"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Saturday, May 10, 2008
by: Jorteh Senah

To paraphrase Foo Fighters’ frontman David Grohl during a rebroadcast of the 2007 VMAs when asked about 50’s and Kanye’s epic showdown on September, 11th: “This isn’t basketball; the music should be the award, not who sells more records.” The former Nirvana drummer inadvertently displayed the unique difference that makes Hip Hop unlike any other genre of music: it’s competitive, and in a sense it’s a lot like basketball.

The relationship between basketball and Hip Hop is deeply rooted in the urban, usually lower income streets of America. It's on these streets that many angst-filled future NBA players and rappers dribble the rock, sell rocks or rock the mic. Basketball has been heavily influenced by Hip Hop and vice versa: from ball players like Allen Iverson, who exude Hip Hop swagger on the court and dress the part down to the tattoos and gaudy jewelry, to rappers like Jay-Z who spit vicarious lines like, “I am the Michael Jordan of recording." Some rappers, like Master P, have taken it a step further by playing, with minimal success, for NBA teams (Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors), while ballers Allen Iverson and Chris Webber are just as guilty for their air ball attempts at rapping, though Shaquille O’neal’s platinum outputs, Shaq Diesel (1994) and Shaq-Fu: The Return (1996), are fair reasons to take a shot at the sometimes friendly rim that is Hip-Hop. So, as the 2007 Hip Hop season comes to an end and the 2007-2008 NBA season begins, let’s imagine, for the sake of those vertical and athletically challenged rappers and those inarticulate athletes, what it would be like if hip hop's premiere MCs were the NBA's perennial All-Stars.

Jay-Z would be Michael Jordan: Jay has proclaimed himself "his airnness" of rap throughout his rhymes with shrewd metaphors like, "When I come back like Jordan, wearing the 4-5 / it aint’ to play games with you / It's to aim at you, probably maim you." Like Jordan, when Hov did return after a short-lived retirement, his initial impact was impressive. Jay's comeback album, Kingdom Come, sold 680,000 units in its first week of release. However, like Mike, who scorched the Knicks with 55 points in only his 5th game back (after missing the ‘93-‘94 season while pursuing a baseball career), but only to see his Bulls eventually booted by Orlando in the playoffs, Jay's Kingdom Come was generally viewed as a sub par performance by fans and critics alike. Aside from these minor displays of mediocrity, at least by their standards, Hov's and Mike's careers have been nothing short of Hall of Fame worthy. An examination of their stats showcases their similar strangle holds on their respective endeavors. His airness' 14 all star appearances matches Jay’s 14 platinum albums (which include collaborations with R.Kelly and Linkin Park), and Mike's 6 championship rings are paralleled by Hov’s 6 Grammy awards. Both Brooklyn natives, Jigga and Jordan have also become cultural and business icons outside of their day jobs, racking up mega bucks from endorsements and business ventures while influencing generations of rappers and ball players to come. Hands down they’ve had the best rap and basketball careers, respectively, that we’ve ever witnessed.

Nas would be Allen Iverson: Both A.I and Nas have had arguably the best debuts in the history of their respective fields. Iverson's stellar rookie season included a 30-point debut against the Milwaukee Bucks; an unfathomable run of 40 points in five straight games (setting an NBA rookie record), including a 50-point game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and, of course, he won 1996-97 Schick NBA “Rookie of the Year” award. And what can be said about Nas’ cerebral classic Illmatic? It was the first album to be bestowed with a perfect “5 mics” rating by what was then considered the “Hip Hop Bible,” The Source; Rolling Stone included it in their extremely exclusive list of the “500 greatest albums of all time,” and MTV hailed it as the second best album (second only to Eric B and Rakim’s Paid In Full) on their “Greatest Hip Hop Albums of All Time” list. Now in the second phase of their careers, after ending ten-year runs with their respective old labels/teams (Nas left Colombia for Def Jam, while Iverson was traded from Philadelphia to Denver), they’ve become the legends that we always knew they’d be, and they’ve both cemented their legacy by mortalizing other legends. For Iverson it came in his rookie season with a much hyped match-up with Michael Jordan’s Bulls. In what is now considered the “passing of the torch-play,” Iverson blows past Jordan – highly considered one of the best perimeter defenders ever – with his signature crossover dribble and sinks a jumper. It’s probably the most memorable highlight of Mike on the receiving end of punishment. And for Nas, his ultimate victory came in 2001 with a career-rejuvenating verbal joust with Jay-Z. Jay was at the peak of his career when he called out Nas on the decapitating dis-track “The Takeover,” awaking the sleeping giant. Nas, who had been MIA for a few years, countered with the vitriolic “Ether,” winning the battle while reminding forgetful fans that he was…well, Nas. Allen Iverson and Nas have never been the endorsement earners and media darlings that Jay-Z and Michael Jordan have been, due to their uncompromising attitudes. Like Nas said, “All I need is one mic,” and similarly, Iverson has always just needed a b-ball.

Lil Wayne would be Kobe Bryant: Earlier this year, in a ruse to prove his proclamation of being “The Best Rapper Alive,” Lil Wayne jacked Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got” track and cleverly claimed, “And when it comes down to this recoding / I must be Lebron James if he's Jordan / No, I won rings with my performance / I'm more Kobe Bryant of an artist.” It’s one of the most meticulous metaphors ever, in the sense that Wayne, aware of Jay’s title as the “Michael Jordan of rap,” doesn’t overreach by claiming he’s the “Mike Jordan of the mike recording,” but instead compares himself to Kobe, who is the best ball player alive, and when it’s all said and done, it could be argued that he was even better than MJ. Wayne also acknowledges that like Kobe, who’s won three championships with the Lakers, he’s enjoyed success as part of the Cash Money Millionaires. However, like Kobe who is yet to win a championship as the focal point of the Shaq-less Lakers, Wayne is yet to produce a classic, multi-platinum album as a solo artist. Since entering their respective realms in the mid 90s (Kobe in 96 at the age of 17, and Wayne in 97 at 15) as boys amongst men, both Kobe and Wayne have become “the man” of their specific sports over the last two years. Kobe’s scoring binge which included an eerily amazing 81-point game against Toronto and a revered run of 65, 60 and 50 pints over three games, and Wayne’s myriad of mixtape massacres, which started with DJ Drama’s Dedication mixtapes and culminated with the versatile and virile, Da Drought 3, were unprecedented and left their peers and fans in awe of their talents. So talented are Wayne and Kobe that the only person that can stop them is themselves, which, unfortunately, isn’t a long shot. They’re both pristine personifications of the saying that “there’s a thin line between genius and insanity,” and both men’s enigmatic personalities have put them in hot water – from Kobe’s sexual assault charges and his flip flopping on his request to be traded, to Wayne’s bizarre relationship (which includes mouth to mouth exchanges of affection) with his label boss and surrogate father, Bryan “Baby” Williams, and his well documented love affair with prescription drugs and pot. Maybe it’s because both Weezy and Kobe are used to heat; after all, they’re the hottest at what they do.

Eminem would be Steve Nash: These two “great white hopes” entered their pertinent genres of entertainment and projected new paradigms of how a great rapper and ball player should look and perform. Emerging from the then Hip Hop-hollow that was Detroit, Eminem entered a rap scene that was quick to dismiss any Caucasian rapper as regurgitated Vanilla Ice or Elvis-esque bandit of the culture, while Steve Nash didn’t have it any easier as a Canadian player from a little known college (Santa Clara University), entering an NBA league that was yearning for a reincarnated Larry Bird that white fans could identify with and counter the Hip Hop generation of black athletes that were devouring the league. Both Shady and Nash had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were the real deals, and that’s exactly what they did. Though Em didn’t have the street-cred and playa allure of his many peers, he showcased his niche of rap – his morbid trailer park tales – with lyrical dexterity, frat boy farces and unrivaled emotional depth. Whites, blacks, Latinos - it didn’t matter - they ate Em’s music up and begged for seconds. Steve Nash, on the other hand enjoyed moderate success with the Dallas Mavericks – along with another Caucasian sensation, Dirk Nowitzki – which included two “All Star” selections and a trip to the Western Conference Finals. However, it wasn’t until he rejoined the Phoenix Suns, where Nash spent his first two seasons, that he took his game to an unexpected level. From that point onwards, Nash would make his team a constant championship contender, while making stars of teammates Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and most impressively, dominating the league to the tune of back-to-back MVP awards (‘04-‘05 & ‘05-‘06). Similarly, Eminem would propel his team, Interscope/Aftermath/Shady Records, to the top of the rap game by recruiting All-Star acts like 50 cent, D12 and Obie Trice, not to mention, surpassing damn near every other rapper’s record sales tally by moving over seventy million albums worldwide as well as winning highly coveted Grammy and Oscar awards. Maybe white men can’t jump, but they sure can rap and ball.

Kanye West would be Lebron James: Both Kanye’s and Lebron’s joint appearance on “Saturday Night Live” validated their positions as the poster boys for Hip Hop and the NBA, respectively. They’ve both transcended their day jobs and have become pop culture icons as a result of keen marketing and media savvy. Not many rappers can encompass the intellect and worldliness it takes to appear on the cover of TIME magazine, and not many athletes possess the playful charisma it takes to host the ESPYS. However, neither Kanye nor King James could have become media-mainstays without excelling at their craft. Their games are so similar it’s like they were plucked from the same talented dream pool. Lebron’s versatility on the court, where last season he averaged 27 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds, is a fantasy player’s wet dream, while Kanye’s colossal creativity includes rapping, producing, directing and, soon to be, designer of his upcoming clothing line. Coming off their best seasons, where Lebron lead his Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA finals, and Kanye’s Graduation album gave him his highest debut to date, while debunking the overly confident former champion of Hip Hop, 50 cent; it’s clear that their futures are more than bright, they’re blinding.


posted by R J Noriega at 9:13 AM | Permalink |


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