Venus and Serena Williams: from Compton to the world By changing how the world views black women, they’ve changed everything

It’s really just a makeshift dance floor in a small hotel conference room.

But then a song — some might consider it the Black People’s Party Anthem — drops and everyone falls in line, moving, shaking and, yes, wobbling to the beat of V.I.C.’s 2008 “Wobble,” a song that hasn’t vanished from many black family gatherings, even after a decade. Everyone moves to the beat, celebrating, as if a couple has just jumped a broom.

At the center of this dance-happy moment is Venus Williams. She’s at her most comfortable, dressed in a look from her own athleisure line, EleVen by Venus, and surrounded by family members. For a night, anyway, she gets to just be Venus — instead of “Venus Williams,” who as a burgeoning star tennis player made her Australian Open debut in 1998, playing her baby sister, Serena, in a professional match for the first time at that tournament.

That was the Venus Williams who rocked freshly oiled cornrows adorned with blue and white beads that shook something fierce every time she whacked what became her signature serve return in the direction of Serena Williams, whose own cornrows were bright with green and white beads. This was the Venus Williams who, along with Serena, demonstrated early dominance and took center stage in one of the most stridently white of professional sports. Tennis, a game of rackets and stretched nets, that at times is played in the world’s most stridently white spaces.

But when “Wobble” was on? The revolutionary “Venus Williams” was just Venus — a woman with a mean body roll and a swag surf that dropped so low, gravity was no match for all 6 feet, 1 inch of her very recognizable frame.


Before the holidays, both Venus and her superstar sister sat on a panel to discuss violence in the inner city. A poignant and effective conversation, it reminded everyone at the December 2017 “A Family Affair” that these two beautiful brown women who have both helped change how we consume pop culture — and yes, tennis — aren’t immune to the harsh realities and social justice issues of American “inner” cities.

After all, they both hail from Compton, California — the birthplace of Kendrick Lamar, and the now-gentrifying city that Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre helped make infamous via their provocative supergroup N.W.A. Compton is the city that took the life of their sister, Yetunde Price, who was killed on Sept. 14, 2003, at the age of 31. She was the victim of a drive-by shooting.

But now the Venus Ebony Starr Williams who we all know best is back. And she’s ready to take the place of her rightful throne at the 2018 Australian Open. Serena Williams, a newlywed and new mom to baby Alexis Olympia, is still waiting for what her big return might be. But at the very least — which, certainly is the very most — we get to welcome back half of the duo who helped to change the pop culture game. And Lord, are we ever ready.


Both Venus and Serena Williams have challenged traditional global beauty standards — by simply being.

In 2015, a hater tweeted that Serena Williams was “built like a man.” It was a tweet heard round the world. That affected us all. It insulted us all. Then Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling shut it down by posting a photo of Serena Williams in a slim-fitting red dress with the text: “She is built like a man. Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You’re an idiot.”

A year earlier, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpischev, called the tennis legends the “Williams brothers” and said, “It’s scary when you really look at them.” Insulting. The ensuing clapback was mighty too. Tarpischev was fined $25,000 and banned for a year, and Serena Williams called him out for being sexist and racist.

That insult penetrated, though. Throughout history, black female bodies have been both sexualized and besmirched. But the Williams sisters, via presence and practice, have turned any negative black woman body image trope on its head. They create and embrace their chiseled, athletic shapes and flaunt their world championship bodies in public arenas, draped in silks and jewels, in the coolest sneakers, in disruptively fashion-forward tennis “whites.” They continue to shock the world.

Both Venus and Serena Williams have challenged traditional global beauty standards — by simply being.

There are some who are afraid of the Williams sisters’ dominance, confidence and beauty. They both have a similar dark brown hue and features that read very the Motherland. They look like so many woman around the world do. Their hairstyles over the years have transformed as ours have — from little-girl cornrows to micro braids to tree braids to sew-ins with wavy tracks to just a simple hot comb and flat iron of natural hair, at times, brushed back into a bun. So much of this black girl beauty used to be hidden. Right now, at this moment, it’s on the cover of Vogue.

But perhaps the most amazing Williams sisters moment came in April 2016 when Serena made a surprise appearance in Beyoncé’s HBO special Lemonade, which itself turned out to be a surprise album. In “Sorry,” we see Serena (to the tune of close to 250 million views) displaying a not-so-secret talent of hers as she dances and twerks alongside the Bey, who is sprawled across a throne, declaring in a casually aggressive way that she, in fact, is not sorry for the ill behavior of an untrustworthy lover. Beyoncé is queen — and Serena is equally regal.

But perhaps the sisters’ biggest contribution to the culture is just by being excellent, and expanding our horizons through their excellence. The Williams sisters represent us. They make us strong.

Kendrick Lamar makes history at CFP National Championship The decorated rapper’s involvement was a long time coming with ESPN

ATLANTA — “Humble yourself.”

Those were the words that Georgia linebacker Davin Bellamy shouted at Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield a week before the Bulldogs fell in a 26-23 overtime loss to Alabama in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday night. The Bulldogs learned that lesson the hard way, regarding the College Football Playoff National Championship.

“Sit down. Be humble.”

Those were the words Kendrick Lamar rapped in front of a crowd of nearly 3,000 who braved the cold weather at Centennial Park, at halftime of said football game. No one sat down, but they learned their lesson in the best way possible.

It wasn’t just that it also happened to be televised to millions across the nation, solidifying Lamar’s place as the most marketable pop artist in America in 2018. It wasn’t just that one of his hit songs that won six MTV Video Music Awards last year had the entire crowd moving in unison in near-freezing temperatures.

It wasn’t just that it preceded his set finale, “All the Stars,” a collaboration with his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmate SZA off the soundtrack for Marvel’s Black Panther, a project produced and curated by Lamar and his TDE squad that is set for release on Feb. 16. (The latest Black Panther trailer aired right after his performance.) It wasn’t just that it happened on the day that the president of the United States made an on-field appearance and clearly did not know the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” before leaving the game at halftime.

It was that during the most important game of the year, in a sport largely controlled by white men, while young black men risk life and limb for no pay, a rapper from Compton, California, who often tells tales of revolution and resistance, was tapped to entertain the nation, and it all made sense. While Georgia and Alabama, two states with no shortage of history in the antebellum South and steeped in football tradition, battled it out on the field, a West Coaster dressed in a parka was easily the star of the show.

“It went very, very well,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. “As we had hoped, we had the best of both worlds: the traditional halftime show by those two great marching bands plus a world-class performance by Kendrick Lamar. The visuals were tremendous, and it was obvious that the folks in the park were having a terrific time.”

Perhaps most bizarrely, few people ever really blinked. If you wanted to, you could have drawn a straight line from Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s “controversial” Super Bowl performance in 2004 to Monday night. It was an event that drastically changed not just the way that halftime shows were programmed but also how the broadcast industry made its rules. Jackson took all the heat in that scenario. Now, Timberlake’s got a new album out in which he’s apparently embracing his “roots,” a far cry from his days as the funky white boy and, shocker, he’ll be performing the next Super Bowl halftime show in February.

You could think about where this country has come since then. President Barack Obama. Police brutality and the murders of unarmed black people becoming what felt like nightly appearances on the national news. A non-insignificant resurfacing of a movement to compensate college athletes for their work. A Beyoncé Super Bowl halftime show that many people took offense to, as an ode to the Black Panther Party. A massive “recorrect” by America in electing a reality show star to the White House. None of us had any reason to believe that King Kenny, or anyone like him, would grace a stage like this, in this setting, in the near future. Except for the people who made it happen.

Speaking with two ESPN senior officials who organized the event, this wasn’t some random pick out of the sky. Three years ago, they wanted to increase ratings at halftime for the CFP because they noticed that it’s the highest-rated period at the Super Bowl but was the lowest for CFP. And they wanted more casual fans to expand the brand and just be as relevant as possible, not simply cash in huge on the regionality of the game’s followers.

That’s where their relationship with Interscope Records comes into play. Imagine Dragons did a special remix. Lauren Alaina, a country artist, was in the mix. Videos with X Ambassadors. This season, they hit it big with 30 Seconds to Mars. You know the song well. Alabama did win this fight tonight.

As for Lamar, his love for the Los Angeles Lakers really helped out early on. TDE is an imprint of Interscope, of course. You might recall Lamar’s ode “Kobe Bryant: Fade to Black.” He’s a huge Kobe fan, something we’ve seen proved over time. Last year, “Humble” dropped, the NBA playoffs started, he did voice work for promos and it all worked out.

Mind you, when it was time to make choices for the halftime show, Interscope’s line is vicious. Maroon 5 is on their roster. This was no easy choice. But once they knew Lamar was involved with Black Panther, it was a wrap. It had to happen.

“We know music is probably the second-biggest passion that college football fans have,” said ESPN vice president of sports marketing Emeka Ofodile. “Let’s build a music strategy, let’s go deep with a label and let’s try to create moments.”

The goal was to create a cultural moment, be it controversial or not. To get past the regional histories of college football, they needed to go big. Lamar was a no-brainer, controversy be damned. They can’t control what people think about the president. Or what he chooses to do. It didn’t change their mission. They wanted it to be different. They didn’t want to just recreate a Super Bowl experience. They wanted real fans of both football and Lamar to be there. And that they were. The cheers for the game (being shown on the big screens at the park) leading up to halftime were as healthy as anything I’d heard all day.

Their overall goal? To make it the hottest stage in the game. They’re off to a great start.

As for the larger picture, it’s still kind of hard to believe it happened. They might let us have a hit show or two on cable. A few of us will break through. But they’ll still call us names. Yet rarely do we get to infiltrate the oldest practices in the book. To see it go down on a such a grand stage is a real testament to who Lamar has grown to become. It’s easy to call Lamar transcendent. But, like so many others who grew out of their original solitary genres as artists to become megastars, he’s in fact black as hell.

On the night in which he could have made a scene and directed the ire of so many fans of his in the direction of the commander-in-chief, or made an obvious political statement with everyone watching, he didn’t. Because he didn’t have to. His existence in that space alone was enough of a statement, and just being himself was plenty. He didn’t have to allow himself to be defined by the moment — he defined it himself. Which is what he does and is exactly why even when the leader of the free world is right next door, Lamar comes out on top.

Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’ good run places him face to face with the president Kendrick Lamar’s ascension coincides with college football’s big moment and President Donald Trump

Fifteen-year-old Kendrick Lamar likely never thought he’d be performing at halftime of one of the biggest sporting events of 2018. Certainly not when he, as a teenager, was getting stomped at Compton, California’s, Avalon Swap Meet. But a decade and a half after the fight he references on “ELEMENT.,” from 2017’s Grammy-nominated album DAMN., here he is: headline performer at halftime of the college football national championship — the NCAA’s Super Bowl. The all-Southeastern Conference main event is Monday night in Atlanta.

College halftime shows traditionally feature marching bands. But in an effort to mirror February’s actual Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff and ESPN announced last spring that an artist would perform. Lamar’s résumé of course warrants his booking.

Forbes placed Lamar on its December 2017 cover, lauding the “antisocial extrovert” for his business decisions such as ending his long relationship with Reebok and launching a new collaboration with Nike. Lamar’s tour dates routinely gross more than $1 million per night. And in 2017, not only did he surpass even Beyoncé and Bruno Mars with more than 2 billion radio spins, but Lamar also had five of the most streamed songs of 2017. And while his 2012 “m.A.A.d city” (featuring MC Eiht) is featured in the next week’s Den of Thieves, Lamar recently confirmed that he and his Top Dawg Entertainment are producing the soundtrack for Black Panther, led by a collaboration with SZA titled “All The Stars.”

All the stars are expected to flood box suites to watch the Quavo-endorsed University of Georgia versus the crème de la crème University of Alabama. This VIP list reportedly includes President Donald Trump. From self-doubt to self-proclaimed greatness, Lamar’s ascension coincides and often collides with the United States’ 45th president.

Trump, a frequent sporting provocateur, has been an occasional target of Lamar’s lyrics dating to 2015. So speculation is swirling: What will this moment mean between the lyrically sharp MC and verbal live-wire commander-in-chief? Lamar’s fellow Comptonite, and perhaps hip-hop’s most famous Trump antagonist, YG, has at least one suggestion for Lamar.

There is drama leading up to the moment. What statement will Lamar make? Will outside forces — the NCAA, sponsors or even Disney — attempt to define the parameters of his performance? Will he even make one at all?


 

Tell me what you gon’ do to me / Confrontation ain’t nothin’ new to me/ You can bring a bullet, bring a sword / Bring a morgue / But you can’t bring the truth to me.

— “All The Stars” with SZA (2018)

Lest time forget, Lamar’s 2015 To Pimp A Butterfly is a fingerprint for an era defined by Black Lives Matter, police brutality and the final months of the country’s first black president’s administration. The record features a handful of Lamar’s most complex and analytical cuts: “i,” “Hood Politics,” “Mortal Man” and President Barack Obama’s favorite “How Much A Dollar Cost.” But undoubtedly, Butterfly’s star is “Alright.” It’s the generational equivalent to James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

Presidential critiques aren’t foreign to Lamar’s catalog. Seven years ago, Lamar painted a picture of gangland Compton (decades before gentrification arrived) on “Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils).” 1987, the children of Ronald Reagan raked the leaves, he said of the generation directly affected by the legacy of the 40th president’s Reaganomics, Your front porch with a machine blowtorch.

The Obama era, for Lamar, brought reverence and clarity. The reality of a black president inspired pride and accomplishment. But he wasn’t blind to current and past issues: Streets don’t fail me now, they tell me it’s a new gang in town /From Compton to Congress, set trippin’ all around/ Ain’t nothin’ new, but a flu of new Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-licans, he opined on 2015’s “Hood Politics.” Lamar understood Obama’s power as president was in constant opposition with forces that sought to derail, override and neuter. Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’? / They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs / Make it they promise to f— with you / No condom, they f— with you / Obama say, ‘What it do?’

Later that same year, while then-candidate Trump was still seen by some as a political punchline, Lamar addresses growing right-wing hysteria on “Black Friday,” saying, I’m the son of the pioneer that near the sun /Play with him / B—- you better off voting for Donald Trump.

A year later, in 2016, as Trump-mania gained indestructible steam, Lamar again directed his attention to the candidate nearly two months to the date of the presidential election. Might stay in the Trump Tower for one week, he rapped on “What’s Wrong.” Spray paint all the walls and smoke weed / F— them and f— y’all and f— me. In 2017, as the reality of a Trump presidency set in, Lamar observed.

Donald Trump is a chump / Know how we feel, punk? Tell ’em God comin’ / And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’, Lamar rapped on “The Heart Pt. 4,” a month before Robert Mueller was named special counsel for the ongoing Russia investigation. But for “XXX.,” on DAMN., the reality set in for Lamar. Donald Trump’s in office / We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again / But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?

Lamar is an atypical selection for such a widely viewed event. He’s not “safe,” nor is he “routine.”

In the coming weeks we can anticipate an impending marketing avalanche for Panther, perhaps “the biggest and blackest blockbuster of all time,” with Lamar a critical component. Later this month, the seven-time Grammy winner looks to add more with seven new nominations, including going head-to-head with Jay-Z for the evening’s most coveted award, album of the year. I said it’s like that/ Dropped one classic, came right back/ ‘Nother classic, right back/ My next album, the whole industry on a ice pack, he vowed a week before DAMN.’s arrival. The promise has him on the doorstep of Grammy history on Jan 28.

Trump, in Lamar’s eyes, is the complete antithesis of what his much-loved music is about, but in many ways he is a source of inspired frustration. And the nature of Monday night’s halftime performance, even with Friday’s free-to-all dress rehearsal, is difficult to predict. Despite his undeniable star power, Lamar is an atypical selection for such a widely viewed event. He’s not “safe,” nor is he “routine.” It easy to imagine part of Lamar’s performance being veiled shots: I know how you work, I know just who you are/ See, you’s a, you’s a, you’s a— / B—- ...

So, does Lamar feel the pressure to symbolically take a knee Monday night? I, for one, don’t think it’s wise to believe anxiety will play a part in Lamar avoiding The Elephant In The A. He and TDE are from Compton, a cultural ground zero where wearing the wrong hat, or walking down the wrong block with the wrong shoelaces, sometimes came with fatal consequences. A halftime show, by comparison, is a field trip to Calabasas, California.

Illuminating truth to power is daunting. Kanye West knew what would come of his comments about President George W. Bush, but he became a larger-than-life figure afterward. Colin Kaepernick understood that taking a knee would all but involuntarily retire him, but he is now the millennial Muhammad Ali. Lamar’s life has been one risk after another — a butterfly effect set in motion as documented in the mind-numbing odyssey “DUCKWORTH.,” DAMN.’s closing number.

Trump vs. Lamar is quite the undercard for Monday night’s main event. It could very well be a culture-shifting moment spearheaded by the man who has been bestowed with the heavy title of “voice of a generation.” Lamar is well-aware of the moment he occupies and times he’s become a voice for. His message to Trump could very well come in words, via actions or even purely via symbol. Does this mean halftime will be his Kanye West 2009 MTV Video Music Awards moment? Who knows.

Whether he decides to stir the pot, whether he fulfills YG’s wish, there is a reality evident about Lamar. Nothing looks to stop the momentum he’s built over the past year. Not even the president of the United States.

Will the 2018 Grammys be the blackest of all time? Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar lead nominations for 60th annual awards ceremony

Jay-Z is back, and Kendrick Lamar is still here. The two titans of hip-hop — a 47-year-old wordsmith from Brooklyn, New York, and a 30-year-old grittily socially conscious MC from Compton, California — are the two artists to beat among the list of nominations, announced Tuesday, for February 2018’s 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

Hov earned eight nominations for the acclaimed introspective album 4:44, his first project in four years, while K. Dot notched seven for DAMN., which tells a lyrically different narrative whether you play it from the first track to the last or the last track to the first. DAMN. and 4:44 are both up for Album of the Year, an award for which both rappers have been previously been nominated but never won. The two projects will also square off for Best Rap Album, while Kendrick’s “HUMBLE.” and Jay’s “The Story of O.J.” are both nominated for Best Rap Song and Record of the Year. Jay-Z rounds out his list of nominations in the Best Music Video (“The Story of O.J.”), Song of the Year (“4:44”), Best Rap Performance (“4:44”) and Best Rap/Sung Performance (“Family Feud” feat. Beyoncé) categories for a total of 67 career Grammy nods (21 wins and counting). Kendrick will also contend for Best Rap/Sung Performance (“LOYALTY.” feat. Rihanna) and Best Music Video (“HUMBLE.”), while he’s competing against himself in the Best Rap Album category, having contributed to Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom, which earned him a nomination.

Cardi B’s smash hit “Bodak Yellow” is nominated for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. In both categories, her record will go against the epic “Bad & Boujee” from the Migos, whose album Culture is also nominated for Best Rap Album. Lil Uzi Vert, who is featured on “Bad & Boujee,” gets the nod in the Best New Artist category, while the versatile Donald Glover, known in the studio as Childish Gambino, received five nominations, including Record of the Year (“Redbone”) and Album of the Year (Awaken, My Love!). Khaled, SZA and Jay-Z’s producer No I.D. also received five nominations apiece.

With all this representation from the worlds of hip-hop and R&B within this year’s nominations, that brings us to this question: Will next February bring us the blackest, and most lit, Grammys of all time? It’d only be right, as 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald and Basie becoming the first African-Americans in history to take home Grammys.

Here are a few fast facts about black artists and the Grammys:

  • This year’s Album of the Year category features three African-Americans, and four out of five nominees of color: Childish Gambino (African-American), Jay Z (African-American), Kendrick Lamar (African-American) and Bruno Mars (from Hawaii, of Puerto Rican/Filipino descent)
  • This year’s Record of the Year category features all nominees of color: Childish Gambino (African-American), Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee (both Puerto Rican) Jay Z (African-American), Kendrick Lamar (African-American) and Bruno Mars (from Hawaii, of Puerto Rican/Filipino descent)
  • A black artist has not won Record of the Year since Ray Charles in 2005 (“Here We Go Again”)
  • Jay Z will seek to become the first black artist since his wife Beyoncé in 2010 (“Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It))” to win Song of the Year

2004

  • OutKast won three Grammys, including Album of the Year
  • Beyoncé won five Grammys (Best R&B Song, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals) as well as opened the show with a performance with Prince

1999

  • Lauryn Hill won five Grammys, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist
  • Her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, became the first hip-hop project in history to win Album of the Year

1984

  • Michael Jackson won a record eight Grammys (tied by Santana in 2000) for Thriller
  • Black artists have won Album of the Year in back-to-back Grammys four times
  • 1974-75: Stevie Wonder (Innervisions) and Stevie Wonder (Fulfillingness’ First Finale)
  • 1984-85: Michael Jackson (Thriller) and Lionel Richie (Can’t Slow Down)
  • 1991-92: Quincy Jones (Back on the Block) and Natalie Cole (Unforgettable with Love)
  • 2004-05: OutKast (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below) and Ray Charles (Genius Loves Company)
  • A black artist hasn’t won album of the year since Herbie Hancock in 2008 (River: The Joni Letters)

 

For the culture: Dodgers and Astros should embrace their cities’ personalities in World Series If sports are a melting pot, why isn’t that reflected in all aspects of the stadium experience?

Alls my life I had to fight/Hard times like, “God!”/ Bad trips like, “Yeah!”/ … But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright!

— “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar


With Game 2 of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros tied 3-3 heading into the middle of the ninth inning, the Dodgers DJ finally picked a song representative of the situation and of the city where the game was being played.

After spending three days at Dodger Stadium for the pre-World Series media scrum, Game 1 and Game 2, I hadn’t heard much music that originated from the City of Angels.

I heard a lot of Top 40 music — don’t get me wrong, I like that mix — but that music can be played anywhere. In a region that produced the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy, Dr. Dre, YG, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur and N.W.A. (artists representative of the city’s toughness, swagger and finesse), why did it take pitcher Kenley Jansen giving up a game-tying home run to the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez on an 0-2 pitch to tap into that? Picking “Alright” by Lamar, who’s from Compton, California, after the team gave up its 3-1 lead was a smart and timely decision.

Outside of the home runs and scores the Dodgers put on the board, the loudest I heard the crowd in that stadium was when Jansen came out of the bullpen to Shakur’s “California Love” (or Kenleyfornia Love, as he calls it) and when the Dodgers fought back from a 5-3 deficit in the 10th inning and the DJ dropped Dr. Dre’s “Next Episode,” when Los Angeles tied it up, 5-5, going into the 11th. The Astros ended up winning 7-6.

Houston went with a heavy dose of country, rock and Top 40 hits to keep the crowd engaged in Games 3 and 4. Frankly, fans were the loudest when “God Bless America” was played — and the team followed with “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

Otherwise, the music at Minute Maid Park was almost background noise. It didn’t excite often and certainly didn’t offend. It definitely didn’t get the people going, except for those two songs. Now, in an interesting plot twist, there was a section of fans near Torchy’s Tacos who absolutely loved DMX’s “Roughriders Anthem,” which George Springer had as his walk-up song. They loved it so much they went a cappella and sang it throughout Game 4.

If fans in Houston want to rap the lyrics from the region (New York) they just beat in the American League Championship Series, then go for it. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t disappointed that “Grillz,” featuring Paul Wall, couldn’t get some love, since Astros fan Wall offered to give the Astros customized grills (jewelry worn over teeth).

In baseball, much of the city’s musical culture is not about who shows up to represent but rather depends on the selections of its players, the composition of the fan base and the brilliance of the DJ in charge of the playlist. Cody Bellinger and Andrew Toles’ walk-up songs, for instance, are Lamar’s “Humble” and “DNA,” respectively.

The only time I heard music originating from Latin America from either DJ was when Latino players came up to bat. That’s pretty disappointing when you consider that Houston’s Latino population accounted for 35.3 percent of the city’s population in the 2010 census, just 4 percentage points less than white people (39.7), and Los Angeles County and California “have the largest Latino populations of any state or county in the nation,” according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released in 2015.

Just before the start of Game 2, Dodger Stadium played a public service announcement about being courteous to other fans, and the video included almost all Latino children. That was nice to see because in 2014, Latino people took over as California’s largest racial/ethnic group with 14.99 million people in the state. But it reinforced my questions about why I only heard music from the Latin genre when Yasiel Puig, Enrique Hernandez and Yasmani Grandal walked up instead of throughout the game.

No fewer than seven of the 13 position players on Houston’s World Series roster are of Latino heritage. You are bound to hear Latin music in the Astros’ clubhouse. Is it asking too much to blend in some of this music during a three-hour game?

Remember when PSY’s “Gangnam Style” took over Dodger Stadium in 2012? The Korean pop song didn’t just bring Korean people to their feet — fans of all types got in on the Dodger Stadium dance cam action. In that case, and when the Dodgers brought PSY to the stadium in 2013, it was an example of how easy it was to play music inclusive of a community or fan base.

One could argue that inside the ballpark the demographics are not nearly as representative of the overall cities themselves, and the music is being played for the crowd attending. Especially when you’re discussing who does and does not have the disposable income to attend a big four championship event and foot the $1,863 average ticket price.

Fans play a role in the music playlist, but the people playing, at least in the NBA and NFL, are the ones who set the tone with the listening selection. It may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of watching a game, but I’ve got to tell you, a good music set can keep fans hyped and locked in.

If both venues can take the time to create food inspired by cultural influences, a more time-consuming task, then is it too much to ask for the stadiums to play music that embodies these different communities on their rosters and in their fan bases? If sports are the melting pot they are billed to be, that should easily extend to music representative of the cities in which the teams play.

On the fifth anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city,’ California athletes reflect on the epic ‘Sing About Me’ DeMar DeRozan, Chiney Ogwumike and Arron Afflalo remain emotional about Lamar’s most powerful song

I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo / He was the one to follow.

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Black Boy Fly”

Now in his second stint with the Orlando Magic, shooting guard Arron Afflalo, recently of the Sacramento Kings, was one of the key pieces in a 2012 offseason blockbuster: then-superstar center Dwight Howard’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. Five years ago, Affalo’s name wasn’t only ringing off in the city internationally known as the home of Walt Disney World — it was also popping off in his hometown of Compton, California.

On Oct. 22, 2012, Afflalo’s fellow Compton native, Kendrick Lamar, had released his much-anticipated second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope). Among big hits songs like “B— Don’t Kill My Vibe,” and “Poetic Justice” (featuring Drake), “Black Boy Fly” was a bonus record — an homage to hometown heroes whose talents survived the streets of South Central Los Angeles: He was the only leader foreseeing brighter tomorrows / He would live in the gym / We was living in sorrow. Lamar rapped these lyrics, remembering the days when Afflalo was the star of their Centennial High School basketball squad: Total envy of him, he made his dream become a reality/ Actually making it possible to swim/ His way up outta Compton/ With further to accomplish.

Caption: Fan-made video of Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Boy Fly.”

Lamar and Afflalo knew of each other, even if they didn’t run in the same crews. Aside from being a star athlete, Afflalo was the school’s biggest supplier of music. “If you heard [50 Cent’s] ‘In Da Club’ coming from a car stereo in Compton in 2003,” he told The Players Tribune, “there’s a really good chance that CD was burned by Arron Afflalo.” Business was so booming that teachers and students alike flooded him with requests ranging from Marvin Gaye to The Hot Boys. One student in particular made an appeal for Jay-Z’s 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt. That classmate was Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, who would eventually become a seven-time Grammy winner with 22 nominations.

DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors looks on during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 7, 2017 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Good kid, m.A.A.d city, five years old this week, is of course a modern hip-hop classic, one of the true cultural linchpins of the 2010s. The project is a product of a teenage Lamar’s fascination with The Autobiography of Malcolm X as well as his own experiences on Los Angeles’ Rosecrans Avenue, the Louis Burgers where his Uncle Tony was murdered, Gonzales Park, and street corners where gang members served as gatekeepers. It’s a gospel of a Compton life — stories that don’t make it to CNN, and rarely ever leave the neighborhoods. The album reflects growing up in Compton “one thousand percent,” said Toronto Raptors All-Star guard and Compton native DeMar DeRozan. “It takes you back to exact moments of growing up in there. Everything was the norm. Growing up, that’s just what we knew.”

The album’s standout track is an epic bit of storytelling called “Sing About Me. I’m Dying of Thirst.” The song was produced in 2011 by the three-time Grammy-nominated Gabriel “Like” Stevenson of the Los Angeles-based hip-hop trio Pac Div while on Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park tour. “He hit me back in a couple hours like, this is crazy,” Like recalled Kendrick’s text message after hearing his beat. “I’m writing to it right now in a room with lit candles. I’m like, word, that’s tight,” he said, laughing.

An appropriate setting given the haunting chorus: When the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down/ My main concern/ Promise that you will sing about me/ Promise that you will sing about me. The overall narrative of the song is all too familiar to Lamar, Afflalo and DeRozan. The three verses emerge from three different perspectives. The rage inflicted on black bodies unite them. The tales of gun violence, societal ignorance of women’s pain, and survivor’s remorse are common in the United States and around the world.

Arron Afflalo #4 of the Orlando Magic handles the ball during a preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks on October 9, 2017 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

“[Kendrick and I] grew up in the same environment,” Afflalo says. “I didn’t really get a sense of nobody else seeing big things in their life the way I did. It’s fulfilling to know there was another young kid, at the same school, that had the same types of dreams. If not bigger.” Those dreams, though, were cultivated through nightmares.

Dumb n—-s like me never prosper/ Prognosis of a problem child, I’m proud and well-devoted/ This Piru s— been in me forever/ So forever I’ma push it wherever, whenever/ And I love you ’cause you love my brother like you did/ Just promise me you’ll tell this story when you make it big/ And if I die before your album drop, I hope… **gunshots**

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Sing About Me”

“‘[Sing About Me]’ is the song version of an epic movie,” said Chiney Ogwumike, a rising ESPN broadcaster and forward on the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. The 2014 No. 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year is a native of suburban Houston. She was a star sophomore at Stanford University — 200 miles north of Compton — when good kid, m.A.A.d city dropped five Octobers ago.

And she’s right. In many ways, good kid, m.A.A.d city is a remix of Tre Styles’ (Cuba Gooding Jr.) viewpoint in 1991’s landmark Boyz N The Hood—a young black male who grew up in the ‘hood and witnessed its daily joys, pains and fears from the frontline. It’s a comparison Lamar embraced on the song’s second half “Dying of Thirst.” Whereas YG’s 2014’s seminal debut My Krazy Life pinpoints the revolving door of gangbanging and street life seen through Doughboy (Ice Cube).

“The whole purpose … is to describe that lost child that you don’t hear about,” said Ogwumike, focusing on the song’s first verse. Featuring a conversation between Lamar and “a friend” (voiced also by Lamar), following the murder of the friend’s brother, the moment recalls the legendary Either they don’t know Tre and Doughboy conversation following Ricky’s death in Boyz. Twenty years year, Lamar’s friend reasons in the song, America still didn’t know didn’t show or didn’t care what happened in his ‘hood and to his brother.

“It’s crazy, because you never notice it until you’re on the outside, when you’re able to look back at it,”said DeRozan. “I went to a Crip high school [Compton High]. I grew up in a Crip neighborhood. I talk just like him. I walk just like him. I do this just like him. It’s instilled in you, and you follow those rules in a sense of what comes with it. It’s crazy. A lot of people don’t make it out.”

“But now,” Ogwumike said, “you do hear about this child. Now … because of these protests.”

DeRozan said a lot of people should just sit down and dissect “Sing About Me.” “They should understand what he’s talking about. This is an everyday thing! It’s still going on all over the world. There’s all types of inner cities.”

Instagram Photo

The verse is deeper than rap. It’s what Keisha Ross of the Missouri Psychological Association describes as historical trauma. Life in the ghetto is traumatizing. I’m fortunate you believe in a dream, Kendrick raps from the perspective of his slain friend. This orphanage we call a ghetto is quite a routine. Anger, hatred and aggression, she said, are both self-inflicted and inflicted on members of one’s own group. “A lot of people know Kendrick Lamar for who I am today,” he said in 2013. “[But] for me to think the way I do, I had to come from a dark space.”

“I think of people I grew up with, that love basketball and love music in my community,” said Ogwumike. “It’s unfortunate because I feel like not a lot of people understand this day-to-day. A lot of hoopers come from certain situations where they are — or they know people that have been — affected by violence. It’s ingrained within sports culture. It’s a humbling reminder that you have to play every possession with a purpose. You gotta live your life with a purpose overall because you want people to sing about you when you’re gone.”

This is the life of another girl damaged by the system / These foster homes, I run away and never do miss ’em / See, my hormones just run away and if I can get ’em / Back to where they used to be, then I’ll probably be in the denim / Or a family gene that show women how to be woman / Or better yet, a leader, you need her to learn something / Then you probably need to beat her.

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Sing About Me”

If the first verse is an example of the suddenness of the loss of black life as it relates to men, the second leans into the harrowing experience of how black women are expunged from society. While it’s tempting to think of it as a 2017 version of Tupac Shakur’s 1991 “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” the verse is actually a continuation of the cautionary tale “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” found on Lamar’s “final warm-up,” 2011’s Section.80. In it, Keisha is a prostitute who is raped and murdered. In “Sing About Me,” her sister (voiced by Lamar) responds, furious that Lamar would use her life for gain. This, too, is based on real life.

“I met her … and she went at me about her sister, Keisha,” Lamar told MTV days after the album’s release, “basically saying she didn’t want her … business out there and if your album do come out, don’t mention me, don’t sing about me.” Keisha’s sister falls down the same path. How could you ever just put her on blast and s—?/ Judging her past and s—?, he raps, Well, it’s completely my future / Her n—a behind me right now asking for a– and s— / And I’ma need that $40 / Even if I gotta f—, suck and swallow.

She doesn’t die in a hail of gunfire. And with beings such as Shaniya Davis, Sandra Bland and the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram as tragic contemporaries, Keisha’s sister, her voice, her pain and the resentment for the only society she knows just fades away. Almost as if she was never here.

Chiney Ogwumike #13 of the Connecticut Sun prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Lynx during a WNBA game on September 4, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

“When you have a man who uses his platform to show how women are independent, but then also face even more adversity than their brothers — it’s everything,” Ogwumike said with a sigh. “That was superpowerful to me, about how she’s trying to make a way for herself in any way possible. But that way may end up being her demise. It needs to be told. It needs to be destigmatized.”

And you’re right, your brother was a brother to me / And your sister’s situation was the one that pulled me / In a direction to speak on something / That’s realer than the TV screen / By any means, wasn’t trying to offend or come between/ Her personal life, I was like ‘It need to be told’/ Cursing the life of 20 generations after her soul/ Exactly what would happen if I ain’t continue rappin’/ Or steady being distracted by money, drugs and four-fives …

Kendrick Lamar and DeMar DeRozan are friends. They’re both from Compton. Their high schools are separated by three miles. What links the two creatives isn’t recognizable off the rip — both suffer from survivor’s remorse.

For Lamar, stories of those who never escaped Compton are spirits tattooed on his soul as his career continues to ascend, as his all-time great portfolio has fans including former president Barack Obama, Beyoncé, Compton’s own Serena Williams, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Dave Chappelle. These tattooed spirits will never see the birth of the “new Compton” led by Mayor Aja Brown. Why did they have to die while I live? How could God let this happen Did they suffer?

For DeRozan, a three-time All-Star and 2016 Olympic gold medalist, success does little to erase the pain of the past. In many ways, it only intensifies. “It’s something I deal with,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends that was with me when I was younger, but I took a different route … Then you get a phone call hearing something happened. You start to say, ‘Damn, if I just would’ve took them with me, or if they would’ve stayed with me, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ”

good kid, m.A.A.d city, a half-decade later, is a form of counseling for DeRozan. It’s way deeper than words over beats. It’s his life on what has become the metaphorical wax. But perhaps more than any lyric from the song, its final lines resonate more than anything as he prepares to enter his ninth season in Toronto — 2,500 miles from the place he first called home: Compton.

Am I worth it, Kendrick ponders. Did I put enough work in?

“That’s everything,” DeMar said. “You get to a point where you start questioning yourself sometimes. People don’t feel my pain, and my passion that I’m putting into it. But in the midst of questioning yourself, you find a new inspiration to keep pushing, and be even greater to get that point across.”

He pauses for a second. “I take that approach in everything that I do.”

Black folk must stop trying to avoid jury duty We need to join the system to counter its discriminatory effects

Along with more than 50 strangers, I filed into a San Diego courtroom a few years ago. I ambled to my seat in the jury box, plucked a white laminated piece of paper from the wooden chair, plopped down and skimmed it.

“Have you ever been arrested?”

“Do you know of anyone who has been a victim of a crime?”

Those two questions seized my attention. Does answering yes, I pondered, indicate less fitness for jury service? I next scanned the unfamiliar faces.

Ahead and slightly to my left, a clean-cut white man, the prosecutor, sat at a table canvassing the room’s new entrants. Across from him and farther away from me sat a slightly less polished white man, the defense counsel. He also spent much of his time studying us. In the chair to his left, a young dark-skinned black man with short locs alternated between staring vacantly downward and forward and conferring with his attorney. The judge called me by my new name, Prospective Juror No. 4. If chosen, I would help determine whether the state should imprison this brother for first-degree murder.

I figured I wouldn’t get to serve on that jury, though. California law, in first-degree murder cases, grants the prosecution and defense 20 “peremptory strikes,” the right to excuse a prospective juror without providing a reason. I thought the prosecutor would use one on me for two reasons.

First, I’m a lawyer. Many prosecutors recoil at the prospect of a lawyer juror. The state carried the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant murdered someone, a burden more easily shouldered with a jury of minds more malleable than that of a lawyer, particularly one who focused on race, white supremacy and discrimination.

Second, I’m a black man, about eight years older than the defendant. A troubling reality ricocheted around inside my mind — prosecutors strike black folk from juries at a higher rate, especially when a black defendant stands accused.

I surveyed the other potential jurors, devoting special attention to the few black faces. More Hispanic faces peppered the bunch, but not many. White faces? Only covering my eyes or staring at the ceiling would block them from my vision. Understanding the history of the all-white jury being employed to nearly guarantee convictions of people of color, I fretted about that possibility here. Right then, I decided if I detected a whiff of anything strange — I couldn’t define strange other than by paraphrasing Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s remark about obscenity: I know it when I smell it — I would speak forthrightly about implicit racial bias.

When the prosecutor questioned me to determine whether I would be a favorable juror, he clumsily identified the victim as a black man, cueing me to identify with him. Next, he described a San Diego Police Department policy of tracking local gangs by approaching youths in certain neighborhoods to ascertain which had gang affiliations. He inquired about my feelings on the matter, though no other juror.

A few questions in, I smelled it.

When he asked me a general question about bias — positive I was going home soon, regardless — I veered into a discussion about implicit racial bias. I described what it meant, tailoring the message for the situation. In a room full of white people, I noted that although all of them likely envisioned themselves as good, egalitarian people, the negative stereotypes American culture broadcasts about people of color, particularly black men, barrage them daily. These implicit messages taint how they interpret situations, a phenomenon that affects us all, including people of color. But if we acknowledge that these biases afflict our minds and strive to mitigate their power, we can reach fair decisions. The already quiet room plunged to a new degree of silence.

I knew I wouldn’t serve on the jury. I nevertheless hoped to leave a message that would remain with those who did: The defendant’s blackness provided no evidence of his guilt, but their brains probably assumed it did and they likely weren’t aware of that.

Once we reconvened after lunch, the prosecutor struck me from the jury. My recognition of the many horrors produced by the criminal justice system had compelled me to stand in the ring and fight back, in my own way. I soon learned that systemic injustice led others to adopt a different posture.


A few months back, I pitched my editor a story idea: to interview black prosecutors on the state of black jury service. Are juries as diverse as they should be? If not, why? Do they know if their colleagues strike prospective black jurors because of race? The path I traveled for this story forked into a new direction when a black Southern prosecutor, who wanted to remain unnamed so he could speak frankly and in detail, let loose on black folk who avoid jury service because they don’t want to work within a racist system.

“[Some black] people think that whatever they do, it’s not going to matter. They think the system isn’t designed for them. So when you’ve got a bunch of people thinking that the system is rigged or the system is fixed anyway, then it’s almost like, what difference does it make? It’s only set up to keep the black man down.”

The prosecutor continued: “If you start acting like that about the system, thinking that you need a complete separate system for yourself, you become part of the problem. And it’s nothing better than being an obstructionist. … They tell themselves, ‘I don’t care what ends up happening. You know it’s set up against black folks, so why does anything matter what I say or what I do?’ ”

I spoke to William Snowden, a New Orleans public defender and founder of The Juror Project, an organization focusing on instructing minority community members that their presence in the jury box helps the criminal justice system operate more equitably. He likewise traces apathy toward jury service to feelings of helplessness.

Snowden notices “a mindset of negativity around jury duty and thinking that it’s something that they should get out of and not understanding the importance that they can have in actually being in the deliberation room. Additionally, there is a large community of people of color that have had negative experiences with the criminal justice system, and when they get invited in to kind of be part of it, their initial gut reaction is that this is a bad system. This is an unfair system. And I don’t want to be part of this injustice that kind of gets carried out on a regular basis.

“I think the problem is we have too many black folk,” the prosecutor bluntly stated, “especially in the South, that are saying things to not be on the jury.” He said he often observes black prospective jurors expressing views that indicate they want nothing to do with the system. He told me about a black woman saying she couldn’t judge anyone because of her Christianity, meaning she would never convict the defendant. When prompted to articulate Scripture supporting her views, she floundered.

Snowden unloaded similar tales. “ ‘I can’t vote guilty for someone who is charged with possession of crack cocaine because I don’t believe in this war on drugs and I don’t believe in incarcerating drug addicts.’ When you say something along those lines, the prosecutor will move for what’s called a legal-cause strike to get you kicked off the jury.”

When I heard this, I remembered a white woman from my jury duty experience. She seemingly wanted to get out of her civic responsibility by maligning the system as too racist for her to discharge the duties of a juror. Don’t many, regardless of race, seek to avoid jury duty, I wondered? Polling helps answer this: A Pew Research survey recently found that 58 percent of black people, 61 percent of Hispanic folk and 71 percent of white people, recognize jury service as a mark of good citizenship.

What both men discussed was helplessness leading to apathy, a mental state one should expect to detect principally in minority populations. Their viewing of this dilemma through a racial lens made perfect sense.

Snowden informs those he interacts with for The Juror Project that diversity elevates the system. “What the research shows,” he said, “is when [people of varying viewpoints] get in a room, they are going to have longer deliberations. They’re going to ask more questions and more objective decisions are going to be made. So when we increase the diversity across the board with race, with gender, socioeconomic status, we’re going to get a better outcome.” He delivers a simple message: “Your minority perspective in [the deliberation] room can have a large impact on that particular trial.”


These remarks recalled an episode from ABC’s black-ish. In the episode, titled One Angry Man, lead character Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) must serve on a jury. He initially plans on surreptitiously listening to an audiobook during the trial, sneaking an earbud into his left ear. But then the defendant — a young black man charged with burglary and grand larceny represented by an ill-prepared, fumbling public defender — captures his attention and his mood switches. His gaze shifts to his fellow jurors. Eleven white faces. One black one. His. He yanks out his earbud. This nightmare, upon reflection, presented him a great opportunity to achieve some good.

Andre deeply cares about racism and the status of black folk, wanting to parent kids aware of the broader racial struggle as they grow up with access to wealth and resources that few black kids enjoy, including himself, a poor black boy from Compton, California. Provided a chance to make an unjust system fairer, he almost allowed it to slip away. If the a ha moment had never struck him, Andre would have been complicit with the racism and discrimination he rails against in each episode.

We must stamp the complicit label on the sort of black folk Snowden and the prosecutor mentioned. That some feel mired in despondency must elicit sympathy and empathy. But feelings of helplessness only exacerbate the situation if it produces complacency and withdrawal rather than action. Instead of exercising agency, they relinquish their power to act at all. In fact, they gift the unjust system what it covets — their voices muzzled, their presence nonexistent and white folk with unfettered control over the scepter.

Those I interviewed described real people who represent an unknowable number who need to grasp this truism: Defeatism breeds complicity.

Life before Death Row: The brief football career of Suge Knight The scariest man in rap was a star lineman at UNLV — and a scab Los Angeles Ram

Marion “Suge” Knight’s original terrordome was the defensive line. It’s where he starred for four years at Lynwood High School, 20 minutes from Compton, California’s much-loved Tam’s Burgers. Knight faces murder (among other) charges stemming from a January 2015 incident at Tam’s in which he is accused of barreling a Ford F-150 into two men.

Knight’s friend, Terry Carter, 55, was killed. Cle “Bone” Sloan, 51, was injured. All of this followed an argument near a filming location for the 2015 N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. For the better part of three years, Knight has been held at Los Angeles County Jail, where he awaits a January 2018 trial. He is claiming self-defense. “He left the scene,” attorney James Blatt said in February 2015, “because he was in fear for his safety, and life.” Knight has shuffled through more than four attorneys since.

Wealthy white kids at Hollywood high schools were often the target of Knight’s shakedowns when he was at Lynwood. During the early ’80s, however, Knight was far more focused on sports than thugging: He earned letters in track and football all four years.


Harvey Hyde became the head football coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1981. At the time, the UNLV Rebels (recently on the wrong side of the most lopsided college football upset of all time) were new to Division I. The school, established in 1958, had gained national prominence via basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian’s “Runnin’ Rebels” program. It was up to Hyde to make UNLV a two-sport school.

Hyde still calls Marion Knight “Sugar Bear,” Knight’s childhood and neighborhood nickname. They met on a recruiting trip that Hyde made to Los Angeles County’s El Camino Junior College, where Knight excelled in the defensive line’s trenches. The Compton native was 6-foot-2 with big hair and an imposing frame.

“How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

Hyde, a player’s coach, brought Knight to Las Vegas. As a junior, he started at nose guard and defensive tackle and immediately became one of the Rebels’ best defensive players. Knight was voted UNLV’s Rookie of the Year, named defensive captain and won first-team all conference honors. In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

“[Knight] played his butt off,” said Hyde, whose coaching portfolio includes NFL stars Randall Cunningham, Ickey Woods and 2017 Hall of Famer Terrell Davis. “[Knight] was a ‘yes sir, no sir’ guy … the type of player any college football coach would love to have on his team.” Hyde was let go in 1986 after a string of damaging events for the football program, including burglary, the beating by a player of an off-duty policeman, the embezzling of video and stereo equipment, sexual assault and domestic violence, among other issues. Knight, a part-time bouncer at Vegas’ then-hot Cotton Club, wasn’t a blip on Hyde’s disciplinary radar. “He never, ever gave me a problem in any way.”

To many members of the UNLV team, and his close friend Tarkanian, Hyde was the scapegoat for a program he helped save. The lack of institutional control, they believed, wasn’t Hyde’s fault. Hyde has never spoken ill or shifted blame to anyone.

Knight may have been yes-sir-no-sir, but he was side-hustling: Books. Jon Wolfson, who in the early 2000s was a publicist for Death Row Records and is now the manager of Hall and Oates, recalls a conversation he had with Knight about his UNLV days. “He’d say something like, ‘Then I’d play the dumb athlete role and say, ‘Oh, Coach, I lost my books.’ ” The staff never second-guessed Knight, said Wolfson. “They’d give him brand-new books, and he’d sell them to make some extra cash.” Knight enjoyed two impressive seasons at UNLV in 1985 and 1986, lettering in both.

Yet, per Randall Sullivan’s 2003 LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, Knight’s demeanor became more ominous and reclusive during his senior campaign. Visitors from his hometown of Compton were frequently sighted, as Sullivan reported. Knight, too, moved in an apartment by himself, and was seen in several late-model sedans. And his reputation on campus evolved far beyond that of the friendly jokester he was the year before. He seemed a man involved in far more sophisticated situations.

Yet when Wayne Nunnely took over as coach in 1986, Knight’s athletic demeanor apparently remained consistent. “He wasn’t a problem guy at all,” Nunnely told the Las Vegas Sun in 1996. This was three days after Tupac Shakur was shot five times near the Las Vegas Strip by a drive-by assailant who remains unknown. Shakur and Knight were at the intersection of Koval Lane and Flamingo Road. Shakur, of course, died. Knight, by then better known as “Suge,” was then gangsta rap’s unquestioned, unrivaled and undisputed emperor. “You didn’t really see,” said Nunnely, “that street roughness in him.”

The gridiron roughness is something Knight didn’t hesitate to talk about. “I think the most important thing, when you play football,” Knight told comedian Jay Mohr in 2001, shortly after being released from prison for serving half of a nine-year sentence for assault charges stemming from the fight with Orlando Anderson in Vegas’ MGM Grand the night Shakur was shot, “you get the quarterback, you stick your hand in his helmet and peel the skin back off.”

He jokingly suggested, even after selling tens of millions of records and doing nearly a five-year bid, that he could still play in the league. “I think I could strap up and intimidate most of those [guys]. I think we could make a few deals and I’ll be like, ‘OK, look. Lemme get ’bout three, four sacks. I’ll let you get a few blocks. We’ll enjoy it.’ ”

According to teammates, Knight dropped out of UNLV before graduation. By 1987, he was back in Los Angeles. One of the biggest songs on the streets was Eazy-E’s gangsta rap bellwether “Boyz n Da Hood,” which dropped in March of that year. But before turning to hip-hop to plant the seeds of a future empire, Knight had one last gridiron itch to scratch: the National Football League.


The first overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft was Vinny Testaverde, who played until he was 44. The second overall pick was defensive stalwart Cornelius Bennett. There was also current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon and Rod Woodson, the only Hall of Famer from this class. Former University of Oklahoma megastar linebacker Brian Bosworth and future Hall of Famer wide receiver Cris Carter were chosen in the supplemental draft. Marion Knight was not one of the 335 players selected. But the NFL eventually did come calling. The league was desperate.

As documented in the new 30 for 30 film “Year of the Scab,” NFL players went on strike shortly after the start of the 1987 season. Today, football players influenced by exiled Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick fight for their freedom of expression. Thirty years ago, players bucked back at ownership for freedom of agency. In 1982, players went on strike demanding 55 percent of revenue. The 57-day standoff cost the league seven games and $275 million in revenues. And another $50 million returned to networks. While united in both strikes, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) gained little ground in either.

“Free” agency in the 1980s wasn’t the spectacle it is today, with hundreds of players changing teams annually. “This was before free agency,” said veteran Los Angeles Times sports reporter Chris Dufresne. “[NFL players] really were indentured servants. They couldn’t go anywhere!” Players were, for lack of a better phrase, property — bound to teams for life. With rare exceptions, they did move to new teams, although many times those were star players with leverage, a la O.J. Simpson’s 1978 trade to the San Francisco 49ers.

Teams could sign free agents, but the cost was steep. The “Rozelle Rule” stated the NFL commissioner could reward the player’s original team with draft picks, often first-round selections, or players. NFL salaries did rise in the ’80s, primarily because of the brief existence of the United States Football League (an entity that featured team owner Donald Trump) and its willingness to lure NFL players with large contracts. But by 1985, the USFL was defunct. Even that era couldn’t hold a candle to the second strike. “The 1987 Rams season,” said Dufresne, “was the craziest I’ve ever had in journalism.”

In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

Training camp started with star running back Eric Dickerson warring for a new contract. On Aug. 21, 1987, running back and former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, after drug issues that plagued him while with the Cleveland Browns and at USC, was arrested after being found in a field. “[He had a] trash can lid, pretending to be the Trojan Warrior,” Dufresne recalled. “That’s how the summer started.” White led the NFL in rushing that same strike season, with 1,374 yards.

The strike started after Week 3. Players said they wouldn’t show up for Week 4, owners called what they thought was bluff, and then had to scramble to fill rosters with replacement players: former college players, undrafted players, construction workers, bartenders, even ex-cons. Replacement players, otherwise known as “scabs,” were ridiculed.

Somewhat like Faizon Love and Orlando Jones in 2000’s The Replacements, Knight was one of those replacement players. Dufresne, 30 years later, doesn’t recall the future head of a gangsta rap empire. “I have no recollection of Suge being there. I must have seen him,” he said. “[But] why would I remember him? How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

The strike lasted only a few weeks, but it got ugly. It sounds ridiculous to say Knight was bullied, but such was life in the NFL during the 1987 lockout for “scabs.” Knight, a man who would evolve into an intimidating pop culture tour de force, had eggs thrown at him. First-year Rams offensive tackle Robert Cox smashed the window of a van carrying replacement players after union players began rocking the van.

These incidents were common throughout the league. Frustrations were at a boiling point. Once stars such as Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Dorsett, San Francisco’s Joe Montana, the Oakland Raiders’ Howie Long and Seattle’s Steve Largent crossed the line, the NFLPA recognized the ship was sinking. “They had a weak union compared to the baseball union,” Dufresne said. “But the things they were fighting for were real.”

The strike lasted 24 days. Knight officially played two games as a Los Angeles Ram, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and against the Atlanta Falcons. Although Knight’s official stats are all but lost to history, this YouTube video compiled his official NFL stat line: eight plays, zero sacks, zero tackles and one penalty. John Robinson, Rams head coach from 1983-91, said the team had too many bodies that year between union and replacement players. He, too, has no recollection of coaching Knight.

“Suge,” said Dufresne, “was just an anonymous nobody in the surroundings.” The anonymity wouldn’t last long.


In October 1987, as the regular NFL players reported back to work, Knight’s rap sheet ballooned and his boogeyman persona began to take shape. In Los Angeles, Knight was charged with domestic violence after grabbing future ex-wife Sharitha Golden (whom he’d later implicate in Shakur’s murder) by the hair and chopping her ponytail off in the driveway of her mother’s home. That Halloween, he was arrested in Vegas for shooting a man in the wrist and in the leg, and for stealing his Nissan Maxima. With felony charges looming, Knight skated away from any serious penalty in part because of a contrite courtroom appearance and his history in the city as a famed football player. The felonies were reduced to misdemeanors: a $1,000 fine and three years probation. “I shot him with his own gun,” Knight told The Washington Post in 2007.

Three years later, in Vegas once again, he pleaded guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon after pistol-whipping a man with a loaded gun and breaking his jaw. Knight again evaded serious penalty.

Knight by then was immersing himself in the music industry, serving as a bodyguard for superstars such as Bobby Brown. He eventually maneuvered his way into the circles of rappers like The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E. Knight partnered with Dr. Dre to create Death Row Records in 1991. Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic (Death Row/Priority) and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope) the following year became instant pop gospels and solidified Knight and Death Row as not only major players but also undeniable and controversial cultural focal points.

It’s been years since Coach Hyde has seen his former player. He’s not sure if he will again, but, “You can’t get me to say anything negative about Suge Knight,” he said. “Whatever somebody is accused of, he’s still a football player of mine. He’s still part of the family when I was at UNLV.” Hyde pauses momentarily, then continues, “I’m not endorsing all the certain things they accuse him of, because I really don’t know. I have no idea! He doesn’t judge me and I don’t judge him. We just have our old feelings of each other. I just think that’s what it’s all about. You don’t forget people.”

“When I watch the news, it’s like I’m watching someone else,” Jon Wolfson said. “That’s not the guy I know.”

As for Dufresne, he’s not on either side of the aisle. He’s more shocked that Marion Knight, a guy he only mentioned in passing through roster lists, morphed into Suge Knight, the Death Row Records impresario who was once worth more than $100 million. Suge, he recalled, wasn’t the only notorious figure to come about during his time covering the Rams. Darryl Henley, a former cornerback for the Rams (1989-94), was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1995. He is currently serving a 41-year prison term for conspiring to murder the federal judge who presided over his trial, as well as the former Rams cheerleader who testified against him. And the Rams’ 1996 first round pick, running back Lawrence Phillips, received a 31-year sentence for domestic violence, spousal abuse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft and was later charged with first-degree murder of his cellmate. Phillips committed suicide in 2016.

Dufresne recalled the bitterness of rap in the ’90s, the “East/West thing” as he dubbed it. And he remembered the personal sadness that followed Shakur’s murder. Yet, it wasn’t until this phone call where he put one and one together. Marion is Suge. Suge was Marion. Suge Knight was a replacement player during the most untamed year of my career.

“Marion Knight, out of UNLV, who did what a lot of guys did and had a dream to play [in the NFL] and maybe didn’t understand what the players were fighting for, he was just another guy,” he said. He stops, as if he’s shocked. “Little did we know.”

Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens bring classic tennis dressing to the US Open semifinals It’s a new and stylish day for these tennis queens in Queens, New York

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. And if you are Serena Williams, your absence from Grand Slam tournaments this year has been a godsend to other female tennis players. Serena’s high-profile pregnancy and birth of her daughter (on Sept. 1) has left a gaping hole in the women’s singles circuit, and several excellent players have stepped into her fashionable breach.

Two Americans, Serena’s older sister Venus and Sloane Stephens, will meet on the hard court at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday. It’s the first time two African-American women who aren’t both named Williams will play each other in the Open semis. Another African-American player, Madison Keys, the 22-year-old No. 15 seed, will play CoCo Vandeweghe on Thursday.

The US Open semi matches give us a peek into the sporty style of three very different black female athletes, and Venus Williams, Stephens and Keys have stepped into the giant Serena vacuum, where their wholesome, classic tennis style will shine.

First, a bit about the legacy of the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena are important cultural icons who have inspired countless young girls to become hardcore athletes for more than 20 years. Serena, especially, is the winningest female tennis player of all time — and she has famously adopted a unique, take-no-prisoners approach to fashion and on-court athletic gear. Serena has never met a leatherette catsuit, gladiator-style tennis shoe or sequin-laden jumpsuit that she couldn’t or wouldn’t wear as she snatched a Grand Slam title from another player’s sweaty hands. Everything about the tennis legend has been analyzed, decoded, imitated and slut-shamed — yet Serena remains perhaps the most interesting athlete in the world.

Venus and Serena are famously fascinated by fashion, and each has launched successful clothing lines. But there is a distinct difference between the sisters. Where Serena can be flamboyant, Venus long ago adopted a more conservative style. If Serena is, was and always will be Compton, California (the Williams’ hometown), Venus is the country club pro in Wimbledon whites.

“People see Serena as being curiously provocative,” said celebrity stylist and former TV host Robert Verdi. “Everyone is fascinated by her body, the way she dresses, what’s going on in her personal life. She’s sexy and strong, and they see masculine notes in her muscular body. She’s just more. You don’t say that about Venus.”

Venus won this year’s US Open quarterfinals against Czech Petra Kvitová while wearing a short orange-and-gray tennis dress with a geographical print from the Epiphany collection of her tennis-friendly clothing line, EleVen by Venus Williams. Verdi noted that it was an unexpected intersection between fashion and sports.

“Venus dresses like any other player on the pro circuit,” he said. “Her little dresses are a part of the athleisure phenomenon. You could wear those little Venus dresses to pick up the kids from school, or wear one of those four-way stretch microfiber skirts to the office on a casual Friday. Women don’t dress like Serena for that.”

The unseeded Stephens, who advanced to the semis after beating 16th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova, is an Under Armour-sponsored athlete who favors stylish, low-key tennis dresses with fitted waists in pale colors. (Similarly, Keys favors Nike tennis gear in bright colors and pulls her hair back into a no-nonsense bun or ponytail.) Stephens “clearly pays attention to fashion,” Verdi said. “You can definitely see that she’s having a conversation behind the scenes about body-conscious clothes.”

Speaking of hair, Venus and Stephens have both turned the lily-white ponytail aesthetic on its country club head while at the US Open. Venus wore her natural hair in a high, 1950s-era bun tucked under a visor; the look was gilded with cat-eye makeup and big gold hoop earrings. Stephens’ fishtail braid was pretty, but practical and serious. Again, the hairstyles have been several degrees shy of Serena’s tendency to go big, bigger and biggest on the brown girl aesthetic front.

The Venus vs. Sloane US Open moment may prove to be a memorable rivalry, but it’s Serena’s inevitable return to tennis that will likely unite them all.

“It almost feels like Venus and Sloane called each other and said, ‘Girl, it’s now or never,’ ” Verdi said. ” ‘We gotta take over now because once she gets back, she’s gonna have something to prove. That ball will be a bullet, and we’re all gonna be done.’ “

Serena Williams, with or without a baby, has always been a ‘real woman’ She used photos from her pregnancy to fight the ugly criticism she’s faced throughout her career

The Vanity Fair cover was #shotsfired.

I remember gasping upon seeing it. Serena Williams’ pregnant belly had popped, and there it was, along with the rest of her — glamorous, wind-swept, nearly nude, elegantly trolling us with a glance back to August 1991.

First thought: This b—- betta WERK.

Second thought: Eat your heart out, Demi.

On Friday, the 35-year-old Williams gave birth to her first child, a girl, at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. She entered the hospital Wednesday, claimed an entire floor of the maternity wing and was induced Thursday evening. She and her fiancé, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, 34, have been engaged since December 2016. The birth of the Williams-Ohanian baby marks the culmination of several months of famous-mommy-to-be hullabaloo for America’s greatest living athlete. Said hullabaloo allowed us to re-engage with all our worries, anxieties, hostilities, unsolicited opinions and concern-trolling about Williams and that magnificent body of hers that will never allow her the luxury of being a shrinking violet, even if she wanted to be one.

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Fortunately for us, Williams was more than happy to publicly exult in her knocked-up condition, gifting audiences with glossy, high-profile photo shoots in Vanity Fair, Vogue and Stellar, the magazine of Australia’s Daily Telegraph. There was the #squadgoals baby shower that doubled as a sock hop, an appearance with Ohanian at the Metropolitan Museum Gala in a silky, jewel-toned gown that breezily skimmed her swollen belly, and plenty of Instagram pics showing off her tummy’s transformation. This was how Williams, tennis player extraordinaire, fashion maven and certified friend of Anna Wintour, was going to publicly perform her pregnancy: with aplomb. In the course of an unexpected pregnancy, Williams stumbled upon an opportunity not just to express herself but to once again reassert and broaden definitions of beauty.

It was refreshing to see her so nakedly happy and maybe, just maybe, enjoying the opportunity to tweak some of her rivals and twirl on her haters. After all, Williams just so happened to “accidentally” share the news of her pregnancy with a photo on SnapChat the same day as her rival Maria Sharapova’s birthday.

For as long as she’s been in the public eye, Williams has been asserting her femininity because for just as long, it’s been under attack. Williams is well-aware of her public image and the critiques of it. And while she’s come to a level of comfort and acceptance with herself, she’s also bristled for years over the conversation about her physique and her athleticism. So for her, a pregnancy was more than a chance to welcome a new life into the world. It was an opportunity to assert, once and for all, something that should be obvious: that, yes, Serena Williams is indeed a “real woman.”


It doesn’t take a gender studies major to understand that the standard of femininity that exists for American women is centered on whiteness. And not just any kind of whiteness, but a delicate, blond, thin, toned-but-never-overly-muscular, WASP-y whiteness. Lady lumps are welcome, as long as they don’t protrude so much as to give the impression of cheapness or signal a tawdry lack of control over one’s body or eating habits.

It’s a rigid standard that, despite our recognition of it, has continued to hold firm. And so, even though Williams is in a class of her own as a tennis player, Sharapova nets more in endorsement deals because she’s more “marketable.” This despite her 15-month suspension for using a banned drug.

Which brings us to Vanity Fair.

Courtesy of Vanity Fair

When Moore appeared on its cover in 1991, nude, pregnant and head turned just so as she stared into the middle distance, it was a pivotal moment in the way our society thought about women’s bodies and pregnancy. Being visibly pregnant was — well, it was a really obvious indication that a woman had had sex. For decades, pregnant celebrities were expected to make themselves scarce as they carried, and here was Moore, flaunting her fecundity all over the newsstands. It marked the moment that pregnancy, at least for celebrities, could be a publicity asset. It could be sexy and daring and provocative, and you didn’t have to cover it up in a series of unflattering muumuus a la Princess Diana — if you were white.

In 2013, Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings posed for ESPN The Magazine’s annual Body Issue.” She did two shoots, both nude: one while pregnant and one postpartum, cradling her sleeping baby against her body. Moore basically opened the door for images like those to exist and not be a big deal.

But there was a double standard for black celebrities. Twenty-six years after Moore’s momentous cover, Williams and Vanity Fair took a shot at that double standard by overtly referencing it. Williams’ pose wasn’t an exact replica — it was a little more defiant. The hand bra, as the pose came to be known, was the same, but Williams had her free hand cocked on her hip. In contrast to Moore’s relatively short locks, Williams was Lady Godiva, staring head-on into a wind machine out of frame. She’s completely in profile, rather than facing the camera. And she’s not quite naked. Instead, she’s wearing a belly chain over a thong matched to her complexion.

But more than anything, like Moore, she was hugely, roundly, unmistakably pregnant. For Williams, pregnancy provided a way to announce and assert her femininity, something she’s been doing over the whole of her career.

In an August interview with Stellar, Williams told the magazine, “I am about to be a real woman now, you know? It’s going to be something incredibly impressive to go through.”

It seemed like an innocuous quote, especially if you were familiar with the attacks that Williams has endured for decades about her looks. But some didn’t see it that way, and slammed Williams. “Didn’t know I had to have a baby to be a “real woman”..thanks for letting me know,” sniped one Twitter user.


Williams shares an unfortunate sisterhood with Michelle Obama. They’re both high-profile black women who have been repeatedly subjected to racist, sexist insults suggesting that they’re not real women, or that they’re not even human. Both have withstood barbs about their bodies simply because they don’t conform to WASP beauty standards.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, The Washington Post ran an interview with a Donald Trump supporter in western Pennsylvania who believed Obama “could be a man.” It’s a rumor that’s followed Obama since she entered the national spotlight, and it continues even though she’s returned to her role as a private citizen.

Opponents insulted Obama by calling her “Moochelle” and insisting she was overweight. A West Virginia official was suspended from her job after posting on Facebook, “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing an ape in heels.”

Because of her muscular physique, her aggressive style of play and her blackness, Williams has weathered similar accusations. Williams couldn’t even escape “misogynoiristic” comments from professional journalists. In 2009, Jason Whitlock, then a columnist for Fox Sports, called Williams lazy and fat, compared her to a horse and accused her of “grazing at her stall between matches.”

When Williams won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year designation in 2015, she had to face the fact that a number of sports fans were angry that she took the honor over American Pharoah, a horse — which, being, you know, equine, was not a sportsperson.

Williams accepted the honor with a bold, sexy photo shoot for the SI cover. She donned a black lace leotard and patent leather stiletto heels and posed on a throne, one leg draped suggestively over the arm of the chair. She confronts the viewer head-on, staring straight into the camera. If there was a thought bubble above her head, I swear it’d say, “You come at the Queen, you best not miss.”

We don’t have to guess about her thoughts on the Vanity Fair cover. “Being black and being on the cover was really important to me,” Williams told Vogue in August. “The success of one woman should be the inspiration to another, and I’m always trying to inspire and motivate the black girls out there. I’m not a model. I’m not the girl next door. But I’m not hiding. Actually, I look like a lot of women out there. The American woman is many women, and I think it’s important to speak to American women at a time when they need encouragement.”


Her father, Richard, anticipated the animus that Serena and her sister Venus would face as they ascended to tennis’s biggest professional spotlights. He famously trained his daughters on the public courts of Compton, California, and paid people to shout racist, sexist invectives at them to make them as tough mentally as they were physically. It’s become part of the lore of the rise of the Williams sisters.

When she yells at game officials, it serves as confirmation for those who see Williams as unrefined. When she first expressed a serious interest in fashion and developed a line called Aneres, many a male sportswriter dismissed it as frivolous and unimportant because it wasn’t related to tennis. When she decided to go to beauty school to become a certified nail technician (she even once gave Oprah Winfrey a pedicure) it was easy to wave off the move as a lark.

Williams has managed to do what she wants, regardless of public reaction, whether it’s sporting a black catsuit that leaves little to the imagination or launching a fashion line for HSN and presenting it at New York Fashion Week. When she joined Beyoncé in the “Sorry” video for Lemonade, she was the epitome of “thick thighs save lives.”

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But that doesn’t mean the insults haven’t gotten to her. Because there’s no way to train yourself to tune out hate, not when it’s so loud and so personal.

“I don’t touch a weight, because I’m already super fit and super cut, and if I even look at weights, I get bigger,” Williams told The New York Times in 2015. “For years I’ve only done Thera-Bands and things like that, because that’s kind of how I felt. But then I realized that you really have to learn to accept who you are and love who you are. I’m really happy with my body type, and I’m really proud of it. Obviously it works out for me. I talk about it all the time, how it was uncomfortable for someone like me to be in my body.”

Just last year, Williams told The Guardian that she’s criticized for being “too muscly and too masculine, and then a week later too racy and too sexy.”

It’s easy to understand how pregnancy and motherhood could hold an outsize importance for Williams in her journey to loving, accepting and understanding herself as a woman in the body that she lives in. And it’s ironic that the life event that led her to exhibit such control over her public image is one that also requires ceding a bit of it, or sometimes a lot, to a tiny human gestating in utero.

If giving birth gives her a measure of comfort she wouldn’t otherwise have, no one should begrudge her. But Serena Williams, baby or no, has always been a real woman.