Archive for November, 2007

Live from Drew’s Rhyme Room

I wrote this as a dedication to “AWL my haterz”, to use the internet parlance.

  My Sheeey-it


First Day of NBA League Pass, Rest of My Life

I’ve had NBA league pass before, mind you. Thanks to a good friend who works in the enclaves of The L, we got discounted service and up to “40 GAMES A NIGHT!” as the advertisement goes. But, it wasn’t until I became a remote jockey, voraciously consumed FreeDarko, and led a fantasy life entrenched in statistics that I truly understood my mental relationship to basketball. This past Wednesday evening, I fully realized myself as a writer who is also a hoops fan in Norman Mailer’s scope of self-actualized modern writers.

At first, I could easily view my life through Knick-colored spectacles, likening the nineties Knicks to my own upbringing. Patrick Ewing, for instance, is a born Jamaican like I am. He emigrated to the States at fourteen, and by 18, was the Georgetown Hoyas fearsome black threat. His transition from simple Caribbean boy to national star seemed natural to me in terms of the immigrant narrative I was seeing unfold before me. My mother, grandmother, aunts and uncles had all sprouted wings (in my view) by just being “American” when it was something they weren’t originally.

Pat and John

Patrick’s tenacious rebounding suggested a workman’s mind, while his body represented the exotic, unnatural proportions of a foreign black man, draining jumpers and blocking shots. Then there was John Starks. Since I was never tall, I related more to Starks’s presence on the court as a mean, single-minded defender and three-point specialist. His erratic style of play and irrepressible passion appealed to the underdog in me like no other. Charles Oakley was the kind of brute that reminded me of the Brooklyn stick-up kids I should keep an eye out for. Derek Harper had an offensive scheme for every furrow in his brow. Pat Riley’s slick cuff-linked suits and hair recalled mafioso stereotypes and Van Gundy after him had the permanent grimace of a dour city commuter. With them (and Jordan as their antithesis) I had the apotheosis of my personality: troubled, scrapping, hopeful, ambitious and deluded. With their peaks came my peaks; their lows, my lows.


Going forward to the cultural melange that is the NBA circa 2007, I see a league much more in tune with the elements of the human condition across nations. If Ewing, Mutombo, Petrovic and Kukoc were exemplars of global impact, then Nowitzki, Ginobili, Belinelli and Deng are their upgrades. They allow for a palette of basketball outcomes that ranges beyond the UNC-Larry-Brown-Dean-Smith Play Right standards or the Krzyzewski-Duke-White-Collar Play Right And Look Preppy Doing It Model.  They broaden the scope of music in the NBA from hip-hop and grounded black culture to German hip-hop and African diaspora. The great players of today will not be nonplussed by xenophobic announcers who mispronounce their names or domestic players who insist there is only one basketball: American-style, drive and dunk, pump fist, repeat. The same way that pre-Doctor J black athletes had to deal with the weight of (manifestly) “changing the game” with new styles, foreign players do much of the same.

And that’s me. I’m trying to change the game both with my Americanized understanding of language and culture AND my immigrant-based, no excuses, blind climb to some undefined bourgeois pinnacle. Not to get all high-winded (winks at those who peep references), but I have no qualms about saying I am hip-hop or I am basketball or I am black. Every one of these interests both creates identity and allows me to see identity for what it is, a hodgepodge of disparate beliefs/realities.

Kobe’s fist of fury

Kobe…guilty of fisting? 

Fists of Fury

If League Pass proves as revelatory as it did last season, I will see why Luol Deng and I have so much in common as people besides just sharing a birthday.  I will be able to experience sadness through A.I., KG, Steph, Kobe and a host of other great players who will never spy another championship series for all their potential. Or, I will forfeit reality to live in a world of millionaire black men with no true self-concept outside of an arena. Either way, seems like my $180 will go to good use.

Souljah Boy Tell ‘Em

Soulja Boy has the best Crunk song to hit the United States scene since, maybe, “A Bay Bay” by Hurricane Chris. Both songs reside in the club and lay out a protocol for club behavior, dance steps (clapping, stomping) and represent a celebratory mode of existence once dead/dying in post-millennial hip-hop. The Southern Boy jigs have happily transplanted East Coast scowling and West Coast banging by pointing to dance as a means of expression even purer than the music and lyrics themselves. So when Soulja Boy talks about “joc’in on yo bitch a**” and then “cockin’ on yo bitch a**” we understand these actions as integral parts of the song because of their motility. You can’t enjoy it if you don’t dance, in other words. That’s all old news, though. To say that Souljah Boy, Rich Boy, Dem Franchize Boyz, D4L, Crime Mob and Hurricane Chris bring a renewed perspective on dancing is to say that they are extending from what Project Pat, Bounce Music, Outkast, Goodie Mob and UGK did before them. That redundancy notwithstanding, it’s always pertinent to view how the message gets spread through different generations. Where Master P and Cash Money relied on music coming out of the trunk — through sales transaction and menacing speaker systems — Soulja Boy is spreading his gospel through YouTube and cell phones.

Although the so-called Ringtone Rappers receive all the expected animus from their wax-laden peers, they have developed a new means of production and distribution that goes perfectly with the tinny, digitized sound of nouveau rap. Timbaland founded the digital sound while the boy Pha-Real manipulated it and spaced it out. My preference still lays with the sampled drum and kick of a vinyl record but “Crank Dat” squeezes the most that it can out of a programmed Steel Pan sound, the basis of the song’s key rhythm. The incantations that arise from the simple beating of the steel pan are sparse but just enough to make the dance gracefully simple and infectious. Just like The Macarena was aided naturally by the video that explained the dance, Soulja Boy’s viral video instructional redoubled his efforts at making the song popular. So we get everyone from high-school kids in New York City to professional athletes in the Bay Area to M.I.T. doctoral students fashioning their interpretations of the dance. The trend vaults itself from juvenile intrigue to straight-up corniness all in a matter of a hundred thousand or so video plays.

Record labels can’t get enough of this information. They feel that it somehow typifies where music is going and, if allowed, they will bottle it up just like any other product worth hocking. <!–more–>Mr. Collipark, Soulja Boy’s benefactor, even structures the plot of the debut video around the unlikely but deliberate contagion of “Crank Dat,” detailing its meandering route from phone to phone and ear to ear. But even in this self-conscious effort, could the 17-year-old behind the Superman Dance have foreseen the multiplicity of offshoots his song is responsible for? Last Sunday, I sat with two friends watching the following clips in sequence in naive wonderment about the mental agility of the younger generation. Not only have teens adapted the song to dancehalls, in the way they would “A Bay Bay,” they have molded it to different media: cartoons. The same way I casually dig through troves of YouTube gems for basketball highlights, these kids create the stuff I’m watching with simple video editing programs. Through that kind of affinity for new media, the hip-pop generation has exceeded the imposed limits of the music once more. The same way that cats had to make turntables into instruments, for lack of better equipment, artists have to dispatch of super promotional budgets to move their work. But this time, the audience response comes in the form of re-interpreted versions of the original piece. And at rapid-fire pace. In fact, the fad and its results come almost simultaneously. While Soulja Boy is cultivating his hit, another young video phenom is cutting the song to various cartoons. Hence:

All stemming from this:

I think that participatory connection between artist and listener is undeniably ill. Even iller maybe than watching a crowd of 50,000 mouth the words religiously to a Jay-Z song. Sheer numbers don’t explain the difference however. A million views on YouTube does not a platinum artist make, but Jay can’t do what Soulja Boy’s doing by the same token.