Prodigy dies at 42 and other news of the week The week that was June 19-June 23

Monday 06.19.17

The state of North Carolina, that bastion of civil rights, had a law barring sex offenders from using social media sites, such as Facebook, invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court also ruled that rejecting trademarks that “disparage” others violates the First Amendment; the Washington Redskins, locked in their own legal battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, wasn’t a party in the current case but supported the decision, which ruled in favor of Asian-American band The Slants. New York sports radio host Mike Francesa, when learning of the decision, referred to The Slants’ members as “Oriental Americans,” and when told that phrase was offensive, he asked, “You’re telling me that using the word ‘Oriental American’ is a slight?” The 47-year-old husband of Beyoncé announced a new, stream-only album available exclusively to the hundreds of Tidal and Sprint customers. In honor of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery, President Donald Trump released a statement praising two white men (President Abraham Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger), and a sportswriter questioned the history of American police and slave patrols. A heady reporter tried Lyft Shuttle, the ride-sharing company’s beta-stage commuter option, which allows riders to “walk to a nearby pickup spot, get in a shared car that follows a predesignated route, and drops you (and everyone else) off at the same stop” — or, in other words, a bus. A data firm hired by the Republican National Committee left sensitive information — including names, dates of birth and home addresses — of nearly 200 million registered voters exposed to the internet; the company responsible, Deep Root Analytics, calls itself “the most experienced group of targeters in Republican politics.”

The Philadelphia 76ers officially acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, paving the way for the team to draft yet another player with past leg issues. Markelle Fultz, the first pick in Thursday’s draft, not only was traded from 53-win team to one that won just 28 games last season but also briefly considered signing with LaVar Ball’s Big Baller Brand over Nike. A Green Bay Packers fan and Wisconsin resident who, for some reason, has Chicago Bears season tickets, sued the Chicago franchise for not allowing him to wear Packers gear on the sideline at Soldier Field; the Wisconsin man told the court that the Bears “deprived me of my ability to fully enjoy this specific on-field experience.” In other bear news, three New Hampshire teenagers are being investigated for potential hate crimes for assaulting and yelling a racial slur at costumed Boston street musician Keytar Bear, who is black.

Tuesday 06.20.17

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said White House press secretary Sean Spicer wouldn’t appear on camera as much because “Sean got fatter.” Former five-weight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard offered UFC fighter Conor McGregor one piece of advice for his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August: “Duck.” FBI director nominee Christopher Wray once represented an American energy executive who was being criminally investigated by the Russian government, but Wray deleted that information from his official online biography sometime in 2017. Mattel diversified its Barbie and Ken doll lines, offering different sizes, skin tones and hairstyles, including man buns, cornrows and Afros. For the new heavyset Ken dolls, Mattel originally wanted to market them as “husky,” but, “A lot [of guys] were really traumatized by that — as a child, shopping in a husky section.” Twitter was in an uproar after it was reported that Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot was paid just $300,000 for her role in the critically acclaimed, $500 million movie, compared with $14 million for Man of Steel’s leading man, Henry Cavill; the latter figure was not true. Imprisoned former football player O.J. Simpson, who is up for parole for burglary and assault next month, spends his time in prison watching his daughter’s show Keeping Up With the Kardashians; “He likes to keep up with all the gossip with them,” a former prison guard said. NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, last heard fighting prostitutes in Arizona, has decided to donate his brain to scientists when he dies; Sapp said his memory “ain’t what it used to be.” New York rapper Prodigy, real name Albert Johnson, died at the age of 42; Prodigy, one half of acclaimed duo Mobb Deep, had recently been hospitalized because of sickle cell anemia. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top lawyer, hired his own lawyer. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, catching up to the 20th century, signed a bill that raised the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 18. An Algerian man was sentenced to two years in prison for dangling a baby out a 15th-floor window on Facebook, instructing his followers “1,000 likes or I will drop him.” A Canadian man stole a mummified toe that had been used as an ingredient in a hotel bar drink for more than 40 years; an employee said the hotel was “furious” because “toes are very hard to come by.” To test the performative advantages of the microbiome Prevotella, a Connecticut scientist performed a fecal transplant on herself, telling a news outlet: “It’s not fun, but it’s pretty basic.” Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard, at 8:55 p.m. ET, tweeted, “Ok Twitter Fans ,, give me your thoughts , trades or otherwise & Remember 2B-Nice”; five minutes later, Howard was traded to the Charlotte Hornets.

Wednesday 06.21.17

The Pentagon paid $28 million for “forest”-colored uniforms for the Afghan Army, yet “forests cover only 2.1% of Afghanistan’s total land area.” White House aide and former reality TV star Omarosa Manigault signs her name as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault” despite not being a high-ranking federal official or judge. Despite President Trump once valuing his Westchester, New York, golf course at $50 million, the Trump Organization valued the property at $7.5 million on tax forms, half of the town assessor’s valuation of $15.1 million, to pay less in property taxes. The Russian government, accused by U.S. authorities of spreading fake news to influence the 2016 presidential election, said it will “raise the issue of fake news” at the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, calling it “a problem that should be defined and addressed collectively.” Although terrorism is defined as using violence for political reasons, the FBI said the shooting at a baseball practice for the Congressional Baseball Game by a white man had “no terrorism involved.” Meanwhile in Flint, Michigan, the stabbing of a police officer at an airport by a man who reportedly yelled, “Allahu Akbar” is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism. A group of CIA contractors were fired from the agency for hacking a vending machine and stealing over $3,000 worth of snacks. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), best known for body-slamming a Guardian reporter last month, was sworn in to the House; the Democratic Party of Montana sent Gianforte an orange jumpsuit for his first day in office. The daughter of two dentists who had enough education to teach their children about stocks and investments, and who, herself, owns a multimillion-dollar company, was taught to save and now plans to retire at 40. In shocking news, a new study found that films with diverse casts outperform films that are overwhelmingly white. A police officer was acquitted of fatally shooting a black man. An auto insurance industry-funded study found that states with legalized recreational marijuana laws had a higher frequency of auto collision claims than states without such laws. Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert E. Murray sued comedian John Oliver for defamation after the HBO host used his weekly TV program to mock the energy executive, at one point calling Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil”; Oliver predicted on his show June 18 that Murray would sue him. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, known for calling women’s breasts “puppies” and other sexist remarks, said even he hated the finish of a historic all-women’s match that ended with a man winning. In response to the new American craze fidget spinners, Chinese companies have started selling the Toothpick Crossbow, a small, $1 handheld crossbow that can fire toothpicks 65 feet; parents worry the crossbows could blind young children, and Chinese state media fear iron nails could be swapped in for the toothpicks. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said he is willing to trade 21-year-old center Kristaps Porizingis, who is 21, with the “future” of the team in mind.

Thursday 06.22.17

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, still visibly upset over the recent actions of Phil Jackson, pointed out that the Knicks president’s first front office deal back in 2014 was signing forward Lamar Odom, “who was on crack”; Odom was released from the team three months later. Meanwhile, an NBA prospect said Jackson was “falling in and out of sleep” during the prospect’s workout. Knicks owner James Dolan skipped out on the NBA draft to perform with his band, JD & The Straight Shot, at a local winery-music venue. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last week said U.S. presidents “cannot obstruct justice,” said President Trump alleged he had tapes of former FBI director James Comey to “rattle” him. The president, who in May insinuated that he had “tapes” of conversations with Comey, tweeted that he, in fact, does not have any such tapes. The lack of diversity at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is so dire that some reporters have taken to calling the newspaper “White Castle.” In another example of “life comes at you fast,” Chicago Cubs outfielder and World Series hero Kyle Schwarber was demoted to Triple-A Iowa after batting just .171 through the first 71 games of the season. The trainer for former Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler, in response to his client being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, said he’s met “drug dealers with better morals” than Bulls general manager Gar Forman. Hip-hop artist Shock G, best known for his seminal 1990s hit “Humpty Dance,” was arrested in Wisconsin on suspicion of drug paraphernalia possession; there was no mention of whether or not the arrest took place at a Burger King restaurant. Just days after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from the company amid hostile work environment allegations, some company employees began circulating a petition to have Kalanick reinstated, stating “[Travis Kalanick], no matter his flaws (everyone has them) was one of the best leaders I have seen.” Montgomery County, Maryland, police are using DNA evidence to help create composite sketches of those suspected of sexual assault; the DNA, described as “bodily fluids,” is assumed to be male semen. A New York woman who traveled to the Dominican Republic to get reduced breast implants and liposuction developed an infection and now has a hole in one of her breasts; the woman, who traveled to the Caribbean island for a cheaper $5,000 procedure, will now pay over $10,000 in recovery costs. Famed comedian Bill Cosby is planning a series of town halls aimed at young people, specifically athletes, on how to avoid sexual assault allegations. After nearly three months of secrecy, Republican senators publicly released their version of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In unrelated news, only 38 percent of Americans want the president and Congress to repeal and replace the ACA.

FRIDAY 06.23.17

A Trump administration official once filed for bankruptcy because of his wife’s medical bills for treating her chronic Lyme disease. President Trump all but confirmed his former tweets about alleged “tapes” of former FBI director James Comey were an attempt to influence the director’s Senate testimony. Comey, who announced the reopening of an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton just 11 days before the Nov. 8 election, refused three weeks earlier to attach his name to a statement on Russia’s involvement in that election because “it was too close to the election for the bureau to be involved.” A North Korea spokesman said the death of American college student Otto Warmbier just days after he was released from imprisonment in the country is a “mystery to us as well.” NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was in North Korea around the same time Warmbier was released last week, said dictator Kim Jong-Un is a “friendly guy,” and the two sing karaoke and ride horses together. Zola, a gorilla at the Dallas Zoo, danced to (a dubbed-over version of) Michael Sembello’s 1996 hit “Maniac.” The St. Louis Cardinals announced their first Pride Night celebration at Busch Stadium; a disgruntled fan demanded that the team “stop forcing this down my throat.” Great Britain, loser of the Revolutionary War, is now putting chocolate in its chili. In response to Pirates of the Caribbean actor Johnny Depp asking an English crowd “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” a White House spokesperson condemned the remarks: “President Trump has condemned violence in all forms, and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead.” Hours later, New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Trump campaign adviser, visited the White House; last year, Baldasaro said Hillary Clinton “should be shot in a firing squad for treason.” Five-foot-9 Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said if he were taller he’d be “the best player in the world.” Nearly 500 Syrian civilians have been killed in U.S.-led airstrikes against two provinces in the Middle Eastern country. Former MTV Jersey Shore star Ronnie Magro-Ortiz, describing his breakup with fellow reality TV star Malika Haqq, said he and Haqq were like “oil and water.” He added: “It tastes good with bread, but it’s just not mixing.” A jury deadlocked for the second time in the case of a police officer killing a black man. After less-than-stellar reviews from critics and Jada Pinkett Smith, and a 22 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me is being sued for copyright infringement by veteran journalist Kevin Powell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Smeal/WireImage

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

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

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


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

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

Combs has adamantly denied soliciting any murder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

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

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

Why Ice Cube should be a future Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee The film mogul is one of rap’s all-time great wordsmiths — and cultural forecasters

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


For 400 years — I got 400 tears, for 400 peers/ Died last year from gang-related crimes/ That’s why I got gang-related rhymes

— Ice Cube, from 1991’s “Us

Ice Cube pulls up on a group of friends. It’s the summer of 1989 in Los Angeles. All young black men, all from the South Central area, his friends are slanging crack. Cube, by then, is already famous, the most vicious wordsmith of America’s worst nightmare: the rap supergroup N.W.A. He rolls the window down on his Jeep.

“Yo, y’all don’t need to be out here,” he said. “All you’re gonna do is get arrested.”

His boys looked at him, puzzled. In 1980s South Central Los Angeles, the streets were a war zone. Born O’Shea Jackson in 1969, four years after the Watts riots and during the rise of the black liberation movement, Cube’s life was a courtside seat to gang and police violence. He saw black boys’ and girls’ lives cut short by violence that turned neighborhoods into prisons, and to graveyards.

Does a résumé as decorated and diverse as Cube’s obscure who he is as a songwriter?

As in many major U.S. metropolitan areas, crack was the crème de la crème narcotic. For users, crack was an escape. “It is also a drug of desperation, linked to the urban poor’s struggle to be part of the greater society,” said Joyce Hartwell, founder and director of New York’s Recovery Hotline and Addiction Anonymous Education Project. Fast money, cheap product, economically deprived ‘hoods: an elixir for violence.

Ice Cube in 1992

Waring Abbott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In Los Angeles alone, the murder rate had risen every year since 1985. In 1988, the year N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton, there were 452 gang homicides — 29.7 percent of all area murders. In 1989, 554 gang homicides accounted for 32.7 percent of all homicides. The numbers would only increase, rising to 803 gang murders (39.4 percent of all) by the time the Los Angeles riots popped off, for a long list of reasons, in the spring of 1992.

So it makes sense that Cube’s friends were dumbfounded. The songs he wrote, for example, for Eazy-E’s 1988 Eazy Duz It, weren’t soundtracks of their lives. Nor were the songs quite entertainment. Cube’s lyrics, motion picture moments on records like Straight Outta’s “8 Ball (Remix),” were their lives. Cube’s friends were trapped in a hell of crack, guns, gangs, liquor stores and funeral homes. “Everybody can’t rap,” one of his friends said. “You’re living good, so you can say s— like that. If you wasn’t making money, you’d be right out here with us.”

Cube recognized quickly his platform, and the responsibility that came with being one of the most recognizable rappers in the country. For Cube, his art was chemotherapy for a cancer the country had long ignored in neighborhoods portrayed as ground zero on nightly news broadcasts. He thanked his friend and bought him a beer.

“[I said] thanks for setting me straight. Peace,” Cube told Spin in 1989. “No, I didn’t say ‘peace,’ cause peace is a fictional word. Peace is a dream.”


Thirty years after the Straight Outta Compton album, Ice Cube is a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer. He’s sold over 15 million albums through his solo work and compilations and as a leader of N.W.A. and Westside Connection. Cube has long since established himself as a force in Hollywood as a producer, screenwriter and actor, starting with 1991’s timeless ode to life in South Central, Boyz N The Hood. From there, cult classics such as 1998’s The Players Club, acclaimed smashes such as 1999’s Three Kings, as well as his Friday, Barbershop and Ride Along series strengthen his portfolio as he heads into thriller territory. Come later this month, he’ll have successfully placed Allen Iverson back on a basketball court with the creation of his BIG3 basketball league. And just last weekend, Cube gave Bill Maher a lesson in the use of the N-word. But is one of rap’s finest lyrical storytellers the victim of society’s selective amnesia? Does a résumé as decorated and diverse as Cube’s obscure who he is as a songwriter?

“It’s Ice Cube’s lyrics that forced people to take the West Coast seriously.” — Todd Boyd

“Ice Cube is the first guy outside of New York to get recognition and visibility for his lyricism,” said Todd Boyd, professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He’s the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture. “It’s Ice Cube’s lyrics that forced people to take the West Coast seriously.”

Cube’s relentless output during the late ’80s and early ’90s writes its own chapter of American history. He’s one of gangsta rap’s main creators, along with Ice T, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His music shed light on the despair, anger, yet resiliency of life in the ’hood. Cube’s 360-degree view of the black experience in America was a persuasive counterpoint to politicians and critics who painted black individuals and groups with broad strokes.

It was Cube’s call of duty to tell South Central Los Angeles’ story — which, in turn, spoke for the millions nationwide dealing with similar situations. By doing so, he warned America of a simmering resentment. His graphic street scriptures, however bold and outright disrespectful of women, law enforcement and whatever else, function as the Old Testament for what exploded on television screens across the world in the wake of the Rodney King verdict.

The first three songs on the album Straight Outta Compton, which sold 3.5 million copies (and led eventually to the acclaimed and successful 2015 biopic of the same title), became part of a 1988 hip-hop trifecta, along with Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and the launch of Yo! MTV Raps, which changed the culture, and music as whole. Straight Outta Compton represented art by fire. And Cube was its lead arsonist.

“Straight Outta Compton”: Straight outta Compton, crazy m—–f—– named Ice Cube/ From the gang called N—–s With Attitude/ When I’m called off, I got a sawed-off/ Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off/ You, too, boy, if you f— with me/ The police are gonna have to come and get me/ Off you a–, that’s how I’m going out

“F— Tha Police”: F— the police, coming straight from the underground/ A young n—- got it bad ’cause I’m brown/ And not the other color so police think/ They have the authority to kill a minority/ F— that s— cause I ain’t the one/ For a punk m—–f—– with a badge and a gun/ To be beaten on, and thrown in jail/ We can go toe-to-toe in the middle of a cell

“Gangsta, Gangsta”: Here’s a little something about a n—- like me/ Never should’ve been let out the penitentiary/ Ice Cube, would like to say/ That I’m a crazy m—–f—– from around the way/ Since I was youth, I smoked weed out/ Now I’m the m—-f—— that you read about/ Takin’ a life or two, that’s what the hell I do/ You don’t like how I’m living?/ Well, f— you!

“Not all of what we say on records describe us,” MC Ren said in 1989. “We also describe the exploits of people around us. So this is telling it again, like it is and how people really behave.” As N.W.A.’s acclaim and infamy spread, so did its influence. Fishbone’s 1991 The Reality of My Surroundings, the Geto Boys’ 1990 “City Under Siege” and Public Enemy’s 1990 “Fight The Power” further enunciated a desperation. For Cube, it wasn’t about taking — or making — rap music literally, lyric for lyric. It was a reclamation of identity.

“[Black people] lost 400 years of teaching, of schooling of any kind of knowledge of our culture,” Cube said in a 1991 interview. “Right now, we’re in the process of getting that back through rap music.” Cube’s music was the crystal ball. On 1990’s “The N—- Ya Love To Hate,” Cube advises: The day is coming that you all hate / Just think if n—-s decide to retaliate … then Kicking s— called street knowledge / Why more n—-s in the pen than in college.

But it’s his second solo album, 1991’s Death Certificate, where final warnings were spelled out. This was Cube masterfully executing a concept album in the early ’90s, a new task for the still-infant genre, yet Death is comparable to Marvin Gaye’s 1971 What’s Going On, or Stevie Wonder’s 1973 Innervisions. Aside from Cube’s spectacular songwriting was his attention to sequencing detail. While the first half of the project revolves around life in the ghetto (“The Wrong N—- To F— Wit,” “My Summer Vacation” and “A Bird In The Hand”), the second half is Cube offering cultural and societal critiques (“Us,” “True To The Game” and “Color Blind”).

Certificate’s complex commentary provided validation that Cube was far more — if more was required — than a “gangsta rapper.” And importantly, gangsta rap itself was far more than violent imagery. “Cube was of that moment,” Dr. Boyd says. Racial and political tensions were high in the early ’90s. “And if you were tapped into that moment, you understood something was about to pop off. You didn’t know what it was. You didn’t know what form it was going to take. But you felt it. Cube personified that.”

His music shed light on the despair, anger, yet resiliency of life in the ’hood.

On Death’s “I Wanna Kill Sam,” Cube skillfully lacerates the federal government: Tied me up, took me outside/ And I was thrown in a big truck/ And it was packed like sardines/ Full of n—-s who fell for the same scheme/ Took us to a place and made us work/ All day and we couldn’t have s— to say/ Broke up the families forever/ And to this day black folks can’t stick together/ And it’s odd/ Broke us down, made us pray — to his God.”

Cube’s cutthroat examination of the medical discrimination black people receive in South Central also goes under the microscope “Alive on Arrival:” Woke up in the back of a trey / On my way to MLK/ That’s the county hospital, jack, ha/ Where n—-s die over a little scratch/ Sittin’ in the trauma center/ In my back is where the bullet entered/ “Yo, nurse, I’m gettin’ kinda warm!”/ B—–s still made me fill out the f—— form.

For “Black Korea,” Cube experienced backlash for his attack on Korean-Americans: So pay respect to the black fist/ Or we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp/ And then we’ll see ya/ Cause you can’t turn the ghetto into black Korea. “Korea” was largely viewed as a lyrical retaliation for the March 1991 killing of Latasha Harlins by a Korean-American store owner — a death that, along with the Rodney King verdict, is canonized as the two biggest sparks for the riots. Cube apologized for the song in February 1992, saying the record was not an indictment of all Korean-Americans but a rebuke of a select few stores “where my friends and I have had actual problems.”

Two months after the apology, the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who assaulted Rodney King were acquitted. To Ice Cube and residents of South Central, the verdict wasn’t surprising. This was no isolated incident. And soon, the Los Angeles skyline was painted with smoke rising from the flames that enveloped Los Angeles streets. The deplorable conditions that Cube had lamented for years, attempted to explain in interviews and broadcast to an entire country had finally come to fruition.

“That’s the only way you can get white people to hear what black people have to say. If you tear s— up,” Cube said of the riots. “This country uses violence for its justice. But then the country gets mad when we use violence for our justice.”

Ice Cube didn’t necessarily predict the L.A. riots as much as he diagnosed urban illnesses. Communities were ravaged by drugs. Resources provided to other parts of the vast city were omitted from South Central. Desperation led to violence. Although rap music had its faults, and didn’t please a lot of people, Cube’s music wasn’t created with the intention of making people feel good.

It was created with the intention of the listener feeling the pain and hopelessness of so many of the people Cube grew up around. He peeled back American hypocrisies and, in his own way, changed the course of American pop history. Cube did it for his people. He did it for those same friends he pulled up on in his Jeep, some of whom may not even be alive anymore.

“When it comes to records,” he recently told Apple’s Beats 1 radio station, “I just think you gotta be a voice for the voiceless.”

La La Anthony wants everyone to know she’s still standing The truth about the mom, actor, author and fashionista’s professional — and personal — star power

La La Anthony breezes into the atrium of Washington, D.C.’s, Mandarin Oriental hotel in curve-accenting fitness gear, fresh from a studio cycle workout. With her hair pulled back in a smart ponytail, scarf tied around her head, sunglasses covering her eyes and not a stitch of makeup on, she’s easily the most beautiful — and the most composed — woman in the space.

Take a deep breath.

And exhale.

Because La La is back. And she’s standing — perhaps — in the best professional place she’s ever been. In the midst of one of the most challenging personal moments of her life, good things are happening for her creatively. The kinds of things for which La La Anthony has spent years laying down a foundation, and things for which she has been fighting.

“I love acting,” she says between sips of an iced tea. “It’s my passion. I’m aligning myself with some great people … and [I’m] continuing to work on my craft and to audition … showing people that not only is it something I’m doing, it’s something I’m good at. It excites me that it feels like it’s just getting started.”

FYI, from here on, this story contains mild spoilers from Starz’s upcoming season four premiere. But we continue:

Anthony has a number of projects on deck. She just wrapped Furlough with Tessa Thompson and Oscar winners Whoopi Goldberg and Melissa Leo. She shot Double Play with Ernest Dickerson, who, among other things, directed Tupac Shakur in the 1992 classic Juice. And Queen Latifah and Anthony have plans to turn her No. 1 New York Times best-seller, 2014’s The Love Playbook, into a film. Lastly, the season four premiere of Starz’s much-watched Power lands June 25, and LaKeisha Grant, as portrayed by Anthony, went missing last season. As many have smartly guessed, she’s back.

La La Anthony (as LaKeisha Graham), Naturi Naughton (as Tasha St. Patrick)

Courtesy of Starz

That all of this is happening for her as her marriage to star New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is in turmoil is unfortunate, but what Anthony wants everyone to know is, she’s still standing. “It’s a different space for me right now, but a great moment for me, and a powerful one at that. I’m still here. I’m still successful. I’ve been thrown a bad hand at different times in my life, and I’ve never let that stop me from … persevering. And if that’s what I can lend to another woman, then I feel like that’s the success,” she said. “I’ve found the power in that.”

“It’s a different space for me right now, but a great moment for me, and a powerful one, at that. I’m still here. I’m still successful.”

Page Six reports that Anthony recently contacted famed divorce attorney Laura Wasser, who has represented Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. But there’s been no word on when — or if — such action will happen between the two, whose love story and nuptials were documented by VH1 in 2010 for the docuseries La La’s Full Court Wedding. High-profile guests such as LeBron James, Ludacris and Serena Williams were in attendance. A spinoff series, La La’s Full Court Life, premiered in 2011 and concluded in 2014. What is known is that the couple have separated — she moved out of their New York apartment on The High Line and now resides in Tribeca.

She also still resides on Power. In the first five minutes of the new season, which last year was the second-highest-rated series on premium pay television, Anthony’s character is revealed from behind a bedroom curtain. She slides it over, showing the world that Keisha, the Keisha who just about everyone had written off, the best friend of Naturi Naughton’s Tasha, is alive and quite well — for now.

So is the actual La La Anthony.

“I learned from Keisha to be careful what you wish for,” said Anthony, “because you just might get it. She wanted the life so bad, and now she’s getting pieces of [it] and realizing, ‘Oh s—, this isn’t what I thought it was!’ But now you’re in so deep, you can’t really get out. Or if you get out, there’s going to be repercussions.”

Anthony says that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. “We’re always looking at her saying, I want that. Why can’t I have that? But you don’t know the prices [those things] come with. You don’t know the struggles that [people are] going home with every day just because on the ’Gram it looks good. People are going home, feeling depressed, popping pills, doing all kinds of s—. You don’t know! So my thing is being satisfied with what you have, because what you have is meant for you. That’s what I’ve been learning in life, and that’s what I’m learning from my character.”

In May at the celebrity-filled Met Gala, a black-tie extravaganza that raises funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, Anthony shut the entire place down. Wearing a Thai Nguyen Atelier gown with a high neck and Lorraine Schwartz jewels, Anthony stepped out solo and stunted on everyone.

Everyone.

Instagram Photo

She captioned her Instagram photo with one word: Unbreakable. “The Met Gala was a moment for me. I didn’t expect it to be all that big of a moment, but it was such an amazing feeling, just being there,” she said. “I went alone this year … and to have such love, and such great feedback … I loved it.”


Alani Nicole Vazquez was born in Brooklyn, New York, almost 38 years ago. She started out as a popular radio DJ, and in 2001 she became one of MTV’s go-to veejays as co-host of two of their most popular shows: Direct Effect and Total Request Live. That same year she had her first film cameo, in Two Can Play That Game, which starred Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut. She also portrayed herself in a 2003 episode of HBO’s Sex and the City. Eventually, she dove headfirst into an acting career, determined to make Hollywood see her as more than a dope interviewer.

She met Carmelo Anthony through their mutual friend, DJ Clue, and the NBA star proposed on Christmas in 2004. Married in 2010 after being in a relationship for seven years, their son, Kiyan, is 10 years old.

Outside looking in, she has a charmed life. Anthony’s friendship circle is mighty, and filled with powerful women: Ciara, Kelly Rowland, Kim Kardashian West and tennis superstar Williams are all close friends. But the truth is, many people count Anthony as a close and trusted go-to friend.

“The Met Gala was a moment for me. I went alone this year … and to have such love and such great feedback … I loved it.”

“I had a friend yesterday, we kind of had a back-and-forth. I was like, ‘I just want you to know that I really appreciate you doing this for me.’ And they’re like, ‘Of course I’m going to do it for you!’ ”

Anthony says she has a need to make sure people understand that she doesn’t expect anything. “I’m so appreciative of anything that He does for me,” she says of her relationship with God. “My mom grew up in [Brooklyn’s] Marcy Projects — this life? The Mandarin, Oriental? This is not supposed to be my life, and for this to be what it is? I never lose sight of that, no matter how long I’ve been in business, no matter how successful I’ve been, no matter how much money I’ve made. I never lose sight of that, because this wasn’t the plan. And because of that, I’m so grateful for anything in my life that I work really hard for.”

On her birthday this year, June 25, Power premieres. The coincidence isn’t lost on her that on the date she was born her career enters a new phase. She now is a principal character on the series, and this season LaKeisha’s arc is essential to the story. This is the first time Anthony has been a principal member of any cast. She’s an actor, not a vanity thrill-seeker who wants to do side projects when simply being famous isn’t enough. This is who she really is. It’s who she’s aspired to be for so long. And finally, she says, people are getting it.

Anthony is also invested in producing great work. She co-produced 2015’s Eclipsed, an all-black, all-female play that was penned by actress and playwright Danai Gurira and ran off-Broadway at New York City’s Public Theater. It featured Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and was that theater’s fastest-selling new production in recent history. It later moved to Broadway at the John Golden Theatre in 2016.

Anthony also has an overall deal with iTV, one of the largest production companies in the U.S., and she’s gearing up to produce a bunch of nonscripted television, including a show on VH1 she’s doing with music producer Timbaland called Goal Diggers, which centers on women becoming entrepreneurs. “The purpose of a show like that is female empowerment,” she says between nibbles of eggs, avocado and turkey bacon. “You can start somewhere and become something else. You can be an Instagram model who seems [a certain] way, and now you’ve got a business. It goes back to … not putting people in boxes. If I’d continued to be put in a box, I’d still be La La from MTV, or La La who’s on the radio with Ludacris. And that would still be who I am, but I broke out of that. I can do other things.”

And one of those things is to inspire other women — that’s important to her. In spite of everything. Perhaps because of everything.

“We have to learn how to focus on putting us first. In my life, I spent so much time putting everyone else before me that I didn’t realize how much I was lacking in things that I needed for myself. And when you have a child, that is a very hard thing to do, because my son is my world. When you’re in relationships or marriage, it’s hard to do,” she says. “I’m learning to put my needs first. Because if I’m great, then I can be great for everyone else in my life. That’s a hard thing to do. When you’re a nurturer, you’re always worried about taking care of everyone else. ‘I don’t care about how I’m doing. I want to make sure you’re OK. Are you OK? Do you need anything?’ It’s something I want women to continue to work on, to learn.”

And don’t think the tweets and Instagram comments are being missed by her. She sees them, and the supportive ones warm her heart. “I feel the love in a time when I do need it, and that’s appreciated,” says Anthony. “ It doesn’t go unnoticed. It keeps me going, through tough times. It means a lot to me.”

Lee England Jr. is the WWE’s king of string style The viral violinist is making a name for himself playing with Shinsuke Nakamura

The first time WWE audiences saw Lee England Jr. — a former elementary school teacher and alum of Sean Combs’ MTV show, Making The Band — was last August at a sold-out Barclays Center. He was front and center at an unexpected event: NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II, a showcase of the WWE’s developmental talent (their version of the NBA’s D-League). England was performing a live violin rendition of fan favorite Shinsuke Nakamura’s entrance theme. His rendition of the song, combined with Nakamura’s electric charisma, made for one of the most memorable WWE ring entrances. Ever.

So when the lights went out at Orlando, Florida’s, Amway Center for a live edition of WWE Smackdown! on April 4, with a spotlight shining on England Jr. and his violin, the crowd erupted. They knew magic was about to happen. England Jr.’s appearance meant that the beloved Nakamura, also known as The King Of Strong Style, was debuting on the WWE superstar roster. England Jr.’s appearance also meant that we were in for another unforgettable entrance. And that we got, complete with a show-stealing solo and a choreographed bow between England Jr. and Nakamura. Once again, England Jr. had become a viral sensation.

We caught up with England Jr. about his entrances, his relationship with Jordan Brand — he’s the only nonathlete with a contract — and the important things, like what’s in his fridge.

What made you first pick up the violin?

I was drawn to it, so my parents bought me one, but I immediately hated it. I told my pops I wanted to quit, and he said, ‘Just practice 15 minutes a day and you can quit.’ So I literally practiced so I could quit. He Jedi mind-tricked me into playing.

How is a violinist signed to Jordan Brand?

I ended up performing at [the 2010] All-Star Weekend in Dallas for one of Michael Jordan’s parties. I had five minutes to show him who I was, and ever since then we’ve had a good relationship. And that’s how I got to WWE — as a thank you from Jordan Brand for all of the years [Brand Jordan and WWE] worked together.

What’s your favorite late-night food spot?

In L.A., I’d have to say Berri’s. I usually get the seafood linguine. Or their lobster pizza.

Who’s your favorite athlete of all time?

Michael Jordan [laughs].

I saw that one coming.

[Laughs.] With MJ, it wasn’t just his talent on the court. It was his persona off the court. I was drawn to the humility he possessed even though he was the greatest basketball player of my generation. I won’t try to debate people from other generations about who’s the greatest, but he’s the GOAT to me. Even him getting cut from the team in high school, him not quitting, was huge. I’m someone who lives by that. I’m not going to let you define me. If there’s something I need to accomplish, then I won’t let you define my work.

“It was soul-opening to know I was in the land where I can trace my history.”

Who’s the most famous person following you on social media?

Jordan Brand is, but aside from them, one of the actresses from Sex and the City. Oh, and my boy Kenneth Faried, who plays for the Nuggets.

What’s the first concert you went to?

The first concert I went to, that I paid money for, was a Jay Z concert.

Which era Jay Z?

I think that was around the time of American Gangster.

What’s an album that you think is a classic that no one else does?

Goodie Mob. [1995’s] Soul Food.

A lot of people think that’s a classic, though.

I was thinking about younger cats. There’s a [1976] album by Duke Ellington called Jazz Violin Session. That’s not something a lot of people know about.

Name one thing you hate that everyone else loves.

I don’t like coconut.

Name one place you want to visit.

South Africa. I went to Africa one time before. I felt like it widened my experience as a human being. It’s the cradle of civilization and traces me back to my heritage. It was soul-opening to know I was in the land where I can trace my history.

What do you do before a big performance?

Pray. Give homage.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

Love yourself. I feel like I’m cool with who I am right now. And telling myself something different from what I already knew would change the trajectory of my life. And I love where I’m at right now. So I’d just say, have fun.

What’s in your refrigerator right at this moment?

Lotta vegetables. Lotta fruit. Tomatoes. Avocados. Kale. Lime. Strawberries. I think there’s some shrimp in here. Watermelon. Peanut butter Snickers bars. They gotta be frozen. Some leftovers, and champagne.

“I literally practiced so I could quit. He Jedi mind-tricked me into playing.”

What’s one habit you wish you could shake?

Sometimes I overthink situations where I should be more spontaneous. It’s not a bad habit, but I wish I would be more spontaneous with certain things. I don’t want to be overly perfectionist. If I could just go for it, I think people would enjoy themselves more.

What are you looking forward to achieving in 2017?

I’m working on an album right now. I’m being managed by Quincy Jones. I’m looking forward to being exposed more. Not just a violinist but the total, complete package. I want people to see how focused I am with my singing and songwriting abilities too.

Is performing in front of a wrestling crowd different than what you’re used to?

No, it’s not different at all. I’ve performed NBA arenas and toured big stages all the time. One thing that was beautiful was when I first walked out to perform [at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II] there were 16,000 people, and they were quiet as a mouse. So to have that captive audience was an amazing experience. I didn’t expect them to be that attentive. And then in Orlando, what was crazy was that they saw me and went nuts. They were so loud I didn’t think they were going to hear me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

To realize that everything you see now was once an idea. And if you manifest your ideas, you can live the life you dreamed of.

A power ranking of Odell Beckham Jr.’s custom cleats from the 2016 NFL season The New York Giants wideout was determined to break out the heat on any given Sunday

Every NFL Sunday is a footwear fashion show for Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants wide receiver has shown up and showed out on the field with the freshest cleats in all of football. His secret? Well, it’s not really a secret at all, because OBJ takes much pride in his custom-made creations, for which he entrusts the skill and creativity of Los Angeles-based sneaker artist Troy “Kickasso” Cole, who cranks out masterpieces inspired by every concept fathomable. From album covers to video games and movies to personal tributes, whatever Beckham Jr. dreams up in his imaginative mind, Kickasso can translate onto cleats.

Yet, as a result of the NFL’s enforcement of its strict in-game uniform and equipment policy, most of the kicks in OBJ’s one-of-a-kind collection are worn exclusively during pregame warm-ups before he changes to a more traditional pair for games. But every now and then, Beckham Jr. will risk a fine to ensure that his flashiest shoes find their way onto the field when the game clock starts rolling.

During the 2016 NFL season, the anthology of custom cleats that OBJ unveiled was second to no other player in the league. Throughout the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, he truly became a titan in the sneaker world, which certainly contributed to Nike recently inking the 24-year-old to the biggest shoe deal in NFL history, estimated to be worth more than $29 million over five years.

Hopefully the huge new contract with Nike doesn’t prohibit Beckham Jr. from continuing his tradition come next season. As we anticipate what else OBJ and Kickasso have in store, let’s take a look at their creativity through this definitive, descending-order power ranking of 20 custom cleats they made pop last season.


20. WEEK 10 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS — LSU

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s cleats before the NFL game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 14, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every NFL player deserves to rep his alma mater however he sees fit, but, man, these cleats in the signature purple and gold of Louisiana State University — the school the Giants drafted Beckham Jr. out of in 2014 with the 12th overall pick — are quite hideous. A more appropriate salute to LSU would’ve been cleats featuring detailed illustrations of tigers, the mascot of OBJ’s former school. As for these plaid concoctions — in the words of the illustrious 21st century musical talent scout Randy Darius Jackson, “yeah … that’s gonna be a no for me, dog.”

19. Week 5 vs. green bay packers — Breast cancer awareness

Since 2009, the NFL has been committed to spreading breast cancer awareness. Every season in October, players take pride in wearing the color pink as a display of their dedication to finding a cure. Beckham Jr. didn’t disappoint last October. His breast cancer cleats were a simple but very classy tribute to every woman and family affected by the disease.

18 and 17. week 7 vs. Los angeles rams — Burberry and Rolling Stone

Instagram Photo

When the Giants traveled to London to face the Los Angeles Rams in October 2016, OBJ channeled his inner European designer by breaking out pregame cleats embossed with the beautiful pattern of British fashion house Burberry (the iconic brand of clothing that Jay Z rapped about swimming in on his 2002 track with his then-future wife Beyoncé, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). These cleats are uber-swaggy, but don’t hold a candle to when Beckham Jr. went full-on designer and commissioned a pair of Supreme x Louis Vuitton customs to be made after the season.

Instagram Photo

OBJ changed his kicks before kickoff, but remained authentic to the game being played across the pond by switching to red, white and blue cleats, and matching gloves, featuring the legendary logo of the English rock band the Rolling Stones.

16. week 12 vs. cleveland browns — Paint splatter

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. stands on the field during practice before a game against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

These are just really fun. Camouflage is always a good look, and the extra splash of color with the rainbow flecks and green and yellow shoestrings set them over the top. Stay tuned for more camo cleats from OBJ.

15. week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys — sept. 11 tribute

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants wears cleats as a tribute to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 11, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Giants’ 2016 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys happened to fall on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the most infamous days in the history of the United States. Beckham Jr. illustrated his patriotism in the form of U.S. flag-themed cleats with bald eagles on the outer soles of each shoe. OBJ was certainly proud to be an American on the first night of football last season.

14. Week 6 vs. baltimore ravens — “Kirby”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike cleats during warm-ups before the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HUGE shout-out to OBJ for throwing it back to our childhoods by paying homage to the one and only Nintendo character Kirby. He unveiled these in the middle of October 2016, taking the NFL’s tradition of wearing pink to advocate for breast cancer awareness and running with it. Beckham Jr. chose a pink character and crafted an entire cleat design around it with the utmost detail, from the warp stars to the Whispy Woods (Kirby’s recurring foe in the video game series). On this NFL Sunday, OBJ represented the video game nerd that resides in every one of us.

13 and 12. week 13 vs. pittsburgh steelers — Make-a-wisH (Dora The EXplorer and The Simpsons)

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation during warm-ups before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Instagram Photo

For one week during the season, the NFL, aka the “No Fun League,” allowed players to wear their in-game cleats however they wanted, outrageous customization and all, without receiving fines in violation of the league’s uniform policy. The #MyCauseMyCleats initiative, which required players to commit to supporting a charitable cause, saw approximately a third of the league (around 500 players) participate. Beckham Jr. chose to represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its website, has a “vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And true to his cause, OBJ depicted the child within himself on two pairs of cleats he had designed. One pair was inspired by Homer and Bart Simpson, two of the main characters of the popular animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The other pair, which he wore during the Week 13 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, featured characters from the educational children’s series Dora the Explorer. Not the league, nor Swiper, could steal these cleats from Beckham Jr.’s feet on #MyCauseMyCleats Sunday. OBJ did it for the kids.

11. WEEK 2 VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — “NOLA BOY”

New Orleans Native New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears Nike cleats with Nola Boy on them before the game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Beckham Jr. has surely come across this legendary James Baldwin quote at least once in his life — or heard a variation of it from his grandma, aunties and uncles, or parents — while on his journey from growing up in Louisiana to becoming an NFL wide receiver in New York. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is OBJ’s hometown, but he also claims New Orleans. So when the Giants faced the Saints early in the 2016 season, Beckham Jr. made his allegiance to the city known with “NOLA BOY” custom cleats in Mardi Gras colors. These are pretty special.

10. week 9 vs. philadelphia eagles — “Salute to service”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats with a camouflage pattern while warming up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day, Beckham Jr. honored the nation’s armed forces with camouflage cleats reminiscent of the Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape’s fresh camo print. These are pretty sweet.

9. Week 14 vs. dallas cowboys — 300

Division matchups in the NFL are always battles. And no one went to war like the Spartans, whose combat skills were epically portrayed in the 2006 film 300. So when the Giants went up against their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, OBJ imagined he was taking the battlefield for Leonidas I, unleashing these SUPER dope 300-inspired red, black and gold cleats.

8. wild-card playoff vs. green bay packers — “grab the cheese”

Instagram Photo

In January, the Giants journeyed to the land of cheese for a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Before the playoff game, Beckham Jr. countered Green Bay’s cheesehead fans with cheese feet. He donned a pair of yellow cleats that resembled blocks of cheese, with carefully drawn holes and images of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Itchy the Mouse from The Simpsons. Like these two mice, OBJ was after the cheese. Too bad the Giants took that smooth L.

7. week 15 vs. detroit lions — craig sager tribute

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Craig Sager tribute cleats during the third quarter of the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beckham Jr. was fined only once last season for violating the NFL’s uniform and equipment policy with his flashy cleats. The penalty was issued following Week 15, when OBJ played against the Detroit Lions in a pair of multicolored, and multipatterned, cleats honoring longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who died at age 65 three days before the game. Known for his bright and brazen sideline outfits, Sager would’ve loved OBJ’s cleats, which he auctioned off following the game to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation for cancer research. Yet despite Beckham Jr.’s heartfelt gesture, the NFL still slapped him with an $18,000 fine, which didn’t sit too well with the superstar wide receiver.

Yet if you asked Beckham Jr., he’d probably tell you that, for Sager, the fine was worth every single penny.

6. WEEK 17 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — KANYE WEST “GRADUATION”

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Kanye West dropped out of college and became a 21-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Beckham Jr. never graduated from college, either, deciding to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the NFL, where he is now an All-Pro wide receiver. So the only commencement the two have in common is OBJ’s cleats he had designed after the cover of West’s 2007 album Graduation. On these kicks, the colors morph from an orangish-pink to a drank purple, and illustrations of Kanye’s signature bears are beautifully done. Hot take: Graduation is one of the best, if not the best album of West’s career. Obviously, it’s up there in the ranks for OBJ, too.

5. week 4 vs. Minnesota vikings — OVO

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s OVO custom-made cleats are seen on the field during the first half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 3, 2016, in Minneapolis.

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

If you didn’t know that Beckham Jr. and Drake are BFFs, you must have been living under a rock like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants for the past year. Last NFL offseason, Beckham Jr. house-sat the hit-making musical artist’s Calabasas, California, mansion, known as the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) estate,” while he was on tour. Drake later shouted out his bro OBJ on his October 2016 track “Fake Love” with the seminal line, Just when s— look out of reach / I reach back like one, three / Like one, three, yeah — a reference to the most revered play of the NFL wide receiver’s young career, which also happens to be arguably the best catch in league history. And even this year, Drake stopped one of his shows to get Beckham Jr., who was in the audience, to sign a fan’s jersey. Yet, before all of these epic chapters of their friendship, OBJ paid tribute to his big homie during the 2016 NFL season with these simply gorgeous October’s Very Own (OVO)-themed cleats. The sky blue base of the shoes, with softly drawn white clouds, is a subtle nod to the cover of Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and the perfect complement to the metallic gold illustrations of Drake’s trademark owl on the outer soles of each shoe. Man, these cleats are a truly a work of art.

4. 2017 Pro Bowl — Toy Story

OBJ definitely “gotta friend” in Troy Cole, because the artist appropriately known as Kickasso absolutely did his thing with these Toy Story-themed cleats that the wide receiver sported in January’s Pro Bowl. What a beautiful touch to dedicate one shoe solely to Sheriff Woody Pride, and the other to space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Beckham Jr. is surely ready for 2019’s Toy Story 4, and so are we.

3. WEEK 16 VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — GRINCH

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants warms up wearing Christmas cleats featuring the Grinch before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There’s only one way to celebrate Christmas on your feet, and that’s with the Grinch. Basketball great Kobe Bryant did it with his signature Nikes in 2010, and Beckham Jr. continued the tradition in custom fashion last holiday season. The vibrant colors and details on these cleats are amazing. We wouldn’t be mad if Beckham Jr. rocked them all season long — they’re that nice to look at. Yo, OBJ, if you’re reading this, next Christmas you gotta go full Home Alone with your kicks. It’d be the perfect way to tell every D-back in the league, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal! … and a Happy New Year.”

2. WEEK 11 VS. CHICAGO BEARS — “BACK TO THE FUTURE”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike Cleats with “Mattel Hover Board” and “Back to the Future” on them before a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears on Nov. 20, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All three films of the Back to the Future trilogy were released before Beckham Jr. was born in 1992. But as we saw last season, OBJ is a young Marty McFly at heart. He and Kickasso put their creative minds together to give the people not one, but two pairs of Back to the Future-inspired cleats, incorporating multiple elements and moments from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. Beckham Jr. wore the first pair during warm-ups before a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears, which included illustrations of the Mattel hoverboard, Marty’s metallic hat and the DeLorean time machine, all featured in the film. These cleats are glorious, but Kickasso saved his best work for what OBJ wore during the game. The wide receiver took the field in a pair of remarkable silver-and-electric blue creations, designed after the self-lacing Nike Mags that debuted in the 1989 film. Nike released the shoes for the first time nearly three decades later, and again in 2016, making OBJ’s Back to the Future cleat idea timely and relevant in the world of sneakers.

1. WEEK 3 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — THE Joker

OBJ has a unique obsession with The Joker, which we’ve seen translated through his on-field apparel in the past few seasons. The wide receiver first made his infatuation known during a December 2015 Monday Night Football game, when he wore cleats and gloves illustrating the comic book supervillain’s chilling face. Last season, however, he took the obsession a huge step further. Everyone knows OBJ and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman aren’t too fond of each other. And, coincidentally, Norman’s favorite superhero is Batman, The Joker’s archnemesis. So, in all his pettiness, Beckham Jr. had two more pairs of Joker cleats made for a 2016 Week 3 matchup with Norman and the Redskins. The pregame pair featured graphic details in bold colors, from The Joker’s eyes on the tongue of each shoe and his stained teeth on each toe, to his tattoos and catchphrases such as Why So Serious?, on the inner and outer soles. The pair he wore during the game were more subtle — mostly white with speckles of lime green around the laces, and red ink circling each shoe to represent The Joker’s blood-stained smile. With 11 catches for 121 yards against Norman and the Redskins, Beckham Jr. became the fastest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 200 career receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So, now, his in-game Joker cleats are displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You know what that means, right? OBJ has a Hall of Fame cleat game.

Aux Cord Chronicles XI: Rooftop vibes From 2 Chainz to Beenie Man and Mya to Drake — 51 songs to jump-start your summer

This 11th edition of Aux Cord Chronicles is predicated on something we all love: the benefits of warm weather. And what’s the point of having longer days and warmer nights without the appropriate soundtrack to go with it? While the title says “rooftop,” #ACC11 is transferable to lazy days on the beach, boat parties (if you’re ballin’ like that) and any other situation where you and your people can, as someone once put it, “look forward to the memories of right now.” With songs from Xscape, Timbaland and Magoo, Beenie Man and Mya, Usher, Miguel, Drake, UGK and OutKast, Beyoncé, Rihanna, SZA, Travis Scott and a ton more, there should be something here for just about everyone. You know the rules by now. Hit us up on social media and let us know your entries. Let’s get it. After all, I’m not going to say our Aux Cord Chronicles is the best thing to happen to music since Don Cornelius created Soul Train. But I’m not going to stop you from saying it, if the spirit moves you.

Will Smith & DJ Jazzy Jeff — ‘Summertime’ (1991)

Just like it’s not the holidays until Donny Hathaway tells us so, it’s sure not summer until The Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff give us the go-ahead with this Grammy winner. Here it is/ The groove slightly transformed/ Just a bit of a break from the norm: Seriously, play “Summertime” around just about any age group and you’re guaranteed to get a reaction. Based on a sample from Kool & the Gang’s eternal B-side, “Summer Madness,” this is truly one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Mary J. Blige — ‘You Remind Me (1992)

While the remix is great in its own right, my heart and unyielding love will always remain with the OG New Jack Swing-era version. Certain songs have an uncanny ability to make me wish I was in college when the song was new, and popular. The way you walk/ And the way you talk/ And the way you move and … oh to be at a historically black college when Blige’s first Top 40 hit was played at every house party.

2Pac — ‘I Get Around (1993)

Compared to his bigger, more controversial releases — 1995’s Me Against The World, 1996’s All Eyez On Me and The 7 Day Theory — Tupac Shakur’s sophomore album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., doesn’t receive the credit it deserves. But it should. The 1993 album was a focused project showcasing a 22-year-old Shakur tackling issues of police brutality, women’s rights, inner-city blues and, yes, his penchant for “getting around.” I love the way she licks her lips/ See me jocking / Put a little twist in her hips/ ’Cause I’m watching: With verses from Digital Underground’s Money B and Shock G (who produced), not even New York radio personality Funk Flex can deny the staying power of Strictly’s second single.

Xscape — ‘Just Kickin’ It (Remix) (1993)

There’s an entire generation who knows of Kandi Burruss and Tameka “Tiny” Harris from their reality shows. But real ones know they represented 50 percent of ’90s quartet Xscape — along with LaTocha Scott and Tamika Scott. As a foursome, these ladies produced a trilogy of platinum albums that included six Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 songs, including this one. But we’re focusing on the remix. It’s almost as if you can see you and your friends, drinks in hand, with the city’s skyline behind you as you sway to the Staples Singers’ sampled beat, singing the hook. It’s one of the best hooks from the ’90s. Period.

Da Brat — ‘Funkdafied’ (1994)

Want to feel old? Da Brat’s classic — her Jermaine Dupri-produced introduction to the world, her first single from the album of the same name — is actually older than most of the seniors who graduated from college this year.

Junior Mafia feat. The Notorious B.I.G. — ‘Player’s Anthem (Remix)’ (1995)

Could’ve gone with 1994’s “Big Poppa.” Could’ve gone with “One More Chance,” from the same year. But I went with “Player’s Anthem (Remix)” for two reasons. One, Kim’s verse — Big Momma shoots the game/ To all you Willies and criminals — is still flames. And, two, the hook is just as cold today as it was 22 years ago when Biggie stood as The King of New York.

Timbaland & Magoo feat. Missy Elliott & Aaliyah — ‘Up Jumps Da’ Boogie’ (1997)

We praise the Bad Boys. The Death Rows. The Rocafellas. The No Limits. The Cash Moneys. For bona fide reasons, too. But if I’ve said this a million times, that means I have at least another 2 million to go. The Timbo-Missy-Aaliyah-Ginuwine-Static Major quintet and the sounds they produced in the late ’90s and early 2000s were paramount for my growth as a music fan. It’s tough to call “Up Jumps” a purely Virginia classic, especially when the record hit No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the pop singles chart. And the record wasn’t full-fledged hip-hop or R&B but a weird, happy mix of both that came to define their sound. It’s utterly ridiculous how much great music they released in that span.

DMX — ‘How’s It Going Down’ (1998)

Yes, I’m aware X’s first album classic, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, has been in an Aux Cord Chronicle before. It’s not my fault that it fits various moods. And, OK, sure, the song is about infidelity and a potential drug run. Coming through, like I do, you know, getting my bark on/ Knew she was a thug ’cause when I met her she had a scarf on. But you can’t tell me this doesn’t feel like warm summer nights with cold drinks and chill vibes.

Beenie Man feat. Mya — ‘Girls Dem Sugar’ (2000)

It’s Beenie’s song, no doubt about that: Excuse me baby/ But I really just have to tell you this / It’s been a while/ I’m admiring yuh tenderness. Yet and still, let the record forever show Mya as the real MVP here: You can take the stars like the sky for you /There’s nothing in this world that I couldn’t do for you. A must-have for any kickback. And if there’s a rooftop and view of a city’s skyline, or sunset at the beach, even better.

Fabolous feat. Jagged Edge & Diddy — ‘Trade It All Pt. 2’ (2002)

Enough to make you wanna grab your throwback jersey or jersey dress and remember when life was so much easier 15 summers ago. Salute to ESPN’s Jalen Rose in the video, too.

Usher — ‘Bad Girl’ (2004)

A classic from Confessions, the best R&B album of the 2000s. I meant what I said the other week, too. Usher was truly the most unstoppable force in R&B for a good minute.

Sleepy Brown feat. Big Boi & Pharrell — ‘Margarita’ (2006)

Because it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. And because it’s a vastly underrated Pharrell hook — Go with me for a ride / Aren’t you feeling nice? — that deserves more appreciation.

UGK feat. OutKast — ‘International Players Anthem’ (2007)

Or, as it’s known in my life — the perfect rap song. I challenge you to come up with five more legendary opening lines than So, I typed a text to a girl I used to see / Saying that I chose this cutie pie with whom I wanna be/ And I apologize if this message gets you down / Then I CC’d every girl that I’d see-see ’round town. In the decade since its release, I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love this iconic collaboration. Yes, iconic. The real fun is in debating who had the best verse. There’s no wrong answer, but if you’re asking me today, I’m going with Pimp C. Chad’s sermon opening as soon as the beat drops (a decision he was originally against) sounds like the gates of rap heaven opening up. Bless everything about this record.

Lloyd feat. Lil Wayne — ‘Girls Around The World’ (2008)

We all remember how influential the words “featuring Lil Wayne” were in the mid- to late 2000s. At the peak of his powers, The Best Rapper Alive connected with Lloyd, who had his own impressive run during the same time, as the two waxed poetic on their favorite topic: women.

F.L.Y. — ‘Swag Surfin’’ (2009)

Also known as the updated “Electric Slide.” I couldn’t name another song by Georgia’s own Fast Life Yungstaz if my life depended on it. But that’s OK because this really is one of the all-time great party gospels. And, apparently, graduation songs. While we’re here, one of the great regrets in my life is never getting to Swag Surf with the Obamas at the White House. I’d never try it at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. now, though. They might think I’m having a medical emergency and then deny me health insurance because they’ll see Swag Surfing as a pre-existing condition. Disclaimer: Just so we’re clear, though, it’s Lil Wayne’s version over everything. So why not go with it here? Well, simple. Wayne’s freestyle doesn’t have the Man, I got that swaggggggg/ My hat matchin’ that baaaagggg … part. Which, of course, is the calling card of the whole vibe.

Rihanna feat. Drake — ‘What’s My Name’ (2011)

It’s crazy to believe six years have already passed since this song was one of the biggest records on the planet — Rihanna’s eighth U.S. No. 1 and Drake’s first. It ensured that Rihanna topped the U.K. singles charts for the fifth consecutive year, putting her in the company of Elvis Presley. But when Rihanna and Drake finally do what they’re supposed to do — drop their joint album, AubRih — this will be known as the collaboration that started it all.

Beyoncé — ‘Love On Top’ (2011)

I still haven’t forgiven Beyoncé for overshadowing my most recent birthday with her pregnancy announcement. But I have to remember she did the same thing to someone else on Aug. 28 when, at the 2011 MTV VMAs, she said, “Tonight I want you to stand up on your feet, I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside of me” — then proceeded to perform “Love On Top” without missing a beat. She revealed to the world that Blue Ivy Carter was on her way, much to the delight of Jay Z and Kanye West, seen here in much simpler times. It’s a great and soulful and upbeat song — one that’s going to be around for a long, long, long time. You’re the one that gives your all / You’re the one I can always call / When I need to make everything stop / Finally you put my love on top. It’s a wedding reception classic.

Drake feat. Majid Jordan — ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ (2013)

Almost like you should be on a boat, in a white linen outfit, with a Cuban cigar off the coast of Santorini, right? In a career with countless smash records, the second single from Aubrey’s third studio album Nothing Was The Same is Drake at his most infectious. He’ll be performing this at his Las Vegas residency in 20 years. Also, the video is a classic Drake juxtaposition: with guns, murder and the betrayal of false friends and Drake saving the damsel in distress. But doing so over a smooth, R&B-laced record.

YG feat. TeeFli — ‘Do It To Ya’ (2014)

God bless Tha Dogg Pound homage. YG’s laid-back summer ode — from the modern-day classic My Krazy Life — deserves all the love it receives three years after its release. Pool party, day party and rooftop-tested. Pool party, day party and rooftop-approved.

Jamie xx feat. Young Thug & Popcaan — ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’(2015)

This song should’ve been so much bigger than what it was. Side note: It is featured on NBA Live 16 and NBA 2K17.

The Internet — ‘Get Away’ (2015)

When we’re recapping the best albums of the 2010s come December 2019, The Internet’s Ego Death will deserve serious consideration. “Get Away,” the LP’s opening track, sets the mood perfectly. This group has mastered the art of mood music.

Future — ‘March Madness(2015)

What’s wild is that after 200,000 listens from me alone, it still tugs at the heartstrings just as much as it did when I heard basketball great LeBron James’ favorite song in Los Angeles for the first time. I really hope I can weave Dress it up/ And make it real for me into my wedding vows.

Miguel — ‘Waves’ (2015)

It’s been almost two summers since Miguel dropped Wildheart. There’s no way I can hear “Waves” and not instantly reminisce on summer nights in Los Angeles, house parties in Hollywood and the Fourth of July at Manhattan Beach with the homies. If I could ride that wave right now … That year on the West Coast was a dope period in my life, and one I’ll carry with me forever. And since we’re on the topic, some new music from the “late bloomer” wouldn’t be a bad look at all this summer.

NxWorries — ‘Scared Money’ (2016)

We talked a lot about artists like Rihanna, Chance the Rapper and Travis Scott in 2016. For good reasons, too. All of their albums knocked. But one of the coldest and most underrated was Yes Lawd! from the duo of Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge. Truth be told, any cut from their winsome collab project applies here. But whenever anyone does a Paid In Full homage, they had me at Hello.

Gucci Mane feat. Drake — ‘Both’ (2016)

We may never see their mythical collab album, The 6ers, and that’s fine. It’s probably best not to ruin a good thing because this The Return of East Atlanta Santa standout, produced by Metro Boomin and Southside, is hitting its stride just as the weather takes a turn for the warmer. Perfect.

PARTYNEXTDOOR — ‘Not Nice’ (2016)

This song just reminded me to book my vacation. We’ll leave it at that.

Chance the Rapper feat. Knox Fortune — ‘All Night’ (2016)

Confession: While Coloring Book instantly became a personal favorite last year, “All Night” was the one record I always skipped. Then, I started hearing it when I was out, to the point where I came to understand the song’s intention — stop treating me different and just party. Sure, I could’ve easily chosen “No Problem” and been just fine. But there’s something about warm weather, good vibes and hearing Is you is or is you ain’t got gas money/ No IOUs or debit cards, I need cash money at just the right time.

Bruno Mars — ‘That’s What I Like’ (2016)

Cool jewel be shining so bright / Strawberry champagne on ice: It’s of the truly awesome feel-good songs of recent memory and shows no signs of slowing down as you prepare to make summer memories with your Day 1s.

Kap G — ‘Girlfriend’ (2016)

Credit Issa Rae’s Insecure in particular, episode 6, Shady As F— for putting me on to this song.

The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk — ‘I Feel It Coming’ (2016)

It’s that song you hear at post-work happy hours as the day drifts from evening to night. You’ve heard the song a thousand times already. Just as long as you’re cool with hearing it another 10,000 times by the end of the summer. It’s The Weeknd and Daft Punk. You can’t expect anything less.

Travis Scott feat. Young Thug & Quavo — ‘Pick Up The Phone’ (2016)

Honestly, just let the entire Birds In The Trap Sing Brian McKnight ride. No, for real, press play on the first song and step away from your phone. Thank me later. This cut in particular is the seamless and perfect collaboration featuring three of the game’s most sought-after and enigmatic forces. Tell me you wouldn’t listen to an EP from all three. I dare you.

D.R.A.M. — ‘Cute(2016)

Girl, we need to go out on a date/ We can really do a little something/ If it’s cool, I’ll pick you up at 8/ We can really do a little something/ We can really do a little something, baby/ Looking at this pretty face, it drives me crazy. Don’t forget that the Hampton, Virginia, native dropped a stellar album last year. On it was this lighthearted number about breaking the ice with that someone who caught your eye at the day party.

Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos — ‘Slide’ (2017)

Nearly went with Frank’s “Biking” featuring Jay Z and Tyler, The Creator. But I decided it was in my best interests to ride with this. Minus a brief bit of controversy, ’17 has been Migos’ most successful year, one in which they became a bona fide crossover rap supergroup. Yet, while it could mean nothing, what’s good with Takeoff not being on two of Migos’ biggest hits this year — the unstoppable “Bad and Boujee” and this one?

DJ Khaled feat. Beyoncé and Jay Z — Shining(2017)

Nearly went with Khaled and Drake’s “For Free” here, but it’s best to give some up-and-coming, lesser known artists a shake — you know, like the Carters. No, seriously, I’m not sure I need a full-length project from Blue and the twins’ parental units, but it’s no denying Mr. & Mrs. Carter held it down for all the married couples wanting to prove you can mix business and pleasure.

Migos — ‘T-Shirt’ (2017)

I know that “Bad and Boujee” was the most popular song in the universe at one point this year. But you’re going to hear that song any and everywhere this summer. That’s not to say you won’t hear “T-Shirt” just as many times, but it’s the slightly better song. My only regret about this record is that The Three Wise Migos should have taken their own advice before taking the Saturday Night Live stage with Katy Perry last weekend. Do it for the culture/ They gon’ bite like vultures. Truer words have not been spoken in 2017.

Drake — ‘Passionfruit’ (2017)

The dude who just took home a record 13 Billboard Music Awards makes this type of vibe easier than anyone doing it right now (and over the past decade). I’m of the belief that the “Madiba Riddim” + “Blem” combo is more lethal — and that “Blem” is low-key the best song on More Life, but all that said, it’s “Passionfruit” that could well become Drizzy’s 2017 “One Dance” or “Controlla.”

Wale feat. G-Eazy — ‘Fashion Week’ (2017)

Folarin’s SHINE crept in under the radar, but he does have a nice little summer ditty with this. An easy and fun listen, and, if you live in the DMV (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia), you can expect to hear this at any and every function between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Ed Sheeran — ‘Shape Of You’ (2017)

I mean, look. This song’s undeniable, fam.

Goldlink feat. Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy — ‘Crew’ (2017)

Simply put, the best single of 2017. From my personal favorite project of 2017.

Rick Ross feat. Ty Dolla $ign — ‘I Think She Like Me’ (2017)

It was dope to see Rick Ross come back in full force this year with the great project Rather You Than Me. Who else could flip a chorus into 40 million / Out in Cannes with Leonardo DiCaprio / While out on bond / Pray I go to trial rapido. No one does luxury rap quite like Rozay.

French Montana feat. Swae Lee — ‘Unforgettable’ (2017)

If, somehow, you still doubted Swae Lee’s star power, let this be what finally converts you. “Unforgettable” sounds like a record you’d hear shopping at an H&M in Dubai. It’s got that far of a reach.

Future — ‘Mask Off’ (2017)

As if there was any doubt that Future’s first career Top 10 Hot Billboard 100 hit would make the list. And if you’re gonna run this — because you’re definitely running this, since it’s the law of the land — run “Draco” right after this. Thank me later.

Jeremih feat. Chris Brown & Big Sean — ‘I Think Of You’ (2017)

Alongside two talented artists with several songs worthy of inclusion on this list, it’s Chris Brown who absolutely owns this record. He does it running away, too. Therein lies the crux about Brown. Even in 2017, he remains one of the most naturally virtuoso entities in the game (his new single “Privacy” rings off, too). He’s so gifted that it’s frustrating.

SZA feat. Travis Scott — ‘Love Galore’ (2017)

Gimme a paper towel / Gimme another Valium / Gimme another hour or two / Hour with you. Out of nowhere, SZA and Scott gave us the summer anthem we never knew we needed.

Kendrick Lamar feat. Zacari — ‘LOVE.’ (2017)

Kung Fu Kenny’s critically adored DAMN. has its fair share of slappers. “DNA” and “Humble” are already mainstays. And I’m guessing sooner than later, his Rihanna collaboration “LOYALTY.” will dominate summer airwaves because RiRi is allergic to not making a hit. But, man, this one? Keep it a hundred / I’d rather you trust me than (to love me) / Keep it a whole one hund’, don’t got you I got nothing. Somebody’s legit going to fall in love to it this summer.

2 Chainz feat. Gucci Mane, Quavo & The Trap Choir — “Good Drank 2.0’ (2017)

Like a certain Canadian mentioned earlier, The Honorable Dos Necklaces could have his own individual playlist, too. “It’s A Vibe” with Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz and Jhene Aiko is beyond worthy of inclusion here. But trust me on this. You have not lived until you’ve heard a gospel choir sing Put that thing up in her ribcage. You’ll wonder how you ever lived before. Pretty Girls Love Trap Music needs to hurry up and get here. Like yesterday.

Wizkid feat. Drake — ‘Come Closer’ (2017)

My colleague Bre, The Undefeated’s resident Drake aficionado, says this is her favorite Drake verse right now. Too mix up in drama to go outside / Too mix up in drama to free my mind / Jealous people around me / I need to change my life. Honestly, it’s hard to knock it. The song as a whole is hella chill and tailor-made for long summer nights, cookouts and/or plush excursions. Just another summer mainstay from The Canadian You Love To Hate.

Lil Uzi Vert — ‘XO TOUR Lif3’ (2017)

The most perplexing song on the list. On the surface, it’s a fun record. Then you actually listen to the lyrics. Push me to the edge. The hook, at least.

Calvin Harris feat. Future & Khalid — ‘Rollin’ (2017)

I’ve been rollin’ on the freeway/ I’ve been riding 85/ I’ve been thinking way too much/ And I’m way too gone to drive/ I’ve got anger in my chest/ I’ve got millions on my mind/ And you didn’t fit the picture/ So I guess you weren’t the vibe. Get you some this summer.

Playboi Carti — ‘Magnolia’ (2017)

Another song you won’t be able to escape this summer unless you stay in the house and avoid all social interactions where music is played and drinks are served. And for what it’s worth, it’s already received LeBron James’, Kyrie Irving’s and Iman Shumpert’s seal of approval.

DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper & Lil Wayne — ‘I’m The One’ (2017)

Given the cast of characters, Khaled’s newest creation had no choice but to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. No rap record has done that since Eminem’s “Not Afraid” seven years ago. But if we’re really being truthful with ourselves, all credit goes to Asahd. Khaled’s been batting 1.000 since little man graced the world with his presence.

The long-lost ‘T-Wayne’ is finally here The T-Pain and Lil Wayne collaboration dates back to 2009

All it took was eight years and a #TBT for T-Pain and Lil Wayne to give the people what they want.

On Wednesday, T-Pain randomly hopped on the ‘gram and posted a photo of an album cover featuring a split image of the Tallahassee “rappa ternt sanga” and New Orleans’ own Lil Wayne, with the caption “I’m feelin reeeeeaaaaalll spontaneous right now #2009#TheMissingPageInTheHistoryBook.”

Pain also tweeted the image with the two words “Do it?” and a follow-up tweet, saying, “This ain’t for y’all new n—as. These the lost files from ’09 and I’m tired of em just sittin on my hard drive. #FreeC5” — a nod to the long-awaited unreleased fifth installment of Wayne’s Tha Carter series.

Then, on Thursday, he did it. T-Pain just up and dropped the eight-track T-Wayne almost a decade after the project was set to release in 2009. If you remember, back then, Pain and Wayne were both at the peak of their reigns in the hip-hop and R&B games. If we’re being foreal, it was hard to find a track that Lil Wayne and T-Pain weren’t on. They were go-to artists, especially for features. So when they teamed up on the smooth 2008 hit “Can’t Believe It,” it was an absolute swish. And when they went on the road together on the I Am Music Tour from December 2008 to April 2009, tickets were a must-cop. (I still have a “T-Wayne” T-shirt from that tour, btw.)

Eventually, though, T-Pain’s career began to fall off after Jay Z essentially ended it himself with his 2009 track “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” — a lyrical shot at the audio technique Pain popularized on his songs. Meanwhile, Lil Wayne went to jail, and his time behind bars forever changed him musically.

That left us without the anticipated collab project, save the banger “Damn, Damn,” which dropped in 2010 before Wayne began his sentence. So Thursday was truly a delightful surprise. We aren’t blaming Pain and Wayne for taking so long since, you know, life happens. And, to be honest, a lot of people probably forgot that T-Wayne was actually a thing.

But, we are always here for the spontaneous drop — even if it takes years.

Maybe, for #TBT next week, Dr. Dre will bless us with Detox. Or, we’ll get the Tha Carter 5. Fingers crossed.

Michelle Obama and MTV celebrate 2017 College Signing Day The former first lady steps back into the spotlight — in style, of course

Michelle Obama is officially back from vacation, y’all. We have seen her twice this week.

The former first lady glided onto the stage of the Public Theater in Manhattan on Friday to celebrate one of her signature events: College Signing Day, which is the day high school seniors post their college plans on social media.

She came dressed in head-to-toe monotone gray: V-neck T-shirt emblazoned with a Princeton Tiger (her undergraduate alma mater), flowy cardigan sweater, cropped denim pants and low-top Converse All-Star sneakers. It was an informal, casual look for the glamorous style icon, who was usually seen in public wearing glamorous day dresses, stunning formal gowns or hip athleisure attire during her eight-year tenure in the White House.

“I might not live in the White House anymore, but Barack and I are gonna keep on celebrating you all and supporting you and lifting you up no matter what house we live in.”

Leaving the public life has given the Obama family a new lease on their low-key-style life. The bottom practically drops out of Twitter whenever photos of the Obamas living their best beach and yacht life hit social media. Former President Barack Obama has been rocking his vacation suntan and open-collared shirts (sans neckties) with suits in his most recent appearances. Michelle’s hairstyles are still getting attention — these days for being worn natural or in twin pigtails under a sun hat. Malia Obama is setting street-style fashion trends by wearing short dresses, leggings and boots to her gap-year internship with film industry powerhouse The Weinstein Company.

Former first lady Michelle Obama speaks onstage during MTV’s 2017 College Signing Day With Michelle Obama at The Public Theater on May 5, 2017, in New York City.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for MTV

This is the fourth year that Michelle Obama has headlined the College Signing Day event, which is a continuing part of her Reach Higher initiative and the Better Make Room campaign. Her appearance today comes only days after President Donald Trump’s administration denied reports about ending the former first lady’s 2015 global education initiative Let Girls Learn, despite the fact that future funding is in question, according to The Huffington Post.

The College Signing Day event was only the latest in a recent series of sightings of the former president and first lady. When the Obamas appeared May 3 at a community event on the South Side of Chicago to preview the design of the $500 million Obama Presidential Center, Michelle Obama donned a black-and-white print dress and kitten heels.

“We’ve gotta celebrate students going to college bigger than we celebrate the Final Four or the Super Bowl.”

Michelle Obama was preceded onstage at Friday’s event by a procession of high-profile actors, singers, athletes and stars: event host Nick Cannon; Charlamagne tha God; Questlove and Black Thought from The Roots; journalists Tamron Hall, Soledad O’Brien and Robin Roberts; Jidenna; Michael B. Jordan; author, speaker and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi; Zoe Kravitz; and Emeka Okafor. Many wore apparel with the name of their alma mater, and they all gave pep talks about the benefits of finishing college.

But to no one’s surprise, Michelle Obama was the star of the event. Her pep talk was equal parts “mom-in-chief” and ’round the way girl who studied hard, graduated double Ivy and helped her husband become the first African-American U.S. president. “I might not live in the White House anymore,” she told the college-bound students at the Public Theater, “but Barack and I are gonna keep on celebrating you all and supporting you and lifting you up no matter what house we live in.”

She summed up her talk to the students by saying, “We’ve gotta celebrate students going to college bigger than we celebrate the Final Four or the Super Bowl. The number of acceptance letters should be more important than the number of followers you have on social media.”