The making of Kendrick Lamar’s Nike Cortez Kenny II The new sneaker is inspired by the artist’s childhood, his music, and his respect for women

LOS ANGELES — Back in the ’90s, a kid named Kendrick Duckworth fell in love with the Nike Cortez. After getting his first pair at a local swap meet, he’d often rock the kicks as a complement to his trademark swag of tall socks and khaki shorts while frolicking in the streets of his hometown of Compton, California.

About two decades later, that youngster is now known around the world as the Grammy Award-winning Kendrick Lamar. Via a partnership with Nike, Lamar has his own version of the iconic Cortez. During 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend the Cortez Kenny II was presented — the second installment of his own line of the shoe he grew up donning.

“They just classic — something I’ve been wearing since day one,” said Lamar at Nike’s Makers Headquarters, the brand’s creative pop-up space for the. The MC discussed the new shoe in a sit-down conversation with Emily Oberg, the fashion influencer turned creative lead of designer Ronnie Fieg’s New York City-based sneaker and apparel boutique, KITH. “They just always felt comfortable, felt good. It’s a vibe.”

In late January, in the lead-up to the 60th annual Grammys, at which Lamar took home the award for best rap album for his double-platinum masterpiece DAMN., Nike debuted the Cortez Kenny I, a predominantly white shoe that’s highlighted by the outsole of the upper, where the title of the album — DAMN. — is printed.

The new Kenny II, also referred to as the “Kung Fu Kenny,” is red with white and black accent, featuring a lace holder that reads “DON’T TRIP” and the word “Damn” written in Chinese script on the toe box.” ‘Don’t Trip’ — it’s a classic L.A. feel. It’s open context for anything,” Lamar quipped.

Nike, at Kendrick’s request, also threw it back to old days of lacing up shoes with shortened strings. “I just like all my laces to be short like that,” he said. “That’s how we rocked them coming up, when we was in grade school, high school, or just in the city.” In terms of creativity, Lamar compared the process of designing a shoe to the way he approaches crafting an album. And when it came using the Cortez as his canvas — especially while drawing upon his youth in Los Angeles — he didn’t have to search far for inspiration.

“These kids right here …, ” said Lamar, pointing to a group of local children who sat before him on the basketball court at Makers, “that’s inspiration … I was once in a place where I had a lot of dreams and aspirations. Looking at them, and going where they want to go, I can see that vibe. I can see they have a lot of energy … That’s something I can respect.”

Before the official release, Nike and Lamar made sure that women were the first to experience the shoe via seeding — getting product in the hands of influencers early to allow for grassroots promotion. So perhaps the most important aspect of the Cortez Kenny II came through the shoe’s calculated rollout, which sought to quell the myth that in the male-dominated world of footwear women aren’t sneakerheads, too.

“I always felt like women are the original curators of the world as far as creativity. Simple as that,” Lamar said. Hours after the chat with Oberg, he headlined an exclusive show at Makers with an opening lineup of women artists, including Kamaiyah, Sabrina Claudio and H.E.R. “We can go back to creating a life … to some of the greatest ideas of man … all behind a woman. I wanted women to experience [the Cortez Kenny II] the same way I felt it from the beginning when we created it.”

Smokey Robinson’s music still stirs the soul His iconic songs such as ‘Quiet Storm,’ ‘Just to See Her’ and ‘Cruisin’ define love songs for generations

The man dressed in black stood on the New York stage, strong yet vulnerable. His green eyes sparkled like stained glass windows illuminated by a summer sun. He was singing a song he had to sing. And he’d been singing it as if he were standing in front of a closed door imploring the love of his life to unbolt the lock.

He was building to the song’s climax but not its end. Members of the audience perched on the edge of their seats and leaned in, as if they sought to hold the hand of the man in black: Could he still hit the notes he had in 1965, two decades before? Could he still make the audience feel what it had come to feel, young and in love?

And then he hit the notes ” … ’cause I-i feel-uh eel … one day, I’ll hold you near …” and the audience leapt to its feet with grateful and relieved applause. Smokey Robinson had hit the notes. On that night, as in so many nights before and since, he’d built bridges with his song, bridges that took his audience back to loves gained and lost, loves lost and regained.

Oooo, Baby, Baby.

Now on tour, Smokey continues to sing some of his greatest hits, the soundtrack of so many lives, especially American baby boomers. The great bard of romance, a Motown singer, producer, songwriter and vice president while in his early 20s, turns 78 today.

And from where I sit, if Smokey had only written “Ooo Baby Baby,” he’d merit his place in the Rock and Roll and the Songwriters Halls of Fame.

But the Detroit native has done so much more. The winner of multiple Grammys has written more than 4,000 songs, including hits for his Miracles (“Tracks of My Tears”), Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t that Peculiar”) and Mary Wells (“My Guy”).

During the 1960s, with compositions such as “Shop Around” for his group The Miracles, and “My Girl” for The Temptations, Smokey helped bridge the nation’s racial divide; he gave America a common vocabulary to talk about romantic longing and love. But for all his songs extolling romance and love, you could party with Smokey, too, especially in the ’60s. He encouraged people to do the jerk or the monkey. He sang that dancing was all right and medicinal, too: “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying.”

After leaving his Miracles to go solo in the early ’70s, in 1975 he released the album A Quiet Storm. It would later lend part of its name to a mellow radio format, born at Howard University’s WHUR before spreading across the nation. And in the late ’70s, and early ’80s, he introduced a new generation to his music with songs including “Cruisin’ ” and “Being with You,” music that was made for love.

More recently, Smokey released Timeless Love, a collection of songs from Cole Porter, the Gershwins and other authors of the Great American Songbook. Smokey has made his own soulful entries in that book, expanding its scope. Artists from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin, Mobb Deep and the Zapp Band have recorded his songs. Rappers such as J Dilla, Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa have sampled Smokey’s “Much Better Off,” one of the all-time great blue lights in the basement, slow-drag songs.

And on recordings or in live performances, Smokey has sung with everyone from Sheryl Crow to former president Barack Obama, the latter a White House rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Aided by his faith, Smokey has overcome a wrenching divorce from his first wife Claudette, a longtime member of the Miracles, and an addiction to drugs. The remarried father of three has reached back to help pull others from the clutches of drugs.

Smokey is a rich man who has helped make America so much richer. During the 1960s, he helped unite the nation through his songs. Today, he helps unite the generations.

Late last year, he released a Christmas recording: Christmas Everyday. His life and career have been gifts to us all. Monday is Smokey’s birthday. Let our rejoicing rise.

Ooo, Smokey, Smokey.

The players’ anthem: when Marvin Gaye sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the 1983 All-Star game Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, Magic, Dr. J and more on the pride and heartbreak of witnessing Gaye’s rendition of the national anthem

Being the head coach of the Lakers, and coaching the All-Star Game at the Great Western Forum that day … it just made it a special, almost spiritual-type moment for me.

— Pat Riley


Marvin Gaye could not have looked more quintessentially Marvin Gaye if he’d tried. It was Feb. 13, 1983: the afternoon of the 33rd annual NBA All-Star Game at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Everyone was packed in, a stone’s throw from Hollywood. Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Maurice Cheeks, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Theus, Moses Malone, Pat Riley, Bill Laimbeer, Andrew Toney, Alex English, Robert Parish, Jamaal Wilkes and more. Even then the synergy of basketball icons and a musical icon made all the sense in the world. And now as the NBA All-Star Game returns to Los Angeles this weekend — the fourth time since the game’s 1951 inception that it’s been held in the L.A. area — the synergy is a given.

Thirty-five years ago, things were of course different. Nowadays, fans have a huge say with regard to who starts in the game. The top two vote-getters draft their own teams. And music is a quintessential part of the NBA All-Star Weekend experience. The NBA named Migos’ “Stir Fry” the weekend’s official anthem, and a slew of the hottest musical artists in the game are expected to host countless parties. The omnipresence of celebrities courtside has made the NBA America’s most culturally significant sport — and it will be turnt up even higher for the All-Star Game.

The Eastern Conference All-Stars of the 1983 All Star Game: the front row (L to R): Maurice Lucas, Isiah Thomas, Middle Row: Bill Laimbeer, Buck Williams, Robert Parish, Moses Malone & Larry Bird. Back Row: Assistant Coach Bill Bertke, Trainer Ray Melchiorre, Sidney Moncrief, Reggie Theus, Marques Johnson, Head Coach Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Assistant Coach Jack McMahon, Assistant Coach Matt Guokes

NBAE via Getty Images

The 1983 Western Conference All-Stars of the 1983 the front row: Gus Williams, Jim Paxson, Middle Row – Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jack Sikma, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore & Maurice Lukas. Back Row – Assistant Coach Bill Bertke, Assistant Coach Dave Wohl, Jamaal Wilkes, Alex English, Head Coach Pat Riley, George Gervin, Kiki Vandeweghe, David Thompson & Trainer Jack Curran

NBAE via Getty Images

But back then, Gaye was a feel-good comeback story. Following a stint in Europe where the singer temporarily escaped demons that had nearly devoured him, he was riding high off the success of the smash album Midnight Love, which was, in turn, fueled by the Goliathan influence of its landmark single “Sexual Healing.” Gaye would use the NBA’s center stage to propel him to the Grammys just 10 days later.

Gaye, a linchpin of swagger, walked to center court at The Forum in a deep blue suit — jacket buttoned — wearing dark shades courtesy of an NBA gift package that had been distributed to all media and VIP guests. But there was something wrong with the shades. “[The sunglasses] had ‘L.A. All-Star’ imprinted on the lenses,” said Brian McIntyre, the NBA’s public relations director in 1983. “Trouble was, whoever printed them, printed it backwards.” Gaye either didn’t know, didn’t show, or didn’t care. He also didn’t know he was the second choice — Lionel Richie, sitting on the huge success of his solo debut, had turned the NBA down for the anthem honors.

Players and coaches lined up on opposite free-throw lines. The honor guard of nearby Edwards Air Force Base was behind Gaye with the American and California flags raised. Seventeen thousand people in the arena were on their feet for the national anthem — there was little reason to expect a diversion from the way “The Star-Spangled Banner” had been performed their entire lives.

“We’d only heard the national anthem done one way,” said then-Chicago Bulls guard Theus. Having coached the Sacramento Kings and at New Mexico State, the two-time All-Star is now head coach at Cal State University, Northridge. “We weren’t anticipating anything. We knew he was Marvin Gaye.”

Gaye had intertwined his way into the sports world before. He’d sung the anthem on many occasions — each time in the traditional format. Four years earlier, in 1979, Gaye sang at the second Larry Holmes/Earnie Shavers fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In 1974, he sang the anthem at Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California, before the Raiders’ regular season finale vs. the Dallas Cowboys. And Motown’s crown prince belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 4 of the 1968 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals — the Tigers ended up winning in seven games. Ironically, for Game 5 of that series, young singer José Feliciano performed the anthem with a slower, brooding twist that caused some Tiger Stadium attendees to pepper the blind Puerto Rican musician with boos. The backlash derailed his Grammy-laden career for decades.

“In my mind, ‘What’s Going On’ … had the most impact on me than any record, ever.” — Pat Riley

Gaye was an avid sports fan— he even once tried out for the Detroit Lions. And he floored Motown founder (and his former brother-in-law) Berry Gordy when he told him, at the apex of his prolific singing, songwriting and producing career, that he wanted to pursue boxing. Whether he knew it or not though, as much as Gaye found inspiration in the athletes who stood behind him on The Forum’s court, they found as much if not more in him.


“I’ve gone on the record many times saying that Marvin Gaye was my favorite artist. His music touched me in a deep, special and personal way. Reading Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, it’s kind of gut-wrenching. It’s heartfelt in terms of the struggle he had … Just to do what he wanted to do. He really just wanted to be a crooner. He just wanted to sing and share his gift with the world. But pressure came from a lot of different places to be more, do more, and that eventually cost him his life.”

Julius “Dr. J” Erving


Gaye was a tortured spirit whose life oftentimes played out publicly — despite the singer’s natural shyness. “Marvin’s problems can easily be understood by listening to his music,” Gordy said in the 1987 documentary series, Motown on Showtime. I come up hard, come on, get down / There’s only three things that’s for sure / Taxes, death and trouble. ‘Trouble Man’ was a song he did for a soundtrack that was, of course, probably reminiscent of his life.”

Gaye attempted suicide by cocaine overdose in Hawaii in 1980. The years leading up to the All-Star performance were taxing — physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. “About 1975 through about 1983 hasn’t been very good,” he said in a 1983 interview. “The last seven years of my life haven’t been exactly ecstatic … I’ve been happy, and most of the time pretty depressed.”

By the time of the 1983 All-Star Game, Gaye had long since returned from his self-imposed European exile. He spent two years in Ostend, Belgium, ostensibly away from failed relationships, financial woes and drugs. While there, Gaye co-wrote (with Odell Brown and David Ritz) 1982’s sultry “Sexual Healing.” But long before the Europe and “Healing,” Marvin wrote the score to the lives of many NBA All-Stars who surrounded him that February afternoon.

Marvin Gaye performs in the Netherlands.

Rob Verhorst/Redferns

“[Marvin’s music] resonated with me just growing up as a kid in the ’60s and ’70s in Chicago,” said Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star Isiah Thomas. The two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP point guard laughs at the memory of first meeting Gaye in Hollywood — alongside Johnson — at the famous and infamous The Palladium. Thomas was surprised Gaye knew his name. “His music was our music. He really hit how we were feeling … in poverty, and our desperate cry for just recognition, and understanding.”

Abdul-Jabbar, on a break from the book tour for his Becoming Kareem: On and Off the Court, recalls running into Gaye at studio sessions for his friend Stevie Wonder’s 1976 Songs In The Key of Life. These, said the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, were among the best times ever. “Marvin Gaye was absolutely on the forefront of [artists tackling societal issues]. He was an important guy, artistically, at that time. He talked about issues that resonated in the black community in a very meaningful way.”

“You knew it was history,” Erving said, “but it was also ‘hood.”

Quite possibly the most excited for Gaye’s performance wasn’t a player, but a coach. During The Beatles phenomenon of the ’60s, Riley — much like Quincy Jones, apparently — never truly caught the wave. “I was raised on doo-wop, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, Jimmy Smith. Then when Motown really had it course in the early ’60s, that was it for me,” he said, the enthusiasm in his voice rising with each memory. “I was all about The Four Tops and The Temptations. The Supremes.” But as for Gaye himself, “What happened in the late ’60s was a lot of what’s going on in our society today. People just not agreeing what’s happening with our government,” Riley said. “In my mind, ‘What’s Going On’ — for my lifetime — had the most impact on me than any record ever.”


“[After the game,] it was just common knowledge that whenever you talked about the anthem, everybody just pointed to it like, ‘Yeah, that was the best one that was ever done.’ Not because his techniques were good — they were — but because spiritually, in that moment, he really captured the feelings of everyone in The Forum. I’ve never been part of an anthem where everybody’s just in unison and lost control and just started moving. It was a beautiful moment.” — Isiah Thomas


Before Marvin took the floor at the Forum, there was mild panic. Then-NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien was an old school, by-the-book type of guy. O’Brien had told McIntyre during the previous day’s rehearsals, “Make sure we don’t have anything that’s going to cause a scene.”

All during the day, and right before the early afternoon tipoff, Gaye was nowhere to be found. “[Lon Rosen, Lakers’ director of promotions] hadn’t heard from Marvin or his people. They weren’t sure where he was,” McIntyre said. There’s a chuckle in his voice now. But 35 years ago it was anything but a laughing matter. “So they started looking for a backup, I think.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ9WdCunvy8

Arriving only moments before showtime, Gaye made his way to the floor. A longstanding myth says the notoriously recluse singer was intentionally late to avoid tension with Lakers personnel who believed his rendition was too long the day before at rehearsal. While he adjusted the microphone stand, a simple, yet infectious instrumental began playing. Lawrence Tanter, the Lakers’ public address announcer panicked. “Ah s—,” he reflected. “They’ve got the wrong tape. This is ‘Sexual Healing.’ ”

But it wasn’t. It was a simple beat dubbing a drum track done by Gaye’s guitarist and musical director Gordon Banks and a keyboard track Gaye laid down himself. And what happened next would be the only time in history the national anthem closely resembled a rhythm and blues song. There isn’t a blueprint for Gaye’s charisma. Or his showmanship. It was innate. “You could feel the vibe as soon as he walked out there,” Theus said. “He was the epitome of cool, and smooth at the same time.” Gaye’s anthem was patriotic in its own soulful way, but it was simultaneously debonair, too. Each note left his vocal chord with the pizzazz of a street crooner.

Something special was happening. Riley was standing next to Abdul-Jabbar. On the surface, Riley was calm. But his mind raced a mile a minute. “I was thinking to myself, ‘We’re about to see something very unique here,’ ” the three-time Coach of the Year said. “Then the first words came out of his mouth, and he went on. Then he went in a different pitch. It was mesmerizing to me.”

Gaye, the archbishop of swagger. “You knew it was history,” Erving said, “but it was also ‘hood.” For a two-minute stretch, the basketball world revolved around Marvin Gaye and within his gravitational pull were MVPs, world champions, former rookies of the year, future Hall of Famers and 17,505 in the stands. “We were two-stepping, listening to the national anthem,” said Johnson with a laugh. “We were just bouncing left to right. It blew us away. We just got caught into the moment of this man. People just forgot it was the national anthem.”

“We were two-stepping, listening to the national anthem,” said Johnson with a laugh.

Off the rip, the crowd swooned. They shouted and clapped as if the NBA All-Star Game had momentarily swapped places with a gospel choir. “Before you knew it, you were swaying, clapping and were like doing something to the anthem that you’d never done before in your life. Or since,” said Thomas. “It just wasn’t the players. It was the whole arena. Everyone in unison almost caught the Holy Ghost.”

“You kinda paused for a second, listening,” said Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, who was making his first, as a Philadelphia 76er, of four All-Star Game appearances in 1983. Cheeks has also been head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sixers and Detroit Pistons. “You looked around to see if anybody else was appreciating this the way you are … everybody was — especially the crowd.”

A roar had risen by the time And the home of the brave capped off Gaye’s rendition. He’d given the national anthem a makeover. Gaye, later in 1983, offered a self-diagnosis. His depression stemmed from a deep empathy for humanity. All he wanted was for people to listen to him. In less than three minutes on The Forum’s hardwood, he’d done just that. If only for a sliver of time, the anthem wasn’t about the stars, the stripes or whatever its original intentions were. Gaye made it a song about love, inclusion and triumph.

The crowd showered him with a standing ovation. How do we follow THAT? many of the players wondered. The walk back to the bench following the anthem was one of excitement and befuddlement. Players slapped high fives, laughed and recapped. “Everybody was like, ‘Man, he tore the house down!’ ” Johnson said, essentially yelling into the phone. “Going to the bench like, ‘Man! That was unbelievable!’ ”

As Gaye exited the floor, he pulled Erving aside. It was a brief meeting of the sex appeals. The two had met before at shows in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Virginia. “I got something coming out. You gon’ love it,” Gaye told Erving. The “it” he referred to was a then-unreleased song called “Sanctified Lady.” Unfortunately, though, only Erving would be alive to hear the record following its 1985 release.

East All-Star Julius Erving dunks one past the imposing figure of West All-Star Artis Gilmore.

Getty Images

The Eastern Conference, led by Erving’s MVP effort of 25 points, defeated the West, 132-123. But all the talk after the game centered on Gaye. The buzz was still electric. This was of course the pre-internet era. The race was to obtain any sort of recording of the performance. “I remember the conversation being, the game was great,” said Theus. “But that it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Marvin Gaye.”

“It wasn’t even about the game,” said Johnson. “The whole attention was on, ‘Is it on TV? Make sure we get a copy! Find Brian [McIntyre]!’ ”

McIntyre for his part was a bit queasy. He knew the younger generation was enamored with the performance. Lakers owner Jerry Buss, called it, even in the moment, “the greatest anthem of all time.” Yet, in the back of his mind McIntyre was dreading the older generation’s response. Of those possible complaints, O’Brien simply told McIntyre, “You have to answer them all.”

The official CBS after-party was packed. Finger foods and cocktails. David Stern, O’Brien’s eventual successor, and his wife Shelly were in attendance, as was Rick Welts (current Golden State Warriors president), Russ Granik and Gary Bettman. All anyone wanted to hear was Gaye’s anthem. “They were replaying the game [at the party], but every so often someone would say, ‘Let’s hear it again!’ ” said McIntyre. “So they’d switch it back to the anthem and play it all over again. The crowd was just into it.”


“[Marvin] died young and it’s like there was an unfulfilled promise. I’m looking at these rock bands, they’re doing all this crazy stuff, and they’re still touring. They’re still making music! Guys going into their ’60s, ’70s and hitting 80 and they’re still out there. Bill Withers is still out there making a little noise every now and then. So Marvin, what would he have been able to accomplish had he survived the demons?” — Julius “Dr. J” Erving


Much has changed. The NBA looks completely different. Players carry far more leverage than they did in 1983. The style of play has shifted to a more perimeter-based attack. And even the national anthem sounds different — in rankings and context. The biggest story of the year is NFL players kneeling during it in protest of police brutality and the state of the criminal justice system. For those who stood on the floor that day in 1983, they remain connected to Gaye’s rendition. The version sung by Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl is the only other anthem close to a comparison to Gaye’s rendition, in their eyes.

“This is what made it so special,” said Johnson. “Everybody said, ‘Wow.’ Everybody went absolutely crazy. It was blacks, whites, everybody — saying, what a moment.”

The moment was one so memorable the NBA had Marvin’s daughter, Nona, perform the same anthem “in a special duet” with her father at the 2004 All-Star Game, when it returned to Los Angeles. In a sport littered with previous anthem singers such as The Temptations, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Brian McKnight and more — Marvin Gaye remains on the NBA’s musical Mount Rushmore.

But how does Gaye’s anthem fit into the current conversation around it? “We have to take everything in context,” said Abdul-Jabbar. Many of the issues Gaye addressed in his music run parallels to Colin Kaepernick’s original message. “I think that people were trying to make an issue of the anthem because they didn’t want to deal with the issue Colin Kaepernick raised, which is the fact that black Americans — unarmed black Americans — should not be getting killed by police officers at the rate that they are. That’s what the issue is.”

For Theus, it’s a simple matter. “Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the national anthem superseded and surpassed any negativity that was in anyone’s mind,” he said. “When you hear something like that, you don’t hear the national anthem that everyone is talking about today. It was another national anthem that we were listening to. You can’t relate the two.”

“So Marvin, what would he have been able to accomplish had he survived the demons?” — Julius “Dr. J” Erving

Ten days after the All-Star Game, for “Sexual Healing,” Gaye was awarded the only two Grammys of his career. “I’ve waited … 20-something years to win an award like this,” he said in his acceptance speech. He thanked God, his children, his mother, and his fans. He did not, however, thank his father. Almost prophetically, he closed the speech saying, “Stay with us, we’re gonna try and give you more.” Gaye embarked on what would be his final tour in the summer of 1983. He traveled with, and kept a preacher in one room. His drugs in another. In a figurative sense, Gaye stood between heaven and hell throughout his Midnight Love tour.

Marvin Gaye holds ones of his Grammys.

Ron Galella/WireImage

“I expose myself because the fans demand it,” he told his ex-wife Jan Gaye. “I offer myself up for slaughter. I am the sacrificial lamb. If their pleasure requires my destruction, so be it.”

By the Detroit stop, Gaye was a zombie. “After the performance, we got back to the dressing room,” Mel Farr recalled of his final meeting with Gaye. (Farr died in 2015.) “He had all those hangers-on giving him this drug and this drug. I said, ‘Wow, man. I don’t think he’s going to make it.’ It was that bad.”

Four-hundred fourteen days following his anthem, on April 1, 1984, Gaye was murdered by his father, Marvin Gay Sr., a day shy of what would have been his Marvin Jr.’s 45th birthday. The house where the killing took place was but seven miles from The Forum. Toward the end of his life, as he battled voices in his head, Gaye still understood the importance of Feb. 13, 1983. “I asked God,” he said, “that when I sang [that anthem] that it would move men’s souls.”

He most certainly moved Riley, who keeps hours upon hours upon hours of Gaye’s and Motown’s greatest hits near him at all times. The Miami Heat president still keeps a framed picture of himself, Abdul-Jabbar and the Western Conference All-Stars lined up watching Gaye. Call it his way of paying homage to an artist he says changed his life and enhanced his perspectives long before the NBA came calling. Thirty-five years later, after the 1983 All-Star Game, from his South Florida office, there’s pride and sorrow in his voice.

“I’m privileged to have been there at that moment when this icon sang that song. The people that were in that arena that day saw something unique, probably changed people to some extent,” Riley said. “The tragic way that Marvin died was something that was very depressing for a lot of people. I know it was for me. But,” he said, “[Marvin will] always be in my heart because I hear his voice all the time. You never forget people like this.”

The Plug, ‘Super Bowl Time: Who Ya Got?’ (Episode 8): Super Bowl Sunday is upon us Can Brady go for six? Can the Eagles grab their first Super Bowl?

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You can’t talk sports this week without talking about Super Bowl 52: the New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles. So what’d we do with that? We introduced a “Faceoff” segment. An Eagles fan and a Pats diehard each try to convince us why their squad will hoist the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night. After that, it’s a blast from football past as 1991 Super Bowl champions Tim Johnson, and Hall of Famers Art Monk and Darrell Green give us insight on what it’s like preparing for the biggest football game of your life. Green also focuses on the controversy surrounding the team’s “Redskins” name, and what it means that the Cleveland Indians are removing their “Chief Wahoo” in 2019.

The crew also breaks down the Blake Griffin trade, and what injuries to Demarcus Cousins and John Wall mean to not only LeBron’s All Star team but to each player’s future. Finally: we also chop it up about my weekend in New York covering the GRAMMYs. Keep the support churning, my people. Continue to tell your circle to to subscribe to The Plug on the ESPN app! Pull up on us next week!

Previously: The Plug, ‘Awards Season: Jemele Hill’ (Episode 7): Who’s the Best of the Best?

Grammys: Bruno Mars and Kendrick Lamar win big; Jay-Z and SZA are shut out What is it about hip-hop and rap music and Grammys?

There’s much so much take away from the 60th Annual Grammy Awards. Here are the most obvious elephants in the room.

Kendrick Lamar’s run continues. We said it before, but Lamar’s DAMN. good year has no end in sight. He started Sunday night’s Grammys off via one of the best (Dave Chapelle) intros in recent memory, brought out U2, and left Madison Square Garden last night with five Grammys — including rap album of the year and best rap/sung performance with Rihanna for their “Loyalty.” While it seems DAMN. the album has bumped Lamar up from rap superstar to Lamar the hip-hop pop culture kingpin, he once again lost out in the album of the year category — the third time that’s happened. And with a catalog that includes generation-defining records such as good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN., you’re left to wonder what, if anything, Compton, California’s, son has to do to, especially considering the massive goodwill DAMN. has produced. But with a nationwide tour on the horizon and the Black Panther soundtrack, serving as the Black Hippy album we never got, at least the start of 2018 is looking quite massive for hip-hop’s young legend.

Jay-Z and SZA shut out. They entered the night with a total of 13 nominations. And maybe that was a sign of bad luck off the rip. Both Jay-Z and SZA left Madison Square Garden without any hardware. Before the show, Jay again acknowledged his storied and infamous history with music’s biggest night. His groundbreaking 4:44 though wasn’t recognized in any category. Likewise, SZA, the most nominated woman of last night’s festivities, left empty-handed. It was a euphoric year for the first lady of TDE. Fueled by records such as “Love Galore” featuring Travis Scott, and “The Weekend,” her debut project, Ctrl is a commercial and critical success. SZA did, however, give a rousing performance of her standout “Broken Clocks,” seemed to highlight a disappointing night. Remember last year, when Rihanna also failed to receive a Grammy after dropping the best album of that year and of her career thus far? And: Wildly “Despacito,” Khalid and Cardi B were shut out, too. A weird night for music’s biggest night.

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All hail King Bruno. I said the album would be important well over a year ago. Turns out I was wrong. It was very important. “It’s like you started the wave a long time ago,” said Jeremy Reeves, one-fourth of The Stereotypes, the production creatives who helped write the now Grammy-winning “That’s What I like.” “And for some reason it’s still growing. But that’s the roar and it’s like, ‘Yo, Bruno really took it all the way there from the studio to the world. It’s a crazy feeling.” Simply put, Bruno Mars is a legend in real time — who walked away with six Grammys last night. While names like Lamar and Jay-Z absolutely deserved to win the night’s most coveted honor in album of the year, let’s not front like Bruno Mars didn’t release one of the most important albums of 2017, and did so only using nine songs. From “24K Magic” to the aforementioned “That’s What I Like” to even the updated “Finesse” with Cardi B, his music impacts nearly every corner of the population — and not in a corny way that comes off as if he’s trying too hard. He’ll have a Las Vegas residency in 10 years performing these very songs — and future hits.

Select Grammy winners:

Album of the Year:
“Awaken, My Love!” — Childish Gambino
4:44 — Jay-Z
DAMN. — Kendrick Lamar
MelodramaLorde
24K Magic — Bruno Mars —WINNER

Record of the Year:
“Redbone” — Childish Gambino
“Despacito” — Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber
“The Story Of O.J.” — Jay-Z
“HUMBLE.” — Kendrick Lamar
“24K Magic” — Bruno Mars —WINNER

Song of the Year:
“Despacito” — Ramón Ayala, Justin Bieber, Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton, songwriters (Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber)
“4:44” — Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters (Jay-Z)
“Issues” — Benny Blanco, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter, songwriters (Julia Michaels)
“1-800-273-8255” — Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury & Khalid Robinson, songwriters (Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)
“That’s What I Like” — Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars) — WINNER

Best New Artist:
Alessia Cara — WINNER
Khalid
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels
SZA

POP FIELD

Best Pop Solo Performance:
“Love So Soft” — Kelly Clarkson
“Praying” — Kesha
“Million Reasons” — Lady Gaga
“What About Us” — P!nk
“Shape Of You” — Ed Sheeran — WINNER

DANCE/ELECTRONIC FIELD

Best Dance Recording:
“Bambro Koyo Ganda” — Bonobo Featuring Innov Gnawa
“Cola” — Camelphat & Elderbrook
“Andromeda” — Gorillaz Featuring DRAM
“Tonite” — LCD Soundsystem — WINNER
“Line Of Sight” — Odesza Featuring Wynne & Mansionair

Best R&B Performance:
“Get You” — Daniel Caesar Featuring Kali Uchis
“Distraction” — Kehlani
“High” — Ledisi
“That’s What I Like” — Bruno Mars —WINNER
“The Weekend” — SZA

Best Traditional R&B Performance:
“Laugh And Move On” — The Baylor Project
“Redbone” — Childish Gambino — WINNER
“What I’m Feelin’ ” — Anthony Hamilton Featuring The Hamiltones|
“All The Way” — Ledisi
“Still” — Mali Music

Best R&B Song:
“First Began” — PJ Morton, songwriter (PJ Morton)
“Location” — Alfredo Gonzalez, Olatunji Ige, Samuel David Jiminez, Christopher McClenney, Khalid Robinson & Joshua Scruggs, songwriters (Khalid)
“Redbone” — Donald Glover & Ludwig Goransson, songwriters (Childish Gambino)
“Supermodel” — Tyran Donaldson, Terrence Henderson, Greg Landfair Jr., Solana Rowe & Pharrell Williams, songwriters (SZA)
“That’s What I Like” — Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars) —WINNER

Best Urban Contemporary Album:
Free 6LACK — 6LACK
“Awaken, My Love!” — Childish Gambino
American Teen — Khalid
Ctrl — SZA
Starboy — The Weeknd —WINNER

Best R&B Album:
Freudian — Daniel Caesar
Let Love Rule — Ledisi
24K Magic — Bruno Mars — WINNER
Gumbo — PJ Morton
Feel the Real –Musiq Soulchild

Best Rap Performance:
“Bounce Back” — Big Sean
“Bodak Yellow” — Cardi B
“4:44” — Jay-Z
“HUMBLE.” — Kendrick Lamar —WINNER
“Bad And Boujee” — Migos Featuring Lil Uzi Vert

Best Rap/Sung Performance:
“PRBLMS” — 6LACK
“Crew” — Goldlink Featuring Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy
“Family Feud” — Jay-Z Featuring Beyoncé
“LOYALTY.” — Kendrick Lamar featuring Rihanna — WINNER
“Love Galore” — SZA Featuring Travis Scott

Best Rap Song:
“Bodak Yellow” — Dieuson Octave, Klenord Raphael, Shaftizm, Jordan Thorpe, Washpoppin & J White, songwriters (Cardi B)
“Chase Me” — Judah Bauer, Brian Burton, Hector Delgado, Jaime Meline, Antwan Patton, Michael Render, Russell Simins & Jon Spencer, songwriters (Danger Mouse Featuring Run The Jewels & Big Boi)
“HUMBLE.” — Duckworth, Asheton Hogan & M. Williams II, songwriters (Kendrick Lamar) — WINNER
“Sassy” — Gabouer & M. Evans, songwriters (Rapsody)
“The Story Of O.J.” — Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters (Jay-Z)

Best Rap Album:
4:44 — Jay-Z
DAMN. — Kendrick Lamar — WINNER
Culture — Migos
Laila’s Wisdom — Rapsody
Flower Boy — Tyler, The Creator

Best Improvised Jazz Solo:
“Can’t Remember Why” — Sara Caswell, soloist
“Dance Of Shiva” — Billy Childs, soloist
“Whisper Not” — Fred Hersch, soloist
“Miles Beyond” — John McLaughlin, soloist — WINNER
“Ilimba” — Chris Potter, soloist

Best Jazz Vocal Album:
The Journey — The Baylor Project
A Social Call — Jazzmeia Horn
Bad Ass and Blind — Raul Midón
Porter Plays Porter — Randy Porter Trio With Nancy King
Dreams and Daggers — Cécile McLorin Salvant — WINNER

Best Jazz Instrumental Album:
Uptown, Downtown — Bill Charlap Trio
Rebirth — Billy Childs — WINNER
Project Freedom –Joey DeFrancesco & The People
Open Book — Fred Hersch
The Dreamer Is the Dream — Chris Potter

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album:
MONK’estra Vol. 2 — John Beasley
Jigsaw — Alan Ferber Big Band
Bringin’ It — Christian McBride Big Band — WINNER
Homecoming — Vince Mendoza & WDR Big Band Cologne
Whispers on the Wind — Chuck Owen and The Jazz Surge

Best Latin Jazz Album:
Hybrido – From Rio To Wayne Shorter — Antonio Adolfo
Oddara — Jane Bunnett & Maqueque
Outra Coisa – The Music Of Moacir Santos — Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves
Típico — Miguel Zenón
Jazz Tango — Pablo Ziegler Trio — WINNER

Best Gospel Performance/Song:
“Too Hard Not To” — Tina Campbell
“You Deserve It” — JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise Featuring Bishop Cortez Vaughn
“Better Days” — Le’Andria
“My Life” — The Walls Group
“Never Have To Be Alone” — CeCe Winans — WINNER

Best Gospel Album:
Crossover: Live From Music City — Travis Greene
Bigger Than Me — Le’Andria
Close — Marvin Sapp
Sunday Song — Anita Wilson
Let Them Fall in Love — CeCe Winans — WINNER

Best Latin Pop Album:
Lo Único Constante — Alex Cuba
Mis Planes Son Amarte — Juanes
Amar Y Vivir En Vivo Desde La Ciudad De México, 2017 — La Santa Cecilia
Musas (Un Homenaje Al Folclore Latinoamericano En Manos De Los Macorinos) — Natalia Lafourcade
El Dorado — Shakira — WINNER

Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album:
Ayo — Bomba Estéreo
Pa’ Fuera — C4 Trío & Desorden Público
Salvavidas De Hielo — Jorge Drexler
El Paradise — Los Amigos Invisibles
Residente — Residente — WINNER

Best Regional Mexican Music Album:
Ni Diablo Ni Santo — Julión Álvarez Y Su Norteño Banda
Ayer Y Hoy — Banda El Recodo De Cruz Lizárraga
Momentos — Alex Campos
Arriero Somos Versiones Acústicas — Aida Cuevas — WINNER
Zapateando En El Norte — Humberto Novoa, producer (Various Artists)

Best Tropical Latin Album:
Albita — Albita
Art of the Arrangement — Doug Beavers
Salsa Big Band — Rubén Blades Con Roberto Delgado & Orquesta — WINNER
Gente Valiente — Silvestre Dangond
Indestructible — Diego El Cigala

Best American Roots Performance:
“Killer Diller Blues” — Alabama Shakes —WINNER
“Let My Mother Live” — Blind Boys of Alabama
“Arkansas Farmboy” — Glen Campbell
“Steer Your Way” — Leonard Cohen
“I Never Cared For You” — Alison Krauss

Best Reggae Album:
Chronology — Chronixx
Lost In Paradise — Common Kings
Wash House Ting — J Boog
Stony Hill — Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley — WINNER
Avrakedabra — Morgan Heritage

Best World Music Album:
Memoria de los Sentidos — Vicente Amigo
Para Mi — Buika
Rosa Dos Ventos — Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro
Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Celebration — Ladysmith Black Mambazo — WINNER
Elwan — Tinariwen

Best Comedy Album:
The Age Of Spin & Deep In The Heart Of Texas — Dave Chappelle — WINNER
Cinco — Jim Gaffigan
Jerry Before Seinfeld — Jerry Seinfeld
A Speck Of Dust — Sarah Silverman
What Now? — Kevin Hart

Best Album Notes:
Arthur Q. Smith: The Trouble With The Truth — Wayne Bledsoe & Bradley Reeves, album notes writers (Various Artists)
Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition — Ted Olson, album notes writer (Various Artists)
The Complete Piano Works Of Scott Joplin — Bryan S. Wright, album notes writer (Richard Dowling)
Edouard-Léon Scott De Martinville, Inventor of Sound Recording: A Bicentennial Tribute — David Giovannoni, album notes writer (Various Artists)
Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings — Lynell George, album notes writer (Otis Redding) — WINNER
Washington Phillips And His Manzarene Dreams — Michael Corcoran, album notes writer (Washington Phillips)

Best Remixed Recording:
“Can’t Let You Go (Louie Vega Roots Mix)” — Louie Vega, remixer (Loleatta Holloway)
“Funk O’ De Funk (SMLE Remix)” — SMLE, remixers (Bobby Rush)
“Undercover (Adventure Club Remix)” — Leighton James & Christian Srigley, remixers (Kehlani)
“A Violent Noise (Four Tet Remix)” — Four Tet, remixer (The xx)
“You Move (Latroit Remix)” — Dennis White, remixer (Depeche Mode) — WINNER

Best Music Video:
“Up All Night” — Beck
“Makeba” — Jain
“The Story Of O.J.” — Jay-Z
“Humble.” — Kendrick Lamar — WINNER
“1-800-273-8255” — Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid

Best Music Film:
One More Time With Feeling — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Long Strange Trip — (The Grateful Dead)
The Defiant Ones — (Various Artists) — WINNER
Soundbreaking — (Various Artists)
Two Trains Runnin’ — (Various Artists)

Grammy weekend is about fun, but also about music’s ability to change the world ‘I liken these days to the Harlem Renaissance — that sort of artistic revolution.’ – Black Thought

Black Thought, the legendary rapper and front man for the equally legendary Roots crew, takes a break from discussing his hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Like most people in a Gramercy Theater VIP section during the wee hours, the Super Bowl is a hot topic. But Black Thought soon starts talking about music’s Super Bowl — the Grammys, in particular, music’s role in a documenting this period of life. It’s a conversation that has been a constant theme of Grammy weekend — realizing the moment and embracing generational responsibility.

“Twenty years from now it would be dope to be able to say the arts, and not only music, but theater and visual art and literature had a renaissance,” Black Thought said as the final performances of The Roots Jam Sessions rage on a floor above. “I’d love to bring a new awareness to every medium. I liken these days to the Harlem Renaissance — that sort of artistic revolution.”

For fellow Roots brethren, multi-instrumentalist James Poyser, the magnitude of the moment for music, for him, has roots (pun intended) in the troubled yet transformative 1960s. That era turned Motown into a musical religion and made names such as James Brown, Otis Redding and Nina Simone synonymous and vital components of the black American experience. “The music that gave you hope. The music that inspired you to fight these battles. I’m hoping the same thing happens in this era,” Poyser said. “We know what’s going on with you-know-who and everything else that’s going on. We need music to feed our souls.”

Hours earlier, at the red carpet day party thrown by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), the songwriting organization made up of more than 650,000 writers, composers and music publishers, the conversation was much the same. Drinks flowed like the Nile at New York’s Standard High Line as DJ D-Nice soundtracked a breathtaking view of the Hudson. Selfies nearly outnumbered hugs and laughs. But tones shifted to a more prideful, even stern demeanor when people spoke individually.

“We’re soldiers. We’re pioneers. We made it through a crazy couple of [months, years] for the world. Yet and still, music is thriving. I feel better than ever,” said ASCAP senior vice president of membership Nicole George-Middleton. “Despite it all, we persevered. We made things happen.”

Representing the full palette of emotions is important as well — that’s the message from production team/Grammy nominees The Stereotypes. Jeremy Reeves and Ray Charles McCollough II, are half of the collective that co-produced Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like.” They stress that stepping back and finding peace amid the turmoil is a part of life. “It’s such a serious time in history … The music we made with Bruno is like a break from the seriousness. You need the breath,” said McCollough. Reeves followed up, “Not everyone is gonna watch a suspense movie. You gotta throw some comedy in there sometimes. Not that this music is funny, but it releases those endorphins that make you feel good.”

Shortly before returning to the stage (after Big K.R.I.T.’s performance) Black Thought was still optimistic. The world, at times, is difficult to stomach. The headlines that populate phones, websites and televisions is daunting. And also draining. But for Black Thought, it’s easier to make change to than complain about the symptoms. The time is now. “Sometimes we take the day — today — for granted. It’ll be dope to look back a quarter-century from now to look back and say this was when the tipping point of the greatness that’s about to come began.”

Migos don their ‘CRWN’ in exclusive, intimate interview As Grammy weekend heats up, the rap supergroup basks in success — while respecting the grind

“We the young kings of hip-hop right now,” said Quavo. He was laughing, and playful. Yet serious.

Their new album, Culture II, had hit all streaming services less than 24 hours before. The 24-track double album boasts verses and production from Drake, 2 Chainz, 21 Savage, Big Sean, Metro Boomin, Mike Dean, Kanye West and more. The group is up for two Grammys Sunday night: best rap album, 2017’s Culture, and best rap performance by a duo or group for the monster hit “Bad and Boujee.” But it made a weird kind of sense that the first time Migos (whose “Stir Fry” is the official song of NBA All-Star Weekend) spoke on Culture II, it would be in an intimate setting.

Elliott Wilson, Tidal’s editorial director of hip-hop content, revived his famed CRWN interview series Friday night with Quavo, Offset and Takeoff before an energetic crowd of just 100 people. The nearly hourlong sit-down, which included impromptu questions from the audience, spanned an array of topics: Quavo and Offset’s decisions to do separate projects (and Takeoff’s impending solo efforts), management company Quality Control’s influence on their glow-up, their “connection” to Joe Budden (“I never looked up to Joe Budden,” Quavo said, sarcastically), reuniting with Drake for the first time since “Versace,” and how the trio got both the iconic Nicki Minaj and Offset’s superstar fiancée Cardi B (who is also nominated for two “Bodak Yellow” Grammys) on “Motorsport.” “The girl power,” said Quavo, “was just so strong.”

“Yessir!” Offset followed up, drawing applause and laughter from the audience — and Offset and Cardi’s relationship of course quickly became a provocative topic. “We just stay focused on our craft. I always tell her, You gotta stay on they a—,” Set said. “To keep giving it to ’em … Cardi is a star.”

Migos is a rare superstar conglomerate in an era where groups — as opposed to solo artists — aren’t trained to thrive. They said a number of times that loyalty is what keeps them together. “And don’t get [us] wrapped up in that mumble rap bulls—-,” said Quavo. Defiantly, he followed up: “We really do this.”

It’s showtime: The Apollo welcomes the Grammys back to New York Fat Joe, Doug E. Fresh, Elle Varner — Harlem’s iconic theater hosts an artist-studded luncheon

 

One doesn’t just see Harlem, New York. You feel Harlem. You smell Harlem. You vibe with Harlem. From the backseat of a Lyft, you pass the stalwarts of the community — the Duane Reade pharmacies, General Grant Houses, the countless delis — many of which will sell you a delicious “chopped cheese” sandwich — if you’re hip on how to order them. Black Panther promotional posters adorn nearly every bus stop, it seems. Even as the gentrification of the Harlem becomes more and more entrenched, the spirit of Malcolm X lives on in the creative, cultural and social melting pot where he stood as a titan on its street corners, and died as an icon.

There’s not many things more authentically Harlem than West 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard — dubbed “the cultural heartbeat of the city.” And with the Grammys back in New York for the first time since 2003, the iconic Apollo Theater hosted a luncheon in celebration. “When you do something special in New York, you feel the vibration,” said pioneering hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh said on the red carpet. “I’m glad they decided to do this at the Apollo. It’s Harlem. I am Harlem.”

Also in attendance is five-time Grammy-nominated Fat Joe, Rotimi, current Grammy nominees The Hamiltones, Dapper Dan, the Grammy-nominated Elle Varner and many more. These creative professionals understand the Apollo’s place in black culture, and know about the legends who stood on the stage – not 50 feet from the red carpet. “I wish I would’ve seen Lauryn Hill. They booed her,” said singer and Power cast member Rotimi. “Then 10-15 years later seeing she’s one of the greatest of all time, that’s the ultimate story.”

“Aretha,” Varner said without hesitation about who she wishes she’d seen, live at the Apollo. “Absolutely.”

An Apollo institution himself, Doug E. Fresh flips the script. “Me and Stevie Wonder was here one night. That was crazy!”

The energy was one of reverence. With celebrities and Harlem luminaries scattered through the stage and carpet, the collective perspective was one of privilege and respect. “The best night in the Apollo was when Ice Cube first came here,” Fat Joe said from the stage. “We gotta protect this. This our home.”

 

Drake’s strategic silence and the task of a triumphant return The Toronto superstar appears to have recused himself from Grammys — but he’s still at Grammys

A Toronto to New York flight usually takes less than an hour. But don’t expect Drake to stand in line at customs to be in New York this weekend as the Grammys return to Manhattan for the first time in 15 years. For the first time since 2008 — the year before his genre-bending third mixtape, So Far Gone, altered hip-hop’s sound, structure and release pattern — Drake will not be an official part of Grammy festivities. In recent times, music’s biggest night and one of music’s biggest names haven’t exactly seen eye to eye.

Drake’s 2017 More Life was not submitted for 2018 Grammy consideration. According to Billboard’s anonymous source “close to the nomination process,” the decision was Drake’s.

The 35-time nominee has won (only) three times. Drake captured the last two for the huge sales/radio/video/streaming smash “Hotline Bling” and later took to his OVO Sound show on Apple’s Beats 1 to voice frustration. “Even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song, the only category they can manage to fit me in is a rap category. Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black, I can’t figure out why,” he said. “I won two awards last night, but I don’t even want them. … It feels weird for some reason.”

There’s a possibility that he’s still in his feelings a year later. He kind of made his statement with the recent Scary Hours, a duo of songs. The bouncy, anthemic and A-side-ish “God’s Plan” is soon to be a No. 1 pop hit. It and “Diplomatic Immunity” — patented, introspective, sans hook — end Drake’s self-imposed musical sabbatical.

“Even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song, the only category they can manage to fit me in is a rap category. Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black.”

In the nearly a year since “getting back to his regular life,” hip-hop continued to be music’s trendsetter. Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z were the authors of the year’s most analyzed and celebrated projects — records that dealt with self-atonement and generational and emotional dispositions. Migos and Cardi B dominated airwaves with monster records. Tyler, the Creator dropped a career-defining number. Bruno Mars cemented himself as pop culture’s king. And Toronto’s newest wunderkind, Daniel Caesar, emancipated another layer of The 6’s musical identity with Freudian. The timing of Hours’ release, a week to the day that Grammys weekend kicked off, wasn’t random. Nothing Drake does ever is.

“I’m not sure he’s trying to shake anybody at the Grammys, but I do think what he’s saying is, ‘I’m recharged,’ ” said longtime New York Times pop music critic Jon Caramanica, “Like, ‘That’s cool. Have your party. But I’m coming.’ I assume what he’s saying is ‘The summer is mine.’ ”

In the coming months, rumors of a new Drake album will become reality. He’s been dealing with whether to stay in constant pursuit of immortality, or to fall back and let music figure out how to operate without him. The clues to this tug of war are in his own music, hidden in plain sight.


In his decade-long drive to reach rap’s Mount Olympus, Drake has become the most successful post-808s & Heartbreaks artist. He has best synthesized the DNA of hip-hop and R&B to embody an unfiltered sense of emotion. After So Far Gone’s runaway success, Drake’s mesh of singing and rapping was diagnosed in influential circles as a detriment to rap’s brashness, and/or as a flavor of the moment — nothing sustainable. This made Drake not only an eternal brooder but also (even with his relentless success) an underdog attempting to plant his OVO flag in the center of hip-hop. “[Drake was] driven by feelings,” said Caramanica, “pioneering or popularizing a musical approach that not everybody at that time was on board with.”

Underdog Drake, though, opens the doors for King Drake. From February 2015 to March 2017, Drake released four projects: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, What A Time To Be Alive with Future, Views and More Life. He embarked on two marathon tours: Summer Sixteen, with Future, and his international leg, the Boy Meets World Tour. Drake was also involved in rap’s most publicized beef since the days of Jay-Z and Nas. Meek Mill vs. Drake was a battle the More Life rapper won, but its aftereffects haunt him.

Drake has been enjoying a tidal wave of success. His fingerprints are all over the musical spectrum, with a king’s ransom of hits: his first No. 1 as a lead artist in “One Dance”; its spiritual twin, “Controlla”; the Tyra Banks-assisted “Child’s Play”; DJ Khaled’s “For Free”; and Rihanna’s international smash “Work.” Statistically, Drake had no peers with his 2016 behemoth Views — he is the first to crack a billion streams on Apple Music.

By his own admission, life at the top of rap’s food chain is exhausting. Sorry if I’m way less friendly, he noted on “Work,” I got n—as trying to end me. “To be completely honest with you, I was having trouble figuring myself in rap at the time,” he said last year. “I was a very defensive individual just coming off the situations I’d come off of.”

I’m not a one-hit wonder, they know all my stuff/ You let me turn into the n—a that you almost was/ I done see a lot of s— and I done been in things/ And I never started nothin’, I just finish things — Drake on French Montana’s “No Shopping” (2016)

So, whether it’s due to Views’ lukewarm critical and social media reception, the anxieties of fame, the claims of his experimentation with ghostwriting or a potluck of the three, it can seem like Drake never had an opportunity to flourish in his global success — even as he’s all smiles courtside.

“Like, ‘That’s cool. Have your party. But I’m coming.’ I assume what he’s saying is, ‘The summer is mine.’ ”

This bellicose introspection has been noted by those closest to him. His producer/creative partner, Noah “40” Shebib, constantly reminded Drake of this moody, at times even messy persona during Views’ recording sessions. “[40] was like, ‘Man you really sound aggressive and defensive,’ ” Drake recalled. And Drake’s mother saw the change in her otherwise jovial only child. In her message at the end of 2017’s “Can’t Have Everything,” she wondered whether Drake’s new alienated attitude would “hold him back in life.”

Nowhere did his mental merry-go-round present itself in more contradictory terms than on More Life. With nearly 90 million global streams in its first 24 hours on Apple Music and 61.3 million global streams in the same time frame on Spotify, Life was more critically embraced than Views. Drake had seemingly entered a new chapter: applying pressure on rap’s jugular. N—-s see me in person/ First thing they say is, ‘I know you need a break,’ he rhymes on “Sacrifices.” Hell, nah, I feel great/ Ready now, why wait?

Between Jan. 21, 2017, when he recorded “Sacrifices,” and Life’s release on March 18, Drake’s mentality seemed to change. His breaking point arrived on Life’s melancholy “Do Not Disturb.” He reminisced on the Views era: Yeah, ducked a lot of spiteful moves/ I was an angry youth when I was writing Views, he confessed. Saw a side of myself that I just never knew/ I’ll probably self-destruct if I ever lose/ But I never do.

“Disturb” wasn’t just Life’s final song. It was the last song he recorded for the project — a bon voyage to rap, a la Jay-Z’s “Dear Summer.” More importantly, the curtain call held the album’s most important revelation. Take summer off, ’cause they tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary … More Life.

“Everybody who has the throne loses the throne. That’s just the definition of the throne. It’s got nothing to do with Jay [Z], [Kanye West], Drake or any individual,” said Caramanica. “Rather than continue to pump out music and sort of be in perpetual competition, the healthiest thing to do was to step away.”

Drake, in essence, dropped More Life and went on about living his. There were no videos from the project, nor was there a need to rush out singles. As a result, Drake’s 430-week run of at least one song on the Billboard Hot 100 — a run, by context, that spanned all but 124 days of Barack Obama’s tenure as president — was snapped. He let go. Almost as if to say, “I’ve done this at such a high level for such a long time. I’m confident enough to walk away. I need to walk away.”

There was his short-lived fling with Jennifer Lopez, a romance Drake characteristically translated to his music. He paid homage to his Toronto superstar prophyte Vince Carter in a candid sit-down with basketball stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh. He further embedded himself with his hometown Toronto Raptors by co-designing the team’s City Edition jerseys. Drake donated $200,000 to Hurricane Harvey victims, and tragedy struck even closer to home as he served as pallbearer at the funeral of his friend Anthony “Fif” Soares.

Drake’s vow of a 2018 “summary” has interesting timing. He returns at a time when his two most high-profile associates-turned-competitors, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, are celebrated for projects (both of which released after More Life) that largely helped shape the conversation in hip-hop last year. Both DAMN. and 4:44 are nominated for album of the year at the Grammys. “The type of record that Jay made can only be made by someone who is middle-aged and reflective,” Caramanica said, “[whereas] Kendrick’s [project] is political, socially aware, religiously invested. It’s a much more earthy, grounded endeavor. It’s just not what Drake does.”

Maybe. At 31, Drake’s portfolio continues to expand. The most successful rapper 35 and under/ I’m assuming everybody’s 35 and under, he waxed on 2016’s “Weston Road Flows.” That’s when I plan to retire, man, it’s already funded. Whether 35 is a hard date is a question better left for the year 2021. For now, as he said last year, leaving music is off in the distance. “But,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I do plan on expanding — to take six months or a year and do some great films.”

Since the turn of the century, Pharrell, Kanye West and Drake represent the holy trinity of songcraft. While the (warranted) debate rages about whether, in fact, Drake has a classic album to his name, there is no debate about his ability to shift conversations and birth new dialogues. Drake’s credibility lives and dies on him being Drake: the emo, wickedly selfish yet fiercely loyal, boastful, successfully paranoid extroverted introvert and modern-day Billy Dee Williams who can’t seem to find love in any of the strip clubs he frequents.

“I think if you look at earlier artists who have some version of the throne, where they may have gone wrong is chasing a younger sound when they were trying to fit in a place where they didn’t naturally fit in,” said Caramanica. “My hope is that Drake will be astute enough to not do that.”

Janet Jackson surprises ‘Essence’ award winner Missy Elliott The 9th Annual Black Women in Music event sets off a week of Grammy festivities

The vibe was old-school glamorous New York last night for the Essence 9th Annual Black Women in Music event. Missy Elliott was honored at the jam-packed Highline Ballroom, and phones were in the air as none other than Janet Jackson surprised Elliott with a truly emotional speech, and presentation of the award.

“Some rhyme, some rap, some act, some choreograph, some write hit songs, some create whole new sounds,” said Jackson. “Some women are able to make [their] mark in some of these fields. But there’s only one woman who has made her mark in all of these fields…Not only have you made your mark, but she’s done so with boldness and courage.” Love & Hip Hop empresario Mona Scott-Young also spoke on behalf of her client and friend Elliott.

The drinks were flowing as luminaries such as Grammy-nominee Rapsody, as well as the Grammy-nominated Janelle Monae, Remy Ma and T.I. toasted Elliott’s creativity and 1990s dominance. Also enjoying the evening: Epic Records president Sylvia Rhone, Atlantic Records Chairman/COO Julie Greenwald, and BET Chairman/CEO Debra Lee. “I wouldn’t wanna be any other color but black,” Missy Elliott said, award in hand. “There’s something about our DNA that can’t be taught, it comes from a different place.”