Green's Next Dunk: Falling Spikes
My 10 Bold Predictions column is up on TSN. The Cavs are officially my blind spot.
Apologies in advance for writing about the meaning of samples. I left grad school for a reason, and it wasn't to do the same shit around people who didn't find it novel.
Regardless, like all of you commenting down below, I kept getting stung by the Wade/ATCQ/Lou Reed collison. It was almost as jarring to me as when, in 2004, the intro to "Heroin" was used to sell a 4WD vehicle that helped you rock-climb better. That case was simply stupid, and within a few days the commercial had replaced the (wordless, but iconic as anything) guitar figure with some fifth-rate Yo La Tengo biting. Which might have very well been Yo La Tengo themselves.
Obviously, that case is different. That was an excerpt, and one that augured the entire song that followed. Here, there's a plausible excuse: "That isn't 'Walk On the Wild Side', it's the "Can I Kick It?". And as someone whose allegiances are seriously split, I'd say that, as soon as the vocals come in, I go with the latter. These days, we'd call it lazy, or a statement, to sample such a well-known song so literally. But that's how things worked then, and there's a grandfather clause at work that keeps it safe to this day.
However, that's all me. Bethlehem Shoals has been massively affected by both Tribe and Lou Reed. I've also spent way too long parsing the concept of sampling, or at least gauging my own aesthetic reactions to it. What struck me--and many of you, I'm sure--about that Wade spot was that it felt like a major fuck-up. For anyone who didn't know "Can I Kick It", or have a strong history with the song, it was Wade wandering dusky streets with "Walk on the Wild Side"'s loping gothic behind him. The "Heroin" commercial was, strictly speaking, more of a fuck-up. But at least there was this dissonance there. Here, the visual enhanced the ambiguity.
I have to think that—unless the ad agency is just fucking stupid—this ad just isn't for Boomer or Lou Reed fans. They're the only ones who will giggle at it, but they'll be drowned out by those who either don't know either song, and thus place primacy on the Tribe joint, or those who think of "Wild Side" as a decontextualized sample (I think it's hard to claim that it's playing off of the original song's meaning). But demographically speaking, they're just irrelevant. This isn't using the song "Heroin" in an ad for fitness, it's using a famous rap song, with its own set of connotations, that happens to draw on a sleaze-rock classic. There's an inside joke in there, but it's not a liability.
Anyway, the point of all that was to get to Dwight Howard. Billups texted me right after that dunk, saying (loose quote here) "everyone in that arena was thinking Soulja Boy, right?" I'd been thinking Shaq 2, but then Howard went out of his way to hammer it home: "It's my favorite song." And, if the white people didn't get it the first time, "it's like the song." Here's what's weird to me: Howard is one of the league's most wholesome rising stars. Why would he tempt fate by pushing unsuspecting fans that much closer to Urbandictionary.com?
Unless Dwight's smart about this, and knows that, when it comes to Soulja Boy, we really are living in two Americas. For some, the dance is about flying like a superhero, and that's consistent with the nice big dude Howard needs to sell. On the other hand, for plenty of people that reference is decidedly filthy, even if repetition has kind of reduced its edge to mush?
Of course, I've got to assume that Howard wants it both ways. That he wants that superhuman quality with an ear to the streets—without having the latter detected by anyone who might balk. And here, it's unequivocal: He wants it to mean two things, and it's both. It's a bolder move than Wade's commercial, which was only ever going to trip itself up with double meanings. Good thing it had insurance. Howard, he's out there without a safety net.