Former walk-on at Temple now stars in ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ Actor Rafael V. DeLeon says meeting Spike Lee at NBA All-Star Weekend was a dream come true

Former college basketball player Rafael V. DeLeon got the introduction of a lifetime during NBA All-Star Weekend in 2015 when he met famed film director Spike Lee. He promised himself that he’d grind until he got the chance to work on a film with Lee.

That promise was fulfilled when DeLeon was cast in Lee’s newest project with Netflix, She’s Gotta Have It, a 10-episode dramedy that follows a young woman, Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), who dates three very different men in current-day Brooklyn, New York.

The series is a reworking of the 1986 film of the same name that launched Lee’s career. Besides directing, he also starred in it as the character Mars Blackmon, an aspiring rapper and one of Darling’s love interests. In an interview with The New York Times in 1986, Lee described the film as being about a woman “leading her life like a man, in control, with three men dangling at her fingertips.”

In the series, DeLeon plays Manny Garciela, the best friend to Blackmon (Anthony Ramos).

DeLeon played for Temple University, where he started out as a walk-on and worked his way up to an athletic scholarship. After earning his degree in business administration and marketing, he landed a job working for the mayor of Washington, D.C., in the Executive Office of Boards and Commissions. The actor has also appeared in House of Cards, The Americans and The Breaks.

The Undefeated spoke with DeLeon about working with Lee, why Will Smith from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was his childhood hero and lessons he’s learned growing up black and Puerto Rican in America.


What do you hope viewers take from the Netflix series?

When Spike did the original film in ’86, he was already in uncharted territory on what was commonplace in cinema at the time. Since then, a lot has changed in culture as it relates to marriage and equality. Spike touches on some of that content from the original film, but with this remake, there’s a strong focus on black women, their liberation and being the captain of their own fate.

How was it working with Lee?

Spike is awesome! On set we were deciding on certain dance moves, and he asked me to do the worm at one point. He’s so collaborative and asks questions that really brings the best out of actors. It was a dream come true to work with him.

How did you get into playing basketball at the collegiate level?

I was always taller than my classmates as a kid, and pretty skinny and lanky too. I grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which had a strong reputation for hoopers, so I gravitated toward basketball and made use of my height. I played collegiately at Averett University in Danville, Virginia, my freshman year. I knew that I wanted to play at the highest level, so the summer going into my sophomore year I sent some of my [game] tapes to the assistant coaching staff at Temple. I knew that Temple’s basketball program was in transition, so I thought if there was ever an opportunity to get a fresh start with the new coaching staff and program, then would be the time. I started off as a walk-on and made the team.

Temple Owls forward Rafael DeLeon (center) passes away from the double-team.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If you could be any athlete dead or alive, who would it be?

Muhammad Ali. Being stripped of his title in the middle of his prime and having the self-confidence to stare the unknown down while also maintaining his sense of self is something that I aspire to. Second would be LeBron James. I admire his athletic greatness. For players to navigate the world, especially in this current climate, is a fine art. LeBron does a phenomenal job both on and off the court.

After college graduation, what drew you to working in politics?

I have a strong passion for social activism and justice. When I graduated from college, it was 2010 and President Barack Obama was in office. One of my focus areas was outreach and helping move the conversation along in actionable way. I felt like politics was the quickest and most impactful way to make change, both on the systemic and personal level.

What have you learned from working in politics as a man of color?

There are a lot of variables in play in the political space. Some of it works contrary to what the perceived greater good is, and vice versa. As a biracial man of color in America, there have been things that I recognized from an early age. As a kid, I would get asked about why my father looked the way he did. Being in an African-American-dominated county, my father being Puerto Rican stood out. I was aware of how I was perceived at a very young age … when you add on to that the layers of middle-class America and how that looks to white America, I began to kind of see different levels of it play out at different stages. In college I studied business administration, and in my upper-level classes there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me. I witnessed and experienced little trickle-down effects of just how deeply entrenched certain societal mechanisms were.

Who was your childhood hero?

Will from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When you look back, you see that the entire premise of the show was watching Will try to assimilate to a completely different culture and norm based on socioeconomic status. That in itself is like … whoa! The level of comedy and topics discussed was done so tactfully. It had a lasting effect on me and laid the groundwork and planted the seeds for where I am today, as far as being aware and identifying different things in life and culture.

What lessons have you learned from basketball that you’ve transferred to your acting career?

Making the team and the successes that we had as a team at Temple really showed me how it takes courage to take a leap of faith. If you keep doing that, good things will happen — shoutout to [Redskins quarterback] Kirk Cousins who said that — and you can chart your own course. I’ve always been interested in film and the arts, so when I told my parents about pursuing acting, they were really supportive. I had a track record at that point for leaving something that was secure for something that wasn’t and making it work.

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

‘Never get too high. Never get too low.’ My dad told me that. Especially as an actor in New York, the highs are extremely high and the lows are pretty low, as far as when you’re in between jobs or casting says, ‘No, thanks.’ Maintaining that center of balance and not allowing too much success get to your head, and not beating yourself up too much when things aren’t going your way, have been extremely valuable in all elements of my life.

Kamara for the culture He grew up with the Migos, wears nose rings and a grill in games and is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year — but who really is Alvin Kamara?

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.


NEW ORLEANS — At the kitchen table of his split-level downtown condo, a hop and skip from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Alvin Kamara scrolls through the video call log in one of his two iPhones. “I can FaceTime him right now,” he says. “He’ll probably pick up.”

It’s Christmas Eve, and four hours have passed since the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons, 23-13, to clinch the franchise’s first playoff appearance in four seasons. For Kamara, the Saints’ 22-year-old running back and the NFL’s runaway favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, the moment calls for some reminiscing about the journey.

Back to when he was juggling Division I offers and chasing league dreams. Back to when he was dominating on high school football fields in and around his hometown of Norcross, Georgia. After games, three of his childhood friends who aspired to be big-time rappers would show up at local clubs. “They’d come in with 100 people, perform and walk out,” Kamara remembers. “Just tryna make it.”

A music executive everyone calls “Coach K” is the man who gave the trio a chance, and to Kamara, Kevin “Coach K” Lee is his uncle. Coach K — who has managed the careers of Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, and who is credited by The New York Times as taking Southern U.S. black culture global — is about keeping family close, and keeping it winning.

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Kamara is the first and only athlete to be represented by Solid Foundation, a sports management division of Coach K’s Quality Control record label. And with a strong and close-knit support system, Kamara, a Pro Bowler and seven-time league Player of the Week, has revitalized the culture of the Saints, the city of New Orleans — and perhaps, in a tough year, of the NFL itself.

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, aka the No. 1 hit-making, Grammy Award-nominated Migos. “It’s dope to see the growth,” Kamara says. “Seeing them come up from nothing.” In 2017, the Migos emerged as the world’s most influential rap group, perhaps the best since OutKast.

“I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

“I was talking to Qua yesterday,” Kamara says before tapping on Quavo’s contact to initiate another FaceTime. “He was like, ‘Man, I’m proud of you. You just been ballin’. I remember when shit was bad and you stayed true to it.’ ”

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True indeed. In his first season in the NFL, Kamara has averaged 7.7 yards per offensive touch, more than any player in league history (minimum of 200 touches). Not since Gale Sayers in 1965 has a rookie scored five rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns in a single season — until Kamara. And Kamara’s ballsy, fake-kneel, 106-yard kick return for a touchdown in the regular-season finale is the longest play in Saints franchise history.

No other NFL player in the league is doing quite what he’s doing, and no other player looks quite like him either. In addition to wearing his hair in twists, he rocks two nose rings and a shiny gold grill in his mouth — on the field. And off of it, Kamara has plenty of gold around his neck, Louis Vuitton on his wrists and Alexander Wang on his feet. In a season polarized by protests, and missing star New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Kamara brought swag to the NFL. He might even mean as much to the culture as the Migos right now.

Nine long rings on the call to Quavo, and no answer.

“I don’t know what he doing,” Kamara says. “He might call back.”


The recruitment of Alvin Kamara resulted in offers from just about every powerhouse college football program. On national signing day in 2013, with his mother, Adama, and Coach K beside him, Kamara decided to roll with the Alabama Crimson Tide, the school that once sent him 105 letters in a single day. He made the announcement during a crowded news conference at Norcross High School.

“Of all the kids I’ve ever recruited, I probably got closer to him and his family than any kid,” says Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, the former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator who secured Kamara’s commitment. “I don’t know why. He took a liking to me, I took a liking to him. We respected each other.” The two keep in touch via text and FaceTime. Kamara ends those calls with, “Love you.”

Kamara was poised for playing time despite a loaded depth chart — future NFL backs Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake — at his position. But a knee injury requiring surgery forced him to redshirt. “Alvin got put down with the scout team,” Smart says. “I can remember Nick Saban having to kick him out of practice: Hey, if you’re not gonna run the ball with the scout team, get out of here. Alvin didn’t like the idea of that, and I think he’d be the first to admit he didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. He ended up saying, at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara called Coach K to help him pack up his dorm room, and his uncle dropped everything he was doing — the Migos were just months from releasing their breakthrough hit, “Versace” — to be there. “Don’t even look back,” said Coach K. “We good. Whatever the next move is, we’re gonna execute it. We just gonna be A1.”

But on Feb. 13, 2014, at 19 years old, Kamara was arrested in Norcross for driving with a suspended license. “I’m sitting in the back of a cop car, like, What the f— am I doing?” He had enough pocket money to bail himself out, but police made him wait hours in a cell for his mother to come get him. “That was my sign,” he says. “Things had caught up to me.”

Kamara decided to stop dodging calls from Hutchinson Community College and boarded a plane to Kansas. He says he essentially “disappeared” for a year into his version of Last Chance U. It took one super productive, conference-offensive-player-of-the-year season — 1,469 total yards of offense and 21 touchdowns in only nine games — to make him a five-star junior college prospect. Kamara returned to the SEC, this time to Tennessee. “AK is a good dude,” says Hutchinson recruiting coordinator Thaddeus Brown. “He just had to figure it all out.”

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff.

It may have helped that somewhere along the road from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville, Kamara embraced who he is, especially with regard to his personal style. His middle school classmates had called him, as Kamara puts it, “weird as f—.” But ever since, he’d run from himself. It was time to return.

It started with a stud in his left nostril that he’d always wanted. When Kamara noticed too many others with their noses pierced, he one-upped them with a septum piercing. At Tennessee, he began wearing both, and, instead of the usual plastic mouthguard, he wore a grill during games. Kamara: “I was just like, ‘Bruh, I’m about to be me.’ It’s gonna be real hard for y’all to make me not be me.”


“He’s so unassuming,” says David Raymond, Kamara’s day-to-day manager. “If you just see him on the street, you wouldn’t be like, ‘That’s a running back.’ ”

At the 2016 NFL scouting combine, Kamara, who had declared early, topped higher-profile running backs — Dalvin Cook now of the Minnesota Vikings, Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers — in both the vertical leap (39.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches). He ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash. Yet his history at ’Bama, coupled with his arrest, and even his choice to leave Tennessee early, made some skeptical. “You see the gold teeth,” says Raymond, “and the nose rings, but you don’t see the young man.”

Alvin Kamara runs the 40-yard dash during the 2017 NFL combine.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kamara notched a 24 on the Wonderlic. It was the highest score posted by any Division I running back prospect. And Kamara says that while he was training in Miami with former Hurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey, he “never took one m—–f—— practice Wonderlic. I don’t know if people look at me and think, ‘He just plays football.’ I can chop it up on anything you want to talk about — from football … fashion … current news … history. We can do all that. I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

Kamara’s stylish singularity, he feels, caused him in many cases to be condescended to, and in other cases to be racially pigeonholed. Kamara chooses not to reveal the name of an NFL owner who talked to him through a sneer. “You like fashion,” the man said. “Your friends are rappers. You got the look. You got the nose rings. You look like you could probably do something else … like you don’t need football.”

Kamara pondered: Just because I know some people? I’ve not made one song. If I wanted to be a rapper, I would’ve been doing that a long time ago. After the interview, the team’s running backs coach approached Kamara and confirmed what the prospect already suspected: The owner didn’t believe Kamara “loved football.” And that it was unlikely Kamara would be listed on the team’s big board come draft night. The interaction begged questions: Does a person have to “need” football in order to love it and play at the highest level? And can one love football and possess a full identity outside of it?

“He didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. One thing led to another and he ended up saying at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara says at least three other teams tossed up similar red flags. “If somebody feels a certain way about the way I carry myself, or the way I dress, the way I talk, I don’t know what to tell you … because I don’t hate nobody. But if you don’t like me? I’mma keep it moving.”


Kamara’s flair may have been lost on some owners and front-office executives, but not on JR Duperrier, a sports marketing manager for Adidas. He had gone to the combine to sign former Michigan star Jabrill Peppers. When he got to Indianapolis, he found Kamara.

“My first impression of Alvin,” says Duperrier, “was he’s kinda swaggy.He looked like he could dress a lil’ bit, and I could dig it.” Duperrier is quite fashion-forward himself, having been named by BET as one of the 25 most influential people in sneakers last October. “Given a platform, Alvin can excel. He’s his own person. He doesn’t follow what other people do.”

Adidas announced the signing of Kamara on Twitter, 17 minutes after the New Orleans Saints selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft with the 67th overall pick (63 spots behind Fournette, 59 behind McCaffrey, 26 behind Cook and 19 behind Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon). For Kamara, his pre-draft gathering was a blur. Just a simple chat with head coach Sean Payton and running backs coach Joel Thomas. “They weren’t pressing me,” Kamara says matter-of-factly. Something about the Saints just felt right. When he reported to the team’s training facility for the first time, he noticed it again.

Saints running back Alvin Kamara jumps over Darius Slay of the Detroit Lions.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Maybe it was how defensive end Cam Jordan, a three-time Pro Bowler, greeted him for the first time. “This man got a nose ring! You f—ing millennials!” And the first time he met Drew Brees, the future Hall of Famer knew about Kamara’s skills, and recognized the potential. “ ‘I wanna work with you,’ ” Kamara recalls Brees saying. “ ‘Let’s grow together.’ ” Brees and Kamara have found common ground and channeled it into a rejuvenated winning culture in New Orleans.

“He always seems like he’s having fun,” says Brees, “and he definitely has a swagger to him. He fits in great with our locker room.” Throughout his first months in that locker room, Kamara won the rookie Halloween costume contest. He treated his offensive line to surprise rib meals in their lockers for helping him win FedEx Ground Player of the Week. And he sat on a throne of Airheads, a candy partnership Kamara had in his sights on since the draft. He always carries a pack of the taffy with him, offering some to anyone who crosses his path.

Most notably, Kamara has established a playing and personal relationship with the veteran of the backfield, Mark Ingram. The rookie has become what New Orleans calls the “zoom” to Ingram’s “boom” in games, after which the pair conduct hilariously informative postgame interviews together in front of their adjacent lockers. This season, they became the first running back duo in NFL history to each record 1,500 yards from scrimmage.

“This guy has so much on his plate,” says Ingram, “where he has to line up, how many different ways we wanna get him the ball. It says a lot about him as a professional. He deserves all of the success that’s coming his way.” Ingram calls Kamara not just a special player but also a special human being. “Offensive Rookie of the Year … we got it.”

Alvin Kamara (right) and Mark Ingram talk during a game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

And contrary to popular belief, which Kamara dispels any chance he gets, there’s no animosity between him and Adrian Peterson, whom the Saints traded to the Arizona Cardinals before Week 6, just as Kamara’s stock began rising exponentially. The rookie soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. “Keep playing,” Peterson told Kamara once in practice. “Keep being you.”

He took the advice to heart: 1,554 total yards from scrimmage through 16 regular-season games. He also owns the highest yards-per-carry average (6.1) for any first-year rusher in the Super Bowl era (minimum of 100 carries) and broke a 36-year-old franchise record for most touchdowns by a rookie, with 14. Simply put, Kamara got all he could ever ask for in his first NFL team. Because the Saints let Alvin be Alvin.


It’s a party in Suite 354 at the Superdome — jam-packed with Kamara’s people. “I just got here,” says Coach K, fresh off a private jet to see his nephew play. “All he had to do is play ball when he got here. Be young. Bring the swag. Do his thing.” Quality Control co-founder Pierre “Pee” Thomas is there, along with David Raymond and Duperrier. New Orleans rapper Young Greatness is rocking a custom Alvin Kamara hoodie, created by the designer/stylist Tvenchy, who’s responsible for many of the rookie’s day-to-day outfits and is in the suite vibing as well.

It’s hard to miss the boisterous Tonee, who played high school football with Kamara before becoming Atlanta singer 6lack’s official DJ. Or JAT, a friend from Tennessee who runs her own hair business. Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson even pops in. Along with his mother (who watched from home, although she hates to see her son take hits on-screen, or in person), this is Kamara’s foundation. “I kind of try to block it out when I’m playing because it’s distracting, but at the same time … my friends are here, so you wanna do good,” Kamara says later. “Not only for me, but for them.”

Alvin Kamara celebrates with fans after scoring a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

After the playoff-clinching win that Kamara finishes with a solid 21 touches for 162 yards, he and the crew partake in his season-long tradition. They make the 1.1-mile journey from the stadium exit back to his apartment — on foot. Along the way, he’s stopped every five steps by curious Saints fans, wondering, Is that really Alvin Kamara? Yes, it’s him. And he’ll take a picture with anyone who asks. “If I sign an autograph, somebody will be like, ‘Put Rookie of the Year,’ ” he says. “Do I want to be Rookie of the Year? Of course. … You can only do it once. But I can’t put it until I win it.”

“All he had to do is play ball. Be young. Bring the swag. And do his thing.”

Hours after the walk home, New Orleans is abnormally quiet, save for the few packed restaurants. A Kamara and Quavo FaceTime happens, as the Migos’ genius sits in a glowing Atlanta studio and chops it up about jewelry and such — “Show me the ice!” he says — with the NFL’s most explosive offensive weapon. After the call, not even the star rookie running back of the Saints can secure a last-minute reservation downtown on the night before Christmas.

So it’s into his black Audi S7 V8T and on to a chicken wing joint on the outskirts of the city, where he’s perhaps even more heralded as he places a food order fit for an army. It’s apparent that the stone-faced cashier sort of recognizes him, though she can’t fully put her finger on the exact identity of the nose-ringed, beanie-wearing figure before her.

“We need that Super Bowl!!!” a middle-aged man shouts.

“Off rip. I got you,” Kamara responds with a dap. “A hunnid.”

A moment of clarity overcomes the cashier, who looks at her customer with a warm smile. “Alvin Kamara?” she says. “I thought that was you.”

Backstage at ‘The Late Show’ with Jon Batiste The musical director and former point guard on why it’s important to keep score

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Jon Batiste reached over to the Crosley record player in his dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater. He lifted the needle so that Stevie Wonder’s In Square Circle could provide a little background music while he talked in the dim glow of what once was Carol Burnett’s dressing room. Old-fashioned showbiz lights still frame the vanity’s mirror, although the vanity itself is covered with books, hats, records and a speaker. A couple of paintings lean against the mirror.

The musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was quiet and relaxed, possibly the most subdued he’d been all day.

Batiste, 31, rarely stays still, which is the only way a person can hold down his Late Show gig while also acting as artistic director at the National Jazz Museum of Harlem, recording new music, promoting a Christmas album, reimagining “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, writing op-eds for The New York Times and constructing a tribute to dancer Carmen de Lavallade for the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. Batiste is arguably the country’s most visible preservationist and celebrator of jazz. He and Stay Human, The Late Show’s house band, reach roughly 3 million people each night through their televisions.

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Jon Batiste’s fingers glide across the keys of a Steinway & Sons piano in the Stay Human rehearsal space ahead of a live taping at The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

The Late Show has recently vaulted to the top of the late-night ratings on the wings of host Stephen Colbert. Monday through Friday he provides a wry yet sunny accounting of how the world is descending into a morass of fear, uncertainty and, lately, how it’s being pushed there by famous men who can’t keep their hands to themselves. Batiste sets off the monologues with a tinkle of piano keys, a laugh or a quip. He’s the amen corner for Colbert’s sharpest jabs.

On the gray, overcast day after a terrorist plowed into a bike path in New York, killing eight people, Batiste strode into his eighth-floor office. When he crossed the threshold to find a stranger waiting for him, he held out his hand and let out one of his trademark “Yeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahs.”

His buoyant, irrepressible happiness might seem inappropriate for the day after a tragedy, even for a man who comes from the land where people give you a parade when you die. (He grew up in Kenner, Louisiana, about 20 minutes from New Orleans, before moving to New York as a teen to attend The Juilliard School.) Nevertheless, he was humming, scatting and upbeat. Batiste considers transmitting that energy to be part of his job.

“It’s an interesting line to thread, to find a joyous sound that also matches the tone of the material in the show,” Batiste said. “That’s the real challenge every day, is finding out, OK, how do we find that thing that’s gonna push the energy that we want forward but not come across as insensitive or not come across as kitsch or out of taste? And that’s what I enjoy. I love these artistic challenges.”

He’d been listening to The Commodores on the way to work, and he sat down on the small gray couch in his office, barely able to contain his humming until I joined him in the chorus of “Lady (You Bring Me Up).”

Admittedly, it’s hard not to bop your head once you hear the lively strings and driving beat of “Lady.” The Commodores are part of a playlist that Batiste made for 2017. At the beginning of every year, he compiles a mix of songs, a sort of aural lookbook for the next 365 days. This year’s mishmash included contemporary Bob Dylan, 1920s and ’30s Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee and Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album.

The yearly mix provides a thematic foundation for what Batiste wants to reference in the show. About a week after we spoke, Batiste and Stay Human played an arrangement of “Lady” during a Late Show commercial break. It’s evidence of the thoughtfulness that defines his tenure as Late Show bandleader.

“I like putting stuff into the machine and then seeing what comes out of the machine. The brain, that’s like our processing machine,” Batiste said. “So for me, I like to just make a list of all the stuff that I want to digest and assimilate and then I just live with it.”


Batiste has had years of experience putting music into his “processing machine.” He began playing with his father, Michael, in the family’s Batiste Brothers Band when he was about 6 or 7.

The Batistes are one of New Orleans’ most respected and legendary jazz clans, and they’ve often worked side by side with the Marsalis family. Both Batiste and his mentor, Wynton Marsalis, attended high school at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Wynton’s father, pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., headed the jazz department there and was succeeded by clarinetist Alvin Batiste, a distant cousin of Jon’s.

“Him and Alvin and Clyde Kerr and Kidd Jordan, they were like the four village elders who taught everybody in New Orleans music from the last 40 years,” Batiste said. His upbringing in a family of jazz musicians and his experiences playing point guard, both in school (where he was part of a state championship-winning squad) and for an AAU team, gave Batiste his energy, his musical acumen and his constant all-American drive for self-improvement.

Jon Batiste is an avid dresser, usually opting for suits with bold colors or prints paired with custom made sneakers.

Melissa Bunni Elian for ESPN

“It’s a discipline to achieve whatever your desired end result is,” Batiste explained. “In sports, there’s a score. There’s statistics, and there’s a winner and a loser and a championship, and there is one team that gets it. It’s just very clear-cut.

“I think, in order to get better at being a musician and a bandleader and a composer and all these different things, you have to create things that are that clear-cut, because the competition that you’re up against is yourself. So it’s harder, if you’re not willing to look into the mirror, to define what the end result is. It’s very easy to get to a certain level and to just coast, and to not push yourself to be better, because nobody is really keeping score.”

That constant pushing isn’t just what Batiste expects of himself. He expects it of his bandmates in Stay Human too.

It’s important to get “the team to where’s there’s a built-in camaraderie and built-in sense of purpose, that you’re OK passing your guy the ball to take the shot when it counts in the fourth quarter,” Batiste said, again likening the job to running a basketball team. “It’s not always going to be you that gets to take that shot. You may have to trust your sixth man, or your 2 guard. You’re running point, and I played a lot of point. You’re going to have to trust … I’m not going to be able to take this shot. This is not a smart shot for me to take.”


Batiste comes to work after lunch — this time, he raved about the meatball sandwich at a spot on 53rd Street and Ninth Avenue — usually taking a car from his apartment in midtown Manhattan. His office is filled with sunlight, although the view is basically of a construction crane, thanks to New York’s never-ending real estate development. He’s got two keyboards, a Mac, an amp, a drum set, an electric bass and a Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano. An unopened bottle of Dom Pérignon still in the box, sits on his windowsill — he doesn’t drink.

He catches up on the news and tries to get an idea of what the show will address. Because Colbert riffs on the day’s news for his nightly monologue, things at The Late Show are often in flux right up until it’s time to tape the show. That means Batiste finds himself flipping through the musical library in his head on deadline and making last-minute changes at sound check.

“Picking music for TV is so specific,” Batiste said. “It has a mystery to it until you pick that right song, play that right beat, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, of course I should have been doing that.’ So it’s a mystery until then. You gotta crack the code.”

The code-cracking continues in the Stay Human rehearsal space, which is about the size of a McMansion bathroom.

Jon Batiste, left, reacts to the music while practicing new material with his band, Stay Human, a few hours ahead of a live taping at The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

The Late Show tapes four days a week. So Monday through Thursday, 10-plus people cram into the space with their instruments, including a tuba and a drum set, and jam.

Batiste’s assistant squeezes into a chair next to the upright Steinway and plays a song from her phone through the Marshall speaker that sits on the piano. Gradually, the band picks up the groove and joins in. There’s little to no sheet music.

Batiste and the band rehearse for roughly an hour, their choices guided by that night’s guests and notes from a morning production meeting that his assistant attends. Then he’s off to comedy rehearsal with Colbert, where the two go through Colbert’s proposed monologue. A small gathering of crew makes up the audience for the rehearsal, which was kept so off-limits that not only could I not watch, I couldn’t even be in the building while it was taking place.

All those little riffs and interjections that feel natural and spontaneous when you watch Colbert’s monologue? They’ve been rehearsed.

After comedy rehearsal, Colbert and his staff make script changes and Batiste refines his music selections. Then there’s a sound check on the stage with the whole band. This time, Batiste was working through a song with Jonathan Groff, who played King George in Hamilton and now stars on the Netflix series Mindhunter. The two fumbled around to find the right key for a jokey promotional duet for Mindhunter that Groff sang with Colbert.

While everyone ventured off to hair and makeup, Late Show staff members shepherded the night’s audience into their seats. They were treated to a bawdy warm-up act by comedian Paul Mecurio. Batiste and Stay Human played a 15-minute concert, and Colbert came out, introduced himself to the audience and took questions.

Finally, they make the television that shows up after the local news five nights a week.


Duke Ellington favored natty suits and a top hat. Cab Calloway rarely performed without his conductor’s baton, white waistcoat and tails.

While Colbert sticks to a uniform of sober suits and dress shoes, his bandleader favors blazers from Mr. Turk and fresh Jordans. Batiste is a consummate sneakerhead, and while he sat and talked on his sofa, he casually dribbled a basketball between his feet.

Now Batiste has access to an entire collection of covetous footwear, an actual binder full of sneakers, via The Late Show’s stylist. He’s an admirer of Russell Westbrook’s sartorial boundary-pushing, and though his loyalties are not wedded to one particular NBA team, he casually follows Oklahoma City.

Unlike Calloway, Batiste doesn’t come out in a zoot suit every night. But there’s a special element of showmanship involved in being a bandleader. It’s a skill, one that Batiste, who swears he used to be shy, had to learn. And his personal style, which he began to cultivate after moving to New York, is part of it. Presentation, he insists, is separate from being a skillful musician.

Jon Batiste is an avid dresser, usually opting for suits with bold colors or prints paired with custom made sneakers.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

“I think it really is important to think of them as different things,” Batiste said. “It requires a certain understanding of yourself and your comfort zone, and then stepping outside that and expanding your comfort zone. I actually didn’t see a connection with the two. Also, when I was growing up, it was more the older family members who took that role of presenting the band and everything like that. … That’s always a shock to people who I’ve known for a long time, to see how both those things have developed. It’s a surprise, almost, like a different person has emerged.”


Batiste interprets the world through the youthful ears of a wizened soul. His workspaces at The Late Show are a cornucopia of old and new. Crosley and Marshall are companies that specialize in making music equipment that draws on vintage aesthetics but benefits from modern technological innovation. It’s a theme that recurs throughout Batiste’s working life — he began playing for vocalist Cassandra Wilson, now 61, when he was just 22. He’s a jazz musician whose instrument of choice is the melodica, a contraption that looks like a small hand keyboard with a mouthpiece and sounds like a harmonica.

“A lot of people think that this instrument, you know, is like a child’s toy,” Batiste said, but he loves it. He recounted how he showed it to Stevie Wonder the first time they met, when Batiste was still a student at Juilliard.

“Man, you ever played one of these?” Batiste asked Wonder.

Wonder took the instrument, played it, then gave it back.

“Yeah, I used to play them, but I would get so much spit in them, I stopped,” Wonder told him.

“Oh, you got jokes!” was Batiste’s retort.

Unlike many of his earliest predecessors in jazz, Batiste boasts formal musical training besides everything he learned in his family’s band. He earned a master’s degree from Juilliard.

“I feel like it connects me to the ancestors more, the kind of founding fathers of the music,” Batiste said of his musical education. “Mothers and fathers, because women were a big part of it as well. There’s a lot of female artists that I think are still actually becoming recognized that we don’t even know about. The training just gives me another tool. Nothing can hurt you in pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of your craft.

“You know, there were great musicians who were the most erudite, studied, and they knew everything there was to know even before there were all these schools. And there were also musicians who didn’t know all that stuff, but they knew it in their own way. So, in my mind, I don’t even think about it like I’m educated more so than a musician who didn’t go to a conservatory. It’s just I know the terminology. But the person who knows it is the one who experiences it. So, if somebody is playing it on their instrument, they know it. … Whether they call it a C scale or dominant seventh chord or they just know it by whatever they know in their mind, when they play, it’s there.”

In Batiste’s office there’s a poster of Mavis Staples, one of his many heroes.

“She’s not just a musician now, she’s bigger than music,” Batiste said. “[Her involvement] in the civil rights movement and being a force for goodwill and a force of peace and a force for faith and a force in all kinds of ways. It’s amazing.”

Staples represents what he wants to achieve, Batiste said, “just what kind of energy I want to have as a performer and a celebrity. Somebody that’s authentic and is very real and also accomplished and all that, at the same time.”

In marrying youth with tradition, drawing a line from zoot suits to Jordans, Batiste has become a vehicle for advocating and communicating about jazz. He’s reverential, but not stuffy, and always repping New Orleans. (When it comes to gumbo, Batiste prefers filé to okra as a thickener for the city’s signature stew — that’s how his mama makes it.)

For decades, there’s been a panic that jazz, born in Louisiana and spread via the Great Migration, radio and vinyl, is dying. As once-booming jazz corridors in cities such as Washington, D.C., and Kansas City have shrunk or transformed, those changes are accompanied by understandable worries that no one’s interested in carrying on the genre’s traditions, that a uniquely American art form is going underappreciated outside of Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and rich people’s wedding receptions. Damien Chazelle won an Academy Award for directing a movie around that theme.

But there’s always a young, handsome, passionate and charismatic ambassador keeping the legacies of Bird and Miles and Satchmo alive. In the ’90s, it was Batiste’s mentor, Wynton Marsalis. Now Batiste has picked up the torch, along with the requisite fedora and porkpie hat — he’s got a stack of them in his dressing room and more in his office. As for the next generation? Well, Batiste turned 31 in November. He celebrated by traveling to see his 8-year-old nephew’s piano recital. The culture is in safe hands.

No matter if it’s a rehearsal or an actual performance, Batiste and his band member play full out, laughing and having fun with each note they play.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

“I don’t expect that jazz is always going to be on top like it was in the ’20s, for example,” said jazz pianist and bandleader Herbie Hancock. “The music is always evolving and constantly changing, and it’s very difficult for a lot of listeners to keep up with that.”

But he’s optimistic about Batiste’s work on The Late Show. “That experience is incredible because you’re challenged in a lot of new ways, doing that type of TV show,” Hancock said. “Because of the kind of talent he has and his experience in jazz, he’s able to more easily adapt and include new ways of dealing with the music for that kind of show than if he had not had it.”


As darkness began to settle over Manhattan, it was time for a show.

Batiste sprinted onstage to greet the show’s live audience. Joined by Stay Human, they pumped up the crowd with James Brown’s “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” and an arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” modeled after Tito Puente’s salsa-fied version.

One of Colbert’s guests was writer and Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson, who was there to promote his new biography of Leonardo da Vinci. To introduce Isaacson, the band played an up-tempo rendition of “Oh! Didn’t He Ramble,” a New Orleans ditty from 1902 later popularized by Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.

“I grew up with his whole family,” Isaacson explained to Colbert. “The wonderful Batiste family of New Orleans.” Isaacson gestured toward Batiste. “He’s a great man.”

When the interview concluded, Isaacson walked over for a hug, thrilled that Batiste had chosen to pay musical homage to their shared roots.

Later, Colbert said goodbye and the band exited. While the audience made its way to the lobby, stopping for pictures with cardboard cutouts of Colbert, Batiste huddled with the host for a post-mortem of the night’s show.

The process of assembling and putting out a newspaper used to be known as the Daily Miracle. Making late-night television involves many of the same pressures related to accuracy, tone and intellect. On top of that, it’s got to be funny, and it’s done in front of a live audience.

No wonder The Late Show tapes smack in the middle of Broadway. With Colbert and Batiste at the helm, it’s clear that’s exactly where it belongs.

Spike Lee’s ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ reboot is radical and timely With help from a Pulitzer-winning playwright, the reboot is a sexy and worthy binge

It’s appropriate: Right when high-profile white Hollywood actresses and feminists are calling out predatory white men in the industry, igniting a major conversation about sexual harassment and male accountability, an empowered black woman character is speaking out against the street harassment and patriarchy she experiences each day — and she seems to speak for real-life black women everywhere. This character is the iconic Nola Darling from Spike Lee’s progressive new Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It.

DeWanda Wise (Shots Fired, Underground) plays Darling in the small-screen version of Lee’s movie of the same name. More than 20 years after he introduced the radically free character (originally portrayed by Tracy Camilla Johns), the new Nola is still challenging the same archaic, toxically masculine landscape — exacerbated by gentrification and casual racism.


Like in the film, Nola is a smart, 20-something artist and sexually liberated New Yorker who refuses to abide by or be defined by societal norms. She’s a good daughter and a good friend, the type of woman you want in your circle. She balks at commitment, but not because she’s particularly jaded or afraid of it. She just doesn’t find it necessary, especially not when so many men around her are happily and unapologetically engaging in multiple relationships with no strings attached. The playing field isn’t level, but she can still attract and entertain as many men as she pleases.

The difference, of course, lies in the way she is perceived — versus how men are perceived. To men, even the ones she’s bedded, Nola is a “freak,” greedy, and open to any and everyone who wants her, regardless of whether she’s interested. Nola is self-possessed, and she wears club clothes during the day, which is enough to threaten even the most confident man. “What kind of lady acts like a man?” one male character asks. But still, as the saying goes, she persists. Midway through the 10-episode season, Nola experiences a powerful turning point. This isn’t a moment that makes her adjust her identity — Nola’s purpose is actually clarified.

Courtesy of Netflix

A confident evening walk down her block is interrupted by a random man who tries to push himself on her. He fails, fortunately, as she scurries up her steps. Then he calls her a “b—.” Nola is visibly shaken, and angered by the fact that this dude got to her. He made her feel weak and helpless in front of her own home, in the neighborhood where she grew up. As demeaning as the situation is, it thrusts Nola further into her creative work. She produces her most revolutionary piece yet, a graffiti series that calls out rampant street harassment.

Nola Darling splatters words — including “b—-” and “mamacita” — across the walls of Brooklyn buildings. Written anonymously, and while blinded with anger, the artwork strikes a nerve within Nola’s community, imploring both enablers and perpetrators to reckon with themselves.

But as Nola finds this artistic release and reclaims her own power, she’s still confronted by the oppressive natures of the men in her life. Pretty boy Greer (Cleo Anthony), married businessman Jamie (Lyriq Bent) and fellow free spirit Mars (Anthony Ramos) predictably want to rescue her. But Nola resists, leaving each of them to hold their fragile egos in their own hands. She finds her way back to the more grounded and drama-free Opal (Ilfenesh Hadera), a woman with whom she’s been in and out of a relationship. It’s no accident that Nola finds companionship with someone who sees her as an equal, and who embodies maturity and empathy.

This is not to say that Nola is a commitment-phobe. She just chooses to approach romance in a way that satisfies her — and frees her from dictatorial rules of dating and relationships that benefit men. So these three men in particular become extensions of her sexuality, whether they’re comfortable with that or not. Like herself, Greer is self-assured, artistic and constantly searching for his next inspiration. But, as the son of a French black man and a white mother, he’s also blinded by his light-skinned privilege and uses it to present himself as superior to others. He can throw it down between the sheets, though, so there is that.

Jamie is the stable one, the older, distinguished gentleman who has his stuff together but goes home to a wife and son. But that’s OK, as Nola apparently isn’t checking for him quite like that right now, or perhaps any day. Jamie is protective of Nola, always claiming he’s ready to throw it all away for her. He’s fascinated by her youthful spirit and sexy confidence and how easy it is for her to express herself — basically for being everything he is not. But, like all the men in her life, he makes the mistake of thinking his interest in her guarantees a commitment from her.

Courtesy of Netflix

Then there’s Mars, Nola’s kindred spirit. The half Puerto-Rican, half black artist in black-rimmed glasses and new $200 kicks. He’s fun, woke and quirky, makes sex as thrilling as an amusement park ride and is always there just when Nola needs him. He can’t be taken seriously, which is why Nola keeps him around. But he still gets in his feelings when Nola doesn’t give him the attention he craves.

Lee, along with an impressive writing staff that includes Pulitzer Prize winner and professor Lynn Nottage (Sweat), breathes present-day life into Nola at just the time when the amplification and celebration of black women who choose, as opposed to being chosen, is needed. Elevated via a pitch-perfect portrayal by Wise, the new She’s Gotta Have It is unapologetically black, sexy, radical and feminist in a way that has never really seen before on-screen. This is a binge-watch worth your time.

Author Jesmyn Ward talks about enduring hurricane season, the South, and what it means to be a MacArthur ‘genius’ She has a deep love for the South, but isn’t sure she wants to finish raising her children there

Winning a MacArthur “genius” grant can be a little bit like winning the nerd lottery.

Not only are you recognized for your intellectual prowess and contributions to society, but it’s publicly announced to every major media outlet in the country that your bank statements will be a bit bigger. MacArthur fellows get $625,000, with zero strings attached, spread over five years.

“It didn’t feel real until everyone knew, and then, of course, you speak to people that you haven’t spoken to in years, and everyone congratulates you,” said author Jesmyn Ward, one of 24 people honored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation this month. “It’s a huge, huge honor, but it is overwhelming. It is overwhelming. Everyone immediately wants to borrow money.

“Everyone is already like, ‘Oh, so we’re rich now. We’re rich.’ ”

Ward, 40, was already a superstar. Her novel Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award, and this year her latest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, is short-listed for it. Inspired by James Baldwin, Ward also edited a 2016 essay collection, The Fire This Time, which assembled thoughts from luminaries such as Isabel Wilkerson, Kiese Laymon, Clint Smith, Edwidge Danticat and Emily Raboteau.

Ward, who teaches at Tulane University, grew up in Mississippi with modest means. After stints in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York, she elected to return, buying a home in DeLisle, Mississippi, a 57-mile drive to New Orleans and her university job. Salvage the Bones, which followed a poor black Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, was inspired by her own experiences living through the storm. Despite her deep love for her home state and its most vulnerable citizens, Ward is not sure how much longer she’ll remain there.

We talked about writing, the strangeness of becoming a public figure, making it through this year’s harrowing hurricane season, and the hyper-abbreviated nature of black childhood, which Ward explores in Sing, Unburied, Sing. Her latest novel follows a 13-year-old boy named Jojo, and his young mother, Leonie, who serve as alternating narrators. They’re poor and live in rural Mississippi with Leonie’s mother, who is dying of cancer, and Leonie’s father. Leonie decides to take a road trip with Jojo and her toddler daughter, Kayla, to pick up their white father, Michael, from prison. Every generation of the family is grappling with death and unresolved loss in some way, but Leonie is particularly striking because of her inability to reckon with the death of her brother, Given, who was murdered by a white schoolmate.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

What is the moment like when you find out that you’ve been awarded a MacArthur grant?

It’s totally surreal. When it’s happening, when they’re telling you that you’ve won a MacArthur grant, it just doesn’t feel real. It’s such a huge award and such a huge honor that it’s never the call that you expect to get. I don’t think it feels real until the announcement. When everyone else finds out, that’s when it feels real. [The MacArthur Foundation] prepares beforehand, because they send a video crew out to your house and you spend an entire day with them.

Most writers are not extroverts. Once you started accumulating this snowball of acclaim, what did that do to you?

It’s difficult, especially because I am naturally a shy person, or at least I was, in high school and afterwards for years. One of my friends … while I lived in New York, would introduce me, and he would jokingly say, ‘This is my mute friend,’ because I would never speak. It’s really odd for me to now have to develop and assume a public persona and to share. I have to figure out how much of my private self am I willing to reveal. How comfortable am I, will I attempt to be, when I’m sharing my life with other people? It’s something that I have to work at.

When did you first realize there’s Public Jesmyn and Private Jesmyn?

I didn’t really realize that I would have to develop a public persona until Salvage the Bones was nominated for the National Book Award. That’s when everything changed for me, because I wrote Where the Line Bleeds as my first novel, my baby novel. A fair amount of people read it, but it didn’t get a ton of serious reviews and I didn’t do a lot of interviews. And then Salvage the Bones came out, and the reception was better, but it was before it was nominated for a National Book Award. Then everything changed, and then of course once I won, everything really changed.

I devoted years of my life to becoming a better writer. I’ve learned how to read like a writer. I worked on my craft and just tried to improve with everything that I produced, with everything that I created, but I never really thought about what it would mean to actually get better and get good enough to the point where other people start recognizing it, and then you’re reaching more people, wider range of people, reaching lots of readers. Suddenly you have an audience.

“One of my friends … while I lived in New York, would introduce me, and he would jokingly say, ‘This is my mute friend,’ because I would never speak.”

Writing is such a solitary thing, so it was a total surprise for me when I realized that my life as a writer would not just consist of me sitting in a room typing or reading.

But you know what helps? Teaching, because I’m a professor, and that helps me a lot. I was put in plenty of situations where I had to think quickly, speak quickly, plenty of situations where I had to attempt to be eloquent and to learn how to talk about something that I was very passionate about, because that’s what teaching demanded.

Is it more difficult talking to a roomful of college students or talking to reporters?

It’s definitely talking to a roomful of college students! This has not happened to me at Tulane, but I’ve definitely taught at other schools where the college students I’m teaching do not think that I am the smartest person in the room, and in fact they think they are the smartest person in the room. That’s always a little difficult to navigate.

What did you mean by “learning to read like a writer”?

For me, that meant reading poetry to attempt to figure out how figurative language can create beauty, how figurative language can make a reader feel. I read poetry to also figure how sentences can create rhythm, how paragraphs can create rhythm.

I read literary fiction to attempt to figure out what was pleasing to me as far as a prose style. I also read literary fiction to figure out how to develop a character, how to make a character come alive on the page. I read literary fiction to figure out pacing and how to balance narration and scene, and what was pleasing to me as a writer, what kind of balance was pleasing to me, whether I liked lots of dialogue and a little narration or more narration and less dialogue.

And then I read other genres, like fantasy, like sci-fi, like children’s books, middle-grade books, YA books, even romance, because I feel like those genres taught me different things about — I feel like I wasn’t necessarily reading them to learn lessons about prose and about what I felt worked well and what didn’t. I think that those books taught me things about how to create suspense, about plot.

What are you excited to be reading right now?

I have a poetry anthology next to my bed. Czeslaw Milosz. A Book of Luminous Things. That’s nice, to have books that I can open up and read a short piece and get some satisfaction from knowing that I’ve read something.

I recently read a children’s book called The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which was amazing. In the last two chapters, I was tearing up the entire time. It was insane, but it was such a pleasure to read that because I could just enjoy it. I feel like it’s easiest to turn off my writerly brain when I’m reading children’s lit. It’s just a lovely, beautiful book.

You have spent a lot of time thinking about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. What was it like for you living through this hurricane season?

It’s been difficult, especially seeing the devastation in Houston, seeing the devastation in Puerto Rico, seeing the devastation in Florida, being witness to the current administration’s ambivalence towards that suffering, and sometimes outright hostility that echoes some of the ambivalence and hostility that at least New Orleans, and somewhat the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that we experienced during Katrina. It’s hard, and I didn’t realize how difficult until I saw Houston was flooding, and I thought, ‘I should write something about this,’ and I couldn’t write a thing. I couldn’t write anything, and then I realized how deeply affected I was and how haunted I was by Katrina and by what happened after Katrina.

And then I realized that again, when we were preparing for Hurricane Nate. Nate was a Category 2 storm, and we were losing our minds. I was trying to get a solar-powered generator. I was stocking up and preparing in a way that you would prepare for a Category 5, and yet so was everyone else. It wasn’t just me. It was everyone else here, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in New Orleans. That’s the long shadow of Katrina. I think that every time it happens, that we’ll react like that, because of Katrina, because we’re still struggling with it. I think there’s a lot of unresolved anxiety and terror that people carry from our experiences in Katrina.

In Sing, Unburied, Sing, you bounce back and forth between Jojo and Leonie, who are both young, as narrators. Jojo is forced to grow up faster than his years, and Leonie, his mother, doesn’t quite feel like a real grown-up yet.

I think that black childhood is not something that’s granted to black children in America, and so I think that my characters reflected that. Jojo, his experience reflects that in the present moment, as he’s going through it, but I feel that Leonie is the kind of character who comes to life when a black person has — when their childhood has been denied. When that childhood has been stolen, she’s the result, where she’s sort of stuck in this extended adolescence, especially with her selfishness and her inability to process hardship, to face hardship and to live with hardship and to thrive, really. That’s what happens.

“I feel like it’s easiest to turn off my writerly brain when I’m reading children’s lit.”

It’s funny, because then I think about Richie’s character, who is a ghost. He’s a ghost, and he should be nearly as old as Pop is, but yet he, too, is stuck in some sort of adolescence because his childhood was taken away from him, because he was robbed of his childhood.

I think about Mam and I think about Pop, and I wonder why they did not break, why they don’t seem broken in the way that Leonie’s broken, or that Richie is broken.

When I think about Kayla and Jojo, I don’t think that they will be broken people like Leonie or like Richie. I think that they’ll be like Mam and like Pop, and maybe the reason why I don’t think that they will be broken people, and maybe the reason why Pop and Mam aren’t broken, is because there was something there that sustained them. I think for Mam, it was the love of her family, and also these things like black spiritual traditions, voodoo and hoodoo and herbal medicine. I think that that sustained her. With Pop, I think it’s family. I think that that definitely sustained him, and maybe a sense of community that he has or a sense of responsibility that he had to that family and to that community.

You go so hard for the South. So often it’s discussed as a place where the best thing about it for black folks is that they can leave. What makes you want to stay there?

I am writing about the kind of people who I grew up with. I’m writing about people who are like my family members. I’m writing about people who are like people who live in my community. I think, because I’m writing from that place, that I can love them, but I can also be critical of them. And I think, too, that I’m very aware of how history bears on the present in the South, and of how it complicates people’s lives, and how it is this really underacknowledged force in the region. I want to acknowledge that, and I think that that’s also what is fueling some of that critical eye.

I wanted to come back for so long, and I am here now, but I have gotten to this point in my life where I can’t say that I will stay here forever.

Why not?

It’s just motivated by my kids, because I have a 5-year-old daughter and I have my son, who [is now] 1. I love my kids, and I want the best for them, and I don’t know. I feel like, in some respects, that I would be failing them if we stayed here through the years when they were teenagers, because this is not a kind place, in many ways, and I worry for them. I want them to live, and I want them to thrive, and I don’t know if this is the best place for that to happen.

Is there any place in America that’s safe for them, where they can be children?

I know that there’s nowhere in this country where they could be completely safe, but I do feel like there are places in this country that would be safer, and made safer, because of where I have worked, because of where I’ve gotten in my life. Classwise, I could afford them different opportunities that if I were poor, or if I lived in poverty, and if I were moving to the Northeast or Chicago or the West, they’d face more dangers. But there’s some opportunities that I can give them because of where I am right now.

I don’t know a single educated black person who has risen to a certain place in society who doesn’t have family members who aren’t as lucky.

It’s difficult. I do what I can, but I think that — how do I say this? I do what I can for my extended family, but I think that their ideas of what I have and the demand on what I have are different from my knowledge of what I have and what I have to give. It induces a lot of guilt, because you want to help. When you’re personally in that situation, you want to help your extended family. I feel guilty because I’m in this position, and they’re not, and then I also feel guilty that I can’t do more. But I can’t. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not a billionaire. I’m a thousandaire.

How much did the death of your brother figure into Leonie and the way she’s working through Given’s death?

I was worried about that when I discovered Given’s character, when it worked out that Leonie had a brother and that he died when they were teenagers. I was worried about writing him, because I know that readers know about my brother, and I didn’t want them to confuse me with Leonie. I didn’t want them to confuse my brother with Given, but I felt like Given was the key. Given was the key to understanding Leonie. His death was the key to understanding her — who she was, her trauma, and understanding why she does what she does. And so I felt like I had no choice, in some respects. I had to write him.

But then, those fears eased a little bit once I got further into the manuscript because their relationship took on a life of its own. It became real, and it was very different from my relationship with my brother. And so, once I got to the point where I felt like their relationship took on life, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re nothing like each other.’ But knowing that Leonie lost a sibling helped me to really understand her, understand that pain that she basically shies away from dealing with and living with.

You talk about the resilience of Mam and Pop, but I wonder if her cancer is basically her internal grief welling up inside her?

I read an article … that was about health and racism. The article was making the argument that racism is a stressor, and that that stressor affects black people’s health in many different ways, and that when you control for class, that still you see a big difference in the health outcomes for black people at a certain class and health outcomes for white people in a certain class.

That was really striking to me. They’re looking at things like heart disease, like diabetes, like maternal health. They’re looking at things like premature births, and then the health outcomes for the children. The article was really making the argument that racism has lasting effects, health effects on black people. I was thinking about that a lot while I was writing Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Boosie Badazz is more than a rapper, he’s a survivor and he’s cancer-free ‘I was reaching out to the public because I needed prayer; prayer is stronger than anything’

One glimpse at Louisiana rapper Boosie Badazz’s schedule will tell you he’s a businessman on a mission. It’s his everyday battle with cancer and also diabetes that you can’t always see.

What fans witness on any given night of a Boosie performance is an artist who is passionate and dedicated to his craft. But off stage, beyond the bright lights, live mics and the fog of smoky nightclubs, Boosie, given name Torrence Hatch, battles each day to keep going.

There are the doctor’s appointments to ensure the 34-year-old is still cancer-free after being diagnosed with kidney cancer two years ago. There are the daily measures Boosie takes to control his Type 1 diabetes — insulin, three times a day — a regularly scheduled routine since his diagnosis 13 years ago.

He’s also been working overtime in the studio on his latest tracks and celebrating the successes of other artists he has managed, including rapper Yung Bleu, who signed with Columbia Records last month. The entrepreneur has even crossed into the food industry to promote Boosie Juice — his all-natural, strawberry-kiwi-flavored vodka — and pushing the Lil’ Boosie Louisiana Heat potato chips, produced by the Rap Snacks potato chip company. In between business ventures, Boosie is still greeting the fans and delivering high-energy performances to sold-out crowds around the country.

Despite that, Boosie Badazz remains as tough as his moniker and is keeping his health at the forefront.

“Right now, I’m probably healthier than I’ve ever been,” Boosie said by phone. “I’m just trying to stay out here and keep doing what I’m doing, but, you know, the things that I be going through, it just makes me stronger. I never fold. All this s— that come on me … it just makes me stronger. I been going through this my whole life.”

Boosie, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, gained popularity in the early 2000s after signing with Pimp C’s Trill Entertainment. There, Boosie, known as Lil Boosie at the time, collaborated with artist Webbie, and the two released their first hit collaboration album, Ghetto Stories, in 2003. After the popularity of the first album, a second collaboration album, Gangsta Musik, was released the following year. Boosie’s solo album, Bad Azz, was released in 2006.

“My music, it does more than make people jump or bob their heads,” Boosie said. “It touches people. … My fans see me and they cry to me. I’m a friend to my fans, and that’s that different music. You can make music that makes you jump, but you’re gonna get tired of dancing. When you make music that sits with people and make people think, it’s different. I have a crazy following, and my fans love the s— out of me. You can’t tell them nothing about Boosie.”

As Boosie climbed to new heights in his career, trouble soon followed. In 2009, the rapper was jailed and sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to a marijuana possession charge and probation violation. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle drugs into prison, which added eight years to his sentence, according to NOLA.com. His sentencing prompted the social media campaign #FreeBoosie, started for and by fans who believed the rapper’s sentencing was too much. After serving five years, Boosie was released from prison in March 2014 and immediately got back to work as if he’d never stepped out of the scene.

“Jail made me smarter business-wise,” Boosie said. “I had to read books on music. I had to sit back and find ways to make it through. I’m way smarter than I was hood-wise also. I don’t do certain s— that I would’ve done back in the day. Once you get a little older, you wise up. Jail made me sharper and made me a more successful person.”

Boosie’s health scare

Smaller health issues, such as his diabetes, remained in check. But in 2015, the rapper experienced symptoms that were much more serious than he’d ever experienced. Physically, he wasn’t feeling well. Vomiting and weight loss were prevalent. Boosie turned to doctors for answers and requested a magnetic resonance imaging scan in hopes of solving his medical mystery. When the results came back, doctors delivered the crushing news to Boosie that his health problems were a result of kidney cancer. Unwilling to accept the news the first time around, Boosie opted to undergo another scan in hopes that there was an error with the first one.

“When I found out I had it, it was a hard time for me,” Boosie said. “I wasn’t feeling confident at all. I had just lost two aunties and an uncle to cancer. Anything else I’ll take it all head up, but with cancer, I was worried a lot because I had just lost a couple of my people. I ain’t never fight nothing like this. I was losing so much weight. I lost like 20 pounds in 13 days.”

With the news settling in, Boosie, going against the wishes of his label and family members, reached out to his fans. In an Instagram caption, which was later deleted, the rapper asked for prayers.

“I need all my fans to pray for me,” Boosie wrote. “Doctor just told me I have cancer on my kidneys. Prayer is power, that’s why I’m letting the world know prayfaboosie.”

“I was reaching out to the public because I needed prayer,” Boosie said of the moment. “Prayer is stronger than anything.”

Many of Boosie’s 4 million Instagram followers vowed to do as requested while leaving messages of encouragement and support under the rap star’s heartwrenching caption. There were others who not only questioned the authenticity of Boosie’s post but also accused the rapper of fabricating the story and wrote it off as a publicity stunt.

Boosie paused on the other end of the line before letting out a short, heavy sigh. A slight change in the tone of his voice indicated that those accusations still bother him today.

“I was upset when I heard that,” Boosie finally said. “Why would somebody want to go through some crazy m—–f—ing s—t like that? I went against everybody. I went against the label, my family to post that. This s— didn’t need to be in no damn closet. I went and typed it myself that I had just gotten diagnosed with cancer.”

Whether the messages were typed with ill intent, or simply submitted by stunned fans who were in just as much denial as he was about the recent diagnosis, Boosie didn’t care to find out. His health was most important, and surgery would be the next option. Although Boosie tried to remain strong, especially for his children, the ailing star was beset with worry.

“I was praying, but I wasn’t being strong,” Boosie said. “I was letting it worry me so much that it was taking all my weight from me. And the cancer was too. I just kept praying and telling God, ‘Don’t let me die yet.’ ”

A month later, Boosie underwent successful surgery to remove 30 percent of his kidney. Through it all, music remained his constant companion. Three weeks removed from surgery, Boosie remained too weak to walk on his own. So he rolled into the studio, writing music and recording tracks from his wheelchair.

“Well, when I was going through it, that’s when I made the Out My Feelings in My Past mixtape. I had a lot on my chest.”

Today, nearly two years after the grim diagnosis and successful surgery, Boosie continues to live life knowing tomorrow isn’t promised and remains focused on being the best version of himself. Although he admits that exercise could be more of a priority, Boosie takes his required medication to stay balanced.

Boosie is also looking forward to shopping around a movie he’s written about his life story, from birth till now.

“It took about six or seven months to put together,” Boosie said. “I’d write a chapter on the plane, or a chapter in the bed, whenever I could squeeze time in. Life is busy, but what keeps me motivated is giving my kids a better life, a childhood, than I had. Being able to bless them with the life I never had. I’m always there for my kids. That’s what brings a smile to me.”

Through it all, the rapper knows now that he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I used to always say I wanted to change this or that, but everything I go through, that’s what makes Boosie,” he said. “If I hadn’t went through things, then I wouldn’t have had it to talk about on a record. So I just feel like everything happens for a reason. I always feel like that.”

No long-ago hurricane will stop rapper Don Flamingo The Roc Nation artist says his East New Orleans neighborhood is resilient

“This ain’t Kansas,” yells Don Flamingo. He’s in front of his friend’s mother’s house, surveying boarded-up windows and a nearly decimated roof. “A tornado? We never get tornadoes!”

Most of New Orleans’ residents have a name for Hurricane Katrina, the storm that tore through the city in 2005, leaving a path of devastation from which the city is still recovering. They simply call it The Storm. Hurricanes are powerful, lasting tropical storms. Tornadoes are a violently rotating column of air. You say tomato. Katrina is so ingrained in the NOLA collective consciousness that when rapper Don Flamingo, who was raised in New Orleans East, discusses the tornado that ravaged the neighborhoods around his hometown in February, he frequently calls it a hurricane. By force of habit. Little did he know, just a mere six months later, almost to the day, the city would experience its worst flooding in 15 years. The hits, as they say, keep on coming.

New Orleans East is a NOLA suburb sitting east and north of the Mississippi River, making up part of the city’s 9th Ward. There’s no Bourbon Street. No Superdome. No fanfare. So it’s easy to overlook the damage from the strongest tornado to strike New Orleans in its recorded history. That’s where Don Flamingo, real name Donald Allen III, comes in. He made his name on the local independent circuits, rapping at shows and building his name until the folks at Roc Nation came calling.

But Flamingo always comes back home, though rarely is he sure what will be waiting for him when he returns. Don’s childhood home is gone. There’s no damage, no blighted property. Even that would be something. No, the plot of land where his house used to be is just a yard with no trace of a house ever being there. His whole life is unrecognizable, and he wants the world to know about it. And he wants to let the world know his city is built to survive. “This is a resilient city,” he says. “The soul and the togetherness in this city will keep us together and get us through this.”

Flamingo takes The Undefeated on a tour of New Orleans East.

Elderly people in New Orleans getting a lift from Master P The music mogul and entrepreneur helped with food, gifts and building upkeep

Businessman and entrepreneur Percy Miller, known to the hip-hop world as Master P, is no stranger to giving back. His most recent act of kindness was strictly focused on the elderly.

The ultimate self-proclaimed “No Limit Soldier” took time to visit Guste Homes on Tuesday, a residential complex for elderly and low-income people in New Orleans. Miller provided meals to more than 2,000 men and women. He and his team also gave the facility a new flat-screen TV, laptops, chairs, tables and other furniture for its community center.

“I don’t want to forget about the elderly,” Miller said. “These are the people that helped raise and guide us. If we make it, we are supposed to come back, help preserve them, take care of them, cherish and love them. They are our wisdom.”

Miller spent most of his time there helping with some of the indoor painting needed in the facility. According to a press release, he shared a special surprise with Guste Homes residents.

“I noticed that many times the elderly are lonely and barely being visited,” Miller said. “My organization, Team H.O.P.E. NOLA, is focusing on celebrating, thanking and appreciating the elderly by helping beautify their property and most importantly spending time with them.”

Guste Homes CEO Cynthia Wiggins expressed gratitude for Miller and volunteers of Team H.O.P.E. NOLA.

“Thank you for being an example to the community of what success really means by giving back to the community that helped raise you and held you down,” Wiggins said.

Miller and New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Robert Pack created Team H.O.P.E. NOLA to help at-risk youth in New Orleans. Together, their mission involves providing students with “exceptional access to resources, activities and information that will guide their decisions in high school and beyond,” according to the company’s website.

While Miller dedicated this endeavor to the elderly, the community efforts in his hometown are straight from the heart.

Check out Miller in action.

Daily Dose: 7/3/17 Carmelo is ready to leave the Knicks

I’m writing this on a plane, watching a documentary about Allen Iverson, my favorite basketball player of all time. You can expect this to be a very inspired post.

So, President Donald Trump had a pretty eventful weekend. After deciding it was a good idea to openly endorse violence against the media, he doubled down and told the world that one day we would all be forced to acknowledge his accomplishments. Mind you, he’s speaking with quite a few world leaders this week but somehow found the time to drop a Reddit meme on his Twitter feed. Tuesday is Independence Day in the United States of America. Just a reminder of where things are in this nation.

We’ve got another entry into the “things we been done known” category. If you weren’t aware, the specific parts of this nation that make the economy go are typically the most unseen and underappreciated. In other words, the people who do the jobs that some folks think they’re above are beyond vital to making sure that we all can live. So when a new report says Latinos are key to U.S. growth, this is obvious. Because people don’t pay attention to black and brown folks, this is somehow news.

The Essence Festival has come to a close, which means your aunties will have quite a bit to talk about for a couple of months. This year, the homey Mayor Mitch Landrieu showed up and dropped a “stay woke” for the people, Diana Ross reminded the world of how glorious she is and Jill Scott gave us all ‘fro goals for the rest of time. Then, Chance the Rapper hit the stage. One day, when I’m old enough to enjoy this properly, I’m going to do it and do it well. Until then, I’ll read about that life online and wish from afar.

Carmelo Anthony’s life is fascinating. He plays for the New York Knicks but also gets paid a boatload of money to basically just shoot the basketball. He also is married to La La, and that’s come with its own drama. But now, because his team fired Phil Jackson, there’s a thought that he might actually leave New York. Which means he might get to join his close personal friends LeBron James or Chris Paul to hoop wherever he likes. Which means that we might get the banana boat crew back together!

Free Food

Coffee Break: I once met a guy who said that when ordering steak, “anything more cooked than medium rare is uncivilized.” I still laugh at the casual elegance with which he said it, and how he was dead serious in such a matter-of-fact way. Here’s an interesting breakdown of how Americans order their steak. Hint: It’s not a pretty sight.

Snack Time: What if I told you that, in the year of our Lord 2017, Public Enemy was still making music? Would you believe me? Well, you have no choice. Because it’s true.

Dessert: Happy holidays, kiddos.

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”

Instagram Photo

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.