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Friday, May 20, 2011

A Guide To NBA Player's Music

For a variety of reasons, basketball and music seem to have always had crossover appeal. [Pun acknowledged, but not condoned.] Be it due to the intrinsically linked cultures of the music of the streets and the game on the playgrounds - a partnership which, if I was 10 years older, I would probably find it funny to call "hip hoops" - basketball players moving into musical side projects has become so prevalent that it's now a cliché. Just as Common thinks he can pull off a decent replication of an extremely ball-dominant undersized scoring guard during each NBA All-Star Weekend, many ballers out there think they have rhythm.

There have been dozens of these instances throughout history. The following list attempts to exhaustively cover them all, ranging from those who are actually quite good, to those that would have trouble rhyming "Mercedes" with "ladies", even if they were run down by a Mercedes full of ladies, all of whom were waving rhyming dictionaries only containing the words "Mercedes" and "ladies."

The most recent addition to this list is also its first. Fresh from an underwhelming three month turf-toe laden stretch of play featuring lashings of the first half of his surname, Carlos Boozer made the news yesterday on account of his foray into the rap game, pairing up with Twista, Mario Winans and a truly terrible beat on the following song, "Winning Streak."


Why Boozer has chosen to rap about things such as "going hard," "crossing over" and "going baseline," things he doesn't actually do on the basketball court, is not clear. Maybe he should have rapped about things he actually does, such as pushing players in the back as they drive unhindered to the basket, rotating the wrong way defensively, asking the ref for a touch of the ball (not his balls) at every stoppage in play, and contributing much to any individual game's sound effects. Nevertheless, Twista's follow-up verse sees the first ever shout-outs in music history to Tom Thibodeau and Keith Bogans. Previously, Keith's only musical credit was a spoken word appearance in a Christmas song.



Boozer's entry is the latest in a seemingly endless stream of star players who decide to prospect second careers in the musical side of the entertainment industry. This is probably because it's the star players who can afford to. Many a player has set up their own record label, or bought a pre-existing one; the list of players to have done so begins - but certainly does not end - with Chris Webber, Clarence Weatherspoon, Baron Davis, Joe Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Dale Davis, Shaquille O'Neal (The World Is Mine), Doug Christie (Jean Rah Fya Records), Amare Stoudemire (Apacolypto Records [sic]) Derrick Coleman (now defunct), Ron Artest (TruWarier [sic]), Rashad McCants, Troy Hudson, Mateen Cleaves, Jonathan Bender, and 1993 second round draft pick James Robinson.

Indeed, a good many of these music moguls also like to take their turn in front of the mike as well. Here's an effort from Rashad McCants, aka Suni Blac [sic], shortly before he went on to star in a film about transsexual shoplifters:



Not the words you want to hear from a man whose talent has long been considered undermined by his attitude. Balling shouldn't be the hobby. The transsexual shoplifting should be the hobby.

Troy Hudson's record label is doing fairly well now, but it wasn't so long ago that he made the news for selling only 78 copies of his album in its first week. Here is a live performance of one song from said album, featuring TQ.



Ron Artest's musical attempts have been well chronicled, ranging from those that have had money thrown at them.......



.......to those that have not.



Sufficient time has passed between Chris Webber's album and the modern day to allow us to forget Chris Webber's album. Since that can't be allowed, here is the title track from Chris Webber's album, "2 Much Drama." Pay special attention to quite how little sense the lyrics make. (Webber himself is not in the first 70 seconds for some reason. And when he does appear, he seems to be rocking Sly Stallone's facial tick.)



Webber also falls into the trap set by Troy Hudson, that of talking about how "gangsta" he is, as opposed to the reality of his life as a sports star.



Joe Smith has had a go, under the name Joe Beast......



......while Baron Davis is more inclined to rollerskate around to sports inspired 80's classics.



[As an aside - I went to music college on two separate occasions, because I really, really wanted to learn how to be a music producer and/or sound engineer. It turns out that it's extremely hard to be good at it, and extremely easy to be bad at it. It also turns out that, in hip hop, it doesn't matter if you're bad at it. You needn't a single skill, nor put in even an hour's work on any individual beat. Just as long as someone richer than you knows it, likes it, and is sufficiently ignorant not to acknowledge or care about the painful lack of talent involved. If you know the right people and can afford a mid-90's desktop computer, you can briefly live a dream. With this in mind, I tried to make progress, crushed my own soul, and took up basketball instead. It is at the viewer's discretion to which of the included videos this blurb is directly applicable to.]





None of the players mentioned thus far has career earnings totalling less than $100 jillion, thereby proving the earlier statement this career arc is better suited to the richer star. Those with the eight figure annual salary can offset the loss they risk making in their musical ventures - at least, as long as they are still playing. The pitfalls of not doing so are highlighted by the case of former NBA player Tyrone Nesby, a man who owes so much child support money that it has landed him in jail on multiple occasions. Part of the money Nesby made in his basketball career was spent on his musical sideline, where, under the name T-Nes, he paired with Lithuania's version of Timberland (the fabled Tele Bim Bam) to produce an album,in which he seems to talk a lot about how he spent the remainder of his money. Here is one song from the album, entitled "My Life." If Nesby could get a mulligan on the first two lines, I'm sure that he would take it.



That said, some of the lesser earning are incredibly serious about their craft. Maurice Ager, for example, has produced a large volume of songs over the years; arbitrarily, here is a song he produced about his alma mater, the title of which becomes immediately obvious.



And then there are those that are not as serious, such as J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson.



The hip-hoops genre began in the early 1990's, and was highlighted by a 1994 compilation album, "Basketball's Best Kept Secret." On that album - currently listed on Amazon for 1 cent - are Cedric Ceballos, Dennis Scott, Jason Kidd, J.R. Rider, Malik Sealy, Gary Payton, Chris Mills, Brian Shaw and Dana Barros, as well as a brief appearance by Shaq, whose job it appears was to add some legitimacy to the venture. Only one accompanying music video was seemingly ever made, but nevertheless, all the songs have inevitably made their way to Youtube anyway. And whether we want it to be true or not, some of these are pretty solid.

Check It - Dana Barros



Lost In The Sauce - Malik Sealy



Mic Check - an incredibly thin Shaq



Flow On - Cedric Ceballos (produced by Warren G)



Anything Can Happen - Brian Shaw, which appears to be about pool instead



Sumptin' To Groove To - Chris Mills



What The Kidd Did - Jason Kidd



Funk In The Trunk - Isaiah Rider



All Night Party - Dennis Scott



Livin' Legal And Large - Gary Payton



Ya Don't Stop - Ceballos and Barros




In the 90's, it all made more sense. In the 90's, Walt Williams released an entire album, samples of which are available on Amazon. And in the 90's, even Hakeem Olajuwon had a go. No, really.




The corporate world seems to encourage this. Knowing that the idea of a basketball player in a music video is a terrific comedy vehicle if done correctly, Nike conscripted four of its payroll - Kevin Durant, Mo Williams, Rashard Lewis and Andre Iguodala - to star in the following video, entitled "Hyperize," a slick production that is absolutely dominated by the sight of Williams in jheri curls.



Additionally, a few years ago, a lesser known company enlisted Ben Gordon's help in advertising their product, Myoplex. Depending on the results of your Google search, Myoplex is either a protein supplement, or a male orgasm intensifier. Suspecting he was endorsing the former, but preferring he was endorsing the latter.






Nowadays, it seems as though every star player takes a turn at rapping. One of the more recent examples of this phenomenon has been Dwight Howard, who recently released an album called "Shoot for the Stars" that promises "MVP worthy recordings of popular arena anthems." In the following song, Dwight gets his Isley Brothers on.



Allen Iverson famously drew the ire of NBA commissioner David Stern when an album he had made under the soubriquet "Jewelz" was said to contain defamatory and hateful lyrics about homosexuals. Iverson eventually consented to changing some of the lyrics, one of which was "come to me with those faggot tendencies and you'll be sleeping where the maggots be." Ultimately, the album was never released. But this song was; named "40 Bars," it contains the aforementioned lyrics, and differs from most of what we have heard so far. Whereas much of the above is people talking about how good they are, Iverson instead chooses to talk about how bad everyone else is.



It cannot be 100% proven whether the following really is Rasheed Wallace or not, but it seems to be.



In 2000, Kobe Bryant began working on an album. However, after releasing two songs, the album was shelved, perhaps due in part to the song's less than stellar reception. But this did not stop him performing the track "K.O.B.E." live on NBA TV alongside Tyra Banks.



Tony Parker has done some songs that are really, really French.



And perhaps the most famous example of this trend is Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq has released five albums, at least one of which has gone platinum, as well as some occasional public freestyling (including one notable incident where he encourages former teammate Bryant to sample the delectation of his bumhole). Shaq was never particularly good, but refreshingly, he was also never particularly bothered by this. And to his credit, he did improve. More importantly, even if Shaq himself wasn't hugely skilled, he managed to land himself some excellent production talent. This track, entitled "Strait Playing" [sic], is exactly the kind of the thing the world still needs to be making.



I like that song.





Of course, that's not to say that forays into music are not for role players. More than enough non-stars have had a go at some point, not least of which has been Marquis Daniels, who goes by the soubriquet Q-6. Here is Marquis on a Gucci Mane track called "Pussy And Patron," which sadly is not about cats and the respectful idolatry of national saints. No, instead, it's about drinking and women. Not one mention of a kitten and a ball of string to be found.



Dee Brown has long made music, including a mix tape when he was with the Jazz, but it was not until he fell out of the NBA that he released an album, entitled "Unwritten." Rather than being an hour of improv stand-up as the title suggests, it is indeed a rap album, most of which was presumably written.



Brown's former teammate C.J. Miles previously appeared on his mix tape, with this 30 second spot on a track called "Whip Game." Apparently that doesn't mean the same as it does in my country.

Lou Williams has done a few spots lately with an artist called Meek Mill. Here he is on a track called "I Want It All." A lot of people only want some of it. Not Lou Williams, though. Him and Meek Mill, they want it all.



Daniel Gibson's foray into the music world features what is easily the most copious use of hand puppets that we have seen so far.



The single worst example of a role player rapping inevitably belongs to a white guy. Here is a young Gordon Hayward making a cardinal error.



Youtube used to carry footage of Thabo Sefolosha rapping, but it has since been removed. However, Thabo's brother Kgomotso is a successful rapper in Switzerland under the name ENIGMA, and Thabo can occasionally be seen in his bro's videos.



Baron Davis once called Stephen Jackson the "sickest rapper" that he knows. Without the benefit of musical accompaniment, and provoked by Davis, Jackson challenges that statement with this freestyle performance, successfully demonstrating that rapping without music or rhyming equals rambling.



And DeJuan Blair has recently been seen bucking a trend; rather than being caught rapping, Blair has instead been caught singing, albeit with some technological intervention along the way.




[I dunno, man. You're pretty rich now. If it's tough where you live, move.]





Of course, when basketball players turn to music, it is not always about rap. Only 99% of the time is this so. Aaron Gray amply demonstrates this in about twelve paragraphs time. The rare and special beast will turn to another genre, particularly if they can sing. A famous example of this is NBA journeyman Kareem Rush, who has long pursued a second career as an R&B singer. After a serious knee injury early in the 2010 season, and more than a year out of the sport since, Kareem's second career has essentially now become his first. Despite the unlikely presence of a motorbike on a sandy beach, and the unwelcome presence of unnecessary autotune, it is clear that Kareem is talented.



Similarly, while Mavericks draft pick Shan Foster is yet to make the NBA, he has used his ambition of doing so as the basis for this song, on which he presumably shares both performance and production credits. Shan needs hooking up with a better drum sequencer, yet he too demonstrates a good voice.



Carlos Arroyo recently came out with his own turn at R&B, featuring a lot of heavily autotuned Spanish:



And most notably of all, the late Wayman Tisdale was a jazz bassist. Here he is, on a song that literally no one can dislike.



However, those are exceptions to the rule. The rule, as is painfully established by now, is hip-hoops. Much of it banal, undistinguished hip-hoops at that. So far we've had songs promoting multiple orgasms and incessant narcissism, yet no one thus far has sought to teach us any of life's wider questions. Why does God allow suffering? Are moral values relative or absolute? How many eggs go into a really good banana bread recipe?

Thus far, we don't know these answers. All we know is that Dejuan Blair randomly offers to buy women live game birds, and can't sing, even with autotune. With some discernible exceptions, hip-hoops production quality and lyrical talent seem to be going hand in hand.

Most song lyrics are bad - they are normally included only to sound good, not necessarily to mean anything. The few who cite meaningful resonance in their lyrics are usually pretentious and boring. It is particularly true in rap that the resonance of the vowel sounds is more important than the literal meanings of the words that house them.

For example, at the 1.42 mark of "Oh No," Pharoahe Monch doesn't really say anything discernible or memorable, but he says it with such a meticulously interlaced rhyming pattern that it sounds bloody awesome. Therein lies the art of spitting, a vitally important art, one sorely overlooked by those whose desire far outweigh their prerequisite skills. My Somalianadian friend Liban operates Rapmetrics, a website devoted to analysing and, more importantly, replicating the science behind this. It would greatly behoove musically ambitious ballers to learn from him. Rapping is a science, not a privilege. Unfortunately, this is often ignored in preference to talking about conspicuous consumption.

Perhaps there is no greater example of the relentless banality of song lyrics than the following example, a seminal smash by Don Juan, Boss Slim and Fever, entitled "Zoom." The reason this warrants inclusion in this post is that "Boss Slim" is the alias of DerMarr Johnson, the early 21st century version of his namesake Wesley who last played in the Lebanon.



The song may have been written with a greater public interest in mind, concerned as it is with basic public safety information. Boss Slim outlines many of the great perils faced by road users today, most of which are borne of the inconsideration of other users. Random lane changes, speeding, lack of proper signalling, illegal window tinting, and dangerous driving in general, are all brought to our attention in DerMarr's verse (as, apparently, is the benefit of regularly washing). It would be a lot more socially responsible were DerMarr addressing these matters responsibly, rather than by lauding them as cool things that he does. Nevertheless, at least there's a theme. (What this all has to do with "Zoom" is unclear, yet it's certainly a concept the cameraman is struggling with.)

A strong parallel can here be drawn between "Zoom" by DerMarr Johnson, and "Friday" by Rebecca Black. Whereas Boss Slim talks about driving badly, having a clean car, and his need to have people look at him on the road, Boss Black instead talks about which seat to sit in, the advantages of cars over public transport, and the delicate spectral balances achieved by careful positioning of both other occupants in the car and other cars on the road. Indeed, both touch upon the seemingly underappreciated danger and frustration of randomly changing lanes for no reason. A definite corollary is clearly in evidence.

One of these videos has exploded in popularity, standing at 146 million views on Youtube at the time of writing, with almost as many parodies/insulting statements about it dotted around them web. The other one, no one cares about. One of them has become the means to hate a young girl, to distort and warp her life before it has even begun, to even make death threats towards it, to ruin the life of a youngster undeserving of such pathetic vitriol. The other one is the generic aspirations of an unemployed basketball player who long fell out of the public eye, and so there's been no backlash.

Is this the way it should be? Should it be the case that we rise up as one against the processed, interchangeable pap that is forced in our direction with the strength in numbers and power of anonymity that the internet provides, using our combined muscle to ridicule the 13 year old girl that is powerless to defend herself, because we know that our anger really lies at the industry vehicle behind her 15 minutes, and thus DerMarr's independent ramblings are exempt from said vitriol? Or is the case that both are just trying to have fun, that both just wanted to make a song for the sheer bloody hell of doing it, that neither was trying to say anything meaningful, and that both ought thus be treated equally, as the personal entertainment projects that they really are? Which should it be? I don't know.

But I do know that music videos should not be filmed on Susie Dent's Pencam.





Finally, as was briefly touched upon earlier, there is always the team-induced factor to consider. In the unlikely event that a player still has not forayed into music production, their teams often make them do it. This was no more true that it was when the Bulls made Kirk Hinrich sing the theme tune from Dukes of Hazzard, then followed it up by making Luol Deng sing that song from Fame:



There are too many instances of these corporate catastrophes to be listed, and is nothing that a simple search of Youtube could not better produce. Nevertheless, just know that this Christmas-themed God-angerer by the 2010/11 Denver Nuggets is representative of the genre's disaster. Apparently the people who commission such bollocks think that all rap should sound like it's been performed by middle aged Dutch morning DJ's.



At some point it seems, everyone either chooses, or is forced, to take their turn. The results are rarely financially viable. The death of Nate Dogg did not kill the genre, but the NBA won't be the one to revive it.

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"The brain behind ShamSports could have been featured in a number of these Twitter lists, but because his website often spends our entire working day lodged in one of our browser tabs we decided to take the boring route and place Mark amongst the professors. Deeks might be the funniest man you've never met, he does exhaustive work with the NBA's salary minutiae and transaction follow-ups, and he's a stone-cold must-follow. Stone-cold fox, too, ladies. Or, some gentlemen."