Married to the game
Reasonable Doubt is easily archived as one of the best debut albums of all time. Don’t believe me? Ask someone with enough sense to know right from wrong, or better yet someone who can stake a claim to have actually copped the original copy on vinyl or audiocassette. Unfortunately, you can’t ask me, because that joint was listed as an import at HMV, priced at $22.99; far too expensive for my deep pockets and disproportionately short arms back then. At that time, I’d have much rather spent that money on videogames like NBA Jam, NBA Live and Techmo Bowl. Like most good hip-hop of the time, I was somehow able to get my hands on most of Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt album, either by taping it off college radio stations or buying the much cheaper 12-inch singles. Hov’s debut album was nothing short of classic from start to finish. It immediately was placed among other debuted giants of the time, a la Illmatic and Ready to Die, and solidified itself as a force to be reckoned with. Hov’s wordplay was relentless, his production timeless; his verbal references to pro sports was epic and unknowingly alluded to things to come.
Before there was NBA 2K, there was NBA Live, before that, we had NBA Jam, and even before that there was Arch Rivals and Jordan vs. Bird. These were some basketball videogames that captivated most of my time as a teenager. The amount of hours spent relentlessly trying to figure out ways to dominate my opponent with vicious 16 bit dunks by the likes of Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Shawn Kemp, could probably mirror the amount of time I spent in school or studying, for that matter.
It was the best of times and also the worst of times. It was the best of times because videogames made it possible for a young, black kid from the lower-middle class suburbs to see what seemed like a mirror reflection of himself in the form of 16-bit, two-dimensional, digitized professional basketball players. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t Shawn Kemp. It was also the worst of times because the music played on most of these videogames equated watered-down, polyphonic renditions of a sordid take on pop and rap music of the time.
Gamers such as myself, would often turn the volume down on the television and increase the volume on the stereo to enable the sounds of Mobb Deep, A Tribe Called Quest and the Wu-Tang Clan.
Our level of competition was remarkably devoid of musical alliteration to keep our heads nodding while our thumbs pounded plastic joysticks tethered to consoles constantly in jeopardy of over-heating. The cross-pollination of the musical genre of hip-hop and sports was on the cusp of occurring, however, at that time, had not matured to into viable commercial entity – yet.
Gamers such as myself, would often turn the volume down on the television and increase the volume on the stereo to enable the sounds of Mobb Deep, A Tribe Called Quest and the Wu-Tang Clan to accompany the imagery on the videogame being played – we created our own soundtracks.
“Watch me cook, throw no looks / Like Magic in his prime when Kareem skyhooked, yeah / Y’all not worthy.”- Jay Z
Fast forward a few years and several upgraded consoles later, the manifestation of professional sports in videogames has evolved as quickly as the dissolution of the common CD player. The act of controlling the world’s greatest athletes by the flick of a thumb has become increasingly popular among gamers. Inevitably the ascension of the hip-hop genre has also garnered the attention of said gamers and videogame creators alike. We no longer turn down the level on our televisions whilst playing videogames; moreover, we turn the volume up as the soundtracks have progressed into CD quality-sounding adaptations of none other than the likes of the ubiquitous Shawn Carter, widely known as Jay Z.
As a matter of fact, in his entire collection, Mr. Carter has made references to professional athletes 79 times throughout his vast directory of songs, remixes and guest appearances.
Jay Z’s foray into the sporting atmosphere has not happened without warning. Prior to being the curator and executive producer of 24 songs on 2K Sport’s NBA 2K13, Hov has been known to throw out the odd reference to professional athletes throughout his entire catalogue. As a matter of fact, in his entire collection, Mr. Carter has made references to professional athletes 79 times throughout his vast directory of songs, remixes and guest appearances. So it’s no surprise one of his latest ventures into the sporting industry found him as the head of a management firm called Roc Nation, founded in 2008.
It would seemingly appear that Jay Z was trying to parlay his musical success with acts such as Kanye West, Rihanna, and J. Cole into otherwise unchartered territories, that being the sporting arena. Given his age, this transition made absolute sense, because the street credibility of an aging 45-year-old multi-millionaire rapper, who was 37 at the time, would surely diminish and eventually fade into obscurity.
Hov effectively solidified his legacy with this move, and only time will tell if these athletes will reap the same rewards as Kanye, Rihanna or J. Cole as opposed to simply fading into near oblivion like Freeway, Beanie Sigel and Amil. Either way, you couldn’t fault him for trying to increase his stake in the global economy by positioning himself as not only an entertainment mogul, but also as a super-agent to our favourite athletes.
When Jay decided to purchase a stake in the newly anointed Brooklyn Nets, it was met with criticism and confusion. To the trained eye, this purchase was a calculated move by an investor looking to propel his brand to the next level. If Jay Z could convince the world to trade in throwbacks for button-downs, to stop drinking Cristal and start drinking Ace of Spades, and most recently, show the world it was cooler to wear snapbacks over fitteds, he most certainly could make the world believe he knew a little something about sports.
Clearly the move into the realm of sports agency was a calculated one that derived from Jay’s constant penchant for urban relevance and superiority across various platforms of entertainment.
Rubbing shoulders with actors, celebrities and some of Brooklyn’s finest A-listers, Jay enabled himself to do as his song “Empire State of Mind” stated: “Sittin courtside, Knicks and Nets give me high-fives / Nigga I be spiked out, I could trip a referee.” Clearly the move into the realm of sports agency was a calculated one that derived from Jay’s constant penchant for urban relevance and superiority across various platforms of entertainment. It also came from a desire to build a team of names he had previously mentioned in song and now position himself to claim ownership over their contractual negotiations.
Hip-hop and sports go hand in hand and this goes without saying. Snoop Dogg recently stated in an ESPN interview: “We all came from the same communities. We could’ve been athletes; they could’ve been entertainers. It’s just the path that we chose. These are some of the traits that come with growing up in the inner city, and we strengthen ourselves with sports, music and entertainment.”
The marriage is an inevitable derivative of two elements being born in a concrete jungle rising amidst the poverty, drug and systematic racism. It surrounds them, one group choosing the hard court or the boxing ring and the other choosing the microphone as the way out.
Jay Z is the son born to this marriage. His seamless foray from local drug dealer to rap phenom, record company executive all the way to sports management is a testament to hip-hop’s relentless pursuit for urban greatness and the next big hustle.
Reasonable Doubt gave birth to a witty, overtly cocky street hustler who crammed poignantly intelligent verses into carefully crafted musical bars coupled with timeless, head-nodding beats.
In between heated battles with my eight-year old son, I find myself wiping the sweat from my brow and occasionally cracking the knuckle of the hands that have been feverishly mashing the buttons of my son’s PlayStation. He beats me like a drum with regularity these days, the pain of my losses are eased by a soundtrack curated by Pharrell that blasts “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest and I’m reminded that turning down the volume on TV isn’t necessary anymore. The surround sound system is activated and sooner rather than later the entire house is belting out “Here we go, yo!”
Reasonable Doubt gave birth to a witty, overtly cocky street hustler who crammed poignantly intelligent verses into carefully crafted musical bars coupled with timeless, head-nodding beats. It also gave a brief foreshadowing things to come.
“Got the US Open, advantage Jigga / Serve like Sampras, play fake a rappers like a campus
Le Tigre, son you’re too eager / You ain’t havin’ it? Good, me either / Let’s get together and make this whole world believe us huh? / At my arraignment, screamin’ / All these Blacks got is sports and entertainment, until we even / Thievin’, as long as I’m breathin’ / Can’t knock the way a nigga eatin’” – Jay Z, “Can’t Knock the Hustle”
Jay Z isn’t the first person to think of attaching hip-hop music to videogames, and won’t be the last. He certainly won’t be the only person to think he can manage an athlete’s business affairs, but he’s probably just the coolest cat to do it.