New York Fashion Week: Why your athlete and rapper faves are wearing Musika Frère You’ll see their bespoke suits at All-Star weekend

NEW YORK — If you’re a hockey player with thighs the width of your waist, a broad-shouldered linebacker, or a 7-foot-2 basketball star, shopping off-the-rack can be a pain. Especially if you want something that won’t leave you swimming in fabric.

Plenty of menswear labels such as Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford or Brioni provide services for hard-to-fit upscale clients. Musika Frère, a bespoke menswear line started in 2014 by Aleks Musika and Davidson Petit-Frère, is quietly trying to upend the business.

They liken their suits to Ferraris: all-bespoke everything, in fine fabrics featuring traditional tailoring. But Musika Frère aspires to the upstart disruptive qualities of Harry’s Shave Club combined with the style and swagger of Ozwald Boateng. The company was born on Instagram, where Musika and Petit-Frère showcased custom dinner jackets on themselves. Interest in their designs grew through word of mouth, and into a business with an atelier in Manhattan. They’re young and hungry, offering the same services as their competitors, but with quicker turnaround and less markup. You can get a bespoke suit, made in Italy, from Musika Frère in four weeks, compared with the usual six to eight. Plenty of athletes and celebrities have noticed. Jay-Z wore Musika Frère to Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys dinner.

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Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Chadwick Boseman, Sterling K. Brown, Omari Hardwick, Kevin Hart, and Alex Rodriguez have all sported their wares.

Musika and Petit-Frère like playing with color, shape, and scale and they encourage their clients to experiment. They recently dressed Nick Jonas in a windowpane check suit for the premiere of Jumanji, and they tend to push more shawl collars and broader lapels than most menswear labels. Their signature contrasting waistband has appeared in their designs from the beginning.

“The days of navy, black, and grey suits on the red carpet are kind of ancient,” Petit-Frère said. “Now it’s, ‘How can I outdo myself?’ ”

The past few years in red carpet menswear have been a parade of tiny suits and skinny lapels, popularized by stars such as Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne. But the style doesn’t work well for athletes.

“If you’re 5-8 and 120 pounds, that looks good,” Musika said. “But we make suits, especially for our bespoke clients, in proportion to their shoulder width. And the fit is not skinny. It’s made for them. It doesn’t matter how big you are. If you’re a football player that plays offensive line, we’re making a suit around your body. Stuff that’s fitted always looks better. It doesn’t matter how big you are.”

This weekend the duo is headed to Los Angeles for NBA All-Star Weekend as they work on raising their profile. They’ll be tending to clients including Russell Wilson and Travis Scott. The goal is for Musika Frère to blossom into a full-on luxury lifestyle brand, and Musika and Petit-Frère say they’re interested in bringing their model of bespoke suiting to women’s wear, too. Perhaps, one day, we’ll see Brittney Griner in one of their suits.

But for now, they’d love to dress a former president. They recalled the flak and endless memes Barack Obama got when he stepped out in a tan suit.

“He looked great!” Petit-Frère said.

“Yeah,” Musika chimed in. “We’re gonna put him in a red one.”

The high-flying and unpredictable NBA Rising Stars Challenge in 5 storylines Lonzo Ball, Jaylen Brown, Dennis Smith — Team USA is loaded, but can ‘The Process’ lead Team World to glory?

The NBA Rising Stars Challenge game will certainly deliver swag, poster dunks, a barrage of 3-pointers and bucket after bucket from tipoff to the buzzer. But there are a lot of, shall we say, side narratives as well. For example: Apparently, the impact of an NBA All-Star Game snub can travel across the entire globe, even into the highest levels of government.

Despite a prolific rookie season, and a slew of injured All-Stars who needed replacements, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons won’t be playing on the biggest Sunday of the NBA calendar. The 6-foot-10 Australian phenom didn’t receive a call from commissioner Adam Silver when DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles, or when John Wall announced knee surgery, or when Kevin Love broke his hand, or when Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL. Instead, Paul George, Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker all got the nod as ringers.

One of Simmons’ countrymen decided to use the floor of the Australian Parliament to express his feelings.

“I rise today to express my outrage at the exclusion of Australian Ben Simmons from this year’s NBA All-Star Game,” said Tim Watts, a member of the Australian House of Representatives. “In a record-breaking rookie year for the Philadelphia 76ers, Ben is currently averaging nearly 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game. He’s already had five triple-doubles, and, frankly, no one with two brain cells to rub together would want Goran Dragic on their team.” Watts’ remarks went viral, and Simmons commented, “The man has spoken [insert crying emoji],” on a video of the speech posted on Instagram.

Simmons will make the trip to Los Angeles, though, where he’ll put on for Australia in the annual Rising Stars Challenge. Per tradition, only first- and second-year players are eligible to compete, and for the fourth straight year, the game features a matchup between Team USA and Team World. With the best American players in the NBA squaring off against the league’s top talent with international roots, Simmons will rep his Aussie set as one of the leaders of Team World, along with the Cameroon-born Joel Embiid, his Philly teammate and an All-Star starter.

Although Team World claimed a 150-141 win in last year’s game, Team USA enters the 2018 contest with an absolutely loaded roster that includes a trio of Los Angeles Lakers in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, a pair of Boston Celtics in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, as well as Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks. Compared with Sunday’s All-Star Game, Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge presents a smaller — albeit almost equally high-flying, ankle-breaking and star-showcasing — spectacle that previews the leaders of the new school in the NBA. Here are five things to watch from the league’s future stars.


TEAM WORLD

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic, G, Sacramento Kings
  • Dillon Brooks, G/F, Memphis Grizzlies
  • Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Buddy Hield, G, Sacramento Kings
  • Lauri Markkanen, F, Chicago Bulls
  • Jamal Murray, G, Denver Nuggets
  • Frank Ntilikina, G, New York Knicks
  • Domantas Sabonis, F/C, Indiana Pacers
  • Dario Saric, F, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Ben Simmons, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers

TEAM USA

  • Lonzo Ball, G, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Malcolm Brogdon, G, Milwaukee Bucks*
  • Jaylen Brown, G/F, Boston Celtics
  • John Collins, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
  • Kris Dunn, G, Chicago Bulls
  • Brandon Ingram, F, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Kyle Kuzma, F, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Donovan Mitchell, G, Utah Jazz
  • Dennis Smith Jr., G, Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics
  • Taurean Prince, F, Atlanta Hawks

*Injured, will not play in game

 

When in doubt, ‘Trust the Process’

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The game plan for Team World is simple: “Trust the Process.” That’s the creed of the young-and-promising Philadelphia 76ers, who will likely make a playoff appearance for the first time since 2012. “The Process” is also the nickname of Philly’s 7-foot franchise center Embiid, who will start in both the Rising Stars Challenge and his first career All-Star Game. Embiid will be joined on Team World by Simmons and Croatia’s Dario Saric, the runner-up for 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year. In last year’s challenge, Saric recorded 17 points, five rebounds and four assists as a starter for Team World. Expect the entire Sixers trio, who all stand 6-foot-10 or above, to both start and get buckets. That’s a feared three-man offense right there.

Will Lonzo Ball play?

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It’s been a busy few weeks for the new-wave first family of basketball, also known as the Balls of Chino Hills, California. LaVar Ball has been frequenting sidelines overseas while coaching his two youngest sons — LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16 — who have both been straight-up ballin’ (all puns intended) in their first year of professional basketball in Lithuania. Meanwhile, Lonzo, the 2017 No. 2 overall pick of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, is reportedly expecting a child with his longtime girlfriend, Denise Garcia, and trying to make it back onto the court after suffering a left knee sprain on Jan. 13. “I didn’t think it was going to be this serious, to be honest …,” Ball said on Feb. 7. “I thought it was going to be dealt with quicker.” The injury might cost him an appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge, which will be played on his home court at the Staples Center. Fingers crossed he can suit up. The people need Lonzo Ball on the hardwood and LaVar Ball courtside.

The dunk contest before the dunk contest

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Two out of the four contestants who make up the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest will get to warm up their bounce in the Rising Stars Challenge. They’re both rookies and both members of Team USA: Mavericks point guard Smith and Jazz shooting guard Mitchell, who was a late call-up to the dunk competition as a replacement for injured Orlando Magic big man Aaron Gordon. Smith has wild leaping ability and crazy in-air flair, while Mitchell plays at a height above his defenders, frequently breaking out his patented tomahawk jams. This is another reason that Ball needs to play in this game. Lonzo + Donovan + Dennis = endless lob possibilities. We’d be looking up all night long.

Can Jamal Murray do it again?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If Jamal Murray shows up, balls out and is named the MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year, Drake has to consider remixing his timeless 2015 diss track “Back to Back” to pay homage to his fellow Canadian. That line from the record in which he spits, Back to back like I’m Jordan, ’96, ’97? How about Back to back like I’m Murray, ’17, ’18? In last year’s game, the Nuggets guard dropped game highs in both points (36) and assists (11). He also shot a whopping 9-for-14 from 3-point land. Oh, yeah, and he did it all after coming off the bench. C’mon, Team World, let the man start this year so he can really eat!

Throwback threads

Both Team USA and Team World will take the court at the Staples Center in vintage get-ups honoring the history of the city’s two NBA franchises. Team USA will rock powder blue and gold uniforms, inspired by the 1940s-’50s Minneapolis Lakers, while Team World will break out an orange-and-black ensemble as a tribute to the Buffalo Braves (now known as the Los Angeles Clippers) of the 1970s. Which is the fresher look? That’s for you to decide. Which squad will emerge from the challenge victorious? On paper, it’s hard to bet against Team USA. But in an All-Star Game, even at the Rising Stars level, you never really know.

Jermaine Dupri makes history: He’s set to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame The creative who has collaborated with Jay-Z, Usher, Mariah, Xscape and more gets his due

Jermaine Dupri, the genius musical creative who soundtracked much of the 1990s and early 2000s, will be feted at this year’s Songwriters Hall of Fame. The producer, songwriter and MC becomes only the second rapper to be inducted into this prestigious group — Jay-Z, honored last year, was the first. Some of Dupri’s most indelible songs as songwriter/co-writer/producer/executive producer: Xscape’s “Just Kickin’ It,” Nelly’s “Grillz,” he and Jay-Z’s “Money Ain’t a Thang,” he and Mariah Carey’s “Sweetheart,” Jagged Edge’s “Where The Party At (Remix),” Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna” — and there are so many more. Dupri will join John Mellencamp, Alan Jackson and Kool & the Gang at the early-summer event.

Dupri is best known for igniting the Atlanta hip-hop and rhythm and blues scene — Kris Kross, Bow Wow, Jagged Edge and Xscape were all on his So So Def label. He dubbed the Def sound “The New Motown,” which was on point, considering that his artists were (and to a large degree still are) ubiquitous at barbecues, homecomings and urban and pop radio stations. The Songwriters Hall of Fame 49th Annual Induction and Awards Dinner will be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 14 in New York.

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)

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.”

French Montana opens up about building schools in Morocco, soccer, his new video ‘Famous’ and more The Bronx-raised rapper talks emigrating, his sophomore album and lessons from his mother

Hip-hop artist French Montana loved two things as a child: sports and rap. Born in Rabat, Morocco, he played soccer, which afforded him an opportunity to see life in other places.

“Soccer gave me my first opportunity to experience the world,” Montana said. “I got a visa to play in Spain, and when I went there I was like, ‘Wow, there is a world outside of Africa.’ So when I came back, I knew I had to leave Africa to become what I wanted.”

Born Karim Kharbouch, his dream of leaving Morocco came true at 13 years old. He and his family emigrated to the United States. New York City became his new home right in the heart of the South Bronx, where he learned to speak English. He soon became the primary breadwinner of the home after his father moved back to Morocco, leaving his mother and younger brothers in New York.

In his latest single, “Famous,” off of his sophomore album Jungle Rules, he portrays his own background: a mother speaking to her child and wanting to protect him from the troubles that come along with fame.

The “Famous” music video debuted Jan. 18 and was shot in Morocco. In the video, Montana walks the streets of Morocco’s Blue City, Chefchaouen, styling customary Moroccan garb and passing kids playing soccer. He also visits his grandmother’s grave. The artistry of the lyrics is further matched with the beautiful, sun-kissed Moroccan landscape throughout the video.

Wanting to pay it forward, “Famous” is more than just a song — it sheds light on where Montana came from. Growing up, his family faced economic hardships, and he is giving back by building more schools for the kids in Morocco. This comes as an extension of his first-ever Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, “Unforgettable,” where he shot the music video in Uganda and later became inspired to give back. He partnered with Global Citizen on a health advocacy campaign with Mama Hope Foundation to provide health care for new moms and babies in Uganda.

Montana got his start in the music industry when his mixtape debuted in 2007. By 2010, he’d made a full splash with the hit “Choppa Choppa Down.” In 2013 he released his debut studio album, Excuse My French. He is the founder of Coke Boys Records, which later became Cocaine City Records. In 2012, he joined forces with Bad Boy Records and Maybach Music Group.

In between music rehearsals, Montana linked up with The Undefeated in Brooklyn, New York, to reflect on “Famous,” growing up in Morocco, his relationships with Diddy and Jay-Z, and his reaction to President Donald Trump’s comments about immigrants.


When did you realize you were famous?

When I walked into my mama’s job and told her that she didn’t have to work anymore. That was my claim to fame.

What was the inspiration behind your song ‘Famous’?

A lot of people think I’m singing to a girl, but I’m not. It’s more like a mother talking to her child. Like when you’re young and your mother doesn’t want you to play outside near the corner because she’s scared of trouble and all the hurt that the world can bring. She doesn’t want you to be famous but stay her little baby, because in the game there’s a lot of things that come with it, like the snakes, fakes and low-flying angels.

What is behind the good-works initiative tied to the music video for ‘Famous’?

We shot the video in Chaouen. It’s like the pearl of Morocco, the Blue City [because of the blue-washed buildings of the town]. When I lived in Morocco, it was about a three-hour radius to any school. Kids there know when they grow up they’ll go straight to the field, so a lot of them don’t even know how to read the Koran properly. So I knew that I wanted to come back to Morocco and open up a couple of music schools to open up lanes for kids to learn new things.

Why is giving back to Africa important to you?

God blesses you to bless other people. The moment you stop doing that, he’ll take everything away from you. I feel like I can shed light to where I come from, especially from me living in Africa for 13 years and then witnessing firsthand how the people in Uganda really need our help when it comes to health care and [the necessities of life]. That shouldn’t be questionable or a privilege.

Diddy donated $200,000 to the Suubi “Hope” Health Center as part of the Unforgettable health care campaign that you started last year. What was his decision behind that?

Shoutout to my big brother Diddy, that’s my best friend. He’s seen the vision from day one and said here’s a gift for you. Him helping my cause is better than buying me a car. That’s how you receive your blessings, in helping others who can’t help themselves. There’s no greater joy in life until you can help someone that has no motive at getting anything back from you.

What has Diddy taught you?

Never put all of your eggs in one basket. God only blesses people with good karma, so I feel God has blessed Diddy to become one of the wealthiest moguls. Last time he dropped an album was 10 years ago, but he still ranks as Forbes’ highest-paid hip-hop artist.

Can you elaborate about the call from Jay-Z about ‘Famous’?

Jay had asked me to send him the album, and when he heard it he said how ‘Famous’ was his favorite song. He knows what the song means because it can also be a father talking to his daughter. He wants to take [his daughter] Blue to the Blue City [Chaouen] too.

Where do your music influences come from?

Life. Feelings. The vibrations. When you’re at the gym and you’re on your last two sets but you do five more because that song came on, or when you’re chillin’ and that song plays that echoes what you’re going through and you start to cry. It happens to everyone. Music is the only language that your body and the world speaks.

You did some acting in FOX’s Empire. Are you hoping to do more acting in the future?

As far as films, I started the Cocaine City DVD series [back in 2002, which gave a glimpse into the lives of rappers like Remy Ma, Waka Flocka and Lil Wayne]. I directed about 16 episodes before I got into the mix [and was in front of the camera showing my rap game come-up]. So film has always been a top love alongside music.

I just finished directing my own movie, Respect the Shooter [in collaboration with A$AP Rocky]. It’s basically about a bunch of guys trying to make money. Michal K. Williams, Chris Brown, Fabolous, Snoop [from The Wire] and myself are all in it.

Who’s your favorite athlete?

Mike Tyson. He was raw and never held anything back.

As an immigrant yourself, what are your thoughts on President Donald Trump’s recent comments about immigration?

Trump is treating the states like it’s Trump real estate — where you have to be qualified to move into one of his buildings. A great leader spreads love, and he’s not doing that. I feel a lot of the real heroes [in America] come from other places. They weren’t born here; they come from different parts of the world. He’s going to last four years, and then we’ll move on to the next president.

Why Migos’ ‘Stir Fry’ is the perfect song for NBA All-Star Weekend Hip-hop’s Big 3 are pop culture and they’re truly doing it for the culture—of the NBA

Music’s hottest supergroup consists of three MCs known as Quavo, Offset and Takeoff. In the past year, the Migos have a Grammy-nominated No. 1 hit, a Grammy-nominated No. 1 album and their own brand of potato chips. This past November, between group efforts and individual guest appearances on other artists’ songs, the Migos had nine concurrent entries on Billboard’s Hot 100 — also known as the pop singles chart. And Offset is one half of the year’s newest power couple: He’s engaged to the coolest new star of the year, Cardi B.

So, just ask the Migos: There is something alluring about a trio in which each person brings a little something different and they all work together to create poetry in motion. The Migos are a big three.

The power of a “Big 3” in basketball is undeniable, and throughout the course of NBA history we’ve been spoiled by quite a few memorable ones. There’s Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy as the leaders of the “Showtime” Lakers. Chicago’s Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. And then the iconic Boston formation of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. And we can’t forget the straight-outta-video-game Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

In the game of hip-hop, Quavo, an ultimate hook man, runs point. The lyrically gifted Offset is on the wing. And tone-setting ad-libber extraordinaire Takeoff is down in the post. And now, with their talent and influence, the Migos have reached the NBA’s biggest stage.

On Christmas Day, the NBA announced the Migos’ Pharrell-produced “Stir Fry” as the official song of 2018 All-Star Weekend (Feb. 16-18). This ended a long run of forgettable tunes (in 2017, it was Sir Roosevelt’s “Sunday Finest”) selected by the league and TNT, the longtime broadcaster of the midseason classic. The song will serve as the soundtrack for the festivities, hosted this year in Los Angeles. “Stir Fry” is the best song the weekend has yielded since 2012, when Jay-Z and Kanye West, aka The Throne, provided the All-Star Game with its lead-in music via their 2011 megahit “N—as in Paris.”

But “Stir Fry” is an even more worthy theme song for All-Star (and a nice complement to the game’s fresh new pickup-style team-selecting format). It’s almost as if the Migos wrote the song specifically for this moment. Don’t discriminate, ballplayers come in all sizes / Finger roll, post move, or the pick and roll / They mad the way we win, they think we used a cheat code, flows Takeoff in the third verse — a small peek into the hoops knowledge and respect for the game possessed by the entire trio.

Instagram Photo

Aside from the fact that they can actually hoop (especially Quavo), the Migos are a fixture at NBA games, primarily at Philips Arena, where their hometown Atlanta Hawks play. They were swagged out from courtside seats there on Dec. 23, when Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder put up a career-high 33 points after receiving some motivation from the group’s frontman, Quavo. “He told me last night … on the phone … ‘You’ve gotta get 30 points when I’m coming.’ I was motivated, I was focused, I still tried to get the win, but I did it for him,” Schroder said after the game, from which each member of the Migos left with a game-worn jersey off the back of a Hawks player. After an MLK Day matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry presented the sideline-sitting Quavo with the pair of signature Under Armour shoes that he wore in 33 minutes on the court, in response to a midgame request from the rapper to let him have them.

As long as the Migos keep delivering hits, and keep “doing it for the culture” that’s reflected within the makeup of the thriving NBA, they’ll always have a place in a world of basketball that’s obsessed with prolific trios. It’s not a stretch to say that the Migos are probably your favorite hoopers’ favorite rappers.

And on Jan. 26, the group is scheduled to drop Culture II, the highly anticipated follow-up to their 2017 platinum album, Culture, just in time for All-Star Weekend, which tips off three weeks later. We already know what the players will be bumping in their headphones before game time.

What if the Muhammad Ali we knew had never existed? From his brief kinship with Malcolm X to the ‘Thrilla In Manila,’ five alternative universes for Ali — and the world

From Michelle Obama, Dwyane Wade and Betty White to Steve Harvey, Jan. 17 offers an embarrassment of riches for celebrity birthday followers. One name in particular, however, towers above the others: Muhammad Ali. The self-proclaimed and globally anointed “Greatest” would have been 76 today. To say Muhammad Ali is an inspiration for Team Undefeated is an understatement.

Loved and feared, Ali was captivating and personable. Flawed and fearless. An unparalleled showman and a ruthless instigator. There are few stones left to turn over on Ali, a man whose life has been under the microscope since he burst onto the scene at the 1960 Olympics — the Summer Games that also introduced Oscar Robertson and Wilma Rudolph to the world. How Ali’s life played out is American scripture. But what if there’s an alternative universe in which certain things panned out differently? In some ways, thankfully, we’ll never know. But in others? Follow along …

What if young Cassius Clay’s bike had never been stolen?

If anyone represented the embodiment of the phrase “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” it’s Ali. This story has been told a million times, but it’s always fascinating because of the butterfly effect. A 12-year-old Cassius Clay sat on the steps of the Columbia Auditorium in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He was angry and sobbing. Joe Martin approached young Clay. “If I find the guy who took my bike,” Clay told Martin, “I’m gonna whup him.” Martin ran a boxing gym and told the adolescent if he was going to fight, he’d better learn how to fight. Until that point, Clay had never given a thought to boxing.

The rest, as they say, is history. If his bike is never stolen, who’s to say he doesn’t go through life as a normal kid who doesn’t even care about boxing outside of the occasional fight? And what if that same kid one day gets drafted into the Vietnam War — a battle Cassius Clay from Kentucky would have had to fight because he wasn’t a heavyweight champion of the world with religious beliefs that forbade it? It’s wild how life can change in the blink of an eye. We’ll just leave it with this: Theft is a crime and should be treated as such. But bless the soul of the person who decided to steal this kid’s bike. That’s one time when doing bad actually did a world of good.

What if Malcolm X and Ali never had their falling-out?

In order to survive, as a great man once said, we all have to live with regrets. One regret for Ali was his all-too-brief bond with Malcolm X, a fellow product of the Muslim teachings of Elijah Muhammad. X fell out of favor with the teacher, and Ali chose to follow Muhammad’s lead. At the time of X’s assassination in February 1965, the two were not on speaking terms. Never apologizing to Malcolm haunted Ali for the rest of his life. “Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life,” he wrote in his 2004 autobiography The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey. “I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. … I might never be a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm. If I could go back and do it over again, I would never have turned my back on him.” For a fascinating and detailed breakdown of their life and times, check out Johnny Smith and Randy Roberts’ Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

What if Ali didn’t sacrifice the prime of his career by protesting the Vietnam War?

The better question is, what if the U.S. never involved itself in Vietnam? Whatever the case, Ali’s exile turned him into a larger-than-life figure. At one point in American history, world heavyweight champion was the most coveted title in all of sports. Here was Ali: a young, handsome, outspoken black man who not only dismantled opponents in the ring but also took on America’s ugliest parts in a verbal fashion that has not been seen or heard from an athlete since. And he did all of this while looking the federal government square in the eye, essentially saying, “Come and get me.” Although legions of critics took a carousel-like approach to demeaning him, Ali’s popularity had skyrocketed by the end of 1967. His stated reason for objecting, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” is tattooed in the fabric of American race relations. Ali’s most controversial fight, for his beliefs and for our dignity, reverberated worldwide. It cost him the years of 1967-70, when he would’ve been between the ages of 25 and 28 — a fighter’s peak years. As transcendent as his career was, even four decades after his final fight, we’re left to wonder how great it could have been if Prime Ali hadn’t been entangled with the U.S. government at that same time. Which bleeds into the next alternative universe …

What if Ali called it quits after the third Frazier fight?

Maybe it was a subconscious thing, for Ali to make up for lost time in the ring as he continued to fight in his later years. Maybe it was financial. Maybe it was a combination of both. Whatever the reason, the cold reality is that his last iconic moment in the ring was 1975’s “Thrilla In Manila,” the end of the trilogy with Joe Frazier. The fights — Frazier handed Ali his first career loss shortly after he returned to boxing in 1971, and Ali won the 1974 rematch — define perhaps the greatest rivalry in sports history, with an extremely brutal and even more bitter feud spurred largely by Ali’s vicious and grossly disrespectful racial taunts toward Frazier. Their final clash proved a potluck of haymakers, blood and near-death premonitions. “It was next to death,” Ali said after the fight — a contest he actually won. “When a fight as hard as this one gets to the 14th round, you feel like dying. You feel like quitting. You want to throw up.” Frazier was never the same after that fight.

And it took decades for Ali and Frazier to quash their beef. By the time Ali called it quits in December 1981, Ali was a beaten and battered man and his Parkinson’s disease was imminent. Those closest to Ali’s former cornerman and doctor, Ferdie Pacheco ( who died in November 2017), say he lived with remorse for not having saved Ali from himself. He begged the boxer to quit after the third Frazier fight. Studies from Arizona State scientists discovered Ali’s speech slowed down 26 percent between the ages of 26 and 39 and he was visibly slurring his speech in 1978 — three years after the final battle with Frazier.

Would calling it a career after the Thrilla In Manila have saved Ali future medical concerns? Who knows. A trilogy with Ken Norton — one of the hardest punchers of all time, who broke Ali’s jaw in their first match and whom some feel Ali lost all three fights to — came with its own undeniable punishment. After his 1977 fight with power puncher Earnie Shavers, who landed a massive 266 punches, Ali’s speech reportedly slowed 16 percent from prefight calculations. “Ali did damage to himself, and he knew it and kept boxing too long,” says Jonathan Eig, author of last year’s Ali: Life, “but he didn’t have the information we now have about CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy].”

What if Parkinson’s had never robbed Ali of his most powerful punch — his voice?

America tried to emasculate the greats / Murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes

— Jay-Z, “F.U.T.W.” (2013)

Ali’s decision to boycott the Vietnam War was supported by many black athletes and large pockets of the black community, but Ali was also media-blitzed from all corners. A May 2, 1967, New York Times editorial theorized that the support Ali was hoping to generate would never develop. The late political reporter and columnist Tom Wicker called Ali “… this strange, pathetic Negro boxer superbly gifted in body, painfully warped in spirit.” Less than a week later, the harsh attack on Ali’s character was rebuked by Boston University professor Theodore Brameld who said, “… because, with his warped spirit, he has the courage and integrity to refuse to participate in a war that millions of us with weaker courage and weaker integrity, and certainly far less to lose, continue to tolerate against our own consciences?”

Much like Martin Luther King, Ali’s legacy, in many ways, has been sanitized. Ali only became a truly lovable figure (to some) once he lost his ability to speak. When he no longer could use his actual voice to deliver knockouts, he was no longer a threat (again, to some) to the status quo. Ali’s political beliefs had always come under fire from both sides of the aisle. But the reality is that Americans 35 and under have no recollection of the charismatic ball of energy that earned him global acclaim and domestic scrutiny. Some prefer this image of the legendary boxer. Ali, the heavyweight champion who continued to vibrantly and verbally shake up the world into his latter decades on earth, is a bracing thought. Seeing Muhammad Ali minimized and marginalized by a handful of quotes and yearly tributes that fail to paint the full features of the man — that is beyond scary.

The legendary ‘XXL’ Jay-Z, LeBron James, Kanye West and Foxy Brown cover It helped launch then-Def Jam honcho Shawn Carter as a ‘business, man’

By 2005, in the post-The Black Album era, Jay-Z was almost two years into a retirement from releasing solo albums. Kanye West was soon to erase any doubts about a sophomore slump with his second studio album, Late Registration. LeBron James had delivered on the prep hype: He finished his second season with the Cleveland Cavaliers averaging 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists. The best was yet to come for all three, as they stood together on the August 2005 cover of XXL, alongside Foxy Brown, who was signed to Def Jam Records at the time and preparing an album titled Black Roses.

Shot by Clay Patrick McBride (whose website opens with a look from the shoot), it was a gatefold cover, and the fold featured Freeway, Memphis Bleek, Young Gunz, Teairra Marie, Peedi Peedi and DJ Clue. Incoming Island/Def Jam CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid, in one of his first moves, had hired Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter as president of the historic Def Jam Records, and under that umbrella came the relaunch of Jay-Z’s R0c-A-Fella Records — without co-founder Damon Dash. The 2004 split between Jay-Z and Dash was the No. 1 topic in hip-hop. And as for James, he was not signed to any label, but he appeared on the magazine as a symbol of his close relationship with Carter and of Carter’s reach to the world of professional athletes with Roc Nation Sports.

The cover idea was President Carter’s cabinet, and the XXL cover captured a moment in time before Jay-Z, West and James, all household names in 2005, were catapulted into another stratosphere of social impact, cultural influence and financial success. More than a decade later, Jay-Z is one of the most successful creative entrepreneurs, West is arguably the most influential cultural figure on this globe, and James, in his 15th NBA season, is still the best basketball player in the world.


In 1996, music journalist Andrea Duncan-Mao was throwing a party. Among the invitees were Jay-Z, Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. At the tiny New York City Bar, they told anyone within earshot about a record label they co-founded called Roc-A-Fella Records and about Reasonable Doubt, an album from Jay-Z. Drinks flowed late into the evening. “It was fun,” said Duncan-Mao, who profiled Young Gunz for the XXL cover story. “Dame was a visionary … really good at his job. But I think he started to really enjoy the fame, power and the lifestyle.”

By 2005, XXL was the pre-eminent hip-hop publication, and the monthly competition with The Source and other magazines meant battles for landing the most influential images and stories was intense. “The covers were everything,” said Elliott Wilson, who was editor-in-chief from 1999 to 2008. “I was being judged by how many units these magazines sold. I used to stress over the numbers. I [always] had [handy] printouts of what every XXL, The Source and VIBE sold.”

With Jay-Z transitioning into an executive role, and his recent break-up with Dash, Wilson knew who he could turn to for a splash. “Whenever there was a drought,” Wilson said, “Jay was always relevant.” The cover would serve two purposes: to bump up sales numbers on the newsstands and to have the No. 1 name in hip-hop tell his side of the Roc-A-Fella breakup.

Dash had already had his opportunity. In June 2005, Wilson and his team had put Dash and the rapper Cam’ron on XXL’s cover with the tagline Jay-Z Can’t Knock These Harlem Boys’ hustle, a callback to a classic Jay-Z song. Dash had started his own Damon Dash Music Group. Among the statements Dash made to XXL: “I don’t understand what’s going on with Jay.” So it was time to reach out to Jay-Z for the other side of the story. “You knew things weren’t good,” said Wilson. “but you couldn’t actually see it coming. … They were such a symbol of brotherhood.”

For Wilson, who joined XXL after working as music editor at The Source, and at College Music Journal, the hip-hop magazine wars were a real thing. Wilson joined XXL with a goal of outselling The Source at the newsstands within a year. It took him until 2003, and by 2005, Wilson was aiming to cement XXL’s reputation as the go-to music publication.

Jay-Z agreed to appear on the cover of the August 2005 issue and even suggested to Wilson his vision of a cover concept. Jay-Z wanted to do a presidential cover to reflect his new role at Def Jam. The photo shoot took place at New York City’s Chelsea Piers inside a mock Oval Office, and while all this was going on, team XXL included a teaser for the Jay-Z cover in the July 2005 issue: The last page in the magazine featured a Roc-A-Fella chain displayed prominently. The tagline was The Chain Remains — Wilson drew inspiration from Naughty By Nature’s 1995 “Chain Remains,” from Poverty’s Paradise.

When Wilson listened to Jay-Z’s guest verse on West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone Remix” there’s the line: The chain remains, the gang’s intact … but the XXL presidential cover actually reflected a more popular line from “Diamonds”: I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man. Jay-Z, West and James were in very businesslike black suits, and Foxy Brown was in a sleek black dress. Because of Jay-Z’s ownership stake with the Brooklyn Nets, an early version of the cover included Vince Carter and Jason Kidd — instead of James. “I was thankful Vince and Jason didn’t make the [final] cut,” said Wilson. “I knew LeBron … would be a big deal.” It would be a few more years until Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States, but Jay-Z was making himself an unofficial black president on the cover of a magazine.

In the one-on-one interview with XXL features editor David Bry, Jay-Z addressed his split with Dash, saying, “I’m not in the business to talk about guys I did business with — I want you to print all this — been real tight with, for over 10 years. But since there’s so much out there, so much has been said, I will say this one thing: I’ma just ask people in the world to put themselves in my shoes. However the situation happened, whether we outgrew the situation or what have you, it was time for me to seek a new deal in the situation.” Shawn Carter was speaking to Bry. The beloved Bry, an author and hip-hop scholar, recently died of brain cancer.

Jay-Z stepped away from his role as president and CEO of Def Jam in 2007. During his tenure, artists such as Young Jeezy and Rick Ross had huge successes. West, Rihanna and Ne-Yo became global stars. At the same time, projects involving Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and the Young Gunz sputtered. Artists such as LL Cool J spoke out in frustration. Jay-Z also came out of “retirement” and released Kingdom Come in 2006, to mixed reviews. Questions were raised about whether Carter was focused as a music executive, and whether there were creative conflicts of interest.

Music journalist Amy Linden profiled Memphis Bleek for that presidential issue. “Sometimes I wonder whether having an artist as the head of the label is a good thing or bad thing,” said Linden. “On one hand … artists recognize art in other people. On the other, you can wonder [whether] an artist is going to worry about someone competing with him.”

Wilson has fond memories of the presidential cover, in particular an inside shot: Jay-Z and West re-created an iconic Robert Kennedy-John F. Kennedy shot. “I did a lot of great covers,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, this cover doesn’t always get mentioned. It definitely deserves its rightful place. … It marked the beginning of Jay-Z moving on to the next stage of his life.”

More than a decade later, the impact of the split between Jay-Z and Dash still resonates. Then-senior editor Anslem Samuel Rocque, now managing director at Complex, who profiled Freeway in the issue, believes the breakup was inevitable. “I don’t think Jay would be where he is now if he continued to be a big fish in a small pond,” Rocque said. “He couldn’t keep rolling with [the] same folks. I don’t want to diminish anyone … but they were holding him back. In retrospect, it was what he had to do.”

As for Wilson, who went on to become co-founder of the popular hip-hop site and podcast Rap Radar and now works as an editorial director of culture and content for Tidal, there is one regret about the presidential cover. “No disrespect to Foxy, but as good as a career as she’s had, she’s not the cultural icon that Jay-Z, Kanye and LeBron are,” Wilson said. “When I look back … I’m like, holy s—, I had Jay-Z, Kanye and LeBron. If I had Rihanna, it would have been one of the greatest magazine covers of all time.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

— “All The Stars” with SZA (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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