The NBA draft prospects step into the style spotlight Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and other ballers make a play for best in class

I’m milling about the lobby of the Grand Hyatt New York, where many members of the 2017 NBA draft class are counting down the hours until D-day at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Tall brown men are everywhere, many of whom are a little more than 24 hours away from being very famous and very rich.

I’m here to find out what the kids will be wearing on draft night. It becomes quickly apparent that ain’t happening. No one will spill the beans on details about suits, shoes, jewelry; they know that the big reveal gets the more screen time. Having that Hollywood mind frame starts early, yo. What we see pre-draft — formal-ish suits in low-key colors, flashy designer sneakers and jewelry — is an appetizer portion of what’ll be dished up later. The fashion menu is safe and tasty — but Thursday’s will be fire.

First up: Lonzo Ball. The 6-foot-6 UCLA point guard has had a rapid ascension in the pop culture hierarchy over the past several months, partially due to his serious skills as a ball player, but mainly because of his outspoken father and manager, LaVar Ball. The Ball family launched a sneaker and apparel line, Big Baller Brand, to much fanfare earlier this year. Not surprisingly, Lonzo Ball came dressed in gray pants and a black polo shirt stamped with the “BBB” logo on the left breast; a diamond crucifix hung from a diamond chain around his neck.

“I don’t feel pressure” to rep the Big Baller Brand, Lonzo Ball said when asked what he planned to wear to draft night. “I’ll wear a black suit.” We’ll see. The marketing machine that is LaVar Ball has enough chutzpah to drop a ready-to-wear men’s suit line in time for Lonzo Ball’s handshake with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

On to De’Aaron Fox, the charming point guard for the University of Kentucky. Fox has been making the media rounds leading up to the draft, and the Houston-bred player was not playing around, sartorially speaking. His gray two-toned suit and black collarless shirt was tailored (by his personal stylist, no less) to perfection. The famous crown of hair was peaked high and looked magnificent. Fox joked that his Gucci slip-on sneakers, which were color stamped with a picture of a snarling tiger, were coveted by his fashion-obsessed Kentucky teammate, Malik Monk. “We wear the same shoe size, and he almost took these!” Fox said. “He had a different pair of Gucci shoes, so we’re good.

“I just like to look good — I feel like I can look good in anything, but my [draft day] suit is gonna look great,” said Fox, who took off the right GG Supreme Angry Cat sneaker and offered it for inspection. “The only question is how I’m gonna fit the hat over my head.”

Instagram Photo

At a nearby table, Monk wore a blue-and-white bomber jacket with leather trim instead of a typical suit jacket. “I always have something different on, whether you see it or not. You’ve gotta be different in the NBA, gotta stand out,” Monk said as he lifted his own colorful Gucci Ace GG Wallpaper sneaker-clad foot onto the table.

Instagram Photo

I’d been waiting to talk to Markelle Fultz, this year’s projected No. 1 overall pick and famous son of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Being a P.G. County girl my own self, I was pleasantly surprised when Fultz ended up earning the award for Most Low-Key Fashion Rookie of the day. Dressed in a black button-down shirt and black jeans, the University of Washington point guard let out a loud cry as he approached the interview table, packed seven deep with reporters. “Dang!” Fultz said before taking his seat.

What do you like most about what you’re going to wear Thursday, I asked.

“The lining of my draft suit is gray, but there’ll be some special stuff about it, too. I hope people will be surprised and like it,” Fultz said. “I always try to rep for a little bit of everywhere I’ve been, P.G. County, DeMatha [High School], [University of] Washington.”

All Day Podcast: 6/22/17 A trip around New York City, with a twist

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | Download | RSS | Embed

Remember back when I mentioned that the All Day Podcast was going to become a lot more personal? Well, that day has come. This week, I traveled up to New York to talk to a couple of people about their connection to the basketball and sports world, with the NBA draft set to go down Thursday night in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center.

Basically, I grabbed my recording equipment and hit the streets, hoping to capture some stories and give you an idea of what interests me beyond the obvious stick and ball sports that we cover so regularly here. It was a fun ride, and I hope after listening you’ll get a better idea of exactly what makes me tick.

To begin with, I sat down with Porter Braswell and Ryan Williams, the co-creators of Jopwell. It’s a firm that places minority candidates in tech jobs, started by two black men who met while working in finance on Wall Street. I met them at their downtown offices in Manhattan to talk about what prompted them to leave the money world and try to help others in a field that neither of them had much experience in.

Braswell, who played basketball at Yale, talked about what it was like to bring his athletic persona into the corporate world once he was done with hoops and how it helped shape his business strategy. Williams pointed out this was not a popular career decision in his household, but it certainly has paid off at this point in terms of what he’s getting out of it. Then, I got crushed at pingpong.

Later that afternoon, I made my way to midtown to check out the unveiling of Nike’s new REACT technology, featured on the Hyperdunk and Jordan Super.Fly 2017s. The event was held at a place called Terminal 23, which holds invite-only open runs for people in the business and youth players looking for more than the average gym experience. I played horribly, but I did get to talk to three Nike execs who were responsible for creating the new shoes, one of which Golden State Warriors center Draymond Green wore in the NBA Finals. He was there, too.

Lastly, I took a trip to Queens to decompress after hearing the news of the death of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy. He was only 42 years old, making him the latest in a long line of hip-hop greats who have died before 50, which is just really sad. He was a force on the rap scene since “Shook Ones Pt. II,” and his presence in the game as a ’90s artist will never be forgotten.

I talked with K-Sise, a lifelong friend and family member as far as I’m concerned, about what his impact meant to the borough. K is a semiretired recording artist who grew up in Queens, so I thought his input on this subject would be valuable. We sat down at his place and talked about the crazy day that was and how it affected us as fans of the culture, never mind him as a Queens native and New Yorker. I think you’ll find it interesting.

Overall, it was a pretty exhausting Tuesday, but I did my best to make it sound good. With any luck, you’ll get an idea of where this show is looking to go, because although this episode isn’t perfect — none are — it’s as close as I’ve gotten to something that best represents what this blog is really about.

Enjoy.

In wake of the hate crimes in Maryland and Oregon, self-protection becomes a priority Highly publicized, race-motivated crimes are forcing black America to think about legal carry … or not

Should we bring a gun?

It’s not exactly the question you think would come to mind while planning a leisurely getaway. But as my husband and I packed for a long weekend of culture, Southern cuisine and a well-deserved rest, it was one we repeatedly and seriously asked ourselves.

We were headed to the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, where the heat and history can be oppressive. It’s a city that sometimes feels like a foreign country, but it’s as all-American as it gets. You can stand where men, women and children were shackled, poked, prodded, bought and sold — you can feel their ghosts. Some 40 percent of the enslaved in the 13 colonies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade came through the city. And yet, here we are, a black woman and white man, mixing and mingling and applauding with audiences and performers of all races at what’s become a major tourist draw.

In Charleston, the past is never past, as unapologetic racist Dylann Roof proved when in 2015 he chose historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as Mother Emanuel, a spiritual and civil rights bulwark, as the site of a hate-filled killing spree, murdering nine parishioners after praying with them for the better part of an hour. In North Charleston, unarmed African-American Walter Scott was shot by a police officer in the back; it was considered imperfect justice when Scott’s killer, Michael Slager, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge after a state jury could not agree on a verdict despite video evidence.

Charleston has its special history. But is it all that different from the rest of America?


In New Orleans, the decision to remove and move monuments to the Confederacy, some erected long after the Civil War’s end, is debated and resisted.

Portland, Oregon, has its own Western brand of exclusionary racism baked in the soil, exemplified by Oregon’s policy barring blacks from living there when the state entered the union in 1859 and the legacy of those actions since then. In Portland, a man has been charged in the murder of two white men and the attempted murder of a third when the three came to the aid of two African-American women, one wearing a hijab, being harangued and harassed on public transportation last month. The accused attacker was known for expressing white supremacist views at rallies and on social media.

In Maryland, my home state, an empty chair took the place of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a recently commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant, at his Bowie State University graduation; his life was ended as he waited for his ride at a University of Maryland bus stop. A 22-year-old white man, who was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” has been charged in the stabbing; authorities are investigating whether it was a hate crime.

When crowds in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a City Council vote to remove a park statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee marched, shouted and carried flaming torches, all that was missing was a burning cross.

There is aggression in words as well, and no one is immune. So Cleveland Cavalier great LeBron James was not that surprised when a racist slur was spray-painted on the gate of his Los Angeles home.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” the saying goes.

America’s focus has turned to the danger from without, from foreign terrorism and the bad actors entering the country with mayhem in mind. Those are the stories making the headlines, though in truth, domestic terrorism is the threat many people of color fear the most.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks attacks by extremists and domestic terrorism and threats by hate groups, which saw an increase in the years of the Obama presidency and continue to rise.

So it made sense for my husband and me to investigate the South Carolina gun laws. The state’s “your home is your castle” Castle Doctrine extends to vehicles and workplaces, meaning our registered piece could indeed travel with us on a journey we hoped would be routine but feared could escalate in an instant.

Laws for self-protection and the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms are tricky and possibly dangerous for African-Americans, as those rights once applied only to whites — and some would say they still do. A registration did not stop legal gun owner Philando Castile from being killed in Minnesota in July 2016 by a panicked police officer, who was found not guilty of any crime this past week despite shooting into a car with a 4-year-old girl as a passenger.

Many, however, have decided taking that chance is worth it, and it has been reported that gun ownership among African-Americans is increasing.

In Charleston, in between programs of opera, dancing and jazz, we made the pilgrimage to Mother Emanuel, quiet and protected. It sits on Calhoun Street, which honors South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery as a “positive good.”

On these streets, our marriage would have been a crime 50 years ago, before the Loving case removed the legal barriers. In 1998, when South Carolina threw out its unenforceable state ban, 38 percent of voters wanted to keep the pre-Loving status quo.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is planning a memorial to peace and justice in Montgomery, Alabama, acknowledging the lynching and legally sanctioned racial terror that traumatized citizens and left a legacy. “Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” Bryan Stevenson, the director of the EJI told The New York Times. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.” The museum “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” would be one of many memorials.

Are these reminders needed? Last month, tourists visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington found a noose in an exhibition on segregation. In an email to staff, museum director Lonnie Bunch said, “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African-Americans continue to face.”

Will America face this enemy within?

As for our final decision on that gun, we decided not to carry after all. It would have been legal, but it may not have been wise. We did, however, pack a big honkin’ knife.

‘Queen Sugar’: What Oprah and Ava DuVernay say to expect from season two OWN is dialing up the intrigue in its show about rural Louisiana

Queen Sugar, OWN’s marquee family drama created by Ava DuVernay, returns Tuesday night with its second-season premiere, with the second episode airing Wednesday.

The network only released the first episode in advance, so this isn’t a review. However, I did speak with executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay at recent press events in Los Angeles about the upcoming season.

Season one closed with Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) deciding to leave her rapey pro basketball player husband and start the Queen Sugar mill, the first black-owned mill in her family’s Louisiana home parish of St. Josephine’s. She rounded up commitments from many of the community’s black farmers to use the Bordelon mill to grind their cane, assuming it’s up and running in time. And Charley’s raising the hackles of competing white male farmers, especially Samuel Landry (David Jensen), who owns the biggest farm in the parish.

Here’s what’s in store:

Dialing up the drama

Winfrey’s been quite vocal in her support of Queen Sugar and announced a second-season pickup last year before a single episode had even aired. She’s been similarly effusive in advance of the second season. Winfrey joked about keeping the Bordelons in a state of some dysfunction because it makes for more entertaining storytelling that can be spooled out for multiple seasons.

“I pray Ralph Angel and his sisters get it together,” Kofi Siriboe said of his character, Ralph Angel, during a roundtable with Winfrey and Gardner.

Winfrey pursed her lips a bit and said, “Not soon.”

Ralph Angel (Kofie Siriboe), Blue (Ethan Hutchison) and Darla (Bianca Lawson) in a scene from Queen Sugar.

Alfonso Bresciani /Courtesy of OWN

While all that soapy, melodramatic goodness is great for fans, it spells trouble ahead for Nova (Rutina Wesley), who’s still fighting for justice in her job as a newspaper journalist, and Ralph Angel as he struggles to get Charley to respect his skill as a farmer. Meanwhile Aunt Vi, played by the utterly vivacious Tina Lifford, is still showing us just how great retirement age can be, opening the season clad in a crop top on a trip to a nightclub with her nieces.

Apparently Winfrey had toyed with the idea of playing Aunt Violet herself but was booked on OWN’s other drama Greenleaf, which led to a long search before she and DuVernay cast Lifford.

A continued spotlight on Louisiana’s criminal justice system

One of the most compelling B-stories of the first season was Too Sweet’s (Isaac White) trials after being swept into Louisiana’s overextended criminal justice system. Unable to afford an attorney, Too Sweet became another juvenile warehoused in jail as he awaited face time with a public defender barely acquainted with the facts of his case. Without Nova highlighting the injustices of his case, he could have simply been lost in the system.

Rutina Wesley and Dawn-Lyen Gardner as sisters Nova and Charley Bordelon.

Alfonso Bresciani / Courtesy of OWN

This season, Queen Sugar takes a sharper look at the influence and limitations of class when it comes to how black people are treated, with Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe) undergoing his own harrowing experience with law enforcement.

A continued look at the lives of rural black people

The Washington Post recently released the results of a survey that shows a broadening divide between the worldviews of rural and urban Americans. It also found completely different outlooks between rural blacks and whites.

According to the Post:

Black rural Americans — most of whom live in the South — are far less likely than their white neighbors to feel positively about their communities, the poll finds. Sixty percent of blacks say their area is an excellent or good place to raise children, compared with 80 percent of whites. Rural blacks are 25 percentage points less likely than rural whites to give their community positive marks on safety and are 29 points less likely to say their area is a place where people look out for one another. Rural Hispanics tend to fall in between whites and blacks in rating their communities.

There are few shows on television that bother grappling with the experiences of rural Americans in a way that steers clear of obvious and insulting stereotypes, and fewer still that focus almost exclusively on black rural Americans. But Queen Sugar does. And it illustrates the racial divide that the Post discusses. While St. Josephine’s parish may be small enough for everyone to know each other, it’s still deeply segregated, and the economic disparities between the parish’s black farmers and its white ones are huge.

“[The Bordelons] know exactly which white people in their community owned their family,” DuVernay said. “We’re trying to be really explicit in our intentions in playing with and unpacking race and culture, but do it in a way that’s wrapped in contemporary romance and beautiful people and personal relationships while we have this cultural/historical context over it.”

Visions from new directors

Regardless of Julie Dash’s talent as a filmmaker, no one was beating down her door to do more work after Daughters of the Dust, which debuted to rapturous reviews in 1991. We can credit the aesthetic references to Dash’s work in Beyoncé’s Lemonade film to the resurgence in interest in the director, who is now a film professor at Howard University. She, along with five other women — DeMane Davis, Cheryl Dunye, Aurora Guerrero, Amanda Marsalis and producing director Kat Candler — were responsible for continuing DuVernay’s vision in season two.

Dash’s experience with being unable to convert obvious skill into steady and challenging work is hardly anomalous among female directors, and DuVernay spoke at length about the difficulty for them to get hired. It’s what influenced her decision to have both seasons of Queen Sugar be directed entirely by women.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=19687535

See what the cast of Queen Sugar has to say about working with Julie Dash.

“I wanted to say, ‘Look over here. Look at how it can be and how wonderful it can be,’ ” DuVernay said. “I’m proud that other shows have followed suit. I’m proud of Melissa [Rosenberg] at Jessica Jones following suit and some other shows starting to really step into the gap and say, ‘We will have balance.’ …

“I’ve tried to, with Oprah’s blessing and Warner Horizon’s blessing, over-index and go the other direction. I always say if Game of Thrones can have three seasons of all male directors, why can’t we have three seasons of all women directors? If they can do it, why can’t we do it? And you only do that because you can and you want to. You only say, ‘We will not have women’s voices, we will only center the man’s perspective,’ in terms of the perspective of the show, because you want to. On the other side of the things, we’re going to center women as much as we can because we want to. And we’re at a network owned by a woman, so it makes it easier.”

DuVernay is a bit busy, shooting and now editing the much-anticipated Wrinkle in Time, juggling duties at Array, her independent film distribution company, and prepping for other projects, such as her upcoming adaptation of the Robin Givhan book The Battle of Versailles for HBO Films. So this season, Nashville alumnus Monica Macer served as showrunner, supervising the writers room in Los Angeles, while Candler ran the set in Louisiana. The show also promoted two writers, Anthony Sparks and Jason Wilborn, to producer. This season she wasn’t on set, but DuVernay maintained final approval of scripts, casting and editing.

“It’s hard to hand your baby off, but it’s easy when it’s family,” she said.

Thanks to DuVernay’s insistence on using only female directors for the first season of Queen Sugar, her contemporaries are busy too. Besides bringing a new set of stories to the small screen, DuVernay’s created a professional pipeline for other female directors.

“I started out looking at women who had at least directed one film, so the great majority of women from the first season have at least one film under their belt. Can you believe that these women had directed a film — a film that played at film festivals around the world, many of them had won at festivals around the world — and couldn’t get hired in Hollywood for one episode of television? On any network, they would not be allowed in the door,” DuVernay said, clearly peeved. “So all of the women in our season one, all of the women have gone on to be heavily, heavily booked.

“I got a call from a really well-known television show just last week asking, We had someone drop out as a director. Can you refer us to one of your season one directors?’ I got on the phone and tried. None of the season one directors are available. Not one of them. They’re completely booked. I called Victoria Mahoney and I was like, ‘This is a pretty good show.’ She’s like, ‘The show’s good. I’m booked till February of 2018.’ I’m like, ‘Word!’ ”

Bill Cosby’s sexual assault mistrial was as much about power as it was about rape Cosby’s silence speaks of his wholesale betrayal

If you ever needed proof that rape is as much about power as it is about sex, a Pennsylvania courtroom just handed it to you. On the day that Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case was declared a mistrial, his spokesperson Andrew Wyatt came right out and proudly preached to the world, “Mr. Cosby’s power is back. It’s back. It has been restored.”

While the blind comedian stood behind him, Wyatt methodically explained, whether he knew so or not, exactly why misogyny and toxic masculinity keep scores of women from never reporting their attackers.

In the words of Huey P. Newton: “Power is the ability to defy phenomena, and make it act in a designed manner.” Wyatt then repeated it. After the aforementioned declaration of the return of Cosby’s power, he continued: “The legacy didn’t go anywhere, it has been restored.”

It’s impossible to forget any of the steps that got us here. The initial accusers. The payoffs. The subsequent accusers. The pound cake speech. Hannibal Buress. All the other shenanigans that Cosby’s lawyers tried to pull to make sure this very trial would never come to light.

Ultimately, Andrea Constand was allowed to confront her accuser and a jury simply couldn’t bring themselves to convict a man who legitimately admitted to violating her when she was unable to move. Cosby was so obsessed with his invasive conquests that he told his accuser’s own mother about what he did to her.

It’s hard to describe what happens to people when they get to control things. Most men live their whole lives not realizing how much opportunity and unjust right they are given to power. But when they get it, they believe they deserve it. Bill Cosby, apparently since the age of 11, has been consumed with controlling women. When he agreed to pay Constand’s school costs, as an offset for his actions, he insisted she maintain a 3.0 GPA. Even in admitting wrong, he had to have some level of say in her choices.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” were the words of Lord Acton, the 19th-century British politician. Cosby’s world and mind were so incredibly corrupted that he didn’t even believe that what he was doing was wrong. Woven into the fabric of his existence is a world in which women were in his life for the purposes of being his sexual objects. Most men are taught to think this way. He thought this was OK. From the way he talks, as a man of power, he thought it was his right.

I don’t need a courtroom full of people to come to a decision for me to know that Cosby is a scumbag. That was clear ages ago. In a time in America in which the legal system is so obviously perverted toward the maintenance of patriarchal power structures, nobody on earth thought this man was going to be convicted.

The odd irony of the entire thing is that Cosby knows his spokesman is lying. His eyes are failing, not his mouth. He made a living with his voice but would rather let someone else do his bidding at this stage of life. It’s a very cruel twist on rape culture that he should be allowed to be silent when he spent so many years silencing dozens of women who cried out to be heard.

No one man should have all that power. But only men do.

Warriors win the NBA Finals The Week That Was June 12-June 16

Monday 06.12.17

Ivanka Trump, who is the daughter of President Donald Trump and has presumably known him for 35 years, said that “there’s a level of viciousness that I was not expecting” in response to her father’s presidency. Former potential NBC buyer Bill Cosby declined to testify in his sexual assault trial, and his defense team rested after only three minutes and without calling an original witness. Hip-hop entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs topped Forbes magazine’s list of highest-paid entertainers, notably beating out last year’s top earner, Taylor Swift, by nearly $100 million. McDonald’s announced it will use social media app Snapchat to hire future employees this summer; the app, known for its animated filters and porn, is expected to “lure in younger applicants” for the fast-food giant. Meanwhile, a close friend of the president told PBS that Trump was considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is in charge of the ongoing Russia investigation. Professional wrestler Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte was sentenced to community service and a $385 fine for his assault of a Guardian reporter during last month’s special election in Montana; Gianforte said it was not his “intention to hurt” the reporter whom he punched and slammed to the ground. During a meandering rant about abortion on his official Facebook page, Missouri state Rep. Mike Moon beheaded a live chicken, cut its feet off, and removed its heart. Twitter argued over the effectiveness of Crock-Pots; in the words of one straightforward dissenter, “why on earth u wanna cook slow.” Seattle Seahawks running back Eddie Lacy received another $55,000 for not being fat. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who spent more than a year in prison for illegally gambling on games, claimed the league will try to force a Game 6 in the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors ended the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5.

Tuesday 06.13.17

After the Warriors’ victory, Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib took a shot at Golden State forward Kevin Durant, calling the Finals MVP a “suburban kid” who had to “Link up with the best” to win a championship, and that the Hall of Fame is “laughing at you right now”; Talib, who shot himself in the leg last year, joined the Broncos in 2014, a season after Denver eliminated his former team, the New England Patriots, from the playoffs. A Canadian man who is blind in one eye installed a video camera over his eyeball; faced with privacy concerns, the man posited, “Am I not allowed to put an eye camera in my own body?” Hours after NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea, an American college student who had been detained in the country since 2016 for allegedly attempting to steal a political banner was released to U.S. authorities; Rodman, who is in North Korea for a reported fifth time, had his trip sponsored by a company specializing in weed-industry cryptocurrency. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein said there was no evidence to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Hours later, it was reported that the president is being talked down by his staff from firing Mueller. R&B singer Tinashe, who is mixed-race, acknowledged the presence of colorism in the black community but explained that she is usually the victim of it, telling a reporter that “sometimes I feel like I don’t fully fit into the black community; they don’t fully accept me.” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who has been rocked by the recent death of his mother and his own workplace behavior, including meditating in the company lactation room and instructing his employees to “not have sex with another employee” at a company party, has taken a leave of absence from the ride-sharing company. During a companywide meeting to discuss Uber’s alleged “bro culture,” a 74-year-old board member interrupted a female board member by making a sexist joke; the board member stepped down shortly afterward. President Trump reportedly told Republican senators that the House-adopted health care bill, which the president in May called a “great plan,” is too “mean” and called it a “son of a b—-.”

Wednesday 06.14.17

A gunman shot three people, including Rep. Steve Scalise, at a congressional baseball team practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who was at the practice field, proposed that lawmakers should be able to carry weapons, including, presumably, while playing baseball. In response to the shooting, Vox editor-in-chief and U.S. history buff Ezra Klein tweeted: “It’s easy to forget what a blessing it is to live in a country where politics rarely leads to violence.” Hours later, three UPS employees were killed by a gunman at a sorting facility in San Francisco. Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who was called a “modern plantation overseer” by journalist Bryant Gumbel in 2011, called Gumbel “an idiot” and said he, the implementer of the league’s controversial dress code, has “done more for people of color” than Gumbel, a black man. Days after reports came out that UNLV basketball players Dakota and Dylan Gonzalez were quitting the team to pursue music and Central Florida football player Donald De La Haye may have to give up his YouTube channel in the face of NCAA violations, University of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said the football team’s recent $800,000 trip to Rome was paid for by an undisclosed school donor. A fire at a London apartment complex left at least 12 people dead. Five Michigan officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the ongoing contaminated-water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Right-leaning cable network Fox News has plans to drop its “Fair & Balanced” slogan, not because the tagline wasn’t true but to further distance the company from Roger Ailes, the late former network president. The Houston Astros, who called up outfield prospect Derek Fisher from Class AAA Fresno, will face the Boston Red Sox this weekend, with right-handed closer Matt Barnes expected to play. For the sequel to 1996’s Great White Hype, retired undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC fighter Conor McGregor agreed to a boxing match on Aug. 26. A Texas couple was arrested and charged after authorities found 600 pounds of meth-laced candy, some of which were shaped like Star Wars characters R2-D2 and Yoda, in the couple’s home. A 21-year-old Maine woman, who is a vegetarian, drowned a rabies-infected raccoon in a puddle of mud on a walking trail she had been jogging along.

Thursday 06.15.17

How now, brown cow: 7 percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. A day after saying that “everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” President Trump tweeted that “some very bad and conflicted people,” presumably members of the FBI, were carrying out “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.” The Uber driver who shuttled Buffalo Bills cornerback Shareece Wright 540 miles from Chicago to Buffalo, New York, last week is an Iranian refugee who was tortured by Iranian intelligence agents on multiple occasions and hopes to one day become an astronaut; Wright, who was rushing to get to voluntary team workouts, injured his calf during minicamp. In more disturbing Uber news, the company is being sued by a woman who was sexually assaulted by one of the company’s drivers. Dennis Rodman, while still in North Korea, gave two books to country leader Kim Jong Un: Where’s Waldo? and President Trump’s The Art of the Deal. Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was issued a five-game suspension by the NCAA for his role in the hiring of exotic dancers for players and recruits; the panel that issued the punishment said in its findings that “NCAA rules do not allow institutional staff members to arrange for stripteases and sex acts.” During the Warriors’ championship parade in Oakland, California, forward Draymond Green wore a shirt with “Quickie” written on the front, with the “Q” in the same font as the Quicken Loans logo; the Cleveland Cavaliers play in Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland forward LeBron James responded to the T-shirt on Instagram with a caption reading “That’s what she said, HUH?!?!?”; fellow NBA superstars Russell Westbrook and James Harden “liked” the photo. Hours later, Green responded with a photo of James with the caption “Them dubs finally made him go bald!!! Congrats bro @kingjames.” A 71-year-old Kansas City man who robbed a bank because he’d “rather be in jail than be at home” with his wife was sentenced to six months of home confinement.

FRIDAY 06.16.17

E-commerce juggernaut Amazon, like most of America, spent a lot of money at Whole Foods, purchasing the supermarket chain for $13.7 billion. President Trump admitted that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” Rod Rosenstein, the purported “man” who told Trump to fire FBI director James Comey, has, like his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reportedly considered recusing himself from the Russia investigation. To add to the president’s exceptional week, his approval rating dropped to 35 percent in a new poll. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, apparently bored with life and ready to die at the age of 31, will race a great white shark. After his bodyguards savagely beat protesters last month at the Turkish Embassy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized American authorities’ response, asking, “What kind of law is this? If my bodyguards cannot protect me, then why am I bringing them to America with me?” NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who is black, said he is the “black Steph Curry,” who is also black. The Boston Police Department’s Twitter account sent out a photo of an officer with three black girls along with the caption: “The #BPD Ice Cream Truck gives kids a reason to run towards our officers and not away from them”; the tweet was later deleted. President Trump’s lawyer hired his own lawyer. LeBron James, ironically nicknamed “King James,” said the only two people who can score on him in the post are “Shaquille O’Neal in his prime … and Jesus Christ.” Minnesota Vikings receiver Michael Floyd violated the terms of his house arrest by drinking alcohol; Floyd blamed the failed tests on Kombucha tea.

Patrice Rushen should be a future Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee The consummate composer and singer helped define a golden era of smooth R&B

This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriters Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.


They remind me / I’m lucky I’m falling / In love with you darling

— Patrice Rushen, from her 1982 hit “Remind Me”

Long before I knew anything about Patrice Rushen being an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, respected songwriter or the current chairwoman of USC’s Popular Music Program at the Thornton School of Music, the pint-sized pianist shepherded me through the summer of 1982. Her superb seventh album, Straight From the Heart, was the background soundtrack playing on Howard University’s FM radio station, WHUR, in my stepfather’s light blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, or during Jack Daniel’s-and-Coke-fueled card games next to the water sprinklers in auntie’s backyard.

I stared for hours at the Straight From the Heart cover — back before music videos and digital streaming deprived folks of other visual privileges. Miss Patrice in front of the nondescript Olan Mills backdrop was pretty in a completely approachable way, thank God; she was every black girl in seventh grade during that era named Michelle, Sabrina or Crystal. I traced the soft bird feathers in Rushen’s perfect hair and stared longingly at her neat cornrows exploding into a riot of shiny glass beads.

“Forget Me Nots” was the biggest single on Straight From the Heart, the one that earned Rushen a Grammy nomination (she has three) for best female R&B vocal performance and her sole Top 40 pop hit. It’s still a monster jam, with the cleverest one-two finger-pop opening in R&B music history. The killer bass groove and melody has also been sampled to death by the likes of Will Smith, George Michael and MC Solaar, thereby ensuring it has had a long life in mainstream pop culture and serving as a reminder that Rushen should be enshrined in the hall.

But “Remind Me” (written by Rushen and Karen Evans) was, and still is, my all-time favorite song, a perfect 5-minute, 18-second tonic that has soothed my fears and given me hope for 35 years.

The warm opening organ arrangement lays down a groove that never lets go as the story of innocent love and appreciation unfolds. I still can’t wait for the “yeah, yeah” chorus — it’s the opioid earworm that has you strung out like an addict.

The best thing about “Remind Me” is that Rushen isn’t a Hall of Fame singer. She’s not Aretha, Patti LaBelle or Whitney. But who is? Who can actually sing a Chaka Khan song out loud and in front of other people, without hurting your own feelings? Sometimes you just want to luxuriate in your jam and sound just like the artist. Rushen’s normal-girl voice, a smooth soprano, allowed you to feel the song without all the effort.

Of course, 1982 was a killer year for R&B album releases. Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Prince’s 1999 and Marvin Gaye’s Midnight Love were all released that year, as were Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium, What Time Is It? by The Time, and Gap Band IV. The incredible list goes on and on: Luther Vandross’ Forever, For Always, For Love and Get Loose by Evelyn “Champagne” King and Living My Life by Grace Jones.

Soul and R&B music was changing in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Rushen explained to Soul Train host Don Cornelius that year. Her approach to music:

“… more or less illustrates the change that black music is going through every so many years. We’re getting back to the groove again, to the way things really, really feel. Kind of blending the complexities with the simplicity, and putting it together for another thing. It’s very, very exciting.”

Rushen is here for me and my kids. The only other singer/songwriter who even comes close is Michael Jackson, and that’s complicated in a bunch of different ways. That’s also another story. I now play the song at least three times a week, hoping that it’ll be that song for my two boys.

NBA standout Serge Ibaka is a standout single father too ‘To me, to be a father, it’s a dream,’ says the forward as he celebrates his first Father’s Day with his 11-year-old daughter Ranie

The bond between a father and a daughter is unbreakable — even when it’s not one forged at birth. It’s seems like only a minute since NBA forward Serge Ibaka learned he had a daughter. Now, he and 11-year-old Ranie are living in Orlando, Florida, and celebrating their first Father’s Day.

But, Ibaka says, it’s a celebration with a learning curve here in the United States.

On a hot, rainy summer afternoon in his stucco home tucked away in a gated community in Orlando, Ibaka, Ranie and her nanny, Gail Goss, coordinate a day that includes swimming, homework and dinner, where they will discuss their Father’s Day plans.

“I’ve never done Father’s Day before,” Ibaka said. “You know, the funny thing is I never had to spend time on Father’s Day with my daughter, so this is going to be the first time. So, I don’t know what a father does on Father’s Day. When I was young, for me Father’s Day was like one of those days where you wake up in the morning and you say, ‘Hey, Happy Father’s Day!’ to your dad. And then, that’s it. And then he goes to work, and that’s it.

“But here it’s kind of different. You have to be with your kids and then do something. I don’t know what actually I have to do, but I’m just going to learn it. But I’m sure she knows already. She’s going to tell me.”

But Ranie admits to just as much confusion.

“I didn’t know that it was Father’s Day,” Ranie whispered to her dad.

“It’s OK,” Ibaka said. “She didn’t know it was for Father’s Day.”

“I can’t keep on schedule,” Ranie admitted.

NBA free agent Serge Ibabka is going to spend his first Father’s Day with his 11-year-old daughter Ranie.

Preston Mack for The Undefeated

Ibaka said raising Ranie has been the best experience and expression of love for which any person can ask.

“It’s a dream to me, to be a father,” he said. “Since I was young I always dreamed of myself traveling, envisioned at least three, four kids, five. And then, I’m living my dream right now and something I always love to do, and it’s fun. It’s really changed my life. It’s changed everything about me. The way I think and the way I live my life. It changed everything.”

Ranie, a 5-foot-5 fourth-grader, has known of her father since she was 5 years old, but she didn’t get fully acquainted with him until recently. Born in Congo, Ibaka left his family and his home to pursue a basketball career in Europe at the age of 17. But before he left, unbeknownst to him, he’d fathered a child. Ranie’s mother informed Ibaka’s father, Desire, of the news, and he decided to keep it a secret. It was Desire’s thought that Ibaka would not have pursued his basketball career if he knew he had a child back home. So Desire took on a paternal role and helped raise Ranie until it was decided that he come clean.

“I was young when I found out,” Ibaka said. “And I was shocked a little bit because it’s something new. And then I didn’t know what to do, what to say or how to react. And I was like, OK, I’m a dad now. But a couple of days I start feeling better, and like I said, it was something I used to dream about always. I want to have kids, and now I want to have more. So, it’s fun.”

Ibaka said what he looks forward to most in raising Ranie is her education and continuing to be there for her.

“I didn’t really have that opportunity when I was young,” he said. “I put her in a better school. I didn’t have the opportunity, so to me I want to make sure everything I didn’t have, I want her to have that. And it’s just like kind of my challenge. I’m trying myself to be there for her. Make sure even if I’m busy, because my dad was so busy when I was young. I really didn’t have a lot of opportunity to spend with my dad. But it is kind of normal for me now, but I don’t want that to happen with my daughter. And I try to be my best I can to be with her and spend time.”

Ibaka said his decision to move Ranie to the U.S. was difficult for her mother.

“You know, the funny thing is I never had to spend time on Father’s Day with my daughter, so this is going to be the first time. So, I don’t know what a father does on Father’s Day.”

“I had to explain to her, it’s best for our daughter to come here to the United States, where she can have a better education,” Ibaka explained. “The school system is a little better. And she’s going to be close with me and, like I said before, for a daughter, they need a dad. So it was a little harder, and she did not understand, but now everything’s going smoothly.”

French is Ranie’s first language, but it didn’t take her long to learn English, Ibaka said.

“I put her in American school since she was in Congo because I knew that at some point she had to come here. So, I wanted her to be ready when she’d come here.”

Raising a young daughter at a young age as a man does, however, presents a lot of challenges.

“But it’s kind of a good challenge, especially for a man like me,” Ibaka said. “I’m still young and having a little girl, and they just make you see a lot of things differently. The way you do things because you’ve got a daughter, and they really make you a better man. I love that.”

What he would tell his daughter about guys when it’s time to date?

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. Take it easy,” he said with a shy smile. “It’s too early. When the time comes, I’m sure we’re going to sit down. We’re going to talk. But it’s too early. It makes me nervous now. But I know the time is going to come. Everything has a time. And when the time comes, we’re going to sit down. We’re going to talk.”

Ibaka’s journey includes leaving Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo to become an integral part of the Oklahoma City Thunder after being drafted in the first round by the then-Seattle SuperSonics with the 24th overall pick of the 2008 NBA draft. He went from dazzling with his defensive and offensive skills on the court with the Thunder to a brief stint with the Orlando Magic, and now his most recent stint is with the Toronto Raptors.

Ibaka founded the Serge Ibaka Foundation just after meeting his daughter, with the goal of furthering his humanitarian efforts in Africa. Ibaka desires to inspire children around the world to believe in themselves and in their chances no matter how hard their circumstances are.

With the help of NBA Cares and UNICEF, Ibaka has provided resources and hope for Congo natives in the past few years by bringing basketball, pro athletes, celebrities and charities together through his various philanthropic efforts, to provide support, spread awareness and open a dialogue about the issues and attributes of his homeland. In April, Ibaka was elected to the board of directors of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation.

Ibaka opened up about first setting sight on Ranie in the 2016 documentary Son of the Congo: This is Africa. He said he’s now getting used to being a single father, but it’s not that easy.

Ranie was born in Congo and was raised by his family unbeknownst to him until a few years ago.

Preston Mack for The Undefeated

“I have to spend time with her and make sure because she needs me. I want to be here for her and make sure we spend time together.”

While Ranie is quickly becoming acclimated to her new life, it wasn’t an easy transition.

“It was a little hard in the beginning for myself,” Ibaka said. “And with basketball at the same time, and then with her, she didn’t understand in the beginning because in the NBA we travel a lot. We’re always on the road. So she really didn’t understand, and she had to get used to and understand my daddy’s busy, and that’s how the things go. So, she’s getting better. She understands, and she’s getting used to now.”

Ibaka is the third youngest in a family of 18.

“The oldest, my sister, is 35,” Ibaka said. “It’s good to have a lot of brothers and sisters, you know? You got family. It’s always good to know you got family. That’s enough, because it’s kind of normal where I come from. It’s kind of normal. I always grow up in a family place, a house. That’s why I love kids.”

Ibaka is known for his fashion-forward style, and Ranie is following his lead. Described as equally stylish and one who takes pride in her wardrobe, the two often debate about who is the best dresser in the household.

“Well, she thinks she’s better than me,” Ibaka explained of Ranie’s wardrobe. “She thinks she’s better than me. So we always try to challenge each other, because she knows. But I’m sure she’s watching me all the time, how I dress, and then she kind of picks it up a little bit. So, she loves to dress too.”

Many teen fathers who are also the primary custodian sometimes have fears. But Ibaka said he’s not afraid.

“Well, yeah, I’m a very strict father,” he said. “But I don’t try to do too much. But I make sure I’m strict.”

“I don’t know why, but I’m not really afraid to be a father,” he said. “I try a lot to be a father. And, like I say again, I’m going to try to give her the best education I can. Sometimes we try, we do everything, but it ends up the way we don’t want. But that’s life, you know.

“But at least I know I’m going to try. I’m know I’m going to give my best. I’m going to make sure I’m here for her. Put her in the better position for her to grow up like a sweet little girl. And then everything is not really in my power too. But I just want to make sure, at least I want to tell myself in the next couple of years, you do the best you can.

“Well, yeah, I’m a very strict father,” he said. “But I don’t try to do too much. But I make sure I’m strict. I’m trying to raise my daughter the best way I can, you know? Maybe I didn’t have the opportunity. I didn’t have that chance. But I’m going to give my daughter that.”

Ibaka said he wouldn’t change anything about being a single father.

“So far I think I don’t want to change anything because everything’s going smoothly right now. And then, she’s smart. She’s doing great in school. She’s listening. She respects me. I always tell her, respect people. Thank God everything’s going smoothly.”

Ibaka enlisted the help of Goss, who has experience as a nanny to other Orlando-based NBA players. Goss, a mother of two and minister from Mississippi, has been Ranie’s caregiver for more than one year. She’s known around the league as “Miss Gail.”

Ibaka met Miss Gail when he first moved to Orlando, and she’s been like family ever since.

“I got here, I was looking for a nanny,” he explained. “Someone to take care of my daughter. So, my assistant, he was working on it. And then that’s how we found Miss Gail. And then because I kind of know her story a little bit. She used to work with all those players before, so I was, like, maybe she understands NBA life, how NBA life goes.”

Since Ranie is new to Father’s Day and the culture surrounding the celebration, she’s still figuring out her plans for her famous father.

“I really don’t know,” she said when asked what they were going to do.

On a normal day, they spend time doing various activities.

“We go to the movies. Go to Universal [Studios], swim, play Uno.”

She wants a cellphone, but Ibaka is against it.

“I want to raise her the way I’ve been raised,” he explained. “Like my mom, father, because the new generation is kind of different right now. Everything is going fast. Because I’m kinda person where I never forget where I come from. Even everything I want out of my life, I never want to change the way I think, the way I am. I want to stay the same person. You know, that’s why, and I have the kind of same mentality of raising my daughter too. Because now, everybody having iPhone, everybody having this, everything like that, I have to change the way I think. I would have to change the way I do my thing. You know? I don’t want to that, so that’s how I am.”

Ranie wants to be a doctor and a tennis player but her father said she keeps changing her mind, at first desiring to become a lawyer.

“No, I never wanted to be a lawyer,” Ranie said. “You told me you wanted me to be a lawyer.”

“It’s true love,” Ibaka admitted about fatherhood. “You never go wrong with true love. It’s easy and natural.”

Preston Mack for The Undefeated

The murder of Tupac Shakur is a tragedy — but the why is not a complete mystery Conspiracy theories give fans comfort but, in truth, the brilliant artist was ‘a sacrificial lamb in thug clothing’

It’s time to stop wondering who killed Tupac Shakur.

America has spent the past two decades fishing at red herrings and inventing theories about how our brilliant brother could be gunned down on the Las Vegas Strip at age 25. The real answer is obvious, yet too many of us who love the culture avoid the facts: Tupac sealed his fate with one punch to a Crip’s face.

Heartbreak can teach powerful lessons. But instead of admitting that Tupac’s genius was extinguished because he chose to play gangster, we continue to rationalize and glamorize his Thug Life, aided and abetted by a corrupt justice system that denies us much-needed closure. To prevent more Tupac tragedies, we need to understand what happened, and why:

On Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac, Death Row Records kingpin Marion “Suge” Knight and Suge’s gang of Bloods beat up a Southside Crip named Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson in a Las Vegas casino lobby. Anderson and three other Crips went looking for payback. A few hours later, cruising the Vegas Strip in Anderson’s rented white Cadillac, they saw Suge driving a BMW with Tupac in the front passenger seat. Anderson shot Tupac from the back seat of the Caddy.

Ain’t no skullduggery to it. Just the basic street arithmetic that continues to send thousands of black males to their graves.

Anderson’s beatdown was captured on security video. Suge’s gangsters quickly spread the word that the killer was Anderson, according to what informants told police in the chaotic days after the shooting. Those anonymous sources were confirmed more than a decade later by the eyewitness account of Anderson’s uncle, Southside Crip boss Duane “Keffe D” Davis, who says he was in the car and handed Anderson the murder weapon. Keffe D’s statements are detailed in the 2011 book Murder Rap, by retired Los Angeles Police Department Detective Greg Kading.

But thanks to Internet-borne conspiracies and institutional injustice toward black life, the question of who murked Pac has never been murkier. The new Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me, offers little clarity. Legend has enveloped Tupac’s death like barnacles on a sunken ship. But if you scrape all that away …


The machinery of Pac’s demise was set in motion in July 1996, when a crew of Crips snatched a Death Row pendant from a Blood named Trevon “Tray” Lane at Lakewood Mall near Compton, California, according to a Compton police affidavit. Two months later, Tray Lane was with Tupac and Suge at a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. After the heavyweight champ knocked out Bruce Seldon in the first round, the Death Row clique left the MGM Grand arena and spotted Anderson in the lobby. Tray identified Anderson as one of the Crips who snatched his chain.

The intersection of Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard is pictured on Sept. 8, 1996, the day after rap superstar Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records chairman Marion “Suge” Knight were both shot. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Tupac rolled up on Anderson, rhetorically demanded, “You from the South?” and punched him in the face. Tupac, Suge and their gang proceeded to stomp Anderson out, right there in the MGM lobby.

“In the vacuum created by lack of closure, everything, no matter how far-fetched, seems somehow possible.”

These are indisputable facts, backed by witness testimony, police reports and videotape. I first saw them gathered in one place in the May 1997 issue of Vibe magazine, in a story by Rob Marriott. The report detailed how after Tupac’s slaying, Bloods launched a full-out war on Compton Crips. Suge’s henchmen told other Bloods that Tupac’s killer was Keffe D’s nephew, according to the Compton police affidavit. When the bullets stopped flying, 13 gangsters had been shot, three fatally.

“There are no easy answers to the myriad questions surrounding Tupac’s death,” Marriott wrote after his harrowing experience reporting from the streets of gangland Compton. “But it has become clear that the rap star’s death — and the three homicides that followed — are only the most visible tragedies in a web of intrigue that extends deep into the L.A. underworld.”

That web was real. At the center was the tarantula Suge Knight, who, according to evidence detailed in Murder Rap and the book LAbyrinth by Randall Sullivan, ran Death Row like a Mafia boss. Suge’s violence is well-documented. He fueled a bicoastal beef with Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records and its superstar rapper Biggie Smalls, who was killed six months after Tupac. Suge had LAPD cops on his payroll, according to LAbyrinth. On top of all that, shortly before his death Tupac argued with Suge over unpaid royalties, fired Death Row lawyer David Kenner and planned to leave the label.

Police, meanwhile, added to the confusion. Las Vegas cops told LAPD detective Russell Poole, according to LAbyrinth, that “the main reason they would never solve this case is that the politicians didn’t want them to. They said the powers that be had let them know the city didn’t need an O.J.-style circus.” Poole was investigating the Biggie killing. He said that LAPD brass, bracing for a lawsuit from Biggie’s family, blocked him from following numerous leads that might have connected black LAPD cops to Death Row. Poole was ultimately removed from the case and resigned from the LAPD in 1999.

Marion “Suge” Knight and Tupac Shakur during the 10th annual Soul Train Music Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1996.

Jim Smeal/WireImage

Anderson denied killing Tupac and was never charged. In 1998, Anderson was shot dead outside a Compton car wash over what police there said was a drug debt. Anderson’s killer is serving three life terms.

In 2006, Kading, the LAPD detective, was assigned to reopen the Biggie Smalls homicide case. In Murder Rap, Kading says he and his team kept hearing about Keffe D, Anderson’s uncle, who saw Smalls at the Soul Train Music Awards after-party hosted by Vibe magazine shortly before the Brooklyn rapper was killed. Kading set up a drug deal sting to coerce Keffe D into talking about Biggie’s murder. The trap worked. Kading writes that in December 2008, facing decades in prison, Keffe D sat down to work out a deal — but denied any knowledge of Smalls’ killers.

Instead, Keffe D told them about Pac’s death. Kading was in the room questioning Keffe D. The interview was recorded. The gangster’s story went like this:


In 1991, when Keffe D’s Crip gang was selling dope nationwide, he was introduced to a Harlem drug dealer named Eric “Zip” Martin. They started doing business. Two years later, Zip, who was involved in the music business, brought Keffe D to a BET party at the Paradise Club in Los Angeles. At that party, Keffe said, Zip introduced him to Combs.

Keffe D said he maintained a relationship with Puffy, and he lent him the 1964 Chevy featured in Usher’s “Can U Get Wit It” video. When the East-West beef jumped off, Keffe D said, his Crips provided security for Bad Boy on the West Coast. At one point, Keffe D alleged, Combs said he would pay a million dollars for Pac and Suge to be killed. Kading quoted Keffe D in Murder Rap as saying: “(Puffy) was like, ‘I want to get rid of them dudes.’ … I was like, ‘Man, we’ll wipe their ass out, quick … it’s nothing. Consider that done.’ ”

Combs has adamantly denied soliciting any murder.

Keffe D told Kading that he went to Vegas simply to enjoy the Tyson fight and met up there with Zip, his nephew “Baby Lane” Anderson and other Crips. After the lobby rumble, when Keffe Dheard his nephew Anderson got stomped by Death Row, they immediately planned to retaliate. Zip gave Keffe D a .40-caliber Glock. Kading wrote:

“ ‘(Zip) said it’s perfect timing,’ Keffe D recounted, leaving the exact meaning of the words up to us. Was Zip talking about killing two birds with one stone, taking out Suge and Tupac as payback for the Baby Lane beating and in the process collecting Puffy’s million-dollar bounty? It was impossible to know for sure.”

Trying to disprove these explanations is like arguing with someone who believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Keffe D said that Zip departed after giving them the gun. Anderson, Keffe D and two other Crips cruised the Strip in Anderson’s rented Cadillac and spotted Tupac’s caravan. They pulled alongside the BMW driven by Suge Knight. Keffe D was in the Cadillac’s front passenger seat with the Glock, prepared to shoot, but Tupac and the BMW were on the opposite side of the Caddy. “Lane was like, ‘Give it here,’ ” Keffe D said, “and popped the dude.”

Keffe D told Kading he never got a dime of Combs’ promised payoff, although he thought Zip might have collected and not shared the loot. “If (Puffy) would have just given us half the money, I would have stayed strong,” Keffe said, explaining why he was telling on Combs.

Combs has called all of this “pure fiction” — and has said he never even used Crips as security.

Kading knew he couldn’t make a good legal case on the word of a criminal like Keffe D. He tried to coerce Zip to corroborate the story and tell on Combs by setting up a sting with Keffe D. But before the trap could be sprung, Kading’s superiors removed him from the case in 2009.

“It was almost as if, in some surreal way, Poole was right all along,” Kading wrote. “The LAPD was trying to cover up the Biggie Smalls murder, not by protecting corrupt cops but by undercutting the ability of its own investigators to make the case.”


Neither Keffe D, Zip nor anyone else has ever been charged with killing Tupac or Biggie. Zip died in 2012. Keffe D is locked up on a marijuana distribution conviction. The Las Vegas police investigation into Tupac’s murder technically remains open. “In the vacuum created by lack of closure, everything, no matter how far-fetched, seems somehow possible,” Kading wrote. “When the truth is missing in action, anything can take its place.”

Like the theory that Suge conspired with Anderson to kill Tupac because the rapper was owed millions and about to leave Death Row, which former LAPD detective Poole believed. Or that Snoop Dogg’s cousin Lil’ Half Dead, mad at ’Pac because he allegedly stole the hit song “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” helped Suge’s wife and Death Row’s head of security try to kill Suge and take over the company — but they missed Suge and hit ’Pac instead. Or that the FBI didn’t want ’Pac starting a black revolution. Or that he’s in the witness protection program. Or alive and well in Cuba.

Trying to disprove these explanations is like arguing with someone who believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Not since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have conspiracy theories run so amok. But the simplest explanation is usually the right one. Of course a Crip came gunning for a crew of Bloods who dealt him a humiliating butt-whipping. Tupac beat up a killer, who then killed him. All over a piece of jewelry.

Tupac chose to live, and die, by the rules of Thug Life. Our inability to face that fact is a symptom of our inability to help our most troubled young black men.

A black BMW, riddled with bullet holes, sits in the police impound lot on Sept. 8, 1996, in Las Vegas. Rapper Tupac Shakur was shot and critically wounded while riding in the car driven by Death Row Records chairman Marion “Suge” Knight the previous night after attending the heavyweight fight between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon.

AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

“It’s become obvious to anyone paying attention that the gangsta image — for all its force and bluster — is nothing if not tragic, a myth of empowerment with the capacity to rob our generation of its potential greatness,” Marriott wrote in the 1997 Vibe story that connected the dots of the tragedy. “If we as a Hip Hop Nation can ever move beyond the directionless violence and self-destruction gangsta sometimes glorifies, then maybe we’ll have ’Pac to thank for it. Perhaps, in the end, he was simply a sacrificial lamb in thug’s clothing.”

Hip-hop music still thrives on violence and self-destruction, despite the rise of many incredible positive emcees. Recognizing the facts of Tupac’s death could offer some measure of redemption. There will be no help from law enforcement, no deserved clarity and closure through the process of arrest, trial and punishment. If those of us who love the culture don’t want Tupac to have died in vain, we need to come to grips with reality on our own.

Xscape member Kandi Burruss creates the soundtracks of our lives From Beyoncé to Justin Timberlake, ‘No Scrubs’ to ‘Bills, Bills, Bills,’ this ‘Real Housewife’ should one day be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame

This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriters Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.


No one got out of the ’90s and the early 2000s without grooving to a Kandi Burruss song — even if they didn’t know it. The infectious singles she’s written have launched superstars and promoted female empowerment (with a backbeat), and her work continues to soundtrack our lives. Burruss’ songwriting skills helped to establish the careers of Beyoncé (1999’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Bug a Boo”), Justin Timberlake (2000’s “It Makes Me Ill”), Alicia Keys (2001’s “Jane Doe”), P!nk (2000’s “There You Go”) and even TLC, with the classic 1999 “No Scrubs” (written with Tiny Cottle, Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes). Gems, all. And the critically acclaimed “Scrubs” was nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammys, was a No. 1 pop hit in the United States and a massive success worldwide.

Burruss became famous as a singer in the girl group Xscape in 1992. They had three back-to-back platinum albums — 1993’s Hummin’ Comin’ at ‘Cha, 1995’s Off the Hook and 1998’s Traces of My Lipstick — and scored six Top 10 pop songs, including “Understanding,” “Just Kickin’ It” and “Who Can I Run To.” But here’s what was missing: Burruss’ voice as a songwriter. She never actually wrote for the group back then — Jermaine Dupri guided Xscape’s creative direction — but once Burruss got hold of a pen, she had a brilliant run as one of pop music’s go-to songwriters. Of course now, her fame has grown exponentially because of her turns on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta. But Burruss has been setting pop culture afire long before reality TV cameras started whirring.

How did you transition from being in a girl group to being a songwriter?

When our group first started, I used to make up songs for myself and come up with little ideas. I used to ask Jermaine, ‘Please let me write, or try to write.’ He was starting this thing where maybe he’d have a skeleton of the song … and he’d let us write on a verse or something. So I started coming up with song ideas outside of the group, going to the studio outside of the group … working with different producers. Just trying to work on my craft. And when our group started having problems, and LaTosha decided she wanted to go solo, I told Tameka, we need to do our own thing. So we start working with producers for our demo.

Is that how “No Scrubs” came about?

That was one of the songs we’d done for [Xscape]. Played it for L.A. Reid. L.A loved it and wanted it for TLC. I was like, ‘Let them have it.’ Because, in my mind, we could write more songs, and secondly, I always wanted to write for other artists but didn’t know how. But from there, my songwriting took off. I was able to write for everybody after that.

When did you know “No Scrubs” would be such a major track?

Before the song came out, I saw L.A at some little party. He was like, ‘I’m gonna make this the biggest song of your career!’ I was just happy to hear the song was actually going to be on the album. I didn’t know they were planning on making it the first single. It took off so quickly. It’s a song I love. I loved it when me and Tiny did it. I thought it was a great song.

Take me into the studio. Where did you and Tameka begin?

It was a do-or-die moment. My goal was, I don’t want to be in this position again where my fate is left to somebody else. I was talking to Tiny about how it’s really important for us to write our own music, so when we present it to the label we can show them that we can be our own executive producers. We can have more control over our projects. That was the whole goal of writing … we wanted them to see our vision.

“I can come up with a whole song and you can just be tapping the table.”

What is your inspiration for songwriting?

My inspiration was always relationships. I used to have this notepad that I’d write titles in. I was always great with melodies, but I knew, if you have a hook with a dope title, something easy to remember, and a subject people can relate to, that was the key to a hit. All those years of watching Jermaine come up with Xscape’s songs, that’s what I picked up. “No Scrubs” was in my notepad because that was a saying we used to dog out ninth-graders in high school — it was the name for underclassmen. But as I got older, me and my friends would call out dudes who weren’t on their s—. They were scrubs. It was just one of the many titles that I had.

How would you characterize your style of writing?

Before everybody started doing the singy-rappy type of style, I remember when I worked with N’Sync — and Justin Timberlake was like, ‘You need to put a name to this! It’s kind of like you’re singing, like you got melody, but you rapping! Maybe you should call it mapping!” He was just saying because it’s a melody and rap. I was like, ‘Um. No!’

You had a big job with Destiny’s Child’s sophomore album, 1999’s The Writing’s On The Wall. The group was looking to mature their sound.

I have five songs on that album. It was by chance that I ended up working with them. I remember [the producer] She’kspere … they flew him down … he flew me down, and I didn’t know how that was going to go. When you have a girls group on the same label, sometimes it can be a little awkward, like, ‘What’s she doing writing on that album?!’ Also, one of the girls was dating one of my ex-boyfriends at the time! Everything worked out fine.

You’ve either worked with new artists or people at very transformative moments in their careers.

Working with someone new, you have the chance to set the tone.

That said, you didn’t shy away from people with massive careers like Mariah Carey. You worked with her on Rainbow (1999).

I loved Mariah … I would love the opportunity to work with her again. I didn’t feel like I really was able to do the best for her. She was really busy … working overseas. We had to send her files. Then she would call me over the phone during her breaks, and we collaborated. We came up with something pretty good, [but] I still would have rather been able to be in the studio with her.

P!nk’s “There You Go” was massive. You had a white girl with a soulful voice who looked like she could be in a grunge band.

I always knew her as this white girl with an urban voice. I was excited to work with her because I knew the label was going to be supportive of her. I wanted to give her something that was dope. It was kind of easy. I just had to give her a hit. Now she [has] transformed into this rock star, which is so much different than where she was when she first started. I’d love to work with her again at this phase.

You helped introduce us to Alicia Keys with the “Jane Doe” track on her debut, 2001’s Songs in A Minor.

The title “Jane Doe” was in my notebook that I keep telling you about. At the time, Michael Mauldin was working with her — and obviously that’s Jermaine’s dad. I really like new artists. I loved the fact that she was a musician and that she produced a lot of her own stuff. I thought that whole thing was dope … that’s something that I envy in a good way: people who can play what they’re thinking. I can come up with the melody of the song and everything in my head, but I can’t play it. I can come up with a whole song and you can just be tapping the table, and I can come up with a whole song around it. Because in my head I hear the music, but I can’t play it. So when I’m around other people that can play and actually put beats together with what they hear in their head, it’s something I wish I could do.

“When I worked with N’Sync, Justin Timberlake was like, ‘You need to put a name to this! It’s kind of like you’re singing, like you got melody, but you rapping!’ ”

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are just now being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Were you surprised to hear that?

What took so long? When you think of superstar writing teams, I mean, they’re at the top of the list. Jam, Babyface, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder. They’re at the top.

What have you learned from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis?

They’re inspiring. Every time I’ve met them, they have kind words.

You come from a world of hip-hop. What does it mean for you that Jay Z is getting inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame?

I think it’s dope. You can’t deny what he’s accomplished with his career. As a rapper, he has done things that other rappers could only dream of doing. It’s well-deserved.

What does it mean to you that “No Scrubs” still has resonance today? So much so that a part of it is on the biggest track in music right now, with Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”

“No Scrubs” has turned into three No. 1’s for me. Do you remember “No Pigeons,” the response to “No Scrubs”? That was No. 1, too. And then, now, Ed Sheeran’s song. For a record to be able to multiply into three hits, thank the Lord! It’s crazy. It does feel good … and I’m appreciative of Sheeran being inspired by “No Scrubs” and including us in his current hit. I admire him as a songwriter. And to know he’s inspired by something that I wrote? It’s dope to me.

What do you hope for your legacy as a songwriter?

I just want to have those songs that when people listen to it they can say, ‘Oh, you know that was a Kandi song!’ Or it makes you feel a certain way, or you play it when you’re going through something. Or … you can remember where you were when you played that record. I hope my songs bring good thoughts to people’s minds.