The city of New York has taken its lumps as far as sports is concerned in the last few years. Let’s be honest, it’s been a tough couple of decades. Save for a couple of Super Bowl appearances by the New York Giants and some post-season success from the New York Yankees, the city has been floundering as its professional sports teams have failed to live up to the big market dominance that once ruled the sports world. The abysmal display that has been shown by the NBA’s New York Knicks has unequivocally placed many fans in a depressed spiral of epic proportions. Many fans, this writer included.
Years ago, Jay-Z effortlessly described with impassioned poised lyricism, the attributes that made his hometown great while singer Alicia Keys crooned that New York City was the concrete jungle where dreams were made of. The song “Empire State of Mind” ruled the airwaves in 2009.
Around the same time, a young Ackquille Jean Pollard a.k.a. Bobby Shmurda was beginning to hone his emcee skills in the borough of Brooklyn.
Shmurda rose to prominence in 2014 with the release of his incredibly popular hit single “Hot N—a,” which was accompanied by the infectious “Shmoney Dance.” Everyone from Rihanna to James Harden and Team USA was spotted doing the dance. Shmurda gave the city something to dance to while the beloved Knicks languished in the league’s basement of mediocrity with an unheralded 17-65 record. A record that was seemingly eviscerated when Bobby so eloquently tossed his Knicks snapback into the air and proceeded to do his signature dance. It almost felt like it was a week ago.
“Got so many rhymes I don’t think I’m too sane
Life is parallel to Hell, but I must maintain
And be prosperous, though we live dangerous, cops could just
Arrest me, blaming us, we’re held like hostages.”
— Nas, “N.Y. State of Mind”
It was all a dream.
A dream that turned drastically into a nightmare. Shmurda, along with several other members of GS9, would be arrested and charged with conspiracy, weapons possession and reckless endangerment. In 2016, he took a plea deal and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
“I did it for Rowdy. They offered me five [years] and offered Rowdy 12,” Pollard explained in an interview with Complex. “They said the only way they’ll give him seven is if I took seven, too. So, you know, I had to take one for the dawg.”
While in prison, Shmurda became the poster child, a beacon of sorts, that represented the values taught by the streets that frowned on snitching and placed an emphasis on doing your time quietly, implicating no one, and coming home to a hero’s welcome. Shmurda would once again rise to prominence, in spirit, as the entire rap community held it down while he did his time, heralding his imminent release.
“My momma prayed to the Lord for me
While my n—-s go to war for me
My daddy paid the price hard for me
He was trying to live life large for me
He ran the whole nine yards for me”
— Bobby Shmurda, “Wipe The Case Away”
While Shmurda begins his reintegration back into society, his New York Knickerbockers have clawed their way from mediocrity and have been able to solidify themselves as a viable entity in the NBA Eastern conference. A resurgence that has garnered the attention of many around the league while raising the eyebrows of haters and fans alike. The team, after all, was once the laughingstock of the league – with overpaid, underachieving athletes and an owner whose vision seemed clouded and blurred with a stagnant inability to steer the ship in a positive direction.
While Shmurda begins his reintegration back into society, his New York Knickerbockers have clawed their way from mediocrity and have been able to solidify themselves as a viable entity in the NBA Eastern conference.
With 2020 firmly planted in the rear-view mirror of our sporting lenses, the New York Knicks are celebrating a rebirth where for the first time since the 2017-18 season, a player donning the blue and orange was selected for the All-Star Game – Julius Randle. Randle evokes the kind of hard-nosed, unrelenting work ethic emblematic of the people of New York City. A city that has been yearning to celebrate heroes since the forgettable departure of Carmelo Anthony and the years of hardship that ensued.
New York City has always held a special place in my heart for many reasons. The first being, it is the birthplace of hip-hop, a culture that I would subscribe to through music, art, dance and overall swagger. Second, the New York Knicks captured my attention when I was growing up in the 1990s, with the team’s gritty style of play and overachieving roster of embattled players who continued to succeed against all odds.
Bobby Shmurda is NYC. A young man, raised in the mean streets of Brooklyn, parlaying his street savvy into a career in music, only to ultimately be thwarted by the same streets that raised him. With a new lease on life and his career, Shmurda is hoping to continue where rapper Pop Smoke left off. Pop Smoke, who was murdered early in 2020, brought a renewed excitement to NYC’s storied legacy of rappers – much like Bobby did. Pop Smoke’s unfortunate demise left a void in NYC, a void that many in the rap game have been trying to fill as the new king or queen of New York. A title befitting someone like Bobby Shmurda, who defied the odds, did his time and maintained a stranglehold on the streets’ attention as he resurfaced to stake his claim among rap’s elite.
The storied franchise of the New York Knicks now finds itself slowly creeping its way back from oblivion, having been mired by lackluster draft picks, failed trade agreements and a plethora of underwhelming players. The Knicks are solidly holding court in the NBA’s Eastern conference, currently in fifth place – no longer the laughingstock of podcasts and daily sports shows. Like Shmurda’s renaissance, the Knicks team has the next few months to prove to the world that it is for real and a serious force to be reckoned with. Moreover, Lady Liberty is smiling as her sons have returned to the spotlight ready to show that the Big Apple is still the place dreams are made of.
This edition of The Grant Slant was presented by CBC’s The Block. Hosted by Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe, The Block is about culture and community – repping the elements of hip-hop from its roots to its far-reaching influence. Listen now.