If You Don't Look Good, I Don't Look Good

This morning, my distinguished colleague twitted the following about everyone's favorite char-broiled NBA lightning rod, and sub-rosa racial interloper:

lingering thought-did kobe really say "i'm an 80s baby" when asked about the artest foul? what type of bs cred is he trying to buy? (and, my standard qualification: i still LOVE kobe...it's just...what a nerd)

Now, without taking anything away from Dr. LIC's intuition—yes, this sounded contrived, and almost made you think that Kobe had planned out a semi-youthful, semi-traditionalist way of framing the situation in advance. But whatever persistent reason you may have settled on for mocking Bryant (his fake-ness, his cultural uncomfortable-ness, his personality, his self-consciousness), we're all assuming that Kobe doesn't understand where Jay-Z stands these days. It's entirely conceivable that Bryant knows that, these days, Jay is pop culture detritus, not the lingua franca of street cred. The remark was fun, flippant, and knowing, an admittedly nerdy way of evoking Jay-Z as both foundational and cliched. Being goofy with hip-hop is dangerous territory, especially for Bryant, but does the alternative—that he cluelessly tried to channel the streetz and fell flat—is to give the guy way too little credit. The only thing worse than caricaturing players is caricaturing ourselves as fans.

This feeds into what might be the most compelling mano y mano rivalry of the playoffs. No, it's not Kobe/Bron; that 1 point/minute average for James has him in a stratosphere all his own for now, especially given how easy it's looked for him. It's this Kobe/Ron Ron binary that's emerged not so much on the court (all elbows aside), but in the imagination of the public. If Bryant's slammed for tip-toeing around hip-hop, Artest is lionized as a man who walks with a cloud of Mobb Deep samples over his head whether or not he ever explicitly makes the connection. If he did an entire post-game interview with Kool G Rap quotes, bloggers would faint from glee. Never mind for a second that if you want to get aesthetic about it, Artest's hip-hop analogue is M.O.P., while Kobe can tap into a far more substantial lineage of self-serious, style-laden masters. Or that Artest is going out of his way to repaint himself as a tough player, not a hood one, going so far as to suggest that there's no essential connection between the two.

And then you have Artest faintly conspired against by the league, and Kobe riding a wave of whispers about a rigged Lakers/Cavs Finals. Not to say this has turned into a study in racial or cultural contrasts—or that it should be either—but once again, Kobe's being cast in, pardon my pun, a black/white situation. Maybe Kobe isn't as "real" as Artest, but is Artest a player driven solely by what he learned from Kool G Rap fantasies? Isn't Artest way more Bad Boys than Kobe? If all this boils down to is "Artest saw friends die on the basketball court and Kobe grew up rich," then we might as well ignore everything they've accomplished, and asserted, as professional athletes—and admittedly convoluted adults.

Do that, then you can start arguing about who belongs to hip-hop, or who hip-hop belongs to, in the NBA.

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At 5/10/2009 3:15 PM, Blogger Harish said...


Kobe's continually said throughout his career that he's a student of the game and has grown up watching the rough-and-tumble battles of the 80's (I can remember multiple interviews where he said the like), so all this consternation around that remark seems needless to me.

In this instance- student of the game, not outcast trying to falsely gain cred.

At 5/10/2009 3:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

It's not what he said, it's how he said it.

At 5/10/2009 3:22 PM, Blogger Alexander J said...

Kobe Beef is always soft and thoroughly tenderized; it's a long and arduous process to get that piece of meat on your table served as you ordered it.

.rarTest is a scary Somalian pirate to the Ownerz and their ilk.

"If all this boils down to is "Artest saw friends die on the basketball court and Kobe grew up rich," then we might as well ignore everything they've accomplished, and asserted, as professional athletes—and admittedly convoluted adults.": Shoals brings up an excellent point about hip-hop somehow become a cross-class societal cleavage; as a modern artform it has had time to evolve in to so many unique forms. It has been said before on this blog that basketball is not music (as in these hip-hop/jazz/soul/Scalabrine drunken jig analogies are so damn dime a dozen) but music is basketball, I think.

A more intriguing development out of Hova quoting spawns from the post-Jordan NBA Wing legacy and seeing how Kobe can draw on Jay-Z for inspiration in some similar way that Hova himself drew upon his airness.

Denis Diderot is rolling over in his grave on Mother's Day.

At 5/10/2009 4:16 PM, Blogger John said...

Ron has never been so endearing as now, going against Kobe. Jesus, I'm even starting to like Battier.

At 5/10/2009 8:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This could be a little off topic, but is anyone noticing the trend in the playoffs lately? Teams with huge big-time centers who are big centerpieces to the offense, tend to be playing much better basketball when their big guy isn't playing? Did anyone notice how many runs the Rockets went on without Yao on the floor, and how many of those runs were reversed when he came back in? And now we have this game 4 blowout. And then there's dwight. Are we witnessing the death of the true center, subject to the evolution of the true pointguard?

At 5/10/2009 10:12 PM, Blogger Dan said...

working to-getherrrr

At 5/10/2009 10:57 PM, Blogger Thumbu Sammy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/10/2009 10:58 PM, Blogger Thumbu Sammy said...

I know this is a little off topic, but Big Baby Davis knocking down that bucket at the buzzer was brilliant. But still, the play of the game was when he knocked down the little white kid on his way back to the bench.

At 5/10/2009 10:59 PM, Blogger dennisedwardlu said...

"Big" Baby Davis.

Best night ever, man.

At 5/11/2009 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am wary of drawing any conclusions about centers based on the Celtics/Orlando series, simply because Perkins is so effective on defense against big centers. That's not a trend, that's a ridiculously strong guy playing pretty well. Remove Perkins (and Davis, also pretty strong) and see what you get.

At 5/11/2009 1:47 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I'm beginning to hate the game-winning shot.

Also Glen Davis = Oliver Miller.

wv: gynked. what the kids are calling a ginko high.

At 5/11/2009 2:07 AM, Blogger Toasterhands said...

Never underestimate the heart of a champion. Orlando is more talented, but Boston is more tuned in.

And Boston knows they have less talent than Orlando.

advantage, Boston.

At 5/11/2009 5:33 AM, Blogger Alexander J said...

these comments diverted so very fucking far from the original post, that I had to re-read it to figure out what the hell was going on again.

What elements of Hip-Hop in the NBA are regional (Artest-Mobb Deep corollary) vs. global (Kobe's unoriginal turn on a Jay-Z line) vs. Universal (Quad City DJ's are probably still collecting royalties off of Space Jam getting remade in Singapore or something to that effect)

How about Argentinians, Germans or HUNGARIANS?!!?!?


At 5/11/2009 6:45 AM, Blogger The Bush said...

I must admit that a good deal of the hip-hop nuances were lost on me, but the concept of players being pitted mano y mano got me thinking. Through readings completely unrelated to hip-hop or basketball I have found a constant critique of such binary thinking (which you warn about at the end of your post). Because Kobe is pitted against Ron Ron there seems to be a desire to categorize them as opposite or as having traits that are mutually exclusive. In this type of framing the light is either on or off. (The Vitamin Water Debate makes me think of this). But what about the dimmer switch? To me Kobe is seductive mood lighting that may or may not be too bright at times.

This is to say that Kobe lies somewhere in the spectrum of basketball "hardness" anchored by Ron Ron and the streets on one end, and well to do players who went to prep school and could afford private instruction when they were in HS.

But lying somewhere in the middle is what is great about Kobe. Like a smart ass suburban kid he can flaunt his "retroness" in a nerdy fashion, but he can also light it up and yell to anyone who will listen "he can't guard me!"

My last thought is that I like to think of Kobe Bryant as somewhat of a euro and a prep kid and therefore a tiny bit awkward. Many people have cited similar sentiments and how it affects his approach to the game. But I do like to think of Kobe in HS just like every other awkward kid. He has a chip on his soldier and is obsessed with D&D, World of Warcraft or Halo. Except instead of these games, Kobe was obsessed with basketball, and instead of trash talking online behind an avatar, he does it on the court behind the person of the doberman or whatever else he may call himself. I like to think of Kobe like this because it makes him seem more like one of us "regular folk."

At 5/11/2009 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to bring it back Bush.

I read somewhere (perhaps Darko) that Kobe was going on and on about how he was into Preacher...the no holds barred graphic-graphic novel. It seemed so strange to me that Kobe required the public to know that he was into a somewhat obscure, violent graphic novel.

"Nerdy," absolutely. But is he all that different than your buddy who busts your balls because you were not into MBV early or you have the wrong indie hip hop comp. Or your stock went bust, while he shifted his shit to the right place.

Ultimately the dude is kind of a prick, who needs us to know that he is down, which makes him less down. Kobe has always being working on his cred...Kobe is NAS (I am sure this comparison has been made before).

At 5/11/2009 8:49 AM, Blogger djturtleface said...

Kobe likes Asher Roth

At 5/11/2009 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does that mean this years Nuggets = Wu- Tang???

I can't explain that fully, but the way they have fed off one another throughout the playoffs has been a joy to watch. Melo is without a doubt the number 1 face of the franchise(Method Man) but Billups may be the key ingredient that makes it all go (RZA).

At 5/11/2009 11:49 AM, Blogger Alexander J said...

The Wu-Tang analogy is a tad too intense, you could most certainly have seen the link that they posted on here about Wu-Tang members as basketball players, I can't recall how the people were labelled, but to say Melo is Tical is confusing to me. We'd have to wait 10 years to make the wu-tang comparison, let this season simmer and use it as a gauge for the next.

Ugh, these playoffs are lost for me, utterly desolate.

At 5/11/2009 12:16 PM, Blogger antonymous said...

Whoa - I was just thinking about Mobb Deep the other day, and you reached into my head and affixed them to Ron Artest. Brilliant.

Kobe as Jay-Z has some depth to it - Kobe brushes off so-called "elite defenders" the way Jay-Z brushes off one-hit wonders. Some artists, like Mobb Artest, are just too persistent to ignore.

At 5/11/2009 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alexander J.:

specking for my countrymen, zee Germans, Dirk may have referred to David Hasselhoff as a teen idol. But he is so German hip-hop, I cannot describe.

Judging by game style and his outspoken naivity (see the denver comments) I'd place him somewhere between Max Herre, Curse or Dendemann. Judging by the looks and the visual expression of his game (you know, all this "look good first" judging) I'd say Kool Savas (who I think is not hip hop in any way).

As of WuTang: I'd have Kenyon as Tical and Camby as Redman were he still there.

I'd rather put

Btw, wv: preeze

At 5/11/2009 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I'd rather not put anything. Just as I did.

WV comners? Is that something you call Russian government leaders these days?

At 5/11/2009 2:26 PM, Blogger Jon L said...

Even though he's from New York, I wonder if there aren't connections to be made with Artest/the Rockets and Houston rap, especially the weariness and "just trying to get through the day" lyrics you hear from guys like Bun B and Z-Ro.

Artest has brought up his past a lot recently, talking about the guy from Queens who was the best he ever played against, plus "it went right through his heart and he died," and while that kind of talk if found all over hip-hop, it's done a little more often and more explicitly right now by the upper-tier Houston rappers (and Goodie Mob 10-15 years ago)

There's that line from Z-Ro's "Happy Feelingz," "I do away with you devils so I can make it to the top/And remain sane even when a n---- dealing wit a lot."

Of course, a.) you also could make the argument that it's more applicable to Lamar Odom, and b.) all of the Houston rappers still occasionally talk about how you shouldn't mess with them or you'll get shot, which is pretty much the opposite of what Artest was saying.

At 5/12/2009 3:10 AM, Blogger tray said...

Kobe is Nas. Ron Artest is Freddie Foxxx.

At 5/12/2009 3:43 AM, Blogger Alexander J said...

Word to those German Hip-Hop links, I'm actually headed to berlin in a couple of weeks and look forward to checking out all that shit.

I love thinking of Artest as Bumpy Knuckles in his current form.

At 5/12/2009 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alexander J, now that actually asks for you to drop me a message and maybe say hi or something, when you pass my place. I believe Shoals would make a connection if we ask kindly.

At 5/12/2009 10:31 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I love connections! Send me your respective emails and I'll make it happen!

At 5/12/2009 12:05 PM, Blogger Alexander J said...

wait, this is all very new and confusing to me, how do I contact shoals, let alone headless chicken? But yes, yes, yes, great idea.

At 5/12/2009 12:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

email address in sidebar

At 5/12/2009 1:55 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

Denver Nuggets are definitely Wu Tang and there is no doubt that RZA is Billups. Birdman is ODB, I think. Beloved and popular but maybe not as consequential. Kleiza is totally U-God. Dahntay Jones (not even worried about spelling), is Master Killer: He just has that one verse on Enter the Wu, but he totally kills it.

At 5/12/2009 11:36 PM, Blogger tray said...

In point of fact, Masta Killa probably put out the best non-Ghostface solo Wu album since, um.... Blackout? Plus, I knew Dahntay and Dahntay was kind of a prick. Here's an idea though: J.R. Smith = Cappadonna. Moments of crazy inspiration ("Winter Warz") interspersed with abject suckiness.

At 5/17/2013 3:32 PM, Blogger Jim Philips said...

I have to admit that Kobe is quite a sportman but he isn't as good as he should be as a person. There controversy about it on price per head demo community forum.


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