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Vince Thomas

From The Floor

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Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA and hip-hop pull off an Amazing reunion

By Vincent Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 23 2009 6:30PM

Last week, just to get fans ready and hype for the '09 Playoffs, the NBA released a new "Amazing" montage. We posted it here on NBA.com and, before you knew it, NBA blogs put it up, it was getting hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, friends were sharing it on Facebook and folks were tweeting about it on Twitter. The thing had gone viral. I got a semi-deluge of text messages and e-mails.

"Dude, you see the new Amazing joint?" The "Where Amazing Happens" and "Where Will Amazing Happen" commercials are ubiquitous, but this new montage featured familiar plays -- except this time they're backed by Kanye West's "Amazing," off his recent double-platinum 808's and Heartbreak. My dude and SLAM colleague Lang Whitaker said it best in his Links blog. "Yay! No more Pussycat Dolls and no more Black Eyed Peas." Thank You.

Pretty soon, according to NBA sources, the new Kanye-assisted Amazing shorts will move from the Web to televised commercials. This signals two important and interesting cultural shifts. 1.) The NBA isn't scared of hip-hop music anymore. 2.) Hip-hop -- at least much of the new synthesized, homogenized rap music -- isn't scary anymore.

I know that Kanye isn't exactly rapping on "Amazing," choosing to go with his cringe-worthy, vocoded croon (man, I wish I could get the Late Registration Kanye back), but he was a hip-hop artist before he's a pop star. And, no matter if it's my guess that Kanye dribbles with two hands and probably plays the "outstretched, stiff-arm" defense where he mauls you like a cornerback, Kanye linking up with the NBA is nothing but a good thing. Let's go ahead and call it progress.

We shouldn't forget that, less than five years ago, a few months before the NBA instituted a dress code, the league thought it was dope to trot out country singers Big & Rich to entertain us during the 2005 All-Star Game in Denver. It was like they thought: "Look, we're still somewhat suffering from a disconnect with 'Middle America', so let's go get some cowboys to square dance on stage." Maybe all that was needed back then. It is definitely not needed now.

Hip-hop has officially reached assimilation. 50 Cent was the biggest star in 2005. Kanye and Lil' Wayne are the biggest stars today. Even the more "hood" artists like Young Jeezy and T.I. are a far more polished and less anti-social set than in years past. T.I. sat courtside at the Hawks-Heat Game 2 and, if it weren't for pigmentation, I wouldn't have been able to tell him apart from Justin Timberlake. True, T.I. is heading to the pin for a year on a weapon's conviction, but it's always been more of an image thing when it comes to the discomfort in the NBA/hip-hop tango.

The two sides -- the NBA and hip-hop -- are beginning to meet in the middle. The NBA is becoming more tolerant (again) and hip-hop is growing up. That might sound like an indictment of both, like I'm saying that the NBA's previous stance was discriminatory or that hip-hop was juvenile. And, well, yeah, I kinda am saying that. My peers and I grew up on some confrontational, rebellious, anti-establishment music. Some of our favorite emcees ranged from odd to belligerent to sociopathic. It's cool if you identify and enjoy that -- and many of the Gen Xers that played in the NBA obviously dug it, as I did. But it's tough for a major sports league to so closely align itself with that kind of culture. That's just a fact. Commissioner David Stern and the owners recognized this and acted accordingly. Yeah, we still heard some rap music during games. The NBA/hip-hop relationship wasn't totally severed. That's why Destiny's Child reunited to perform at the 2006 All-Star game in Houston and not the Geto Boys.

Then something happened. Dress changed, attitudes changed, aspirations changed. Don't let me get you twisted. There is still a very strong embrace of the thug-motif for many young men. But most of the athletes and artists of ambition have adopted a centrist's approach. Allen Iverson and his set were figurative middle fingers, LeBron and his set are figurative handshakes. On the other side, a lot of your favorite rappers do all they can to move like a CEO, as opposed to a dope-boy. Others, like Kanye and Lil' Wayne are leaping out of the hip-hop box for a more genre-bending sound and aesthetic. Weezy plays guitar ... and debates Skip Bayless on ESPN's First and Ten.

What we have now is a dual climate where Kanye's people can approach the NBA with "Amazing," the league's marketing camp can listen and, as marketing director David Cooper said, "it was a no-brainer."

"We already had our promo campaign in place, but thought that we would do an Internet-based viral campaign which has worked out quite successfully. The viral campaign was such a hit that we decided to make TV commercials."

It's not all love just yet. The league tested the water with the Internet video first. The Web version doesn't feature any of Young Jeezy's more traditional rapping. But the two sides definitely seem to in reconciliation mode.

Kanye posted the Internet video on his blog with the caption "YOOOOOO EVERYBODY... AMAZING IS THE OFFICIAL THEME SONG OF THE NBA PLAYOFFS!!!!!!!! THANK YOU TO EVERYBODY WHO HELPED MAKE THIS HAPPEN!!!"

Kanye's happy. The NBA is happy. The fans -- at least temporarily freed from that Pussycat Dolls tripe -- we're happy.

"The NBA, Where Hip-Hop Happens ... Again."

Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at vincethomas79@gmail.com or follow him on twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.

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