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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hip Hop x Basketball -- 3: "Just Like Us"




3: “Just Like Us”
     So now we’ve seen an understandable correlation born of the similar creations of basketball and hip hop.  We’ve discussed why the participants should want to involve themselves with one another, if only from more often than not coming up from similar backgrounds themselves.  Now it is time we discuss what good reason they may have to continue and cultivate the personal-cum-business relationship(s).

     As with any connected entities, their mutual involvement will eventually espouse emulation.  One could argue that Biggie saw this coming (or had already witnessed) when, on his first album, he mentioned “either you slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot” with the at-the-time unspoken third option naturally being music.  It was ironic, because he was passively speaking out that third option by participating in it for his own out of those very same neighborhoods.  Either way, generations coming up behind the ones who made it out of the neighborhood would see their elders as having gotten out with either basketball or with rapping.  Some of them would try their hands at one of the other with any level of seriousness, while a passive interest led to some semblance of ability in the other.  It stands to reason that there would be a rapper who is decent with a basketball as well as ball players who are at least capable on a beat.

That would be precisely where the emulation began.

As early as 1993, an aforementioned Shaquille O’Neal was appearing on the albums of nationally-signed artists en route to releasing his own music as a nationally-signed artist in his own right.  Soon thereafter, it seemed that EVERY NBA player was looking to capitalize on the fact they too had grown up in an environment in which hip hop was popular; again giving itself to the fact that people tend to want to do the things that people who look like them are doing.  1994 saw the release of Basketball’s Best Kept Secret, a compilation album featuring NBA players Dana Barros, Malik Sealy, (naturally) O’Neal, Brian Shaw, Cedric Ceballos, Jason Kidd, Isaiah Rider, Dennis Scott and Gary Payton.  Work on the project was done alongside establish rap acts and producers to release what were most players’ involved first last and only forays into hip hop.
Next – literally right around the same time as B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret – was Scottie Pippen’s Sega game “Slam City,” and while a video game does not necessarily classify one as “hip hop,” the inner-city setting of the game and Pippen himself rapping in the game’s theme song surely does.  Like the above-mentioned CD, Pippen’s rapping was not very well-received and it would be his apparent only commercial attempt, much to the benefit of his hall-of-fame career on the basketball court.

     The years would see NBA players less adventurous with their attempts to break into the music realm, with items among the glowing exceptions being Chris Webber’s one shelved album and his 1999 album “2 Much Drama” and his production work for other artists.  Webber remained visible behind the scenes in the industry without getting involved in the embarrassing out-front side that some of his NBA contemporaries inexplicably did.  Beyond that, Kobe Bryant flirted with a chance at a hip hop career, most visibly in his appearance as a featured rapper on Brian McKnight’s 1998 single “Hold Me,” and naturally (and perhaps most infamously) Allen Iverson’s 2000 single “40 Bars,” recorded under the rap name Jewelz.  One could argue that the fallout from the controversy stirred by that song led to some changes in just how familiar hip hoppers were allowed to be with hip hoppers at large.

     The cross promotion of NBA players of the above-named time was largely born of a time in the late-90s/early-00s, where the media and population in general were much friendlier to rap.  Rap, though sometimes seen from inside of the industry as a mockery, was unavoidable in commercials and television.  Giving a push to someone who was more “authentically hip hop” on their exterior is never a bad idea.  People would ostensibly have an easier time believing a tattooed NBA player as a rapper than they might a soccer mom in a cereal commercial.

     Going the other way, however, things were not all the same. Save for a celebrity ballgame here and there, we don’t often get to SEE what hip hop artists are capable of on the courts (with the exceptions of the ones who abandoned dreams of athletic careers for ones in entertainment), but the connection is EASILY found in the employment of obscure references mostly left to connoisseurs or at the very least someone who has done the legwork to make a smart reference.  And to that ends, we are often reminded that the most average rapper is not near as much a thug as he would have us believe on record and in interviews.  North Carolina rapper J. Cole makes it no secret, his childhood dreams to play at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and perhaps move on to the NBA in the vein of the de-facto “greatest player ever” and fellow NC product, Michael Jordan.  He also makes no qualms that his dream changed and that the focus took him to college in New York where he would go on to make good on a desire to parlay it into a career in hip hop.  The point is that neither is easy to just wake up and do.  Considering the number of people who want and actively make attempts and careers in sports, faced against a (not-so) simple ability to make a specific set of points contained within sixteen lines of speech with mind on rhyming patterns should tell us that.

We should not therefore pretend to be surprised when someone drops a line comparing themselves to historic events involving a heroic feat on the basketball court now should we?  The mark of a good writer, even if that person gets fewer than fifty lines of speech in about five minutes, is getting and keeping your attention in time they have been given.

     The natural fact of the matter, as will become a very noticeable central theme here, is that VERY often we will find those who go on to fancy basketball as either players or fans coming up in the exact same generation, location and proximity of those who fancy hip hop music in the same manner.  A lot of the time, the connection is and will continue to be so absolute that the necessary skills to take part in either activity.  It’s only natural when ball players-to-be grow up around rappers-to-be.  Even if one goes on to go “pro” in one medium, it remains a plausible reality that he still possesses the abilities to at least passingly participate in the other, even if in the name of recreation.

     For the sake of the link between the two, it is largely a matter of physical ability.  That is meant to say that while it is realistically plausible for a basketball player to be able to rap or learn to rap out pre-written lines, it is far less so to ever think that a guy who has lived the party life that rappers most often lead us to believe they live can jump center for the Boston Celtics this coming November.  With that said, attainment of any level of success while crossing over from one medium to the other was ALL made by basketball players rapping.  The next nationally signed musician to break into the NBA or any other sport, actually, will be the first.  Homage is to be paid in whatever manner afforded by the individual tasked with giving proper consideration to the respective talents it takes to complete their task.
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