Defending Love Lockdown, Gilbert Arenas


Kanye West is the most relevant musician on the current music scene, because he operates in a dying genre that he’s somehow resuscitating by reminding everyone what it’s like to take a gumbo of music forms and make it into one thing. He has this bold vision that he may never specifically articulate, except to say that it deals with greatness and dimensionality. Some of his best work is a berth of pride and spiritual boldness. “Love Lockdown” is part exceptionalism, not one rapped lyric finds its way in; and part leapfrog into a world of little accountability. If artistic liberation metes itself out in the quixotic “experimental” album moment for every musician, this is Kanye’s Electric Circus/Perfect Imperfections/Sgt. Pepper, if you will.

Writing about Kanye evokes confusion and amazement. Mr. West for years could not get past his sense of arrogance long enough to break through as a supernova. His persona was all about vindication until further notice. Talent was his established partner in crime, of course, making it all but impossible to dismiss him based on his bristly encounters. Whatever claims to his throne he made, almost all of them pushed the meaning of hyperbolic (he compared himself to Jesus more than once). 

Gilbert Arenas suffered the same fault in his early career. One feared that his need to exact revenge on every team who passed on him in the draft (there were 30 picks before him), might prove his unraveling obsession. But he played beyond his slights, while remaining consumed with the idea of becoming even better than the marquee players. He was the Kanye West of the NBA, searching for All-Star votes even as people complimented the rapid development of his game. He led not-so-silent campaigns to expose his snubs from Olympic teams, and All-Star rosters, using every resource he had available (most notably his weblog). The arguments he laid out mirrored Kanye’s substantiation at the Grammy awards when he was excluded: a) I have the numbers b) I excite the fans c) I’m as entitled as any of these folks who are less skillful. And when Gilbert argues his case by vowing 50 points against any Mike D’Antoni team because of his role in excluding him from being Gil the Olympian…and then doing it, he concedes no humility. Ironically enough, Arenas and West both fought their battles against willful public ignorance in 2006. Arenas was eventually named to the All-Star team that year, replacing oft-injured Jermaine O’Neal. Kanye went on to release Graduation in 2007 to universal fanfare. Gilbert Arenas had one of his best seasons as well, posting six 40-point showings, two 50-point performances, and one debutant romp season-high 60 pointer at L.A. Victory is mine through vengeance, they said. But what makes this experimental lunacy flirt with untamed genius? 

A few friends of mine have been contemplating the idea of hubris as it relates to black men in popular culture. The talented ones of us who were nevertheless cast into the fringes of doubt and aspersion really never had much internal motivation to enjoy our fait accomplis because we were too busy contemplating the will to prove folks wrong. How can a man be driven if he is wrapped up in the envy of what he has not yet become in the eyes of others? 808’s and Heartbreaks is the apotheosis of Kanye West’s fragile ego rants from 2002-2006 and his devastating haunts from 2007-2008. Now that he has embraced the self-imposed suffering of not meeting even one’s own standard, he seems free to do as he pleases. 

I heard so many negative reviews of Love Lockdown — song and video — when it came out, I couldn’t help but think that it was good. Since so many people were willing to disparage it among the early experts, the masses would surely love it. No artist with a track record like West’s will be half-hearted in going left field. This song is proof of that. That no one understood it readily gave it a new insight into the abstraction of moody vainglory. When Kanye shows he’s no longer making songs to be acceptable, award-worthy and arduous, something’s up. This forthcoming album will be the change of essential composition that Graduation began a year ago. Having lost his mother, moved into a new sector of stardom, he can be the isolationist megalomaniac he always dreamed of being. Thus, hubris is not as much a factor. 

Gil Arenas does not have such a luxury. His season-ending knee surgery last year crippled him with hubris. Agent Zero returned prematurely for a playoff round against the Cavaliers, and like years past, was dispatched quickly. The most troubling part of his return is that he knew too well this particular injury could be exacerbated if he didn’t take the full recovery time. But even his supporters knew that his drive would not let him sit out the series, as much as it might serve him well in the long run. It begs some explanation. His character is bolted down by his pride, and will push him to do obscene things in the name of it. Like Kanye’s humbling moment, Gilbert’s illusion of invincibility forced him to confront some of his existential fears of failure. Whether it will improve his game or his approach to life remains to be seen. Where Kanye has tried desperately to reconcile his childhood trauma by tributing an album to his lost mother, Gil has yet to find that place of reckoning. 

Maybe having Kanye’s album on hand through the first few months on the bench will illumine a new path. Or else, what a cold winter it will be. 

Kanye’s 808’s and Heartbreaks Tracks (hat tip to the Rap Up):


Peep 808s & Heartbreak tracklist below.

  1. “Welcome to Heartbreak”
  2. “Heartless”
  3. “Love Lockdown”
  4. “Robocop”
  5. “Anyway”
  6. “Streetlights”
  7. “Say You Will”
  8. “Real Bad News”
  9. “Amazing” (featuring Young Jeezy)
  10. “Tell Everybody That You Know” (featuring Lil Wayne)
  11. “Coldest Winter”
listen to Coldest Winter 
listen to Heartless 
listen to Robocop

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1 Response to “Defending Love Lockdown, Gilbert Arenas”

  1. 1 Election Day Eve Links | Trackback on November 3, 2008 at 11:02 pm

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