the back of a large open truck, LongLiveGoGo and TOB Band performed for several hours as they traveled from the historic 14th and U Street intersection (aka Black Broadway) to the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza. Johnson aspires to run for mayor of D.C., and he plans to spend the next two years building up Black communities in the city he loves the most.

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