Posted Dec 25 2009 6:30PM
I have to pause and take a real sucka-style swipe at my big homie Sekou Smith for this week's Hang Time blog post entitled "Hip hop is not recession proof." In it, he wrote the following, "When a cultural luminary like KRS-One decides to voice Santa on a Nike MVPuppets commercial, it just hammers home how far this global recession reaches. Somebody please knock me out so I can dream about 1989, because this can't be real! And if the Hip Hop proleteriat is going to allow these sorts of transgressions against the game, then maybe it's time I turned in my membership card."
I was prepared for the worst. But then I clicked on this link and saw KRS (The Blastmaster also goes by "Kris Parker" at the time ... so, this time he's Kris Kringle ... get it?) as a gazelled, Black Santa, spitting dope holiday rhymes over an actual real hip hop beat. How was this anything other than dope? This wasn't a commercial jingle, this was an actual song where KRS-One, Lupe Fiasco as Blitzen and the Kobe and LeBron MVPuppets (voiced by David Alan Grier and Kenan Thompson) narrate a fictional game between Blitzen and his reindeer crew against Kobe, LeBron and Santa. What made the Kobe/LeBron puppets team-up with Santa to play a crew of caribou? Well I watched this clip of the initial phone call where Blitzen, in a battle rhyme, challenges his boss over an old school 808 track, telling Santa "I'll throw ya' ball on the roof." Then Santa responds here, letting Blitzen know "You're the reindeer/I'm the driver."
We can act too cool for school like the legendary KRS-One and new millenium star Lupe Fiasco are somehow playing the clown roles for some checks, but last time I looked, more than a few rap luminaries have gone the Holiday route. The bottom line is, it works. The concept, the music -- Nike got this right.
This particular commercial series with Drew Brees and Peyton Manning as the MVPuppets, though, or Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard wouldn't have worked. It just wouldn't be the same. A few years back, the league took a lot of action to try to discreetly distance itself from its overt link to hip hop culture. But, to a large extent, hoops and hop will always be connected at the hip. You can institute dress codes and have country music acts perform during halftime of the All Star Game -- the hip hop/hoops bond is too organic and natural to detach. And, right now, hip hop -- its culture, its music, its artists -- is just as consumed with the Kobe/LeBron Debate (let's not call it a rivalry until they meet in The Finals) as the rest of the basketball world.
It wasn't lost on me that multi-platinum selling artist Young Jeezy's summer banger ("Kobe LeBron (24,23)") was a diss-song meant to, as always, lay out his bona fides. No current athletes are name checked in rap lyrics anywhere near as much as Kobe and LeBron and their names are always employed as some type of analogy to demonstrate how great the said rapper is. Rap music began as mainly a vehicle for battles. The emcee would get on the mic and tell the party/neighborhood/world why his DJ was better than all other DJs. That overarching theme of competition made and continues to make hip hop unique. It is the music that most closely resembles sport and, in its sport of choice, pro basketball, there's a battle going on. Kobe or LeBron, who you got?
Wu-Tang wasn't throwing out Clyde Drexler references in the 1990s. Until Allen Iverson came along, Michael Jordan held a monopoly on rap name-drops. These days, there isn't a consensus on the Kobe/LeBron debate. One thing, though, is clear: LeBron definitely gets more love from the under-30 artists, the new new-school. New rap artist Wale is the current king of athletic references. The 25-year-old D.C. bred star even namechecked Alex Ovechkin on one of his mixtapes. He's signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation management company, which makes him and LeBron siblings of sort. He said LeBron James is someone that he and his peers look up to, a global representative of their generation. He even went so far as to draw his personal line in the sand and cast his vote for LeBron as who he'd take in a do-or-die Game 7.
"I'm going with Lebron," he says. "He's got a lot to prove. He's also got a lot of haters. He wants be mentioned with the greats and I believe that's what's motivating him."
Not everyone would agree with him, but everyone has had their fair share of hour-long arguments and shoutfests attempting to settle that score. Neither player will be able to settle anything for us on Christmas Day or their next battle on TNT January 21st. What we really need (and want, honestly) is a seven-game series for all the team and personal chips. Until then, "Kobe or LeBron" is sport's equivalent to "Biggie or Pac," "Jay-Z or Nas."
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