Hip Hop x Basketball -- 2: Acknowledgement and Acceptance

2: Acknowledgement and Acceptance
     With a mind fully focused on the facts that basketball remains a sport that requires VERY little to get into as far as resources, and hip hop a musical medium that (at the time) required little in the way of classical musical training, it seems only natural that kids from lower-rent areas would be into either, or even both of the two simultaneously.  The connection between participants of the two is more than natural.

     What could not be assumed was that either would be accepted as continuingly viable forms of entertainment or even recreational activities.  For what they were and the relative obscurity from whence they came, they would surely be a hard sell to say the least.
With that in mind, it is (or was) only fair that both would initially cultivate and grow in areas with less-than-affluent populations and grow from there up, sometimes (or often) moving those less-than-affluent on to greener pastures for their troubles.  One could refer to it as “the way out.”  Legendary street ball parks can be found all around the US; but seemingly most especially in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles are remembered just as vividly by current and former NBA stars as they are hip hop artists who happened to grow up near them. While understandably coincidental, this remains far from surprising.  When something builds such a grassroots following, it is only natural that it becomes difficult to ignore.  What comes next is the acknowledgment as commercially viable, and that is when the people with the deep pockets and check books come alive and look to get on the gravy train.  The fact that either hip hop or basketball went on for such short periods of time (basketball was a demonstration sport as quickly as the 1904 Olympics and rap acts were getting record deals by 1979) is particularly surprising.

What also shouldn’t come as a surprise is how little time it took for hip hop in general to acknowledge basketball.  Again, giving everything to recognition of people who happen to look like you who are doing the things you might have wanted to do under a different set of circumstances means a great much.
Steven Wiley’s “Basketball,” performed by Kurtis Blow on his 1984 album Ego Trip is accepted as the first hip hop song acknowledging the sport, and to this day is hailed as one of the best, a benchmark on the subject in the genre.  The gamut from there has been everything from embarrassing to downright silly.  What we see more often than not has become a few-lines-long reference or nod to a player, team or organization in a rap song instead of a whole song but it has never been without question that one side has been paying attention to the other with a mind quite obviously exuding a mutual respect from one side to the other.

     In the years that followed, it was common to see basketball as the predominantly-represented sport in hip hop or “urban” music videos, often with the involvement of professional basketball stars at that.  Consideration can be given to the spillover into R&B and pop musical mediums as well.  No one will ever forget Michael Jackson’s 1992 single “Jam” (featuring Heavy D. as well if we’re in need of a connection to hip hop), or its video in which he taught then-rising-legend Michael Jordan how to dance and in turn MJ taught him to play basketball.

     Beyond that, Shaquille O’Neal was and has remained a regular occurrence in rap videos - and not necessarily his own.  The remainder of involved parties shown in videos or generally connected to the community through the years is nearly innumerable, cementing that VERY early on, hip hop and basketball were to be inseparable entities and that the relationship was consensual.

     Heltah Skeltah released two songs in 1995 to this effect when their single “Operation Lockdown” and B-Side to another single, named “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshkah” (which took legs enough to become a single on its own, even getting a video release), featuring O.G.C. played out as a 5:03-long rap-group-as-a-basketball-team metaphor, right down to the use of the name “Fab 5” for the assembly of the two groups into one super group. Each song would serve as the groups’ highest-charting singles to date.
Later we would see Joe Budden, with Paul Cain and Fabolous hint at a group release that never materialized on any commercial release named “The Triangle Offense,” thusly named for the offensive scheme masterminded by Bulls/Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson’s assistant Tex Winter.  Noteworthy in the use is that the Triangle Offense in itself had led directly to a nearly-indefensible scheme that had earned Jackson three separate instances of three-straight NBA championships.  Again, the group never materialized into anything more than a DJ Clue-hosted mix tape at the time, but the fact remains that informed attention was being paid from somewhere that mattered.

     In the name of commercial viability – the only kind that lends any legitimate longevity, it seem – the acknowledgment of the two by the general populace was more important than acknowledgment one another.  It was at this point that each seemed realize a goal of perhaps being more about not being exclusively acknowledged by smaller groups and instead go for a global audience.  If hip hop’s “money machine” days began with the 1983/84 establishment of Def Jam and the NBA’s major shift in popularity can be traced to David Stern’s 1984 ascension to the role of commissioner, no surprise is left as to the time-related connection between their mediums.  As ever, no INTENTIONS were made to have the two grow together so closely at least not at initial conceptions.  At the time, basketball players were yet already world-class athletes and rappers were still street-corner thugs and drug dealers.  Involving a level of profitability and changing of opportunities, though, gave those “street-corner thugs” opportunities once only possessed for those with opportunities to get off of that corner (i.e. participation in sports, uninhibited education access, etc…) and all of a sudden we as the buying public HAD to notice that the guy who could dunk from the free-throw line was from the same neighborhood the guy making his own way rapping about the crack he sold was talking about.

     With a simple connection made, there should be no issue with getting the participants themselves to acknowledge one another, but it would take the complicit involvement of those participants to get us ALL on board.  Everyone remembers the as-depicted (and usually accurately so) high school movies.  There was the “jocks,” lent a sense of being by being athletically gifted.  Then there was the “nerds,” who never actually needed that coronation because they would be the ones to make their own way academically, social awkwardness notwithstanding of course.  The last group – who we rarely saw in these movies – would be the lower class.  The kids who dared need to ride a bus to school, the ones who ate their lunches in the school cafeteria at prices subsidized by the state, the ones who stood in a circle outside that same cafeteria while one kid fashioned a rhythm while everyone else took turns rapping to it.  Simple mathematics serves it that most of them would go on to work regular jobs if any at all, but one of them would take that rapping somewhere.  While he got no camera time in our described high school movie, or only the nerds knew his name in our actual high school because they needed to in case he beat them up, there would come a time where he must be acknowledged, because he will become Jay-Z, he will grow up and will be Chris Lighty, or anyone else who went on to extreme levels of success with no education to stand behind it.

     The point here is the gaining of acknowledgment them all, as the simple fact remains that sometimes those in need of an opportunity come dressed in a pressed-and-tucked polo and khakis, some in sports gear, while others still come dressed in the jeans and sneakers.  Time would, has, and will continue to show this to be absolute.

     At this juncture, we can see where and why basketball and hip hop have become tied together.  At this point in time, we see that most parties are accepting of this or are at least on board with it.  The elaborate introduction montages, during-breaks-in-action music used, and the fact that all families of networks that televise NBA games nationally (Turner/NBA TV and ESPN/ABC, respectively) have involved hip hop music DEEPLY into their presentations – usually the “back from commercial” spots to the point where TNT employs an “official” Playoffs song every spring for that purpose is more than indicative that either the check writers get it, or trust the people who do get it well enough to let them make some of the decisions, at least as long as those decisions resulted in profitable projects.
Forget not that – deterioration of personal relationships notwithstanding of course – people who feel they really actually know one another well should have no issue partnering to take themselves to great places, even if that partnership is only implied born of an otherwise “normal” connection.


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