Welcome back, Tiger Woods is coming back to the PGA as a human, not a symbol of his father’s or golf’s hopes and dreams

The father spoke glowingly about his son to anyone who would listen. Once, at an awards dinner in honor of his son, the father issued a bold claim — or, under most circumstances, an asinine boast.

“My heart fills with so much joy when I realize that this young man is going to be able to help so many people,” the father said. “He will transcend this game and bring the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before. The world will be a better place to live in by virtue of his existence and his presence.”

His son would “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.” Limiting the absurdity of such a prediction strictly to sports, that would be more than Arthur Ashe or Jackie Robinson or Jesse Owens. More than Muhammad Ali. The father’s logic (to stretch the definition of the word) was that the son was “more charismatic, more educated and more prepared for this than anyone.”

More charismatic than Ali.

“He is the Chosen One,” the father said, anointing the son who he also said would have more of an impact upon the world than Nelson Mandela.

More impact than Nelson Mandela.

This father isn’t LaVar Ball. His son Lonzo had not yet been conceived when these statements were made. These words uttered in 1996 are the vocal property of one Earl Woods, father of Eldrick Tont Woods or, as first his father and then fame named him — simply Tiger.

Earl Woods was many things at many times. He was a philanderer and, at times, an opportunist. But he loved his son deeply and passionately and believed absolutely in the once-in-a-lifetime talent his son carried on his shoulders. It’s an impossible question to answer, but worthwhile to ponder. Much like Kanye West and his late mother, is so much of Woods’ rudderless time in the past few years toiling between mediocrity, irrelevancy and frustration because his father and his absolute faith is gone?

J.D. Cuban /Allsport

That Woods is not as socially transformative as Ali is as expected as the rising of the sun. That’s just a wild boast into the wind (even if you believe it). It also does not seem possible in this time space continuum that he will eclipse Mandela’s legacy. He is not the Chosen One. And yet.

Woods did try. In the 21 years since those words were uttered, Woods changed the entire culture of golf. There is very little beyond the rules of play left unchanged in his wake. He became a tour de force, the most dominant player of his generation. There is such a thing as Tiger-Proofing and a Tiger Effect. Only Sam Snead has more tournament victories than Woods’ 79 victories, and his attack on Jack Nicklaus’ majors record was thrilling to watch. His father has died — its own complex story. Then Nov. 27, 2009, happened. The fire hydrant crash and all the revelations of all the infidelities obliterated his idealized image. Injuries ground his career to a halt. Then in May, his mug shot from a DUI arrest became as synonymous with his life story as the red polo on Sunday. And yet.

Here we are, as Tiger, almost 42 years old, a father himself, a ghost of the player he once was, embarks on another “return” to competitive golf. And he is still the most captivating name in the sport by a country mile. Tiger is why the 18-man Hero World Challenge is on TV. He’s why, as the 1,180th-ranked golfer in the world, he commands more attention than the 1,179 in front of him combined.

If only the son, in so many ways, hadn’t tried to live up to the prophecy his father set forth for him as if they were the Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth Commandments. If only Woods had known that his father was wrong twice more in that benediction that could also double as a curse. There is no education or preparation for the burden he assumed.


Golf knows it needs Woods back more than Woods needs golf. Young stars such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, immensely talented and superstar golfers in their own regard, have failed to move the needle. There is no post-Tiger plan.

His dominance reverberated around pop culture in a way the game could have never imagined (or desired) for the better part of a decade — portrayed by Sean “Puffy” Combs” in The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” music video and the subject of legendary Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle bits. Not after his statistical tyranny over golf made Babe Ruth’s stats look trivial, even now a decade after injuries and scandal exiled him. And surely not after his game assured him a spot on golf’s Mount Rushmore.

Oh, and Woods unquestionably dominated America’s most segregated sport. Jim Crow didn’t fully perish. It continued to live in country clubs when it could no longer legally claim residency at buses, lunch counters and water fountains. Woods reigned in a sport that drew much of its identity from its exclusion, snobbery, socioeconomic status and walled-off fairways.

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When asked about golf’s history with racism in 1990, a 14-year-old Woods’ answer was telling, cognizant of the world around him and perhaps more prophetic than anything Earl Woods envisioned.

“Every time I go to a major country club I can always feel [racism]. Always sense it. People always staring at me. ‘What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here.’ When I go to Texas or Florida you always feel it,” he said. “They say, ‘What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here.’ And that’s probably because that’s where all the slavery was.” But in his very next statement, there was Earl Woods’ optimism, his aim-for-the-stars mentality shining through in his son. Woods recognized his power. “Since I’m black, it might be even bigger than Jack Nicklaus. I might be even bigger than him. I may be like a sort of Michael Jordan in golf.”

Diversity was an issue in golf long before Woods. That, not even he could change. Nor should that responsibility have sat so squarely on his shoulders.

Golf failed to expand its reach when it had the biggest phenomenon in sports on all the TVs, winning all the trophies and making it look good too.

The game will never see another Tiger Woods. That rare combination of irresistible force and immovable object that shook the game up forever and once made it almost cool. That so-rare combination of power, grace and infinite marketability. But every run has an end, and Woods’ is nearer than any of us would like to admit, even with the excitement of his return to competitive golf.

He returns to golf as a human, not a symbol. He’s a 41-year-old man, not the 26-year-old phenom. That Tiger is dead. At this point, he’s playing for two goals. He mentioned one Tuesday during the Hero World Challenge news conference. He wants his kids to see how good he was, not just through word of mouth and YouTube videos. That their dad was once a pillar of precision and skill in a sport that demands laserlike focus even on bad days. The other one — and this is a hunch, and he’d never admit it anyway — is to go out like Peyton or Kobe. Woods likely won’t eclipse Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, but a 15th would be the nightcap on a career that’s seen meteoric highs and soul-crushing lows.

Throughout Woods’ decade of course destruction, it was never his job to recruit people of color to play more competitive golf. To get the kids, who years earlier would have only been allowed to be caddies, and turn them into the stars of tomorrow. Woods was a window, not a door. Symbolically, he did lead people of color to take up golf in ways they hadn’t in the decade. Diversifying the sport fell in golf’s lap. But here we are, nearly 21 years after Woods became a household name at the Masters, and golf has shown minimal progress in the area. In 2011, Joseph Bramlett became the first player of African-American descent to make the PGA Tour since Woods in 1997.

Much remains the same on the LPGA Tour too. Founded in 1950, only eight black women have played the tour. Althea Gibson and Renee Powell were the first two, Cheyenne Woods (Tiger’s niece) came in 2015, and this year there is Mariah Stackhouse. Many black female golfers at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are up against a lack of avenues to improve their games as programs are slashed. No black woman has ever won an LPGA title.

But beyond the pristine beaches of the Bahamas and the competitive but fraternal bond of the Hero World Challenge, one unsettling question and one certainty looms.

Question: If this is really the beginning of the end of maybe the greatest golfer to ever live, was it all worth it?

Fact: A chunk of this is on Tiger, a chunk on Earl. The great majority, however, falls on golf and how it chose to capitalize on Woods’ glory years and ignore the diversity of the sport long term — determined to keep their chosen one. Woods may still owe a debt to the people closest to him. Golf and all who love it, though, owe him.

The top 16 sports-themed music videos We ranked them on two major factors: song popularity/relevance and the quality of the sports theme acted out

What are the best sports-themed music videos ever created? A simple question, but one that appeared to go unanswered when doing a casual stroll of the internet.

These aren’t videos in which the artist is just wearing a jersey, these are the videos in which a sport is being played.

On Wednesday, Space Jam celebrated its 21st birthday, and from that movie we were blessed with some memorable sports-themed music videos. But that got a few of us at The Undefeated thinking about what would rank as the best sports-themed music video and then what would the rest of the list look like.

Thanks to sports/culture writer Justin Tinsley, strategic analyst Brittany Grant, associate video producer Morgan Moody and audience development editor Marcus Matthews, here’s what we came up with after two days of discussion.

The list ultimately was decided and ranked on two major factors: song popularity/relevance and the quality of the sports theme acted out in the video. Other contributing factors were considered for where songs should be placed.


16. used to This/Future ft. Drake

Both Future and Drake are up there in terms of artists who’ve been putting out hits consistently over the past few years (They have a whole album together, and Future gave us our national anthem, “March Madness.”) That being said, “Used to This” took the last spot because it was essentially “Best I Ever Had.” The only difference was the women who were dressed like they were about to play soccer instead of basketball, and slipping on a jersey and having women stretch for three minutes does not make for a strong sports-themed video.

15. best I Ever Had/Drake

We don’t have to say too much for this song. Yes, “Best I Ever Had” was hot when it came out, but even the actresses in the video said, “All you taught us how to do was stretch.” That “Used to This” kind of took from “Best I Ever Had’s” example of having women in uniforms stretching but not actually playing is the only reason it didn’t come in dead last on this list.

14. space Jam/Quad City DJ’s

We wish somebody would tell us Space Jam had a better video than “Hit ‘Em High.” We would hee-hee and keke like we’ve never done so before in our lives. Just how does the song named after the movie not have a better video? And that was one of the reasons “Space Jam” received such a low ranking.

Crumping on a basketball court and doing a little shoulder shake doesn’t make for a sports-themed music video. If we’re keeping it a stack, the song is kind of riding on the movie’s coattails. The sports portion of the video comes exclusively from snippets of the movie.

Otherwise, we’d have a music video of referees and dancers twerking and break-dancing. Look, if Michael Jackson can play basketball against Michael Jordan, Space Jam could’ve come up with something.

13. jam/Michael Jackson

Jackson made a whole video playing basketball in his dress shoes. He played a short game of H-O-R-S-E against the best basketball player in the world, Michael Jordan, and then he tried to teach Jordan how to dance. Iconic. You had to know that eventually both of the most famous people with the MJ initials would work together, and look at God not disappointing.

Then we come to find out that Jackson is later in the video playing in the 5-on-5 game on that random court inside the warehouse. We have questions, like tons, about why such a pristine court is just chilling in a warehouse.

12. basketball/Kurtis Blow

Kurtis, Kurtis, Kurtis, why were your teammates randomly fighting in the middle of the game? More importantly, why did they decide that instead of your standard square up, they were going to pick kung fu as their fighting technique of choice? Like one of these dudes brought out nunchucks and another had a stick. This is a really violent brawl, and we couldn’t identify anything that happened to warrant all that.

You’ve got dunking in the sky, but the game is being played at night. Just what’s the truth? Kurtis, even you looked confused. The cheerleaders were also mad basic, and if you’re going to have a video start with them, they had at least better be coordinated.

But points were given for the players wearing Converse shoes, maintaining hair throughout all of that action and Blow rapping straight facts about the history of the game.

11. movin’ On/Mya ft. silkk the shocker

Since we’ve mentioned several videos on this list that used cheerleaders as background pieces in their video, consideration was given to Mya doing the inverse in “Movin’ On.” We can argue about whether cheerleading is a sport another day, because at the end of the day, a whole basketball game was being played in the background.

Mya was at peak popularity in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and not only did she not care that home boy scored the game winner, she cheered her life away, gave the most “I can’t be bothered” eye rolls to ol’ boy and then drove off with her new boo. Look up the definition of unfazed in the dictionary and that last 30 seconds of “Movin’ On” will be patiently waiting for you.

10. pop Bottles/Birdman ft. Lil Wayne

Y’all out here drinking champagne with a few seconds left in a close game? Y’all wild. And seeing as that was really the only sports scene acted out in the video, points had to be deducted.

If you just take a second to think about the sheer number of tracks that Wayne was featured on in 2007 and until he released Tha Carter III, the production is crazy. There wasn’t a feature Wayne didn’t like during that stretch.

Now, going back to “Pop Bottles,” most people know that when a sports team wins a championship, the players celebrate by popping bottles of champagne, spraying it on one another — it’s a whole mess. But in a way, since Wayne and his teammates were drinking champagne before he hit the game winner, that tells you just how much confidence they had that they were going to win. We’re talking “Wipe Me Down,” “gas tank on E, but all drinks on me” levels of confidence.

9. basketball/Lil Bow Wow ft. Jermaine Dupri, Fabolous and fundisha

Any video that includes Fabolous making four or five jersey switches deserves an automatic place in the top of any sports-themed music video ranking. And the basketball played in Lil Bow Wow’s cover of Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” was far and away better quality, which is why it received the higher ranking.

That dude playing basketball in Timbs with socks up to his knees nearly knocked this thing down a peg, but fashion in these videos isn’t a deal breaker. The chain-link net also added some points to the overall score.

8. fight Night/Migos

Quite frankly, “Fight Night” couldn’t have had a music video that was anything other than a boxing match. Facts. You’re not going to have a song with that title and talk about Rocky, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and not have the music video showing a boxing match. You’re bugging otherwise.

But that wasn’t the scenario the Migos gave us. The fight looks like it was fought in Las Vegas, they had a weigh-in and news conference, and the main event was spliced together with a dramatic, classic opera score.

During the fight itself, we’re most impressed with how these women’s edge control maintained and how their eyebrows remained fleeky throughout the bout. Wow, their faces withstood water and sweat, so it must have been the tears of God in their setting spray bottles, because their makeup was undefeated in that fight.

7. hardball/Lil’ Bow Wow ft. LiL Wayne, Lil Zane & Sammie

So instead of playing a baseball game on an actual grass field, these cats played on a blacktop diamond in front of fans wearing basketball jerseys to a baseball game. They wore baggy jean shorts and baggy oversized baseball jerseys and sported eye black, which is commonly used in football and, to a lesser degree, baseball. But, hey! At least they had the bat flips down pat.

This song came out in 2001 when Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds were at their respective peaks. Sosa gets a cameo in the video, while Griffey is mentioned throughout the song. So sort of similar to our top pick in terms of a black athlete having a tremendous rise at that time and playing off it.

6. I Don’t F— With You/Big Sean

Big Sean real live threw the ball to the defender on the opening play of the video. That ball was absolutely nowhere near his intended receiver. We hate that the only football-themed video in this list had to start like that.

How was Big Sean the No. 1 recruit in the nation, and with four minutes left on the clock he’s throwing ducks? The plot did not do this video any favors, but after some debate, it was important to remember that, ultimately, he did lead the black team back from a 24-14 deficit with less than four minutes to play. He also hit that O button hard to spin past that would-be tackler for the game-winning touchdown.

Kanye West as your coach, E-40 as the announcer and Teyana Taylor as a cheerleader were all winners for their respective roles in the video. Overall, the cheerleaders didn’t do a whole bunch for the culture as much as the ones in our top five, so the video was docked points for that.

As for the cultural impact, Big Sean just made a song about a mood a lot of people were already on. The song was a whole mood driving, playing sports, for that one co-worker you’ve got. Big Sean really had a banger with this one that anyone could relate to.

5. Hit Em High/B-Real, Coolio, Method Man, LL Cool J And Busta Rhymes

“Hit Em High” was the best song from Space Jam. Don’t @ us. And it was without question the best music video of the songs from that movie. And if for whatever reason you can’t look at that track’s lineup without feeling the need to pick up a basketball and find the nearest blacktop, then we truly have nothing to talk about.

If we had to imagine a theme song and the video to accompany it for the Monstars theme song, this black-and-white video with black-and-white jerseys, a black-and-white court and fans wearing nothing but black-and-white clothes shot with a fisheye lens at points would be it.

We shouldn’t have to spell out Space Jam‘s credentials to y’all, BUT if we must, this movie blended the Looney Tunes (some of the greatest cartoon characters from childhood) with the greatest basketball player of all time (Michael Jordan) and turned out a timeless classic. You didn’t need to know exactly how Jordan was going to win that game, you just needed to know that the man WHO NEVER LOST A SINGLE NBA FINALS wasn’t about to lose in this movie either.

4. take It To Da House/Trick Daddy ft. Trina

A historically black college and university style band to kick-start the video? A full house doing the wave — we cannot tell y’all how much we wish this song came out after the “Swag Surf,” ’cause that is black people’s version of the wave.

Cheerleading captain Trina leading the “Sha walla, walla, sha bang, bang, sha walla, walla, slip-n-side thing, what, what, shut up” cheer? And an epic comeback that’s complete with a missed free throw that is dunked so hard it shatters the glass to win the game.

And the beat slapped? Oh, Trick Daddy DID THAT with “Take it to Da House.”

3. batter Up/Nelly, St. Lunatics

A whole run was scored because of a pit bull intimidating the pitcher and umpire. The national anthem starts: “The fish don’t fry in the kitchen, beans don’t burn on the grill.” The scorekeeper is using the grease from St. Louis-style ribs to keep the score. And the trophy has a gold rim on the top.

We genuinely don’t believe that the video could’ve been any more St. Louis if Nelly had wanted it to. A woman had a weave made of a baseball mitt and baseballs all sewn in, and that wasn’t even the least believable thing in the video.

The twerking on the mascot, oversized pants, outfits made completely of denim and the “U-G-L-Y” chant are perfectly early 2000s.

2. make Em Say Uhh/Master P Ft. Fiend, Silkk The Shocker, Mia X & Mystikal

When I look at this video, I genuinely wonder why in the world it appears Master P is playing against his own teammates. And because part of the ranking is based on the actual sports scene being played out, “Make Em Say Uhh” took a tumble in my original ranking.

However, my co-workers insisted the cultural relevance, the fact that Master P dominated the latter part of the ’90s and, as Morgan Moody put it, “Master P had a tank on a basketball court!” should absolve him of that. I mean, if I don’t question the gold tank in the opening scene and the gorilla, then dunking on your own teammates is forgivable.

Master P also got points for having Shaquille O’Neal in the video going crazy after he alley’d to himself and, as Rembert Browne put it in his 2013 Grantland article, “The best cheerleading section. They make the Compton Clovers look like the cast of Pitch Perfect.” Can’t forget wearing do-rags for street basketball either. That was crucial here.

1. mo Money Mo Problems/The Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, Mase

Mase Gumble as the color commentator, Puffy Woods winning the Bad Boy World Champion PGA Tour, and that spectator was spot on when he said, “He’s unstoppable” before that iconic beat drops.

Forget 10 years later as Puff Daddy (P. Diddy) said in the video, 20 years later, “Mo Money Mo Problems” is still on top. And the fact of the matter is that thanks to “Mo Money Mo Problems,” Notorious B.I.G. achieved two posthumous No. 1 singles. The first was “Hypnotize,” which hit the top of the Billboard charts on May 3, 1997.

First off, Puff went with a golf theme, playing off Tiger Woods’ triumph at the 1997 Masters, so the video won points for going with a sport that black folks aren’t traditionally associated with. Second, Hype Williams is still a genius for the fluorescent-lined tunnel, the pressurized air chamber to which we’re immediately introduced and those dancers high-stepping as the fireworks go off. And if you don’t know the story behind the red leather suits, June Ambrose revealed the conversation that led to Mase and Diddy sporting those bad boys to The FADER in May 2016.

“Listen, without the risk-taking, there are no trends being born. So, I didn’t have a choice. It was my job to forecast what the trends were going to be, not follow them. Did I know that it was going to be such a big hit? Yeah. I knew that it was going to work.”

Daily Dose: 10/27/17 Kellogg’s Corn Pops facing heat for cereal box

All right, y’all, almost to the weekend. I was on Around the Horn on Thursday, breaking records, and Friday afternoon I’ll be on Outside The Lines at 1 p.m. on ESPN. After that, I’ll bring things home on #TheRightTime on ESPN Radio.

Let’s quickly review the American judicial system. When police officers shoot and kill innocent black people, not only do they often get to walk free, but their acts are deleted from their records, allowing them to never face consequences for their recklessness. Now, shifting gears to those who ARE put in jail, their existence is privatized and then celebrated by the president of the United States of America. Literally. Not to mention, some of the officers are plainly stealing from people who are victims of natural disasters. Awesome.

The fate of the Bad Boys franchise is tricky. For years, we’ve been told a third installment of the classic Martin Lawrence and Will Smith movie is forthcoming, with various reboots and relaunches having petered out for various reasons. If you recall, in the second film, Gabrielle Union’s character shows up as Lawrence’s kid sister, who ends up in a romantic relationship with Smith. Now, it appears that Union might be getting her own spin-off, via a TV show, which is actually a way better idea than a third movie, to be honest.

Hip-hop in schools is nothing new. Teachers these days are using the culture in many different ways to educate and enlighten the children of America, but some efforts are better than others. It’s one thing for a couple of songs to help kids learn the Pythagorean theorem, it’s another to have your entire school repped by one of the more vicious raps you’ve ever heard in your life. And this video titled Excellence First is NOTHING BUT FIRE, KIDDOS. Straight bars. Check it out.

I don’t eat Kellogg’s Corn Pops. Ever since I was a child, they never held my interest and just seemed mad boring as a food source in a field crowded with so many more sugar-loaded options. Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the list goes on. But in all honesty, I was more of a Chex and Crispix guy. Anyway, a new controversy is afoot for Pops because of a cereal box cover. There’s a belief that this is racist, even if not by design — which is, of course, always how it happens.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The fascination with The Notorious B.I.G.’s life will probably not end as long as I’m alive, but the stories that keep coming out of his life are fascinating and sometimes scary. Like this tale about him pulling a gun on Lil’ Kim over the fact that she couldn’t do a verse, after he allegedly slept with her sister.

Snack Time: It looks like the Brooklyn Nets are for sale, again. This time, Joseph Tsai, who runs Alibaba, is now taking over a good part of the team. Minority ownership!

Dessert: We’re wishing Gordon Hayward well, and this video of his daughters doing their best to help is adorbs.

Damian Lillard’s second album ‘CONFIRMED’ makes its debut Trail Blazers guard says Dame D.O.L.L.A. has grown as an artist

There is a crown sitting on Damian Lillard’s head as he prays. The Portland Trail Blazers guard is shirtless and wearing a gold rope chain. He has a Rolex on his arm.

This scene on the cover of his album, CONFIRMED, under Lillard’s rapper name Dame D.O.L.L.A., is an ode to three of the greatest rappers of all time: the late Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., and the living legend Nas.

“The crown is a shoutout to Biggie as one of my inspirations in music,” the two-time All-Star said. “The prayers hands is a nod to ‘Pac, my favorite rapper of all time. And the gold rope and Rolex is a nod to Nas, another all-time great who I’m a big fan of and have great respect for.”

Dame D.O.L.L.A’s sophomore album dropped Friday on his independent label, Front Page Music. Scott Storch, Verse Simmons and Huss, among others, are the producers. Lillard’s new single, “Run It Up,” also featured rapper Lil Wayne and debuted last month.

“Working with Lil Wayne is always great. Anything he’s a part of in music will automatically be elevated, so I appreciate his involvement,” Lillard said.

CONFIRMED follows the Oakland, California, native’s successful debut album, The Letter O. Lillard said he has grown as an artist since his first album finished its opening week seventh on the Hip-Hop & R&B charts. Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith offered respect to Lillard, saying he “never thought I would see someone as equally talented [in] hoop and rap.”

“I’ve grown as an artist just by having a better understanding of the sound I’m looking for, more general topics and not so much my personal story, tempo is increased, different flows and just a more comfortable position putting this project together. The process wasn’t new to me,” Lillard said.

Life before Death Row: The brief football career of Suge Knight The scariest man in rap was a star lineman at UNLV — and a scab Los Angeles Ram

Marion “Suge” Knight’s original terrordome was the defensive line. It’s where he starred for four years at Lynwood High School, 20 minutes from Compton, California’s much-loved Tam’s Burgers. Knight faces murder (among other) charges stemming from a January 2015 incident at Tam’s in which he is accused of barreling a Ford F-150 into two men.

Knight’s friend, Terry Carter, 55, was killed. Cle “Bone” Sloan, 51, was injured. All of this followed an argument near a filming location for the 2015 N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. For the better part of three years, Knight has been held at Los Angeles County Jail, where he awaits a January 2018 trial. He is claiming self-defense. “He left the scene,” attorney James Blatt said in February 2015, “because he was in fear for his safety, and life.” Knight has shuffled through more than four attorneys since.

Wealthy white kids at Hollywood high schools were often the target of Knight’s shakedowns when he was at Lynwood. During the early ’80s, however, Knight was far more focused on sports than thugging: He earned letters in track and football all four years.


Harvey Hyde became the head football coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1981. At the time, the UNLV Rebels (recently on the wrong side of the most lopsided college football upset of all time) were new to Division I. The school, established in 1958, had gained national prominence via basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian’s “Runnin’ Rebels” program. It was up to Hyde to make UNLV a two-sport school.

Hyde still calls Marion Knight “Sugar Bear,” Knight’s childhood and neighborhood nickname. They met on a recruiting trip that Hyde made to Los Angeles County’s El Camino Junior College, where Knight excelled in the defensive line’s trenches. The Compton native was 6-foot-2 with big hair and an imposing frame.

“How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

Hyde, a player’s coach, brought Knight to Las Vegas. As a junior, he started at nose guard and defensive tackle and immediately became one of the Rebels’ best defensive players. Knight was voted UNLV’s Rookie of the Year, named defensive captain and won first-team all conference honors. In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

“[Knight] played his butt off,” said Hyde, whose coaching portfolio includes NFL stars Randall Cunningham, Ickey Woods and 2017 Hall of Famer Terrell Davis. “[Knight] was a ‘yes sir, no sir’ guy … the type of player any college football coach would love to have on his team.” Hyde was let go in 1986 after a string of damaging events for the football program, including burglary, the beating by a player of an off-duty policeman, the embezzling of video and stereo equipment, sexual assault and domestic violence, among other issues. Knight, a part-time bouncer at Vegas’ then-hot Cotton Club, wasn’t a blip on Hyde’s disciplinary radar. “He never, ever gave me a problem in any way.”

To many members of the UNLV team, and his close friend Tarkanian, Hyde was the scapegoat for a program he helped save. The lack of institutional control, they believed, wasn’t Hyde’s fault. Hyde has never spoken ill or shifted blame to anyone.

Knight may have been yes-sir-no-sir, but he was side-hustling: Books. Jon Wolfson, who in the early 2000s was a publicist for Death Row Records and is now the manager of Hall and Oates, recalls a conversation he had with Knight about his UNLV days. “He’d say something like, ‘Then I’d play the dumb athlete role and say, ‘Oh, Coach, I lost my books.’ ” The staff never second-guessed Knight, said Wolfson. “They’d give him brand-new books, and he’d sell them to make some extra cash.” Knight enjoyed two impressive seasons at UNLV in 1985 and 1986, lettering in both.

Yet, per Randall Sullivan’s 2003 LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, Knight’s demeanor became more ominous and reclusive during his senior campaign. Visitors from his hometown of Compton were frequently sighted, as Sullivan reported. Knight, too, moved in an apartment by himself, and was seen in several late-model sedans. And his reputation on campus evolved far beyond that of the friendly jokester he was the year before. He seemed a man involved in far more sophisticated situations.

Yet when Wayne Nunnely took over as coach in 1986, Knight’s athletic demeanor apparently remained consistent. “He wasn’t a problem guy at all,” Nunnely told the Las Vegas Sun in 1996. This was three days after Tupac Shakur was shot five times near the Las Vegas Strip by a drive-by assailant who remains unknown. Shakur and Knight were at the intersection of Koval Lane and Flamingo Road. Shakur, of course, died. Knight, by then better known as “Suge,” was then gangsta rap’s unquestioned, unrivaled and undisputed emperor. “You didn’t really see,” said Nunnely, “that street roughness in him.”

The gridiron roughness is something Knight didn’t hesitate to talk about. “I think the most important thing, when you play football,” Knight told comedian Jay Mohr in 2001, shortly after being released from prison for serving half of a nine-year sentence for assault charges stemming from the fight with Orlando Anderson in Vegas’ MGM Grand the night Shakur was shot, “you get the quarterback, you stick your hand in his helmet and peel the skin back off.”

He jokingly suggested, even after selling tens of millions of records and doing nearly a five-year bid, that he could still play in the league. “I think I could strap up and intimidate most of those [guys]. I think we could make a few deals and I’ll be like, ‘OK, look. Lemme get ’bout three, four sacks. I’ll let you get a few blocks. We’ll enjoy it.’ ”

According to teammates, Knight dropped out of UNLV before graduation. By 1987, he was back in Los Angeles. One of the biggest songs on the streets was Eazy-E’s gangsta rap bellwether “Boyz n Da Hood,” which dropped in March of that year. But before turning to hip-hop to plant the seeds of a future empire, Knight had one last gridiron itch to scratch: the National Football League.


The first overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft was Vinny Testaverde, who played until he was 44. The second overall pick was defensive stalwart Cornelius Bennett. There was also current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon and Rod Woodson, the only Hall of Famer from this class. Former University of Oklahoma megastar linebacker Brian Bosworth and future Hall of Famer wide receiver Cris Carter were chosen in the supplemental draft. Marion Knight was not one of the 335 players selected. But the NFL eventually did come calling. The league was desperate.

As documented in the new 30 for 30 film “Year of the Scab,” NFL players went on strike shortly after the start of the 1987 season. Today, football players influenced by exiled Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick fight for their freedom of expression. Thirty years ago, players bucked back at ownership for freedom of agency. In 1982, players went on strike demanding 55 percent of revenue. The 57-day standoff cost the league seven games and $275 million in revenues. And another $50 million returned to networks. While united in both strikes, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) gained little ground in either.

“Free” agency in the 1980s wasn’t the spectacle it is today, with hundreds of players changing teams annually. “This was before free agency,” said veteran Los Angeles Times sports reporter Chris Dufresne. “[NFL players] really were indentured servants. They couldn’t go anywhere!” Players were, for lack of a better phrase, property — bound to teams for life. With rare exceptions, they did move to new teams, although many times those were star players with leverage, a la O.J. Simpson’s 1978 trade to the San Francisco 49ers.

Teams could sign free agents, but the cost was steep. The “Rozelle Rule” stated the NFL commissioner could reward the player’s original team with draft picks, often first-round selections, or players. NFL salaries did rise in the ’80s, primarily because of the brief existence of the United States Football League (an entity that featured team owner Donald Trump) and its willingness to lure NFL players with large contracts. But by 1985, the USFL was defunct. Even that era couldn’t hold a candle to the second strike. “The 1987 Rams season,” said Dufresne, “was the craziest I’ve ever had in journalism.”

In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

Training camp started with star running back Eric Dickerson warring for a new contract. On Aug. 21, 1987, running back and former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, after drug issues that plagued him while with the Cleveland Browns and at USC, was arrested after being found in a field. “[He had a] trash can lid, pretending to be the Trojan Warrior,” Dufresne recalled. “That’s how the summer started.” White led the NFL in rushing that same strike season, with 1,374 yards.

The strike started after Week 3. Players said they wouldn’t show up for Week 4, owners called what they thought was bluff, and then had to scramble to fill rosters with replacement players: former college players, undrafted players, construction workers, bartenders, even ex-cons. Replacement players, otherwise known as “scabs,” were ridiculed.

Somewhat like Faizon Love and Orlando Jones in 2000’s The Replacements, Knight was one of those replacement players. Dufresne, 30 years later, doesn’t recall the future head of a gangsta rap empire. “I have no recollection of Suge being there. I must have seen him,” he said. “[But] why would I remember him? How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

The strike lasted only a few weeks, but it got ugly. It sounds ridiculous to say Knight was bullied, but such was life in the NFL during the 1987 lockout for “scabs.” Knight, a man who would evolve into an intimidating pop culture tour de force, had eggs thrown at him. First-year Rams offensive tackle Robert Cox smashed the window of a van carrying replacement players after union players began rocking the van.

These incidents were common throughout the league. Frustrations were at a boiling point. Once stars such as Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Dorsett, San Francisco’s Joe Montana, the Oakland Raiders’ Howie Long and Seattle’s Steve Largent crossed the line, the NFLPA recognized the ship was sinking. “They had a weak union compared to the baseball union,” Dufresne said. “But the things they were fighting for were real.”

The strike lasted 24 days. Knight officially played two games as a Los Angeles Ram, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and against the Atlanta Falcons. Although Knight’s official stats are all but lost to history, this YouTube video compiled his official NFL stat line: eight plays, zero sacks, zero tackles and one penalty. John Robinson, Rams head coach from 1983-91, said the team had too many bodies that year between union and replacement players. He, too, has no recollection of coaching Knight.

“Suge,” said Dufresne, “was just an anonymous nobody in the surroundings.” The anonymity wouldn’t last long.


In October 1987, as the regular NFL players reported back to work, Knight’s rap sheet ballooned and his boogeyman persona began to take shape. In Los Angeles, Knight was charged with domestic violence after grabbing future ex-wife Sharitha Golden (whom he’d later implicate in Shakur’s murder) by the hair and chopping her ponytail off in the driveway of her mother’s home. That Halloween, he was arrested in Vegas for shooting a man in the wrist and in the leg, and for stealing his Nissan Maxima. With felony charges looming, Knight skated away from any serious penalty in part because of a contrite courtroom appearance and his history in the city as a famed football player. The felonies were reduced to misdemeanors: a $1,000 fine and three years probation. “I shot him with his own gun,” Knight told The Washington Post in 2007.

Three years later, in Vegas once again, he pleaded guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon after pistol-whipping a man with a loaded gun and breaking his jaw. Knight again evaded serious penalty.

Knight by then was immersing himself in the music industry, serving as a bodyguard for superstars such as Bobby Brown. He eventually maneuvered his way into the circles of rappers like The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E. Knight partnered with Dr. Dre to create Death Row Records in 1991. Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic (Death Row/Priority) and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope) the following year became instant pop gospels and solidified Knight and Death Row as not only major players but also undeniable and controversial cultural focal points.

It’s been years since Coach Hyde has seen his former player. He’s not sure if he will again, but, “You can’t get me to say anything negative about Suge Knight,” he said. “Whatever somebody is accused of, he’s still a football player of mine. He’s still part of the family when I was at UNLV.” Hyde pauses momentarily, then continues, “I’m not endorsing all the certain things they accuse him of, because I really don’t know. I have no idea! He doesn’t judge me and I don’t judge him. We just have our old feelings of each other. I just think that’s what it’s all about. You don’t forget people.”

“When I watch the news, it’s like I’m watching someone else,” Jon Wolfson said. “That’s not the guy I know.”

As for Dufresne, he’s not on either side of the aisle. He’s more shocked that Marion Knight, a guy he only mentioned in passing through roster lists, morphed into Suge Knight, the Death Row Records impresario who was once worth more than $100 million. Suge, he recalled, wasn’t the only notorious figure to come about during his time covering the Rams. Darryl Henley, a former cornerback for the Rams (1989-94), was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1995. He is currently serving a 41-year prison term for conspiring to murder the federal judge who presided over his trial, as well as the former Rams cheerleader who testified against him. And the Rams’ 1996 first round pick, running back Lawrence Phillips, received a 31-year sentence for domestic violence, spousal abuse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft and was later charged with first-degree murder of his cellmate. Phillips committed suicide in 2016.

Dufresne recalled the bitterness of rap in the ’90s, the “East/West thing” as he dubbed it. And he remembered the personal sadness that followed Shakur’s murder. Yet, it wasn’t until this phone call where he put one and one together. Marion is Suge. Suge was Marion. Suge Knight was a replacement player during the most untamed year of my career.

“Marion Knight, out of UNLV, who did what a lot of guys did and had a dream to play [in the NFL] and maybe didn’t understand what the players were fighting for, he was just another guy,” he said. He stops, as if he’s shocked. “Little did we know.”

Jay Z — an artist truly made in America — makes his case for an authentic rest of his life From Bun B to Styles P to T.I. — the grown men of rap are having a moment

In May, Jay-Z inked a new $200 million deal with Live Nation. Before this weekend, his last major tour was in 2014 with his wife Beyoncé for their ($100 million-grossing) On The Run excursion. Jay-Z’s return to Made In America, a music festival he founded with Budweiser in 2012, was to be the culmination of a chain of events that started with speculation, leading up to June 30 release of 4:44, about just how much Jay-Z did or didn’t have left in the creative tank.

Rap, historically, has been a young man’s game. Could Jay-Z, at 47, still shift the culture as he’s done countless times before? Could he successfully coexist in a world of Futures and Cardi Bs and Lil Yatchys and Migos — all of whom were either gracing the Made In America stage this year or in years past? Would Jay’s first major solo performance in three years be his next Michael Jordan moment?


Music fans in ponchos attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival, day one on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 2 in Philadelphia.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Sunday morning. On Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street. Jay Z’s new “Meet The Parents” blasts from a black Toyota Avalon. People on the sidewalk rap along — the car’s speakers are an impromptu appetizer for what’s to come later. He can’t explain what he saw / Before his picture went blank / The old man didn’t think / He just followed his instincts,” Jay-Z rhymes at the stoplight. Six shots into his kin / Out of the gun / N—a be a father / You’re killing your sons.”

On that day — before the Labor Day holiday and Night 2 of the sixth annual Budweiser Made In America Festival — a group of friends walking down 20th Street playing cuts from 2009’s Blueprint 3 on their mobile phones. Thousands of iterations of Shawn Corey Carter stared back from T-shirts worn by the crowd that swarmed Ben Franklin Parkway.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables.

And then there was the young man working at UBIQ, a chic sneakers store on chic Walnut Street. Looking like a student from Penn, he said he planned on taking in Jay-Z’s headlining Sunday set. At least for one day at the end of summer, the City of Brotherly Love bled blue, Jigga’s favorite hue. “It’s a skate park like right across the street,” Penn Guy said as cuts from Jay-Z’s lauded 4:44 play from the store’s speakers. “I’ve never seen him live. I’m excited.”

Jay-Z’s return to rap — there’s been no new solo album since 2013’s middle of the pack Magna Carta Holy Grail — has been a summer-long process. First came the rumors of a new album watermarked by mysterious “4:44” signage that covered everything from city buses to websites all across the country. Then, at the last of June came the album itself, which was met with immediate and widespread love. A slew of “footnotes” — videos, conversations between people such as Chris Rock, Tiffany Haddish, Will Smith, Jerrod Carmichael, Chris Paul and more — followed, which detailed the album’s creation and inspirations.

From there, in mid-August, the most-talked-about music interview of the year showcased Jay-Z alongside Tidal and Rap Radar’s Elliott Wilson and Epic Records and Rap Radar’s Brian “B.Dot” Miller. The podcast left no stone unturned. In a two-part, 120-minute conversation, they peeled back layers of Jay-Z’s thought processes about music, life, love, motivation, depression and, even LaVar Ball.

On the heels of that talk, and through a Saturday of unseasonal chilly downpours, Jay-Z and Beyoncé watched a new generation of stars command muddy crowds. Family from both sides of the Carter-Knowles union cheered Solange on through her Saturday set. Was may well have been a kind of moment Jay-Z envisioned throughout the recording of 4:44. At 47, he had to wonder about his creative mortality, and if he could shift the culture as he’d done so many times before.


Bun B performs onstage at The Fader Fort presented by Converse during SXSW on March 16, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball said it: “Y’all outdated, man. Don’t nobody listen to Nas anymore […] Real hip-hop is Migos, Future.”

On one hand, it’s difficult to fault a 19-year-old for backing the music of his youth. Younger generations of artists and fans alike have always bucked back at generations who view their contributions as destructive. Tupac Shakur openly dissed De La Soul on 1996’s seething battle record “Against All Odds:” All you old n– tryna advance/ It’s all over now take it like a man/ N– lookin’ like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick/ Tryna playa hate on my s–, eat a fat d–. And only weeks before he was murdered, The Notorious B.I.G. vowed to never rap past 30. On the other hand though? Right now is a particularly good time for a handful of statesmen who dominated hip-hop before Big Baller Brand was just a twinkle in Lavar Ball’s eye.

How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, he’s hip-hop’s them.

Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P (and their soundman, Trackstar the DJ) have consistently been one of the decade’s most impactful groups. They tour the world — and, in particular, amassed a melting pot crowd of various races and ages moshing at the Sunday Made In America set. Nas’ 2012 Life Is Good is, in many ways, rap’s interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, and one of the great late-career albums from any MC. OutKast’s 2014 tour was weird, but Big Boi of OutKast has quietly been responsible for several stellar albums — 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors and 2017’s Boomiverse — in this decade alone.

Jay-Z wasn’t the only artist in the pre-Lonzo Ball era displaying moments of clarity over the last few years either. A handful of hip-hop’s mature and notable names have been creating art and expressing — via conversation and on social media — everything from encounters with their own mortality to the pain and occasional beauty of survivor’s remorse.

Rice University instructor Bernard “Bun B” Freeman (currently working with Beyoncé and Scooter Braun on a telethon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey), one half of the legendary Port Arthur, Texas, rap group UGK, sat down with Queens, New York’s own N.O.R.E. for an installment of the MC’s popular Drink Champs podcast. Per tradition, both parties swap hip-hop war stories and imbibe for the better part of two hours. The most emotional segment centered around memories of Freeman’s partner in rhyme, Pimp C, who died in 2007.

“The illest s— Pimp [C] ever said was ‘I don’t need bodyguards. I just need mighty God.’ Ever since he said that, and I never told him, I move like that,” Freeman said. A single tear streamed down the right side of his face. “If you wasn’t moving with me within God, I’ll just move by myself. That’s the way life should be.” He continued, “If you are who you say you are, and you’re honoring that in a real way, you can move anywhere in this world. Pimp and I are proof of that.”

When it comes to honoring a fallen comrade, T.I. (who was not feeling Lonzo’s comments) understands all too well. In May 2006, T.I’s best friend Philant Johnson was murdered in Cincinnati following a drive-by shooting. Phil, is inspiration behind T.I.’s massive Justin Timberlake-assisted single “Dead & Gone.” Phil had been by T.I.’s side that same evening — holding his mobile while the rapper performed. Hours later, his lifelong friend lay bleeding to death in his arms. “I told him I had him, and it was going to be all right,” T.I. told MTV in 2006. “That was what I said. And he said, ‘All right.’”

The death could be viewed as the trigger that disrupted T.I.’s massive mid-2000s success. His 2007 weapons arrest and subsequent incarceration was seen by many as a response to Johnson’s murder. T.I. contemplated quitting rap. But T.I.’s moved forward. While not at just this minute the Billboard and box office star he split time as a decade ago, the film producer, actor, and two-time Grammy winner born Clifford Harris is still a recognizable figure in rap. Particularly on his very active Instagram account.

Instagram Photo

Last month, Tip (a father to six who is who has experienced his own share of public marital ups and downs with singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris) posted the video of him presenting Phil’s daughter with a new car. She’s now a high school senior. In a heartfelt caption, Tip used the moment as a social media therapy session. “Making straight A’s and maintaining a 3.8 GPA, all the way through school, staying away from all the things we were eyeball deep in when we was her age, & doing any & everything that’s EVER been asked since you left,” he wrote. “How can we not make sure she rides cool & in comfort her senior year? We miss you more than we can express…but we fill in for you everyday until it’s all said and done.”

He promised to send her to college. And that she’d never suffer for anything. It was more than an Instagram caption. It was remaining true to a promise to a man who died in his arms 11 years ago. “Our loyalty lives forever!”

Lastly, it’s Styles P — one-third of ’90s Bad Boy trailblazers The LOX. He and his wife, Adjua Styles, visited Power 105’s The Breakfast Club in August. Among other things, the couple discussed the benefits of healthy eating, and Charlottesville, Virginia. They also talked about their daughter’s suicide.

It’s what performances like these are masked for—regular season games for a championship run.

In June 2015, Styles P’s stepdaughter, Tai Hing, took her own life. She was 20. Styles P addressed the tragedy a month later via Instagram, detailing the difficulty he and his family faced, and would face. Hing’s death, her mother believes, could have been the boiling point of depression, issues with her biological father, and perhaps her sexuality.

Fighting back tears, Styles P was emotional about never having been able to take the place of Hing’s biological father. The dynamic bothered him deeply, but was beginning to understand as he, himself, was a product of a similar situation. “If we knew she was depressed she would’ve been home with us,” he said. “ We all deal with depression on some sort of level … You expect your child to bury you, not to bury your child.”

Honesty has always been a prerequisite for hip-hop in its most soul-piercing form. Beyond the flash, the lights and the flossing, at its core, rap was necessary to explain the fears, dreams, joys and pains of a people so often still struggling. And dealing with police brutality, poverty, misogyny, and more. So Styles P’s pain, T.I.’s memories, Bun B’s instructions from Pimp C, and Jay-Z’s vulnerability aren’t new grounds for rap. But their grief, and willingness to shred the cloak of invincibility rap often mirages is living proof of the power behind the quote a wise man said nearly a decade ago. Ain’t no shame in holding onto grief. As long as you make room for other things, too.


Music fans attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival – Day 2 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 3, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

The weather Sunday proved to be Mr. Hyde to the Saturday’s Dr. Jekyll. The only visible fingerprint from Saturday was the mud that essentially became a graveyard for shoes. Jerseys were popular with the crowd. UNC Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. Cavaliers, Heat and St. Vincent-St. Mary LeBron. Sonics and Warriors Durant. Nuggets Jalen Rose, Sixers Ben Simmons. Lakers Kobe, and Hornets Glen Rice. UCLA Russell Westbrook, and Lonzo Ball. Arizona State James Harden, University of California Marshawn Lynch, Niners Colin Kaepernick, LSU Odell Beckham and Georgetown Allen Iverson. Obscure jerseys such as Aaliyah’s MTV Rock n’ Jock and Ray Finkle’s Dolphins jersey (from the 1994 Jim Carrey-led comedy classic Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) were sprinkled among the sea of thousands.

Afternoon sluggishly careened into evening. 21 Savage, Run The Jewels and The Chainsmokers all commanded large crowds. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from The Wire dapped up fans. Hometown young guns Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers walked through the crowd. Festivalgoers camped near the main stage for hours in hopes of landing an ideal viewing spot for Jay-Z’s performance. To pass time, cyphers were had. Weed smoke reclined in the air. Guts from dutches and cigarillos were dumped. All to pass the time.

Months ago, many, especially on Twitter, wanted to act like Jay-Z wasn’t a headliner. No one even saw an album coming. Now here they were minutes from history. That’s what Jay-Z is in 2017. How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson — Jay-Z is hip-hop’s them. He’s a throwback to the genre’s yesterday lyricism while embracing the newer generation he still attempts to impart game on and learn from.

The oversized Balloon Dog by famed sculptor Jeff Koons took the stage: It was time. “I’ve been waiting for this all summer,” one concertgoer said as he wrapped his arms around his girlfriend. “I know one thing, Jay better do the songs I wanna hear!” demanded another young woman.

So he did. Jay-Z’s set lasted nearly an hour and a half. He blended 4:44 cuts with classics from his catalog — the radio-friendly and the graphic street narratives. Jay-Z commanded of the crowd, but critiques did exist.

In his Rap Radar interview, Jay-Z mentioned that he was still toying around with the set list for his upcoming tour (slated to start in October). While it’s not a question to 4:44’s quality, Jay-Z weaving in old classics such as “Where I’m From,” “H to the Izzo,” “N—as In Paris,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Hard Knock Life,” “Run This Town,” “Empire State of Mind” and “Heart of City” captivated the crowd, cuts from his most recent album seemed to dissipate from the energy those helped muster. 4:44, after all, does not have a big radio single.

4:44 is Jay-Z’s most personal album to date. His thirteenth solo effort revolves around the complexities of his marriage, his mother’s sexuality and societal issues that continue to create systematic disadvantages for people of color. Its intimacy can get lost in an outdoor crowd of tens of thousands. For an album of that nature, it’s tough to ask even Jay-Z to plan for such.

Breath control was expected to be off-center in his first major performance in three years — though coaxing the crowd to sing Beyoncé happy birthday was a great diversion. Are these flaws that will doom his upcoming tour? No. He still has three more festivals on deck before setting sail on his own on Oct. 27. It’s what performances like these are made for — regular-season games for a championship run.

“It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” a concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.”

Jay-Z performs at Budweiser Made in America festival on Sept. 3 in Philadelphia.

Arik McArthur/FilmMagic

Jay-Z’s catalog: a litany of hits he can employ at any time to wrap a crowd around his fingers. People filmed Instagram and Snapchat videos of themselves rapping along. People yelled to him from the back of crowd as if it were a Sunday service. And cyphers between friends sprouted everywhere. Another element Jay-Z kills with is the element of surprise. He concluded the show with a tribute to Coldplay’s Chester Bennington, who committed suicide in July: an inspired performance of his Black Album single “Encore.”

As he left the stage, crowds swarmed to the exit. Some concertgoers voiced their displeasure. Jay-Z did his thing in the 90 minutes he gave Philly. But there was still something missing. “That’s it? He didn’t even do half of the songs I wanted,” said a girl as she walked toward the exit. “It was aight, I guess. It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” another concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.” Made In America was over.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables. Some slipped in the mud trying to get there, ruining their clothes, but those concerns were faint. Hundreds were already on the street heading back to their apartments, AirBnB’s or Ubers when Jay-Z informed Philly that the party wasn’t over yet. This set was only for his “Day Ones.”

Jay pulled his “Pump It Up Freestyle” out his back pocket. This bled into “Best of Me,” “I Know,” “Hola Hovito,” “Money Ain’t A Thing” and more. Hometown kid Meek Mill’s guest appearance gave an already frenetic crowd an HGH-sized boost of adrenaline as the rapper ran through his catalog’s zenith and most intense track, 2012’s “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro).”

As Jay-Z closed the second set with [his favorite track], “Allure,” the mood was ceremoniously serene. Michael Jordan finished with 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting in his first game back in versus Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in 1995. The 21 misses are footnotes in history. It’s a moment everyone remembers for two simple words: “I’m back.” Grown as hell, Jay-Z is too.

Timbaland on Missy Elliott’s ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ and how hip-hop got its groove back The Grammy-winning producer reflects on the songs that made Missy’s debut a classic

“I made hits with Total, Madonna and so many more,” says Tim “Timbaland” Mosley. “But far as chemistry? That just don’t come. Me and Jay[-Z] got it. Justin [Timberlake] too. Of course, Missy. When you think about it, it’s not a lot of people.”

The Grammy-winning Timbo is busy being an “architect” on the ABC competition show, Boy Band, but there’s always, always time to talk about the music. Especially when it involves his longtime friend and musical soulmate Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. Collaboration creates hits. But chemistry? That’s the ingredient from which classics are built.

Mention Missy’s genre-bending debut Supa Dupa Fly turning 20 this week — Rolling Stone named it one of the 100 best albums of the ’90s — and you can just about feel the twinkle in Timbo’s eyes over the phone. “We did our job. We impacted the world,” he says proudly. He goes silent for a second. It’s long enough, though, to get that he realizes the magnitude of the achievement. “We made history.” He won’t go as far to say they shifted the culture. “But we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.”

“We made history … we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.” — Timbaland

Missy and Tim are but one in a line of Siamese twin-like creative musical partnerships: Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Nas and DJ Premier, Big Boi and Andre 3000 of OutKast and Organized Noise, and, in more recent years, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib. Missy and Tim are bound by creativity and trains of thought best described as “outside the box.” And by ZIP codes as well. Missy, a Portsmouth native, and Tim, from Norfolk, hail from the Seven Cities region of Virginia — an area Teddy Riley helped put on the map, and one Missy and Timbaland (along with The Neptunes) stamped as a songful hotbed between the musical metropolises of New York City and Atlanta.

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy, the visionary who wrote just about everything save a song or two from Timbaland mainstay Magoo, weren’t looking to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997. The officially unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. in 1996 and 1997, respectively, hovered over the scene. Shakur and Biggie’s music still dominated airwaves, and their videos were on constant circulation on MTV and the now-defunct The Box. Missy attended the Vibe after-party after which Biggie was murdered. “We were young,” says Timbaland. But Missy remained steadfastly focused on her songwriting even in the midst of an industrywide depression. “Her whole thing,” said Timbaland, “was, ‘I gotta do this and make it fun.’ ”


Supa Dupa Fly almost never got off the ground. Famously shy, Missy Elliott was content behind the scenes. She’d already crafted a name for herself with composer credits on works from artists like Jodeci, Gina Thompson, New Edition, 702, Ginuwine and more. She and Timbaland were the chief architects of Aaliyah’s 1996 double-platinum masterpiece, One In A Million.

A frame from Missy Elliot’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” video

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

But the occasional times Elliott stepped in front of a mic or camera, the entire music industry took notice. Sean Combs had positioned himself as the hip-hop King Midas, but Missy’s scene-stealing appearances on Thompson’s “The Things You Do (Remix)” (see below) and 702’s “Steelo” proved she was of the same crossover caliber. Her sound and wardrobe were unique, appealing and new. Her hip-hop Michelin Woman look shocked the world.

“Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends” as we called ourselves when we did a record together.

Missy’s dream was to own an imprint and build her own crew of artists. The idea was a brilliant one as far as then-head of Elektra Records, Sylvia Rhone, was concerned. But under one condition: that Missy release a solo album of her own. “People think I did this for the money, but I was comfortable just writing for people,” Missy told SPIN in 1997. “And I mean really comfortable.”

Missy’s debut peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. She immediately became a bona fide star. And 20 years later, it still sounds ahead of its time: a gumbo of hip-hop, R&B, soul and dance. She and Timbaland’s musical, lyrical and stylistic vision was free and futuristic and helped make Missy a clubhouse leader in evolving discussions around feminism.

Missy’s body-positive and sex-positive lyrics thrived alongside the overt sensual raunchiness of Lil Kim. I’m the stewardess of the plane / Feel the turbulence and maintain, she coos on “Friendly Skies.” Please refrain and stay in your seats / Until we reach the gate. She didn’t need a plane to join the “mile-high club.” She was the club.

“It was a girl power thing … She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed.” — Timbaland

In 1997, Entertainment Weekly dubbed Missy and the album “a wickedly innovative singer-rapper who favors expansive song structures and trip-hoppy textures. In the process, she creates an evocative space-age soul all her own.” SPIN said Supa could become “the most influential album since Dr. Dre’s The Chronic” and “everything here has ‘hit’ stamped all over it.” And a year before Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation declared her independence and became a blueprint for the matriarchal fusion of rap and singing, All Music Guide called Missy’s premiere project “the most influential album ever released by a female hip-hop artist” and spoke of its “tremendous impact on hip-hop, and an even bigger one on R&B, as its futuristic, nearly experimental style became the de facto sound of urban radio at the close of the millennium.”

Ahead of the album’s anniversary on Saturday, and Friday’s vinyl re-release, The Undefeated caught up with Timbaland. The legendary producer breaks down Supa Dupa Fly’s standout cuts as well his own memories of how the album Missy originally didn’t want to record changed their lives.


If Missy was going to be “forced” to do her own solo project, best believe she’d bring her friends along with her for the ride.

“Sock It 2 Me” feat. Da Brat

Timbaland: Da Brat is one of her good friends. They’re still best friends to this day. She wanted it to be like an all-girls thing. Like, ‘These are the top girls.’ It was about hooking up with women that were creative like her. She always looked at it that way. She always made friends with other women who were doing it like her. It was a girl power thing. Even when Eve came out, Missy was like, ‘That girl Eve is hot!’ She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed. And she championed hard.


For “Not Tonight,” Missy links up with one of her closest friends in the industry: Lil Kim.

“Hit ’Em Wit Da Hee” feat. Lil Kim & Mocha

Timbaland: Oh, now that was dope! When we did that we [were] in New York. Missy was always cool with Kim. She always wanted to do songs with her friends. Mary J. Blige was her friend. Lil Kim was like the closest. When Missy heard [the beat for] “Hit ’Em With The Hee,” she was like, “I’ma get Lil Kim on this.” It was more like just getting her girls together. Watching her do that and watching her have so much fun, I don’t think the record had any intentions. Missy just wanted to make Missy music and make the world be like, ‘Whoa!’


The record not only changed the sound of hip-hop and R&B in 1997, it changed Missy’s life altogether.

“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”

Timbaland: That one I was going through my keyboard and I had this little loop. Missy was like, ‘What’s that?! That’s dope!!’ And I just kept doing it. Then I just put the bass line in it and she just started going off! ‘This about to be crazy!’ Next thing you know, ‘All right, all right, y’all gotta get out.’ I’m like, ‘Gahhh, damn!’ But we kinda created that one kinda together. Missy knew it was gonna be a hit the moment she heard the beat. We were both hype. After that, she took it to the radio station. I remember it was DJ Al B. Sylk, back in the day. She took it up there to 103 JAMZ [Norfolk’s WOWI-FM 102.9]. She was hype about that record. That was like one of the first records. And then after that, she tapped into a zone.


Timbaland dubs this duet one of the more underrated cuts on Supa Dupa Fly. It’s tough to argue its staying power either, with artists such as Bryson Tiller sampling it for last year’s “Let Me Explain,” and Drake sampled it for 2009’s “Bria’s Interlude” from his landmark mixtape, So Far Gone.

“Friendly Skies” feat. Ginuwine

Timbaland: If you’re from Virginia, man, it was about being in the studio. That may be how kids do it now, but they also do it a little differently. We just had fun. I think when I do the track it made them feel a certain way. Both of them [Missy and Ginuwine] start, they’re laughing, and once again I’m getting kicked out the room (laughs). I come back in and the song is done (laughs). And I’m like, ‘Oh this is dope,’ but I’m like, ‘Change this, change that.’

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy didn’t seek to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997.

That’s how it usually is, and it’s cool for me that way. It gave me time to go play my PlayStation. And if I’m in the studio [when they’re recording], I’ma critique it. … I put so much time into the music part, making sure that their emotions are there. I gotta walk away. I can’t really pay attention to how they write the song. It’s hard, but it’s kinda good she kicked me out. But also, I’d probably walk out. I want to hear what emotions they came up with versus what I was feeling.


Missy and Aaliyah — so much potential. While not their most famous collaboration, “Best Friend” is Missy and Aaliyah’s most personal duet.

“Best Friend” feat. Aaliyah

Timbaland: How we vibed in the studio, we was family! Missy and Aaliyah had a very close bond. Missy is a person who is fun and jokes around. Aaliyah was the same way. She could make you laugh all the time. So “Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends,” as we called ourselves when we did a record together. Missy just made the title “Best Friend.” When I created music, she’d go in her own space and create lyrics. She don’t talk about it. She kicked me out the room! (laughs)


Music is defined by its eras, but more truly by those who dominated them. It’s why Def Jam, Death Row, Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella, Cash Money, No Limit and now October’s Very Own and Top Dawg Entertainment have such a fascinating hold on cultural history. The conglomerate of Missy, Timbaland, Magoo, Aaliyah and the late Static Major never had an official name. But their output is on par with the best of the best.

“We did stuff with feeling,” said Timbaland. “We know how we felt from a small place called Virginia. We knew if it felt overjoyous to us … it would flow to other people … We didn’t know how big it was gonna be, but we knew we had a sound.”

JAY-Z responds to Beyoncé and other news of the week The Week That Was June 26-30

Monday 06.26.17

The 2017 BET Awards finally ended at midnight ET. Following a dust-up between rappers Migos and Joe Budden at the awards show, adult film star Brian Pumper tweeted he “woulda smacked fire outta all 3 of the migos.” After meeting Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas two years ago, NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson told Thomas he loved his game and then went to a spades tournament. Despite being rated the worst point guard defender in the NBA, Thomas received a vote for the All-Defensive teams. For the first time in Pew Research Center history, a majority of Republicans do not oppose same-sex marriage. White House adviser Ivanka Trump, who holds a political position, said she tries “to stay out of politics.” In “of course it was Mississippi” news, a historical marker commemorating teenager Emmett Till, who was kidnapped and lynched, was vandalized. The White House Twitter account sent out a graphic stating that Obamacare was supposed to cover over 23 million Americans by 2017 but has only reached 10 million, saying the Obama administration was “off by 100%.” Tiger blood enthusiast Charlie Sheen is auctioning off Babe Ruth’s championship ring; the bidding has surpassed $600,000. A group that opposes the GOP-authored health care reform bill flew a banner over the West Virginia state capitol targeting Sen. Dean Heller, the only problem being that Heller is a senator from Nevada. Taylor Swift sent a congratulatory video message to NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, jokingly acknowledging that she taught Westbrook how to play basketball, dribble, and “shoot hoops.” The father of loudmouth parent LaVar Ball agrees with his son that he could’ve beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one. Later that day, LaVar Ball appeared on WWE’s Monday Night Raw with his sons, 15-year-old LaMelo and 19-year-old Lonzo; LaMelo yelled “beat that n—-s a–” twice into a live microphone.

Tuesday 06.27.17

The fiance of Grammy award-winning singer Jennifer Hudson wants to wrestle LaVar Ball. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who three months ago said Americans would have to choose between the new iPhone or health care, believes members of Congress should be given a $2,500 housing allowance. Seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe kept his foot in his mouth by refusing to apologize for comments made about 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams. A state-run news agency in North Korea has deemed President Donald Trump’s “America First” initiative “Nazism in the 21st Century.” Elsewhere in Asia, Netflix comedy BoJack Horseman has been pulled from a Chinese streaming service due to violating a government regulation surrounding TV content. Former NFL quarterback Vince Young, upset about not being given another chance in the league, called out Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: “He leads the league in interceptions, and he’s still f—ing getting paid? I mean, what the f— is going on?” Two South Carolina inmates serving life sentences said they killed four of their blockmates, hoping to be put on death row; the duo lured the four inmates into their cell with promises of coffee, cookies and drugs. Women dressed as characters from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale — based on a 1985 book about a totalitarian U.S. government — protested the GOP health care bill outside the U.S. Capitol building. Despite his spokesman saying otherwise just one week ago, comedian Bill Cosby denied that he is conducting a speaking tour about sexual assault, stating that “the current propaganda that I am going to conduct a sexual assault tour is false.” A previously recorded song featuring noted feminists Chris Brown, Tyga and R. Kelly was released by a German production team. A Georgetown University study found that Americans view black girls as “less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers”; the researchers said this can lead to harsher punishments and fewer mentorship opportunities. A charity fund for a South Bronx, New York, community, created by the New York Yankees in response to the club taking over 25 acres of parkland for its new stadium, has donated just 30 percent of its funds to charities in the same ZIP code as the stadium. A fake March 2009 Time magazine cover of Trump — with the headline “Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” — is featured in at least four of the president’s golf courses; the Time television critic at the time tweeted “if I had called The Apprentice’s ratings a “smash” in 2009, I would’ve had to resign in disgrace.”

Wednesday 06.28.17

President Trump accused Amazon or The Washington Post, the latter of which was responsible for unearthing the fake Time cover, of not paying “internet taxes” despite “internet taxes” not being a real thing. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson was fired on his day off. Philadelphia Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount could earn $50,000 for not being fat. Former NFL running back Clinton Portis once considered murdering his former business managers. Despite many reports claiming that NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest last season divided the San Francisco 49ers locker room, former 49ers coach Chip Kelly said “it never was a distraction.” No big deal, but there was a computer systems breach at at least one U.S. nuclear power plant. Former adult film star Jenna Jameson, in response to a Playboy columnist getting into a heated argument with deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday, said that the notorious magazine “thought it was a good idea to remove the nudity from their failing publication, I have to say they lost credibility”; Jameson added that Playboy should “have a seat.” Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, for some reason, joined the Chicago Cubs during their visit to the White House; Trump called Gilbert “a great friend of mine. Big supporter and great guy.” Not to be outdone, the Atlanta Hawks announced plans to incorporate a courtside bar in its arena. Two years after barricading themselves in the home of center DeAndre Jordan, the Los Angeles Clippers traded All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets and are now left with just Jordan. At 12:32 p.m. ET, a report came out that one of the reasons Paul left Los Angeles was because of coach Doc Rivers’ relationship with son and Clippers guard Austin; at 2:04 p.m., Austin Rivers tweeted “Dam….cp3 really dipped, was looking forward to lining up with u next year. Learned a lot from u tho bro. One of the best basketball minds.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who proposed the housing stipend for lawmakers, will join Fox News as a contributor once he resigns from congress. Later in the day, Fox News shockingly released a poll that found that 52 percent of voters view the Affordable Care Act “positively.” Danielle Bregoli Peskowitz, the 14-year-old Florida girl responsible for the “Cash me ousside, how bow dah” meme, pleaded guilty to “grand theft, filing a false police report, and possession of marijuana.”

Thursday 06.29.17

President Trump attacked MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski on Twitter, calling the Morning Joe co-host “low I.Q.,” “crazy,” and accused her of “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” Brzezinski shot back with her own tweet, posting a photo of a Cheerios box with the text “Made for little hands.” First lady Melania Trump, who once said she would take up anti-cyberbullying as an official initiative, had her spokesman release a statement: “As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.” Twitter, fresh off of giving its users another update they didn’t ask for, is reportedly working on a prototype that would allow users to flag “fake news”; there was no mention of how CNN, ABC, NBC, and the New York Times and Washington Post might be affected. Proving the old adage that if first you don’t succeed, try again (and again): Trump’s travel plan partially went into effect. A Trump supporter with “Proud American” and “Love my Country” in her Twitter bio mistakenly used the Liberian flag emoji while professing to make America great again. A Fox News commentator quipped “we’re all gonna die” in response to Democrats charging that thousands will die from the GOP health care bill. A Maryland man who worked for the liquor control department, along with another man, stole over $21,000 worth of alcohol from trucks parked at a department of the liquor control warehouse. Recently acquired Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler gave out his phone number to reporters at his introductory press conference. Three Vanderbilt football players were suspended after their roles in an incident earlier this week that resulted in two of the players being shot at a Target; police say the football players brought a pellet gun to a gunfight over a stolen cellphone. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch completed a beach workout in pants and boots. The New York Knicks, fresh off of firing president of basketball operations Phil Jackson, misspelled the last name of first-round draft pick Frank Ntilikina, whom Jackson was responsible for drafting. A fitness trainer who has worked with Kim Kardashian put Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on a 4,800-calories-a-day diet to help lose weight. Habitual cultural appropriators Kylie and Kendall Jenner, the latter of woke Pepsi fame, apologized for selling $125 T-shirts with their faces superimposed over late rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. A Republican opposition researcher who claimed he worked for former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted Russian hackers about then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.

FRIDAY 06.30.17

Hip-hop star JAY-Z released his 13th studio album, 4:44, with one song mentioning singer Eric Benet’s past infidelity with former wife Halle Berry; Benet, who remarried in 2011, and was in no way forced to by his wife, tweeted back “Hey yo #Jayz! Just so ya know, I got the baddest girl in the world as my wife….like right now!” President Trump, who said in a tweet on Thursday that he didn’t watch MSNBC’s Morning Joe, tweeted that he watched Morning Joe. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) criticized the president’s tweet about Mika Brzezinski on Thursday, and then tweeted that he supports repealing the Affordable Care Act without a readily available replacement. UCLA will receive a $15 million signing bonus on top of its $280 million deal with Under Armour; the school’s student-athletes will receive a zero percent cut. New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman works on his catching skills by playing with rice. Rapper Nicki Minaj, not content with using only Dwyane Wade for sports references, used rarely known New York Giants punter Brad Wing in one of her lyrics: “I’m land the jump, Yao Ming the dunk/And I’m playing the field, Brad Wing the punt.” The Miami-Dade Public Defender’s office is challenging the constitutionality of a law that makes pointing a finger like a gun at a police officer a crime. In other JAY-Z news, Merriam-Webster dictionary made “fidelity” its word of the day. At least three people were shot at a New York City hospital.

‘4:44’ is a Shawn Carter album. JAY-Z is dead Love, betrayal, shame, survival: JAY-Z hits the ball out of the park with intensely personal new album

These moments don’t happen. Hip-hop is a young man’s game. But for one night, the music universe revolved around JAY-Z, the sport’s finest elder statesman, with the release of his 13th studio album, 4:44.

The 10-track 4:44 is the most emotionally taxing project of JAY’s (he’s back to all caps) career. Ernest “No I.D.” Wilson, who produced JAY’s 2009 “Run This Town” and “Death of Autotune,” as well as 2007’s “Success,” among others, is the album’s lone producer, and he is irreplaceable. No I.D.’s music is more than just “beats,” or instrumentals. Without No I.D.’s soulful backdrops (inspired by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone, Kool & The Gang and more), 4:44 might lack the emotional connection it not only thrives on but quite literally survives on. But in the end it is JAY’s inward glimpse of himself — the man he was, the man he’s become, the man he grew to partially hate — that separates this album from his previous bodies of work.

Yet, where 4:44 will land in the rankings of JAY-Z’s catalog is a question better left for time. Off the rip, though, this is the greatest rapper of all time stripping himself down to essentials. It’s the project fans and critics have clamored for, for years: the authentic Jay Z. The desire has been for him to curb the flaunting of luxuries and come with the real on what it’s like to be one of the most successful people in the world — and also one of its most haunted.

But the writing had been on the wall. With his wife, Beyoncé, and his sister-in-law, Solange, using their last albums for their most personal work, it’s no surprise 4:44 unmasks itself as JAY at his emotional and creative zenith.


Fourteen months ago, and 10 days before the release of Beyoncé’s Grammy-nominated opus Lemonade, JAY-Z had a decision to make. On April 13, 2016, the final night of the NBA’s regular season, history was going to happen one way or the other. Would he fly to Oakland, California, for the Golden State Warriors’ record-setting 73rd win? Or sit courtside for Kobe Bryant’s final game with the Los Angeles Lakers? It was, to quote Marlo Stanfield, one of them good problems.

JAY chose to watch Bryant punctuate his first-ballot Hall of Fame career in the most Kobe Bryant way possible: 60 points on 50 shots in a five-point victory over the Utah Jazz, scoring or assisting on the final 19 points. The onslaught was the swan song of one of the culture’s most divisive, polarizing and accomplished spirits — a moment only dreams could create and talent, ambition and maniacal competitiveness could materialize. Neither could have envisioned that night 20 years earlier.

Rap was never given the chance to heal from those wounds — Biggie, Tupac — it helped create. But it spared JAY-Z.

Bryant and JAY, despite nine years separating them, came into the public’s eye together. Reasonable Doubt, the corner-boy manifesto and classic hip-hop debut, arrived on June 25, 1996. A day later, the Charlotte Hornets drafted a 17-year-old Bryant, only to send him to Los Angeles in return for Vlade Divac. Both JAY and Bryant escaped the shadows of their larger-than-life predecessors, The Notorious B.I.G. and Michael Jordan, to carve their own places in history. But on that spring 2016 night in downtown Los Angeles, JAY witnessed a peer, one of the few in America who understands what it’s like to be that famous for that long, walk away from the game he changed in that manner. JAY certainly didn’t need a great album to call it a career on — in the same way Bryant didn’t need a historic game to cement his stature among basketball’s all-time greats. But still, the game had to be inspirational.

“Wow,” was the only word a stunned JAY-Z could mutter as he watched Bryant further ascend toward immortality. Little was he aware the same would happen to him a year later.


Before the release of 4:44, a legit critique of JAY himself was, What could he possibly have to talk about that would be beneficial to rap in 2017? He’s one of the wealthiest men on the planet, with a portfolio that shows no signs of slowing. His business ventures have helped redefine the image of what long-term success looks like in America’s most influential and most critiqued music culture. The album itself bookends a monumental June 2017 for Shawn Carter: Kevin Durant, a flagship client of his Roc Nation Sports agency, captured his first NBA championship, and JAY himself was inducted, with a speech from President Barack Obama, into the Songwriters Hall of Fame — the first rapper to be so honored. He also (with respect to the Obamas), makes up half of one of the most high-profile relationships in America, and he’s one of the few people in the world with direct lines to Jordan, Obama and LeBron James. And now he’s the father of three. And since he started from the bottom, so to speak, another valid concern is: Does JAY-Z even still have it anymore?

Sponsored listening parties for the album littered cities around the country. The one I attended, in Silver Spring, Maryland, was shut down by police for capacity reasons before the first song could be played. Speakers were moved outside the Sprint store where the session was to be held, ostensibly so the people stretching to the next block near a Whole Foods grocery store could hear the album. I went home.

It was for the best, too. As Jay’s confessions run deep, the album is perhaps best experienced solo. For years, I wondered how the trauma of shooting his brother, as he detailed on 1997’s “You Must Love Me,” followed him into rare heights of superstardom. I wondered how selling dope to people he loved may have left him with an inescapable sense of trauma. I wondered how often he reflected on having stabbed Lance “Un” Rivera, and how the incident nearly derailed his career. It’s all on 4:44. On the first track, at that. And more.

There’s an extended rebuttal (wildly and fairly speculated) to Kanye West on “Kill Jay-Z.”

You walkin’ round like you invincible / You dropped outta school, you lost your principles / I know people backstab you, I feel bad too / But this ‘f— everybody’ attitude ain’t natural / But you ain’t the same, this ain’t kumbaYe / But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye / You gave him 20 million without blinking / He gave you 20 minutes on stage, f— was he thinking? ‘F— wrong with everybody?’ is what you saying/ But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane.

On the same song, in the second person, come some truths about what spawned the infamous elevator footage featuring him, his wife and his sister-in-law:

You egged Solange on / Knowing all along, all you had to say was you was wrong / You almost went Eric Benet / Let the baddest girl in the world get away / I don’t even know what else to say / N—-, never go Eric Benet/ I don’t even know what you woulda done/ In the Future, other n—- playin’ football with your son.

And on “Smile” comes the touching reveal of his mother Gloria Carter’s sexuality:

Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian / Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian / Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take/ Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her.

Leaving little room for debate, the crux of the album is his marriage, and the image he sets in place for his three children. JAY’s demons are 4:44’s most enriching and difficult gifts. The emotional weight of his 2017 confessions rest on the timeline of his own words. JAY sat down with MTV for an interview in 1998 — in which, at 29, he discussed his views on love. “I loved the women I was with,” JAY said, “I loved things about them, but I’ve never been in love. They say love is forever. I never felt that forever type of thing. … I’ve never been away from anyone and … I can’t wait to get back to them. I guard myself. I won’t allow myself. But I know that. I’m on my way to recovery.”

Similar sentiments showed up two years later on Dynasty’s “Soon You’ll Understand”: It ain’t like I ain’t tell you from day one I ain’t s— / When it comes to relationships, I don’t have the patience / Now it’s too late, we got a little life together / And in my mind, I really want you to be my wife forever / But in the physical it’s like I’ma be trife forever.

The most important song on the album, by far, is the title track, “4:44.”

When Beyoncé dropped Lemonade last year, it was seen as the most empowering moment of her career. Comfortable in her own skin, she was openly uncomfortable in her own marriage. The Carters, who thrive in a carefully constructed privacy, were now a public case study — cracks in the armor were exposed. Conversely, Lemonade placed JAY in a position he’s rarely been in: not in control. The entire world knew of his apparent infidelity and how much of a toll it took on his marriage. He couldn’t jump in front of the narrative because he was the narrative. Big homie better grow up, Beyoncé warned on “Sorry.” He only want me when I’m not there.

Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’: Comfortable in her own skin, she was openly uncomfortable in her own marriage.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade admissions are agony expressed through art. But it’s likely their private conversations stuck with JAY more. Anyone familiar with infidelity can replay the range of emotions and questions. Why would you do this? Do you love him/her? Was it something I did? You promised me trust and then you broke it. You promised me forever, but even forever has a time stamp. How do you explain this to our kids? These are the consequences of selfish decisions. And it’s these consequences that left JAY up at 4:44 a.m., drowning in guilt, writing a record he calls one of the best he’s ever written.

“4:44” is “Song Cry” with the threat of divorce court. Even worse, an illustration of the cycle of flawed fatherhood Jay swore to eradicate in himself. The song is the most personal glimpse into the Carters’ relationship — one he pursued, but admittedly wasn’t ready for — and how his transgressions nearly separated them.

Is JAY-Z’s karma to blame for Beyoncé’s 2013 miscarriage? Probably not, but hearing JAY blame himself for his lack of presence is haunting. It’s JAY fully peeling back layers of vulnerability through tears. And because I fall short of what I say I’m all about / Your eyes leave the soul that your body once housed, he raps. And you stare blankly into space / Thinking of all time you wasted in on all this basic s—. It’s on this song where the truest extent of what JAY has put Beyoncé through boils to the surface.

And of his kids looking at him differently once they inevitably uncover his truth, he raps I’d probably die with all the shame. Courtside seats, chats with Obama and nine-figure business deals mean nothing in the grand scheme to JAY. You did what with who? What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soul mate? What follows next is the question that packs such a punch it nearly stops the album in its tracks: You risked that for Blue?

A marriage is many things. Things happen that leave scars for a lifetime. No matter his bank account or influence, he is the reason that many parts of his life will never be the same. It’s a weight he’s been living with his entire life, since he sold his first brick of dope. Only this time, instead of drugs, it’s broken promises. Even JAY-Z can be his own worst enemy.

This is Shawn Corey Carter’s new life story told through rap.


Both the production and lyrics of 4:44 have a natural partner in his 2001 masterpiece The Blueprint. Only now, he’s accomplished everything he said he would. It sounds foolish to even suggest that JAY-Z, three decades after the release of his first album, could find himself in the running for Album of the Year in 2017, especially when so many, perhaps with merit, questioned if he even still cared about rapping anymore.

But his constancy remains unrivaled. He outlasted DMX and Mase. Looked Eminem in the eye. Thrived during the prolific runs of 50 Cent and Nelly. Raced Diddy to a billion. Came of age with Outkast. Helped introduce Kanye to the world. Broke bread with T.I., Rick Ross and Jeezy. Sized up, but ultimately respected, Lil Wayne. And dubbed Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Drake as leaders of new school — although the war of subliminals with the latter rages on to the present day. And he’s done it all with a responsibility no other artist in rap has had to carry.

My boy died, and all I did was inherit his stress, Jay rapped on 1998’s “It’s Alright,” referring to the late Notorious B.I.G. Hip-hop was never given the chance to see Biggie at 30. Or Tupac Shakur with children. JAY-Z achieved both. Rap has not been given the chance to heal from those wounds it helped create.

But it spared JAY-Z. He grew older while they stay forever young. These are the ghosts with whom Jay-Z has boxed for 20 years. He is the survivor of the cautionary tale.

The only thing left to say is what Jay said while watching Kobe drop 60. Wow.

Harlem’s 125th Street is getting its very own 20-story Hip Hop Hall of Fame and Museum Museum founder JT Thompson’s vision is coming to life after 25 years of planning

Harlem, New York, known for its African-American contributions to cultural, social and artistic creativity, is adding even more flavor to the neighborhood with the addition of a Hip Hop Hall of Fame and Museum slated to open next winter.

The museum, chartered by the nonprofit Museum and Educational Institution, won a bid earlier this month for building space on Harlem’s famed 125th Street, home of the world-famous Apollo Theater, with a mission to “preserve, archive, exhibit, educate and showcase hip-hop music and culture from around the world.” Special exhibits will include the history of hip-hop, its development and impact on social trends, while also featuring wax figures of enshrined hip-hop pioneers and legends, memorabilia and collectibles.

Under the direction of development project manager Thompson International Professionals, Hip Hop Hall of Fame founder James “JT” Thompson and Zubatkin Owner Representation’s Andrew Bast, the museum will be constructed in two phases.

A rendering of the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum on 125th Street.

Courtesy of the Hip Hop Hall of Fame

Phase I, set to open in February 2018, heavily concentrates on a floor-by-floor plan that will include a cafe, gallery, visitors bureau and retail gift store on the first level. The museum itself, along with event space, offices and a multimedia studio for film and television content production, will be housed on the second floor. Phase II, more intricate in complexity and design, will encompass a 20-story Hip Hop Hall of Fame and Museum Hotel Entertainment complex that features the hall of fame museum, five-star hotel, retail mall and gift shop, arcade, TV studios, sports bar, restaurant and concert lounge with a goal of serving up to 1 million local, national and international visitors annually, according to a press release.

The museum will also focus on community involvement and education by providing a program that will give 25,000 New York City public school children an opportunity to visit the facility on field trips with museum tours, live assembly programs, academic awards and gift bags. The facility is set to bring an estimated $350 million of socioeconomic impact to New York and surrounding areas by providing permanent and part-time jobs, job training, internships and community volunteer opportunities, live events, shows, concerts and educational programs.

Thompson, an Army veteran who served until 1988, used the discipline, focus and attention to detail he acquired in the military to focus on breaking into the business as a concert promoter and television producer. Thompson created and executive-produced the first Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards show on the BET cable network in 1996, shortly before the shooting deaths of hip-hop icons Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

Although the journey to open the museum spanned over two decades, Thompson remained steadfast in his mission to deliver the most complete experience in hip-hop’s influence on culture and history in America.

“This has been a labor of love,” Thompson said. “It’s had its valleys, mountains, peaks and falloffs. In the Army, I had leaders, mentors and brothers like teammates working to achieve something special. In life and in business, be disciplined and finish strong without quitting.”