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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jay-Z, “F.U.T.W.” (2013)

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

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

Artist Carrie Mae Weems talks ‘Grace Notes,’ patriarchy and punching Nazis Spoiler alert: She’s cool with it

It’s possible to carry an enormous amount of grace and still endorse punching Nazis. So says artist and photographer Carrie Mae Weems, who is performing her newest production, Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Weems began working on Grace Notes after a white supremacist opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, killing nine people. The “grace” refers to President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the attack.

I spoke with Weems on Thursday before she headed to the Kennedy Center for a rehearsal of the performance, which uses music, text, spoken word and video to explore the implications of race and violence in America. When I arrived at her narrow rented row house, Weems was on the phone with her assistant trying to solve a last-minute production dilemma. She offered up orange juice, and then we sat at a small bar-height table. Perhaps fittingly, a single blue pendant lamp hung over it, just in case the 2013 MacArthur Award winner was in the mood to revisit her acclaimed Kitchen Table series. Weems offered her thoughts on the 44th and 45th presidents, as well as the pervasiveness of sexual harassment.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you want to build a show inspired by President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” and the idea of holding on to grace in the face of racist violence?

I’ve been thinking a lot about him, thinking a great deal about his presidency, the meaning of his presidency, the way that he’s been treated as the first black president. Of the ways in which I thought he was a lot of ways maligned and misrepresented and attacked and targeted in the most vicious way.

The terror that accompanied his presidency was really enormous. … I thought that it would be really wonderful to thank him for his service to the nation, to thank him for his extraordinary accomplishment and his courage and his conviction. And his humility in the face of it all. And then, of course, he sang ‘Amazing Grace,’ which was like a shot heard around the world. For a week, two weeks, no matter where you went, no matter what radio station you turned on, whether it was in Berlin or Russia or South America, the United States, everybody had focused on this idea that he had sang this song, and beautifully, and what it called up in them was not unlike what it called up in me.

So in a dream — because I think most of my ideas come when I’m very, very relaxed or in that sort of in-between moment between being awake and asleep, in sort of a twilight zone. … So I was explaining in my dream to a group of students how they might approach making a work about our times and about Obama. It was just sort of laid out in my dream, and I woke up and I rolled over to my computer and I wrote about 30 artists, and I asked them if they would be willing to contribute to a gift box that I wanted to make for the president. They would be musical compositions by great composers and pieces of art and photographs and poetry and essays, and all of it. And I would package it all in a sort of beautiful way and offer it to the presidential library as a gift, as a reflection of what artists were doing during his time and our thanks to him as the first African-American president of the United States.

A number of black artists have blossomed since 2008 because the Obama family’s presence in White House was so inspiring. How has our current climate informed the way you think about things?

It’s sort of like the ‘changing same,’ as Amiri Baraka would say. We’ve always been pressed. The Obamas had to deal with it while they were in the White House running the country. They had to deal with the backlash of white America, conservative America, against their presence. And we’ve had to deal and negotiate that backlash and those feelings of anxiety since. Many of the texts, all of the texts that I wrote remain just as relevant as they were before Trump walked into the White House. It’s really the same sort of historical circumstances. It’s simply more revealed in the most heinous way, and that we would have the president of the United States as the focal point at that animus and anger, I think, is a thing that is really significant about the moment.

Who are you hoping Grace Notes strikes a nerve with?

I don’t imagine any number of conservatives rushing to see this show. I think I always make work for myself, first and foremost, because I’m trying to understand something. Negotiate something. Clarify something. Or just ask myself certain kinds of questions that I need to simply have hanging in the air around me. I may not have the answer. I don’t have the answer to many things. The older I get, the less knowledgeable I become.

As a MacArthur Foundation fellow, you’re a certified genius, though. It’s official.

But I do think that the thing that I care about most is asking the right kinds of questions for our time, and that is what I’m hoping to share with our audience. Just asking the right kinds of questions. So, for instance, what is grace?

So I started working on this piece, I don’t know, maybe two years ago, three years ago. I can’t remember anymore. Spoleto commissioned it after the Charleston shootings. So I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to call this piece Grace Notes: Reflections for Now.’ So what is grace? And I didn’t have an answer. I was still up at 7 this morning struggling with this answer. Struggling with the question. And trying to answer it for myself so that I might be able to provide something for the audience. But then I realized that I really needed to ask the audience the question.

That’s been the process. And so I’m hoping that it engages people that are interested in asking themselves reflective questions about where we are, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. … What kinds of questions do we need to ask about the sort of ongoing systemic violence against black people? How are we culpable? Is there any moment in which we are culpable?

So my coming to terms, then, with this sort of idea about grace is, maybe it’s the way, even though we’re maligned and mistreated, that we offer the best of ourselves and the best of our humanity to others, even to those who wish we were dead. I am still offering my gift of humanity to you because I know how important it is. I know you need it. I know I can share it. I know that I can reveal it, help you see it so that charity and compassion become critical in the acts of living through grace.

I ask myself at a certain point, well, is it a quality? Is it a state of being? Is it an adjective, a noun, a pronoun, an adverb? And then I call my mother. And in the show there’s a recording of my mother talking about grace.

I’m hoping that, yes, that we ask questions of ourselves and of our audience, and that they walk away curious. If they walk away with just some other questions they consider, then I’ve done my job.

There’s so much frustration and so much anger. I mean, we’re having conversations about whether or not it’s ethical to punch Nazis.

It is. (laughs) Let’s just cut to the chase. Yes.

How do you find grace when you’re fed up? I was wondering, geez, what would you have done if instead of me at the door it was Richard Spencer? I don’t know that I have much grace to extend to him.

It’s bigger than you or I. I think it’s the condition that we have endured, and that in the process of that endurance that we’re still whole. Bent but not broken. Holding on to the core of ourselves. And still being willing to offer the breath of humanity to others, because we’re not actually walking around the streets and marching up and down and shooting white m—–f——.

I know that there is something sick about the way in which you have come to understand yourself in relationship to me. That’s a gift, that I say I don’t hate you. I don’t have the energy or the time to do that. I have to hold on to my humanity. I have to hold on to my dignity. Allowing this detritus to rob you of your essence, to rob you of your beauty, that would be the crime.

So I think that grace is much bigger than — it’s not turning the other cheek. It’s really understanding that someone has lost their humanity and you’re trying to offer it back.

After the Harvey Weinstein revelations came out, wave after wave of women — not just celebrities, but all sorts of women — have come forward to say, “I’ve been sexually assaulted or have been sexually harassed.”

I don’t think I know any women that haven’t been. Somebody has touched your a–, tried to f— you or did f— you. Almost every woman that I know. And we took it.

How do we overthrow hundreds of years of patriarchy?

Start with your husband. (laughs) Start with him. I think that this is really kind of a, what do you call it? A salient moment.

But we really have to talk about the sort of sense of silence that women have endured, have placed on themselves, the way in which we’ve muzzled ourselves because we wanted our job, we wanted a man, we wanted the position, we wanted to be with the boys. Whatever it is, we have to talk about that, too, as we talk about the larger issues of the ways in which women have been historically treated.

What’s your source of hope?

You. Us. Even in my dismay, even as I watch the moral fiber of the country collapse under the weight of this very dangerous man that’s in the White House, he’ll only be around for a minute. The arc of history is long, and we have much to do. As people in New Orleans said and other places, honey, we lived through Jim Crow and came through. Right? Couldn’t get on a bus. Couldn’t move around. Couldn’t drink from a water fountain.

In the broad scheme of things, it doesn’t mean a thing. It just represents the worst of what America has to offer. But we’ve always known that that was there anyway, so he’s in one way no surprise. We thought that we had gotten a little further down the road. But I do think of that silly saying, ‘Hope does spring eternal.’ And that I can’t allow this moment to rob me of my humanity. It’s a time to really invest and anchor and be clear about my intentions and what I believe is best for me and the people that I care about and think about and honor. And to figure out ways to do that in the best possible way that allows as many people as possible to participate in that and to look at that and to see that. And I think that, in some way, Grace Notes is that.

‘Survivor’s Remorse’ recap: Here comes the trauma For M-Chuck, Cam and Reggie, a release valve of sorts

Season 4, Episode 2 | “Repercussions” | Aug. 27

Well, now everyone’s wounds are good and open.

This week’s episode of Survivor’s Remorse is almost all set up for what’s to come: Pookie and M-Chuck finally make it from Boston to the Long Island, New York, cemetery where Cassie’s rapists are buried. Cam finally gets a hold of those letters Rodney (Isaiah Washington) wrote him from prison. And Reggie and Trent will once again be living under the same roof, at least temporarily.

Much of the episode hinges on Erica Ash’s performance as she’s taking M-Chuck through the process of mourning her dead father(s) and fully grasping the trauma of what happened to her mother. It’s also a realization of just how little resolution visiting the graves actually brought her. M-Chuck hasn’t known anything about her father for 28 years. Now that she’s narrowed down the possibilities to three individuals, she’s a bit bereft.

“I mean think about it, without the rape, there’s no me,” M-Chuck tells Pookie (Sir Brodie). “I thought it would feel better.”

Ash has drawn praise for the angry comedic force of her Susie Essman-like rants, but as Survivor’s Remorse has continued to fill in her story, she’s had to stretch more and more. In episode two, she’s playing against Brodie’s sober stoicism. It’s perfectly acceptable, but not nearly as compelling as when she and Cassie (Tichina Arnold) are trading barbs. Her greetings to Cassie’s rapists, however, are filled with tragicomic pathos.

“Hello, Rape Father No. 1,” she says to one gravestone before moving to the next.

“Greetings, Rape Daddy No. 2 … if you’re going to rape a girl, why not wear a rubber?” she asks.

By the time she gets to the third, he’s simply “Rape Dad No. 3.”

At the same time, Cam has gone back to the Boston apartment where he and his family were evicted — the house where Cassie left the letters his father wrote him from prison. He meets his friend Paul (Na’im Lynn) — you may remember him from the wedding Cam and Reggie attended last season, where Cam completely upstaged Paul’s best-man toast — and together they meet the new owner. In a twist of luck, the new owner, who has fixed up the apartment, found and saved Rodney’s letters to his son. It turns out, the new owner’s father was part of an Irish gang and went to prison himself, where he wrote his son letters. So the new owner had a unique perspective on how important they were.

Meanwhile, Paul, whose nickname is actually Dirty Paul, is bent on persuading Cam to finance his new house-flipping venture. For Chrissake, Cam, if ever there was someone NOT to hand your money over to, it’s a guy named Dirty Paul.

In Atlanta, there’s not much calm yet, either. Reggie (RonReaco Lee) can be utterly frustrating. He’s slow to forgive, but he also provides a genuine example of a man who struggles to process his emotions in a way that’s healthy. His way of dealing with trauma is to shut out Missy (Teyonah Parris) and retreat into anger. And so, even though he’s got a head wound and blood on his shirt, his first response to seeing his wife in the emergency room is fury. Missy’s like a lion tamer who throws well-crafted lies (“The hospital called me!”) instead of steaks.

The more we get to know Reggie, the more we learn something else about him too. It’s ironic that he’s so tightfisted when it comes to managing Cam’s wealth, because when it comes to his personal life, Reggie solves problems by throwing money at them — that’s what landed him in the hospital in the first place. Money clearly allows Reggie to feel a sense of control. As much as taking your father in and paying his hospital bills after he’s broken his hand defending you might seem like the right thing to do, for Reggie, it also means retaining the moral high ground in the relationship. That’s why he sneers when Trent (Marlon Young) explains that he can’t take any opioid pain relievers now that he’s five years sober. He’s simply not ready to forgive his father for years of his alcoholism and abuse. Reggie may be cold, but it’s not difficult to understand why. But maybe he’s thawing a bit.

For M-Chuck, Cam and Reggie, the bandages of past wounds are off, but what comes next is just as painful.

Also worth noting:

  • Ash’s car trip karaoke routine to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” is delightful in an episode freighted with heavy moments, and a great example of why she’s so much fun to watch.
  • The episode ends with Trent and Reggie sitting in the car driving home, both staring forward. You can see their reflections together in one of the side mirrors. When the depth of field changes, you see the words “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” All of this takes place as we hear the voice-over of Cam reading his father’s letters from prison aloud to Allison. Nice touch.
  • This past week, BET aired its annual Black Girls Rock! celebration. The theme was dedicated to black love. I never tire of seeing the way Chen lavishes Cassie with affection and sensitivity and admiration. It’s a bit of black-girl wish fulfillment to see Cassie enjoying her life and being elevated to Queen of the Realm.

The Heart of a Songwriter: PartyNextDoor The OVO singer/songwriter should one day be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame

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


Room full of beautiful women, but I want one/ Room full of women and they notice me/ Now all they wanna listen to is Jodeci

— PartyNextDoor from “Freak In You”

PartyNextDoor turns 24 next month. And despite an ever-evolving catalog of hit records, he maintains a semblance of anonymity in a genre where very little is secret. But the young Mississauga, Ontario, native already boasts songwriting credits with two of the biggest pop stars in the world: Rihanna and Beyoncé. The towering responsibility of penning lyrics, which almost immediately become worldwide calling cards, for the biggest names in music isn’t so much a challenge for the former church choirboy as an escape. “It’s the same process [as when I write for myself],” he said, “but I can go into imagination with other people. You know, go into a different bag.”

It’s this type of moody ambiance that defines OVO’s most sluggish yet savagely romantic records.

Born Jahron Brathwaite, OVO’s enigmatic pen has secured writing credits on Rihanna’s magnum opus, Anti — in particular, last year’s smash “Sex With Me” and the No. 1 pop hit “Work” featuring OVO honcho Drake. And moments after the conclusion of the 2017 Grammys, DJ Khaled unleashed the first of what should be a string of massive hits from Beyoncé and Jay Z with their “Shining”; PND wrote for Beyoncé on the track: Money don’t make me happy/ And a fella can’t make me fancy/ We smilin’ for a whole ’nother reason/ It’s all smiles through all four seasons. PartyNextDoor has also already established himself as a solo artist in his own right. He released his third full studio album, P3, last summer, led by the hit singles “Not Nice” and “Come and See Me.”

It’s said solo work that requires a different level of self-realization. A level he wasn’t always totally comfortable with. Credit marijuana for the breakthrough. “I was so against smoking weed ’cause I always wanted to be in control, but my friend convinced me to smoke weed one day,” he told The FADER in 2015. “And as soon as I smoked weed, that’s when I started writing like that.”

Writing like what? Writing like what you would say in a DM and you knew no one was ever going to take a screen shot. It’s PND’s desire to tell truths that led him to release his recent five-song Colours 2 EP. Recorded entirely over production from longtime collaborator G.Ry (who also scored production credits on Drake’s More Life), the project sticks to the script of Party’s vibe. It’s mysterious, yet honest in its intentions. It’s melodic, yet enigmatic to the point where Party’s fantasy could be just that — or reflections of an idea simply yet to become reality. And his music is sexual — yet vulnerable. No record on the project encompasses the ROYGBIV spectrum of emotions than the subtle cover of Jodeci’s 1995 ode, “Freek’n You.”

His version is called “Freak In You” and is more of a question than action. Room full of beautiful women, but I want one/ Room full of women and they notice me/ Now all they wanna do is listen to Jodeci. It’s this type of moody ambiance that defines OVO’s most sluggish yet savagely romantic records, so many of which flow from the pen of PND. Old-fashioned ideas of “love” aren’t the driving emotions. Love is often a revolving door at October’s Very Own. Love is the desire for companionship, however temporary. This is your time, PND croons, I need to know if you’re down/ ‘Cause if not, I know there’s more around. Reality.

Much of the allure from the songwriter arises from the picturesque yet flexible vibe his music emits. “Freak” plays on words — If you want it/ Burnin’ rubber (skrrt)/ Burnin’ through these rubbers is exhausting/ Drop, drop, hot/ Baby girl, it’s Crossfit. But the lyrics are also clear in their intentions, a characteristic that came to define Jodeci’s music, a la 1991’s “Come and Talk To Me” and 1993’s “Feenin’ ” — Ain’t no peer pressure, sings PND. Girl, it’s what you wanna do/ So what kind of mood you in?/ You know what I wanna do/ You see what I see.

“Freak In You” falls in line with erotic PND songs such as “Persian Rugs,” “Break From Toronto” and “Recognize.” It’s easy to imagine lips touching lips. G.Ry’s dark yet carnal backdrop makes it easy to imagine the daylong text sessions leading up to the night’s main event. And it’s easy to understand why so many of his songs aren’t safe for work. So pretty, girl, you belong in a gallery / What’s your fantasy? (Your fantasy?) / Say something you ain’t never did (ain’t never did). What PartyNextDoor is trying to do is be the soundtrack for our memories. Even if you can never speak on them.

Reflections on our rookie season The Undefeated staff members reveal why they joined the team

For every member of The Undefeated’s staff, it is an honor and a privilege to provide our fans with the latest insights and developments in the world of sports, race, and culture. You may already know some of our staff members from their frequent appearances on ESPN, or by reading their work on our website. But, we wanted to introduce you to the staff members who make things happen behind the scenes. Here they discuss what inspired them to join The Undefeated.