Ric Flair and black fandom in wrestling The ‘Nature Boy’ is one man in a long, complex history for professional wrestling

About halfway through Nature Boy, ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary (Nov. 7, 10 p.m. EST, ESPN) on WWE legend Ric Flair, the conversation turns to Flair’s transcending impact on popular culture. The flamboyant grappler, known for his loud fashion sense, “heel” tactics, braggadocio and quick tongue, was reminiscent of a young Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, captivating audiences not only with his physical dexterity but also with his ability to sell himself.

And Flair most surely sold himself. He was the man whom women wanted to be with and men wanted to be like. He was the 16-time world champion, no matter how much he would cheat to win, and made sure you never forgot it.

“I mean, why did people like Ali?” Flair asks in the documentary. “No one has marketed themselves in boxing like Ali.”

Moments later, rapper Snoop Dogg appears on the screen and explains how Flair pulled from and was an inspiration of the early roots of hip-hop and black culture. “As a kid growing up watching Ric Flair, he was very inspirational to myself and a lot of other hip-hop artists because he represented what we wanted to be,” Snoop Dogg said. “We wanted to be Ric Flair; we wanted to be flamboyant and the ‘kiss-stealin, wheelin-and-dealin,’ we wanted to be all of that.

“He was a part of our culture and our life. That’s why we love him and we cherish him. We’ve always held him high in the black community, because Ric is one of us.”

Snoop Dogg, who has hosted and appeared on WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw on multiple occasions and was inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame in 2016, paints a peculiar portrait of Flair, he of white working-class roots, bleach-blond hair and 1 percenter persona, as “one of us.” But between the luxurious clothes, brash delivery and unmitigated swagger, how was Flair any different, color aside, from an Ali or Denzel Washington or N.W.A.?

Flair was one of the greatest heels, or bad guys, in professional wrestling history, making you want to hate him as easily as Floyd “Money” Mayweather would some three decades later. But unlike Mayweather, Flair had the charm, personality and lifestyle to make every man envy him. He was also an early adopter of the overindulgent persona that took over 2000s hip-hop. To borrow from Jay-Z, Flair flaunted the “Money, Cash, H–s,” at one point owning 15 $10,000 robes, a pair of $600 custom-made shoes (gators, presumably) and a $15,000 Rolex. Not to mention all of the women.

“You see the Rolex watch, you see the glasses, you see the beautiful women, Baby Doll and Precious,” said Glen Thomas, 39, co-host of the Wrestling Marks of Excellence podcast. “You hear Ric Flair talking about the night they had in Vegas … and you see the sunglasses and the $5,000 Armani suits and shoes and you see the belt, you desire to be that. I didn’t know about Disney World, but I knew about Space Mountain.”

In recent years, the 68-year-old has been reborn as an apparent icon of black culture. Indianapolis Colts players mimicked Flair’s famous “Rolex-wearin’ ” promo during a postgame speech in 2015; rapper Pusha T shouted his trademark “Woo” catchphrase on 2012’s “Don’t Like”; and Flair “ran” for president with rapper Waka Flocka Flame in 2016.

But Flair, who hasn’t been a regular performer since retiring from WWE in 2008, is just one man in a long, complex history of professional wrestling. The “Nature Boy,” as a character, lives in a universe of offensive, sexist, anti-gay and, most glaringly, racist content — there are multiple instances of blackface being used in WWE. Which begs the question: Why do black fans continue to tune in?

There are many reasons, it turns out. Wrestling combines the visual presentation of cinema, the never-ending continuity of television and the pure athleticism of professional sports. In between the perilous stunts and knee-slapping comedy also lie real-world consequences, as evidenced by former wrestler Daniel Bryan having to retire because of repeated concussions. A bit of nostalgia is baked in as well. The average age of a pro wrestling viewer is 54 years old, compared with just 40 for the NBA, with many current viewers having watched the product since its heyday in the late 20th century.

“It’s one of those things where I can’t remember the start date,” said Camille Davis, 28, co-host of the Milwaukee-based TECKnical Foul sports podcast. “It’s kind of like when I think back about why I started sports: It’s just something that was always around.”

Whether it was a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin or deacon from church, most fans of wrestling had a familial introduction to the National Wrestling Alliance, World Championship Wrestling or WWE. Like anyone who grew up a fan of other sports, it wasn’t out of the norm to be a wrestling fan.

Black fans followed the established stars of the 1980s and 1990s like everyone else: Flair, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan. It didn’t even matter that none of these stars weren’t black; wrestling wasn’t immediately about race for those who grew up watching it.

But as black fans got older, many started to also gravitate to the male and female performers who looked like them. For older fans, there was Koko B. Ware, “Iceman” King Parsons, Bobo Brazil and “Sailor” Art Thomas. The most popular and transcendent of the early black wrestlers, though, was Junkyard Dog, who co-starred in Hogan’s Saturday morning cartoon show, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.

For younger fans who grew up in the 1990s, professional wrestling’s renaissance era, they had what felt like an abundance of talent to root for. There was Harlem Heat, composed of real-life brothers Booker T and Stevie Ray; strongman Ahmed Johnson; black nationalist stable Nation of Domination; female grappler Jacqueline Moore; and, of course, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

The Rock, who debuted in WWE in 1996, was the biggest star in the company’s history, winning multiple championships and eventually becoming the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. As half-Samoan, half-black, The Rock was one of the most visible black people in the country, a role model for many young people.

“The Rock was more of an inspiration,” said Brian Waters, 31, who’s hosted internet radio show The Wrestling Wrealm since 2011. “Knowing that he was half-black, half-Samoan, I was like, well, it don’t matter, he’s black. It’s kind of like Barack Obama. It don’t matter, he got a little black in him.”

Once black fans become aware of their own blackness, they would tend to root for the black wrestlers, no different from rooting for the Doug Williamses and Mike Vicks of football, the Williams sisters of tennis or the Tiger Woodses of golf.

This partially explains the ascent of The New Day, an all-black trio of wrestlers who have been a fan favorite for going on three years straight. But, surprisingly, race wasn’t the only factor in the popularity.

“I didn’t like New Day because they were black,” said Davis. “It was more so because they were funny. And even then I’m like not really big on The New Day train. There’s no real black wrestlers I feel like that they even give a chance to achieve.”

For black female fans, like Davis, the female wrestlers weren’t given much of an opportunity to achieve either. There have been only five black women’s champions in WWE history: Moore, Jazz, Alicia Fox, Naomi and Sasha Banks. Moore, in 2016, became the first and only African-American woman to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Even with this black female representation for young women, the wrestlers had such unrealistic body proportions, from Moore’s bust to Jazz’s bulk, that not all viewers could relate to them.

“None of the women wrestlers are technically going to look like me, because their bodies are never going to look like how my body looked or was going to look,” said LaToya Ferguson, 29, who writes about wrestling for pop culture blog Uproxx. “I could enjoy them and appreciate them, but I don’t think I ever really had that connection a lot of girls wanted to have of the Divas.”

While children normally learn about race as young as 6 months old, research shows that they don’t learn about “racism” until they’re teenagers or young adults. For African-Americans who watched wrestling, this meant many didn’t notice the problematic storylines in WWE involving African-Americans until they were adults. And there were plenty.

In 1990, white wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper donned blackface while in a storyline with black performer Bad News Brown, who was supposed to be the bad guy in the feud. Less than a decade later, all-white stable D-Generation X, who, like Piper, were the supposed good guys, painted their skin black while facing off with The Rock and the Nation of Domination. In the 2000s, Shelton Benjamin, one of the most gifted athletes in the company’s history, was accompanied to the ring by a Hattie McDaniel-like “momma” character, while all-black duo Cryme Tyme sported cornrows and platinum grills and stole from other wrestlers as their gimmick.

But two incidents stand out the most. In 2003, white wrestler Triple H delivered a racially charged promo against Booker T, calling the black performer’s hair “nappy” and telling him that “people like him” don’t win championships in the WWE. “He almost called him everything except for the N-word,” Thomas said.

And it didn’t end there for Booker T. Two years later, WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon called John Cena, who is white and replaced The Rock as the company’s most prominent star, the N-word on live television as a perplexed Booker T walked past.

Despite these incidents, and many more in American professional wrestling’s nearly 200-year history, black fans haven’t wavered. They still make up nearly a quarter of WWE’s total audience, according to Nielsen, and have many reasons for not jumping ship.

Professional wrestling, like the NFL or MLB, is a form of communal entertainment, with fans tuning in live every week because their close friends or family members are following along as well. If they aren’t one of the 3 million people watching Monday Night Raw on the USA Network, they’re filling up more basketball arena seats than the NBA team that owns the building or watching thousands of hours of content on the WWE Network. Like any parent, wrestling fans can also pass down their fandom to their kids. There are times when the product will let you down or offend you, but how is that any different from a fan pushing his or her kids to root for the Cleveland Browns?

There is a lack of diversity and problematic storylines for wrestlers of color, but black viewers tolerate those same issues in other forms of entertainment. Many African-Americans watched network dramas in the decades before Kerry Washington became the first black female lead in a television show since 1974 when she starred in Scandal. Movie ticket sales still sold in the billions in the years leading up to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. And in sports, despite boycott threats from African-American NFL fans over treatment of black athletes, namely Colin Kaepernick, in response to player protests during the national anthem, NFL games still draw in tens of millions of viewers.

Fans of wrestling just want to be entertained. It’s the golden age of wrestling right now, with the most gifted performers in the history of the “sport” performing right now, whether in WWE or on the independent circuit, including Kentucky-raised Ricochet, the most popular non-WWE black wrestler in the world. And depending on who you talk to, wrestling can be both this amazing art form — “I feel like it’s one of the last true performance arts,” Ferguson said — and guilty pleasure.

“It’s the best soap opera I’ve seen, the best television,” Waters said. “I guess I’m one of those people that if you told me I could only have one channel, it would be USA [Network].”

Thomas added: “People watch Scandal, they watch How To Get Away With Murder, they watch Law & Order: SVU. That’s your TV show, that’s your escape for two hours. That’s your soap opera. Wrestling is my soap opera, where I can suspend my disbelief for three hours on a Monday or two hours on a Tuesday.”

For the culture: Dodgers and Astros should embrace their cities’ personalities in World Series If sports are a melting pot, why isn’t that reflected in all aspects of the stadium experience?

Alls my life I had to fight/Hard times like, “God!”/ Bad trips like, “Yeah!”/ … But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright!

— “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar


With Game 2 of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros tied 3-3 heading into the middle of the ninth inning, the Dodgers DJ finally picked a song representative of the situation and of the city where the game was being played.

After spending three days at Dodger Stadium for the pre-World Series media scrum, Game 1 and Game 2, I hadn’t heard much music that originated from the City of Angels.

I heard a lot of Top 40 music — don’t get me wrong, I like that mix — but that music can be played anywhere. In a region that produced the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy, Dr. Dre, YG, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur and N.W.A. (artists representative of the city’s toughness, swagger and finesse), why did it take pitcher Kenley Jansen giving up a game-tying home run to the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez on an 0-2 pitch to tap into that? Picking “Alright” by Lamar, who’s from Compton, California, after the team gave up its 3-1 lead was a smart and timely decision.

Outside of the home runs and scores the Dodgers put on the board, the loudest I heard the crowd in that stadium was when Jansen came out of the bullpen to Shakur’s “California Love” (or Kenleyfornia Love, as he calls it) and when the Dodgers fought back from a 5-3 deficit in the 10th inning and the DJ dropped Dr. Dre’s “Next Episode,” when Los Angeles tied it up, 5-5, going into the 11th. The Astros ended up winning 7-6.

Houston went with a heavy dose of country, rock and Top 40 hits to keep the crowd engaged in Games 3 and 4. Frankly, fans were the loudest when “God Bless America” was played — and the team followed with “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

Otherwise, the music at Minute Maid Park was almost background noise. It didn’t excite often and certainly didn’t offend. It definitely didn’t get the people going, except for those two songs. Now, in an interesting plot twist, there was a section of fans near Torchy’s Tacos who absolutely loved DMX’s “Roughriders Anthem,” which George Springer had as his walk-up song. They loved it so much they went a cappella and sang it throughout Game 4.

If fans in Houston want to rap the lyrics from the region (New York) they just beat in the American League Championship Series, then go for it. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t disappointed that “Grillz,” featuring Paul Wall, couldn’t get some love, since Astros fan Wall offered to give the Astros customized grills (jewelry worn over teeth).

In baseball, much of the city’s musical culture is not about who shows up to represent but rather depends on the selections of its players, the composition of the fan base and the brilliance of the DJ in charge of the playlist. Cody Bellinger and Andrew Toles’ walk-up songs, for instance, are Lamar’s “Humble” and “DNA,” respectively.

The only time I heard music originating from Latin America from either DJ was when Latino players came up to bat. That’s pretty disappointing when you consider that Houston’s Latino population accounted for 35.3 percent of the city’s population in the 2010 census, just 4 percentage points less than white people (39.7), and Los Angeles County and California “have the largest Latino populations of any state or county in the nation,” according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released in 2015.

Just before the start of Game 2, Dodger Stadium played a public service announcement about being courteous to other fans, and the video included almost all Latino children. That was nice to see because in 2014, Latino people took over as California’s largest racial/ethnic group with 14.99 million people in the state. But it reinforced my questions about why I only heard music from the Latin genre when Yasiel Puig, Enrique Hernandez and Yasmani Grandal walked up instead of throughout the game.

No fewer than seven of the 13 position players on Houston’s World Series roster are of Latino heritage. You are bound to hear Latin music in the Astros’ clubhouse. Is it asking too much to blend in some of this music during a three-hour game?

Remember when PSY’s “Gangnam Style” took over Dodger Stadium in 2012? The Korean pop song didn’t just bring Korean people to their feet — fans of all types got in on the Dodger Stadium dance cam action. In that case, and when the Dodgers brought PSY to the stadium in 2013, it was an example of how easy it was to play music inclusive of a community or fan base.

One could argue that inside the ballpark the demographics are not nearly as representative of the overall cities themselves, and the music is being played for the crowd attending. Especially when you’re discussing who does and does not have the disposable income to attend a big four championship event and foot the $1,863 average ticket price.

Fans play a role in the music playlist, but the people playing, at least in the NBA and NFL, are the ones who set the tone with the listening selection. It may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of watching a game, but I’ve got to tell you, a good music set can keep fans hyped and locked in.

If both venues can take the time to create food inspired by cultural influences, a more time-consuming task, then is it too much to ask for the stadiums to play music that embodies these different communities on their rosters and in their fan bases? If sports are the melting pot they are billed to be, that should easily extend to music representative of the cities in which the teams play.

Lonzo Ball struggled in first NBA game and other news of the week The Week That Was Oct. 16-20

Monday 10.16.17

Just being unusually cruel at this point, the Kansas City Chiefs signed running back C.J. Spiller for the fourth time in eight months; Spiller has been cut by the team three times in the past month. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, hitting his stride, called President Donald Trump a “soulless coward” and “pathological liar” and said the president is “unfit intellectually, emotionally and psychologically to hold this office.” Sacramento Kings rookie guard De’Aaron Fox, who is from New Orleans and has family in Houston, said he didn’t buy a Tesla to be environmentally friendly because “all I know is I’ll die before this earth is uninhabitable, so it isn’t about the environment.” Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick is using Trump, who once essentially sued the NFL for collusion and was awarded a whopping $3, as evidence that league owners colluded to keep him unemployed. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia yelled, “F— outta here” at Houston Astros batter Josh Reddick after Reddick was tagged out at first base.

Tuesday 10.17.17

The Carolina Panthers told quarterback Brad Kaaya … sigh … bye, Felisha. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, not trusting the process, called his early season minutes restriction “f—ing bulls—.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who once credited his 100-pound weight loss to “six weeks at a concentration camp,” said teams won’t hire Kaepernick for the “Same reason a hospital wouldn’t hire Typhoid Mary-when you kill off your customers U go out of biz!” Former Los Angeles Lakers guard Marcelo Huertas called NBA players “babies” who “everyone is afraid of dealing with”; the 34-year-old spent just two seasons with the Lakers, averaging a paltry 2.9 points per game on 40 percent shooting in 76 games. Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said he would “foul the s— out of” his 13-year-old son if he played him in the NBA a decade from now. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony member Wish Bone warned former Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving that fans could “put hands on him” for disrespecting the city and his Uncle Charles, y’all. A Spurs fan, most likely a supporter of “the troops,” burned team gear in response to the comments made by Popovich, who served five years in the Air Force. Anna Horford, the outspoken sister of Boston Celtics forward Al Horford, called adult film star turned sports commentator Mia Khalifa a “dumb b—-” for the latter’s Civil War-inspired tweet about Celtics forward Gordon Hayward’s grotesque ankle injury.

Wednesday 10.18.17

After orchestrating a boneheaded move of the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles, being photographed with women who were not his wife, reportedly impeding the contract negotiation of league commissioner Roger Goodell and personally involving Trump in the anthem controversy, owner Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys were awarded the 2018 NFL draft. The Cleveland Browns, shockingly one of two winless teams left in the league, announced another quarterback change just one week after announcing a quarterback change.

Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren wants to know what exactly NFL players are kneeling for during the national anthem. Former New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, not specifying whether they were triangle-shaped tortilla chips or Doritos, said former Knicks president Phil Jackson was willing “to trade me for a bag of chips.” Goodell, missing the forest for the trees, said he wants to “make sure we are understanding what the players are talking about” when it comes to protests but wants to “put that at zero” in terms of the number of players kneeling. Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, astonishingly being handed the keys to the Ferrari again despite crashing the last one, said he will continue to play his young players heavy minutes because “you have to make sure that there’s no shortcut to the success. The work has to go into it. I believe in work.” Chicago Bulls forward Bobby Portis was suspended eight games for what the team considered a “fight,” despite one person walking out unscathed and the other, forward Nikola Mirotic, suffering “facial fractures and a concussion.” Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, the next contestant on the Summer Jam screen, said Trump continuously attacks the NFL because he’s “trying to soil a league or a brand that he’s jealous of”; Khan, not getting off that easy, donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration earlier this year.

Thursday 10.19.17

Nothing is real anymore, as former first-round NBA draft pick Yi Jianlian never actually worked out against a chair 10 years ago. Hip-hop artist DMX, a fan of “Cocoa Puff sweet” women, apparently eats Booty O’s cereal, the derrière-inspired breakfast meal of WWE superstars The New Day. Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, after holding Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball to just three points in his debut game, said he wanted to “welcome his little young a– to the NBA” and later called Ball a “weak a– m—–f—–.” LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s father, later asked, “Who is Patrick Beverley?” and said the sixth-year, All-Defensive first-team player “still don’t have your own shoe.” Lakers fan Snoop Dogg, formerly Snoop Lion, said Lonzo’s “daddy put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on.” NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, in midseason form, referred to French-born Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina as “the brother from Africa” because he couldn’t pronounce his last name. Hours after being ejected from the Thursday Night Football game for yoking up a referee to protect his cousin-who-is-not-really-his-cousin, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch rode a Bay Area Rapid Transit train throughout Oakland while Raiders fans, and Lynch, yelled, “F— the Chiefs” at Peters.

Friday 10.20.17

Trump, not letting this go, asked his supporters to show their “patriotism and support” by signing an online “Stand for the National Anthem” petition. The Washington Nationals, not likers of nice things, fired manager Dusty Baker despite a 192-132 record and two National League East titles the past two seasons. The NFL really, really, really wants to suspend Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. Former NFL cornerback Brandon Browner has more arrests (two) in the past five months than games played (0) the past two seasons. Oklahoma City Thunder center Vagrant Jason Momoa Steven Adams, known to eat two to three dinner entrées in one sitting, called Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert a “tough pickle” before their teams’ game.

Forty years later, George Clinton’s Mothership is still landing A look back at the P-Funk — and a look ahead

George Clinton, the big-picture man behind the music juggernaut that came to be known as P-Funk, talked big trash on Parliament’s Chocolate City, tormenting white keepers of the status quo about the African-American majorities in the nation’s capital and other urban cities bogarting local political power. The large-scale power grab, Clinton fantasized on the album’s title song, was a prelude to electing the first black president of the United States — Muhammad Ali.

Provocative ideas for the time (early 1975), yes. But Clinton had larger targets in mind and knew where he had to go to hit them. He had to go astro. “We had put blacks in places where they had never been perceived to be,” Clinton said in an interview with The Undefeated. “So the next one was to have blacks in outer space, and I knew that a clones concept would get it too. It was thought of even before we did the Mothership Connection studio album.”

The “it” that Clinton speaks of was a funk attack of successive studio albums by Parliament, 1975’s Mothership Connection and 1976’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, with tales of blacks as street-savvy “afronauts” returning to Earth to reclaim secrets hidden inside Egyptian pyramids, including “using science to cheat death.”

Those record projects begot the P-Funk Earth Tour in 1976 and ’77. The concert offered pimps as stage characters, lyrics that equated the band’s music style, uncut funk, with pure cocaine and a prop that the Smithsonian Institution describes as the most iconic stage prop ever: “A huge, multicolored-lights-flashing, smoke-spitting spaceship that landed onstage during a gospel-heavy call-and-response rendition of ‘Swing Down, Sweet Chariot’ ” that whipped audiences into spiritual frenzy.

“Only if P-Funk could sell their records to a mass pop audience, and thus encourage whites to attend their concerts in force, would whites feel safe.”

And off the spaceship came Dr. Funkenstein, one of Clinton’s lasting musical characters, in a floor-length fur coat striking a pimp pose with his index finger held straight beneath his nostrils.

Parliament’s label then, Casablanca Records, captured the hugely successful tour on record, releasing Parliament Live: P-Funk Earth Tour on May 5, 1977. Acknowledging the 40th anniversary of the double-album release, Clinton talked about how the tour came together and why the band’s music and philosophies, particularly from that double album, have endured for generations. Ever the salesman, Clinton also took the opportunity to hype “I’m Gonna Make You Sick,” which, when released this fall, will be the first Parliament song to be released since 1980.

Need convincing of the Live P-Funk Earth Tour’s impact? A replica of the original mothership anchors the Musical Crossroads exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Music from the album has been sampled by a who’s who of hip-hop: Common, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets, Public Enemy and Ice Cube. Listen closely to the opening drum rolls on Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 “The Heart Pt. 3 (Will You Let It Die)” and it’s clear the inspiration came from P-Funk drummer Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey’s drum intro on the live version of “Do That Stuff.” The influence on Lamar can also be heard on To Pimp A Butterfly’s “King Kunta” (2015): A female vocalist repeats, “We want the funk” in a nod to the Earth Tour’s “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker.” Afrofuturism artists such as the Sa-Ra Creative Partners and Flying Lotus acknowledge that their baptism into the movement came from the P-Funk Earth Tour.

“It was a dream of myself and Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records,” Clinton said. “He did it for us, Kiss and Donna Summer at the same time. He was a promotion man. He got behind us and backed all of us. And then we had the music from Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Garry Shider, Glenn Goins, Fred Wesley and Maceo, Eddie Hazel. He knew, especially after Chocolate City, that we knew what we were doing.”

Rickey Vincent, a lecturer in African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the 1996 book Funk The Music, The People, And the Rhythm of The One, said the P-Funk Earth Tour was a logical culmination in the mid- to late 1970s toward larger shows and profits in the music business. But there was more to it. “George can say he was just clowning, but at the same time he understands the ethos of soul music,” Vincent said. “And that is to put black people in a better place. You don’t have to be an ethnomusicologist to understand a lot of underlying themes in black music into the ’70s was ‘We’re going to be free.’ You can’t get much freer than outer space and reclaiming the power that came with building pyramids in Africa.”

Clinton has never claimed to be a guru. He shuns such talk. To hear him tell it, he just wanted to be big. Actually, the biggest. “The Who, David Bowie, Rolling Stones. I’d seen them all do those big shows, big productions, and I wanted to do one with funk music,” Clinton said. “I wanted to have a prop that not only was deeper than anything that any black group had done but bigger than any white group had done.”

The Earth Tour was a massive undertaking. And costly. Clinton said Parliament’s record label set up a $1 million loan for him, and he turned to Jules Fisher, a Tony Award-winning lighting designer whose work included Jesus Christ Superstar and Chicago. Fisher designed the stage set and props for Earth Tour, according to Clinton.

The show demanded that the band, famous for its onstage looseness and improvisation that could stretch a four-minute studio song into a 20-minute live jam, play and move with discipline. The show was essentially scripted. So the band needed to rehearse, and it did for two or three weeks, Clinton said, at a onetime airplane hangar in Newburgh, New York. He put Maceo Parker, the saxophone player who had joined P-Funk after years with James Brown, in charge. “Anybody from the James Brown bands, I don’t care if it’s Bootsy, Maceo, Fred Wesley, you learn so much discipline,” Clinton said. “They can pretty much run s—. And Maceo and Fred are so diplomatic. They know the writing side, they know the musician side. They made it so much easier.

“With the [P-Funk Earth Tour], we had props moving around. You had to be in a certain spot at a certain time. If not, that spaceship might knock upside your head.”

The Earth Tour opened on Oct. 26, 1976, at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans. The band discovered right away that the show’s “script” was all wrong. “They had the mothership land first, at the opening of the show. That was the climax. As great as the band was, there was nothing we could do to top that spaceship landing,” Clinton said.

By the next show, the mothership landing came near the concert’s end. With that change, audience excitement and anticipation for seeing the mothership soared. And singer/guitarist Goins took full advantage. His vocal pleading with the audience to join him in calling for the mothership to land during a psychedelic, funky-church arrangement of “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot” elevated the live show to what many describe as a religious experience.

The energy jumps off the record. Brailey’s thumping foot on the bass drum. (“We want it to feel like a heartbeat,” Clinton said on the recording.) Worrell’s keyboard and synthesizer strokes filling in around, behind and on top of the rhythms. The crowd in the Oakland Coliseum clapping in unison on The One and answering Goins’ call for the mothership, singing, “Swing down sweet chariot stop and let me ride.”

The mothership lands. Audience screams fill the venue. They explode louder still when Clinton as Dr. Funkenstein disembarks the spaceship.

“It was like I was going back to church,” said Vincent, who witnessed the Earth Tour as a teenager. “They were signifying, bringing back those dreams.”

Parliament Live P-Funk Earth Tour captured all that sound and emotion during shows in January 1977 at the Los Angeles Forum and the Oakland Coliseum. The album offered live versions of hit after hit: “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” “Do That Stuff,” “Mothership Connection,” “Dr. Funkenstein,” “Tear the Roof off the Sucker,” “Undisco Kidd.” Eleven live songs in all, plus three new studio cuts.

The release stayed on the Billboard 200 album charts for 19 weeks, a May through September achievement even more impressive because the music was undeniably black and urban — as were most of the audiences at the Earth Tour shows. At that point, even with huge promotion from Parliament’s record label and free publicity generated by coverage of the never-before-seen spaceship landing in mainstream newspapers and newsweekly magazines, P-Funk Earth Tour had gained little crossover traction. Why? In early September 1977, John Rockwell, a writer for The New York Times, offered white fear as an explanation.

A replica of the original mothership anchors the Musical Crossroads exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“P-Funk music isn’t a real mass success yet because whites have grown afraid of black concerts in general. … In the big urban centers it’s mostly a black crowd, and whether it’s realistic or not, whites seem to be scared: There are too many reports of black gangs terrorizing isolated whites at black concerts,” Rockwell wrote. “Only if P-Funk could sell their records to a mass pop audience, and thus encourage whites to attend their concerts in force, would whites feel safe. But since their dazzling stage show helps sell the records, they have a self-perpetuating problem.”

Still, the album achieved platinum status. That summer, Billboard 200 album charts listed live concert albums from Marvin Gaye, Al Jarreau, Lonnie Liston Smith, the Bee Gees and two from the Beatles. In early August 1977, 16 of Billboard’s Top 200 albums were live concert recordings. In the same time span this summer, not a single live album was on the Billboard 200 chart. Live concert audio releases are no longer a thing, and not just because of DVDs.

Vincent, the funk history author, believes that artists take some of the blame for the disappearance of live concert recordings. In the late 1980s, he said, standards for live performances were lowered and bad reviews followed. Demand for lackluster concert recordings nose-dived, Vincent said.

Dexter Story, a Los Angeles-based musician and producer who has been marketing director for record labels such as Priority, Bad Boy and Def Jam, thinks fans just turned to a different product to get what they used to get from live records.

“People like bonus material — remixes,” Story said. “Back then, in ’77, the live album was the bonus material. As a fan, getting live albums was a treat. The live interpretations of what the musicians had done in the studio were a treat as well.”

In late July, Story produced a show for the venerable Grand Performances summer concert series in Los Angeles. It was called Mothership Landing: Funk and The Afrofuturist Universe of ’77. Music from the P-Funk Earth Tour dominated the set. “They asked me what I wanted to do,” Story said. “I chose to focus on 1977 and Afrofuturism. It was a great opportunity for me to go back to my funk roots.”

Music from P-Funk — Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, the Horny Horns and others — carried the show. “As I started to transcribe their music for the concert, I found out it was a lot more complicated and complex. There was a complexity to that music that I hadn’t fully appreciated.”

That music — much of it credited to Clinton, Worrell and Collins — is one reason P-Funk has endured, Story believes. “They were laying a foundational aspect of rhythm that was informed by James Brown and Sly Stone,” Story said. “On top of that, they added jazz-influenced horns … four- and five-part horn harmonies. The horn players were jazz musicians. Another level was the church sound in the voices, gospel-influenced vocals. And still another level was Bernie Worrell. He was speaking on keyboards to me. From piano to organ to Moog, he was speaking.

“Lastly, you’ve got the layer of George Clinton on top of all of that great sound. I just gave you the ingredients of a P-Funk sandwich,” Story said. “Now, go ahead. Take a bite.”

A number of the musicians and vocalists who performed on P-Funk Earth Tour record have died. They include Worrell, Garry “Diaperman” Shider, Goins, Richard “Kush” Griffith, Cordell “Boogie” Mosson and Ray Davis. Among the other players, only former Bootsy’s Rubber Band vocalist Gary “Mudbone” Cooper currently tours with Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, Brailey, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas, Parker, Wesley, Rick Gardner, Lynn Mabry, Dawn Silva, Debbie Wright and Jeanette Washington have left the touring band. Some still show up on P-Funk-related studio projects, such as Funkadelic’s 33-song First, You Gotta Shake the Gate, released in 2014.

The massive change in touring personnel isn’t surprising, considering four decades have passed since the P-Funk Earth Tour. So much time has passed that Clinton’s Chocolate City is no longer majority black, and his fantasy of a black U.S. president actually happened. But Clinton tinkers with the band regularly. Adds new musicians. Brings back former ones. Introduces new sounds such as violin, mandolin and the didgeridoo.

“It’s hard to keep a band together over time. We get older and settled down, and want to do other things,” he said. “And there’s always a need for young legs and vibes. Younger players bring an energy. And you need that, especially the way I push the band. You have to have young legs to be out there.”

For his latest iteration of Parliament Funkadelic, Clinton leans heavily on family. There’s his son, Tracey Lewis Clinton, and three of Tracey’s children; Clinton’s stepdaughter; and another of his grandchildren, this one the daughter of Clinton’s daughter, Barbarella Bishop. The drummer, Benzel Cowan, is the son of longtime and current P-Funk trumpet player Bennie Cowan. And guitarist and vocalist Garrett Shider is the son of Shider, the band’s diaper-wearing musical director who served as Clinton’s No. 2 from the early ’80s until his death in 2010.

“Garrett was born into the band,” Clinton said. “He’d be backstage with his mother, Linda. We called him ‘Soundcheck.’ ” In keeping the strong family theme, Garrett Shider recently released his first solo CD, Hand Me Down Diapers. It includes contributions from George and Tracey Clinton and other P-Funk band members. The project is a heartfelt tribute to his father and sounds like Funkadelic during the Hardcore Jollies days.

“George was really good when my father passed, bringing me into the group,” said Garrett Shider, who joined Clinton on the road full time in 2011. “He knew I needed some help. It was his way of making sure he was looking out for his right-hand man’s son.”

Such strong family connections in the music business aren’t commonplace now, and if they exist, they aren’t factored into artists’ branding. That wasn’t always so. Black music groups often made family connections, real or contrived, part of their marketing strategy. The Jackson 5. The Five Stairsteps. Sly and the Family Stone. The Isley Brothers. The Sylvers, Pointer Sisters, The Brothers Johnson, DeBarge, and Earth, Wind & Fire. More recently, there’s Jodeci. And, of course, Wu-Tang Clan.

“There are not a lot of groups anymore, first of all,” Clinton said. “Hip-hop artists have different styles, and so many are focused on an individual. Plus, the record companies will try to separate you anyway. Wu-Tang has done it well.” For Clinton, bringing in family was relatively easy. “They all grew up together, basically. They knew each other,” he said.

“They were all doing different styles of music, and they were doing well. We were able to put them together. Younger musicians do things differently. They don’t mind sometimes playing live over recorded backing tracks. We just play on top of it. You get the best of both worlds.”

Clinton said he will release his first Parliament studio project since 1980’s Trombipulation by the end of 2017. It’s called Medicaid Fraud Dog. The first single from the album, “I’m Gonna Make You Sick,” should be released by the end of October.

“My son, Tracey, and my stepdaughter, Brandi, did a lot of work on the album,” Clinton said. “Lots of good sounds and grooves on it. Scarface is on the single. We’re doing three or four remixes. Junie Morrison [former member of P-Funk] was working on one of the remixes when he died.”

He plans for the single to be available just before he takes a short break from his current tour. Clinton still performs more than 200 live dates annually. “We still sell out all over the world,” Clinton said. “We work, ’cause it’s a job.”

Aux Cord Chronicles XIII: 28 songs that could replace the national anthem What if we switched from ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ to something from Aretha Franklin, Dipset — or Kendrick and Beyoncé?

Congratulations, America. You’ve successfully stiff-armed Colin Kaepernick’s original protest, meant to shed light on police brutality and systemic injustices against people of color, from the national conversation. Now, despite the fact that Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk, suggested that Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid take a knee as a sign of respect, the national discussion is centered on the supposed disrespect of the flag, the men and women of our military and the national anthem.

So let’s be proactive. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was penned in 1814 by Francis Scott Key. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional act officially declaring it the national anthem. Well, 86 years is quite the lifetime, but everything deserves a revamp — or at least an alternate. Below are 28 possibilities. (Aside from the obvious choice, John Rosamond Johnson’s musical adaptation of his brother James’ poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” otherwise known as the black national anthem.)

Aretha Franklin — “Respect” (1967)

Franklin has a legion of iconic records to her name, but this is the zenith. Want to win a free round at the bar? Ask who sang the original. The answer is Otis Redding, who wrote the song and dropped the original in 1965. Franklin’s version put the song into another stratosphere, becoming an anthem for black America in the process.

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly — “Before I Let Go” (1981)

Imagine it’s Friday night. It’s been a long week at work. You and your co-workers are this close to quitting and traveling the country and living off of your savings. Then you realize you absolutely suck at saving money, so there’s that. But you’ve got tickets to the big game this weekend. And when the announcer tells everyone to stand for the national anthem, they play this. For about three minutes, nothing else in the world would matter. Vote Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly 2020.

Kool & The Gang — “Get Down On It” (1981)

If you play this around your parents, aunts and uncles, they will immediately break out into a two-step and reminisce on what they were doing when this killed at the clubs.

The Gap Band — “Outstanding” (1982)

Is there any self-respecting human being who doesn’t love this song? I mean, other than this guy. This technically already is the national anthem, if you’re familiar with black cookouts and family reunions.

Will Smith — “Fresh Prince Theme Song” (1990)

I couldn’t recite the current national anthem without looking at a cheat sheet. But I could absolutely recite this — arguably the most iconic theme song in the history of theme songs. I’m not the only one, either.

Public Enemy — “Fight The Power” (1990)

Pretty self-explanatory, if we’re being honest.

Queen Latifah — “U.N.I.T.Y.” (1993)

“Unity” is a great idea, but in this case it sidesteps the original point of Kaepernick’s protests. But since we’re on the topic of unity, 1993 was a good year for Queen. This song dropped (and eventually won a Grammy), as did the classic ’90s sitcom Living Single.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony feat. Eazy-E — “Foe Tha Love of Money” (1994)

Because C.R.E.A.M:. Cash Rules Everything About America.

DMX — “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” (1998)

Stop. Drop. Shut ’em down, open up shop. Francis Scott Key couldn’t hold a candle to Earl Simmons.

Lauryn Hill — “Ex-Factor” (1998)

Just don’t have L-Boogie sing this Miseducation standout for Sunday Night Football — she might not show up until Thursday night. #AligningMyEnergyWithTheTime

Juvenile — “Back That Azz Up” (1998)

1. See my signature at the bottom of this post. 2. MAKE AMERICA TWERK AGAIN.

C-Murder feat. Magic & Snoop Dogg — “Down 4 My N—” (2000)

One thing for sure. Two things for certain. This beat will always be hard enough to convince a person he or she can run through a brick wall. And while it may sound odd to nominate a guy with a first-degree felony in his name for national anthem consideration, I’d argue this country has had far more head-scratching moments.

Sunshine Anderson — “Heard It All Before” (2001)

Because, being black in America, you actually have heard it all before.

Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz — “Get Low” (2002)

You know how the “land of the free, and the home of the brave” part gets everyone riled up? Hear me out. Imagine if it were To the window!/ To the wall!/ Till the sweat … well, you know the rest. Plus, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle would agree. Just look at how sad this guy got:

Jay-Z — “PSA” (2003)

It’d be fire to be at a New York Knicks game and the announcer says, “Everybody please rise for the singing of our national anthem.” And the next thing you know, over the PA system, Allow me to reintroduce myself/ My name is Hov!/ H to the O-V/ I used to move snowflakes by the O-Z …

The Diplomats — “Dipset Anthem” (2003)

I’m on the west side of Chicago, lookin’ for a bust-down/ To make me put my two arms up, touchdown!/ You stay in touch now, but when I touch down/ I’m like Buckshort shorty, you better duck down/ Yeah I must clown/ I’m from Harlem, uptown/ Where we flash money, take your b—- and ask you what now?

Cam’ron is an American institution and should always be respected as such. Also, my request of the National Museum of African American History and Culture still stands.

UGK feat. Outkast — “International Players Anthem” (2007)

Most songs on this list you can play for a verse and a hook and be fine. But this one? You play all four verses. You rap all four verses with as much conviction as you’ve ever done anything in your life. In particular, like Jay-Z said at Made In America a few weeks ago, you rap Pimp C’s verse loud enough so he can hear it in heaven. This is a perfect song. And no, it’s not up for debate.

Foxx feat. Lil Boosie and Webbie — “Wipe Me Down” (2007)

It’s not even a question I’d pledge allegiance to a song where a man got to the club with gas tank on E, still gets in VIP and proclaims all drinks on him. I’m proud to be a (trill) American.

F.L.Y. — “Swag Surf” (2009)

It’s a song that requires you to put your arms around the shoulders of your fellow man or woman. How much more unity do you need?

Gucci Mane feat. Ester Dean — “I Think I Love Her” (2009)

I’m all about ending gender discrimination. I’m all about ending the pay gap women face every day. And I’m all about gender equality. Hence our inclusion of this Gucci Mane classic. And, yes, while it is his song, everyone knows why we’re here: Well, my name is Susie and Gucci think I love him/ That sucka think I’m loyal but I f— with all the hustlas/ I be wit all the ballas/ I be at all the spots/ I might be in yo’ kitchen n—- cooking with yo’ pots. What a woman … **swoons**

DJ Khaled — “All I Do Is Win” (2010)

America has always operated under the Ricky Bobby gospel: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris — “We Found Love” (2011)

My all-time favorite Rihanna song. It doesn’t have to be on your list, but it’s staying on mine.

Drake — “Started From The Bottom” (2013)

I just think it’s funny how it goes … that Kaepernick’s original protest was gentrified and had a Whole Foods move into its neighborhood.

Travis Scott — “Antidote” (2015)

Have you ever seen him perform this live? In fact, let’s give it a test run. For the Houston Rockets’ home opener, let’s do this song before tipoff.

Future — “March Madness” (2015)

Because Dress it up and make it real for me is now etched into America in much the same way as JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” quote. If we’re being honest, too, this has been the national anthem since the summer of 2015 anyway.

Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar — “Freedom” (2016)

Can’t have a list like this and not include Blue, Rumi and Sir’s mom. And while I’m sure the #BeyHive will tell me I omitted 240 other songs that fit the list, it’s hard to deny this Lemonade standout and its soulful, uncompromising hook. Having Kung Fu Kenny on it doesn’t hurt either.

Cardi B — “Bodak Yellow” (2017)

Since it’s currently No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it technically is the national anthem.

Kendrick Lamar — “DNA” (2017)

When you think about it, Kendrick resurrected the pride of James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and gave it a bounce.

In all seriousness, if none of these selections works and we stick with the current iteration we do have, might I suggest the only version that even matters. Francis Scott Key could never …

All eyes on the Dallas Cowboys After a weekend of NFL protests in response to President Trump’s explosive comments, America’s Team is now center stage

Not even Hollywood could script this.

On Friday night, the president of the United States takes on the National Football League. He calls players who exercise their First Amendment right to peacefully protest “son of a b—-.” The next day, the president doubles down on Twitter, demanding those same players stand for the national anthem or face harsh discipline. A far cry from what he tweeted two days after his inauguration:

Then, on Sunday, more than 130 players from various teams kneeled, sat or locked arms during the national anthem. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks remained in the locker room altogether. While all this is taking place, President Donald Trump’s administration goes on the offensive, suggesting the NFL should implement a rule with regard to anthem protests. Trump’s assertion Monday morning that kneeling for the anthem had “nothing to do with race” further sullies a yearlong campaign of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s original point: It was never about the flag. It was never about disrespecting the troops — the men and women of the military protected his right to kneel. And it was never about the anthem itself. Lost in an endless cycle of debates and purposeful misdirections is that Kaepernick wanted to bring light to police brutality and economic disparities and injustices in lower-income communities.

Which brings us to Monday night’s iteration of Monday Night Football, quite possibly the most American weekly sports tradition of all. And on this Monday, as fate has so lavishly prepared, the schedule features the NFL’s most lucrative, popular, hated and polarizing franchise: the Dallas Cowboys (visiting the Arizona Cardinals). What example, if any, does America’s Team set after a weekend of protests that had been brewing for over a year since Kaepernick decided to take a knee and then-candidate Trump suggested the quarterback “find another country” to call home?


Born in North Carolina and raised in Virginia, I should have been a Washington fan, but family ties won out — in favor of Dallas. The Cowboys, since the mid-’90s, constitute my life’s most emotionally taxing relationship: perpetual heartbreak after perpetual heartbreak after perpetual heartbreak. My deepest connection to the Cowboys is through my mother. Her favorite player was Jethro Pugh, a ferocious yet warm defensive lineman who played college ball at North Carolina’s historically black Elizabeth City State University under my grandfather, coach John Marshall, in the early ’60s.

Everything is magnified when there’s a star on the helmet.

Pugh, who died in 2015, became one of the greatest players in Dallas history and a key cog in the Cowboys’ “Doomsday Defense” that helped deliver the franchise its first two Super Bowls. A pass rushing savant, Pugh also led the team in sacks for five straight seasons, 1968-72. My mother remained a Dallas fan over the years and grew to love former coach Tom Landry (and his fedora).

In the 1990s, when football became a major facet of my life, the Cowboys were lit. They won nearly as much as Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, capturing three Super Bowls in four years. In truth, at least five Bowls were in order, had it not been for two fumbles: the first was Deion Sanders’ missed pass interference call on Michael Irvin in the 1994 NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, and the second was owner Jerry Jones’ ego-driven decision to fire Jimmy Johnson after back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

Nevertheless, the Starter Jackets were fresh and, as trivial as it sounds now, the Dallas Cowboys — featuring names such as Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Charles Haley and more — were bad boys and rock stars in the age of Tupac, Biggie, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Nirvana. Their success on the field made them seem larger than life, and this outsize brand persona was made evident by Jeff Pearlman’s fascinating exploration of the teams’ 1990s run: Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty.

America loves its reality television, and in football there is none greater than the Cowboys, a team often too comfortable operating under a veil of chaos. What spinach was to Popeye, headlines and controversy are to Dallas — despite the fact that there have been only two playoff victories since the organization’s last Super Bowl in 1996. As a fan, it’s fun to wallow in that attention. The Terrell Owens years are a prime example. The Tony Romo era is another. But at times, Jones’ willingness to embrace controversy is anything but enjoyable — most notably Greg Hardy’s signing after a graphically publicized domestic violence case. Or the frustration that came with the immensely talented but troubled linebacker Rolando McClain.

What will the Cowboys do Monday night? Not surprisingly, Jones recently said on Dallas’ 105.3 The Fan that he felt strongly about recognizing the flag and the people who sacrificed for the liberties we enjoy: “I feel very strongly that everyone should save that moment for the recognition of the flag in a positive way, so I like the way the Cowboys do it.” Glenstone Limited Partnership helped fund a $1 million donation to Trump’s inaugural committee earlier this year. Glenstone Limited Partnership is a segment of Glenstone Corp., which is led by Jones.

Despite mysterious posts on social media and conflicting statements from “inside” sources, nothing suggests the Cowboys will do anything of note. Dallas has yet to have a player engage in protest, last season or this season. The Cowboys would not be the only team to keep it business as usual.

But everything is magnified when there’s a star on the helmet. Jones has lived off that bravado since he purchased the team in 1989. The players and fan base followed suit. It’s part of the territory that comes with being a team whose stadium could pass for the eighth wonder of the world. The franchise is valued at nearly $5 billion and comes with A-list fans such as LeBron James, Jay-Z, Denzel Washington, Russell Westbrook, Jamie Foxx and Allen Iverson.

Still, the team appears unified in neutrality. Second-year quarterback Dak Prescott didn’t plan on participating in protests, saying last month, “It’s just important for me to go out there, hand over my heart, represent our country and just be thankful, and not take anything I’ve been given and my freedom for granted.” This was before ungrateful-as-the-new-uppity became a narrative. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is a Crock-Pot of moving parts, rumors and controversies. Pro-Bowl linebackers Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith provided virtually the same answer: Both disagree with Trump’s statements but refused to expand any further. And star wideout Dez Bryant seems content with his stance. “I’m not criticizing nobody,” Bryant said recently of the swelling number of players in the league joining the protest. “They’re free to do whatever they want. Hell, no, I’m not doing none of that. Their beliefs are their beliefs, and I’m not saying they’re wrong because they’re feeling a certain way. They’re supposed to.”

But this particular juncture feels different because it is different. New York Giants defensive end Damon Harrison said of the moment the president placed the entire league in his crosshairs that it was “bigger than money, bigger than the game,” and that if he didn’t voice his frustrations he “wouldn’t be able to sleep or walk with my head held high as a man or father.” And Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas was moved to tears by the magnitude of Trump’s comments, and our racial climate overall. The Cowboys have their on-field issues. They haven’t looked particularly dominant, even in their lone victory over an Odell Beckham-less Giants. And a week later, Dallas had its muffin cap peeled back by the Denver Broncos.

Kneeling at NFL games during the national anthem in protest of systemic inequalities went from being “Kaepernick’s fight” or “Michael Bennett’s problem” to a movement the leader of the free world not only monitors but also attempts to eradicate (while at the same time, Puerto Rico pleads for help in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that’s left most of the U.S. territory immobile and without electricity).

In an ideal world, the league’s most powerful owner and biggest cash cow of a team would make some sort of bold statement — more than locking arms or placing hands on shoulders. The president’s anger toward players who are not content with cashing checks and staying mum only scratches the surface of a far more cancerous issue: that players, who in the NFL are 70 percent black and are on the field destroying their bodies, are often seen as undeserving of earnings apparently awarded by owners to players who should be grateful for the money. White owners, on the other hand, are viewed as fully deserving of their billions.

The Cowboys may be fine with playing the role of an ostrich with its head buried in the turf. It’s the Cowboys I’ve come to expect. It still doesn’t make it any less weird that a franchise priding itself on being “America’s Team” remains self-muzzled during a time when America needs to be anything but, both in speech and in action. In a better world, and in a move that would shake both the league and the Oval Office to its core, the Cowboys would’ve long since signed Kaepernick — he’s of course far more polished than the team’s current backups, Kellen Moore and Cooper Rush. But this isn’t a better world. At least not yet.

Rapper Master P chronicles the defeats and triumphs of his journey in new documentary ‘I Had a Dream,’ inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, will be released on the late civil rights leader’s birthday

2017 has been one of the most productive and creative in years for entertainment mogul and entrepreneur Master P.

From reality television to No Limit reunions, Master P is proving he still has staying power after more than 20 years in the entertainment industry. Lately, Master P’s focus has been centered on his children and business ventures, but the New Orleans native is now ready to give fans an intimate look into his own life through a new documentary, I Had a Dream.

The documentary, set to be released next January, will chronicle the wins and losses, struggles and many successes of Percy Miller — before he became known to the world as Master P — and what lies ahead for the multimillionaire. The documentary’s title, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and release date, King’s birthday, were very personal choices for Master P, who grew up idolizing the late civil rights leader.

“People don’t realize Martin Luther King really inspired me,” Master P said during an interview on the Breakfast Club. “Coming up as a kid, I had to keep reciting the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and stuff like that. It made me feel like, man, you’re talking about dreaming. I’m in the projects, but I got an opportunity to dream and do something big.”

Growing up in the Calliope Projects of New Orleans, Master P knew he had what it took to reach the pinnacle of a successful career. But he realized that first he had to take a chance on himself. In 1990, Master P founded his own label, No Limit Records, which attracted New Orleans artists including Mystikal, Silkk the Shocker, Kane & Abel, Mia X and, later, Snoop Dogg. Although Master P was not short on talent and business sense, he said he was driven primarily by neighbors and a support system that believed he would make it big.

“That’s what life is about,” Master P said. “You find somebody that believes in you. I had this one old lady in my neighborhood, she called me Bright Eyes. She said, ‘Bright Eyes, you’re gonna be a star.’ The power in those words will take you a long way.”

Today, Master P is investing his time in his children and growing his latest business venture as an owner of the New Orleans Gators, a mixed-gender professional basketball team. So far, Master P has gone to work recruiting ex-NBA players Glen Davis, Stromile Swift and Tyrus Thomas. Former WNBA All-Star Lisa Leslie will be the team’s head coach.

Aux Cord Chronicles XII: Back to school survival soundtrack Face it, summer’s over: 22 songs to get your mind right for the new academic year

S

omeone please start a petition to get rid of the month of August. The month is useless. It’s just training camp, then injuries at training camp, then crappy NFL preseason football because of training camp and finally, worst of all, back to campus. We get that it’s a joyous time for parents, but please don’t make it too obvious? We can clearly see you pumping your fist in the bathroom and doing little happy dances everywhere. But for anybody who’s going to be sitting in a classroom anytime soon, this playlist is for you. Featuring songs from A Tribe Called Quest to 2 Chainz to Buju Banton to MF DOOM, this playlist will hopefully be enough to get you through to Christmas break.

N.W.A. “Express Yourself” (1986)

West Coast hip-hop was never the same after a hip-hop group from Los Angeles popped up on the scene in 1986. “Express Yourself’” is self-explanatory and still resonates today.

A Tribe Called Quest — “Push It Along” (1990)

First things first: RIP Phife. A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is home to some of the group’s most well-known songs, namely “Bonita Applebum,” “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and “Can I Kick It?” While you can’t go wrong with any of those songs, “Push It Along” stands out because of its succinct yet metaphoric chorus, which can be interpreted two ways. No one likes sitting in a classroom for what can seem like hours on end — but just keep pushing. Like Jarobi says on the outro, In my way there’s boulder, but you know what I had to do? I had to push it along. Life’s all about being proactive rather than reactive. Don’t be surprised by your grades at the end of the semester. Ask your professor how you’re doing and you’ll be surprised by how open he or she is.

Nas — “The World Is Yours” (1994)

You’re going back to school and trying to figure out what it is that you want to do or be in life. This was the mindset of 18-year-old hip-hop artist Nasir Jones in Queens, New York, while recording his debut album, Illmatic. Considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, there’s no secret about the message of this track — if you put your heart and mind to it, the world can truly be yours.

Montell Jordan — “This Is How We Do It” (1995)

As one of the all-time house party staples, Friday nights have not been the same since Montell Jordan dropped this track in 1995. Who else could have enhanced a sample of Slick Rick’s 1989 “Children’s Story” and turned it into a club banger? Keep this in your playlist for when you’re ready to jam to a golden era tune.

Buju Banton — “Champion” (1995)

The standout track from Buju Banton’s 1995 dancehall classic Til Shiloh serves as a reminder to always be confident in your abilities. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. So tread carefully, but don’t let the subtle intricacies of patois keep you from claiming Me all ah walk like a champion/ Talk like a champion. When college gets extremely difficult, just remember who you are.

C-Murder feat. Magic & Snoop Dogg — “Down For My N’s” (1999)

Nine times out of 10, your favorite black Greek-letter organizations on campus will have this track blaring from speakers as they do their favorite strolls on your campus’s yard, or at a house party. This track is truly a “ride or die” anthem of brotherhood/sisterhood … and what better way to be down for the culture? Save this track for when you’re ready to up the fellowship ante with your peoples.

Juvenile — Back That A– Up (1999)

Juvenile single-handedly made an era’s anthem with one simple battle cry: Cash Money Records takin’ over for the ’99 and the 2000. Never will this song get old. And once you hear the beat drop by producer Mannie Fresh at any function, you better grab a hold of something or get ready to get hype — Cash Money Records is taking over the spot for the next four minutes and 25 seconds.

Jay-Z — Dirt Off Your Shoulder (2003)

Need a motivational track to get your semester going? Why not bump to one of HOV’s greatest hits? It influenced President Barack Obama to dust off his shoulder during a Democratic primary speech. After all, you gotta dust your past off and start the academic year fresh.

Crime Mob feat. Lil Scrappy – Knuck If You Buck (2004)

There are usually two things that happen when Crime Mob pops off at either a house party or a club: The crowd goes crazy and bops to the ATL classic or a dance riot breaks out on the floor. Either way, this Dirty South gospel was made for getting crunk. And, for the record, no, “Juju On That Beat” could NEVER compare to the original.

MF DOOM — “Deep Fried Frenz” (2004)

When will MF DOOM get the credit he deserves? He makes an entire song about how we should carefully select friends while sampling two songs (“Friends and Strangers” by Ronnie Laws and “Friends” by Whodini) about friendship! That level of depth is borderline nonexistent in today’s hip-hop. Don’t let his use of skits prevent you from missing out on DOOM’s exceptional lyricism. Still, what DOOM is saying cannot be overstated: Choose your friends wisely. As DOOM eloquently put it, Jealousy the number one killer among black folk. Not everybody deserves to be your friend, and when somebody shows you who they are, believe them.

DJ Khaled — “We Takin’ Over” (2007)

It’s mind-boggling to think that DJ Khaled is known by many as that guy from Snapchat with philosophical advice. Well, congratulations, you played yourself. Six years before the release of the photo-sharing app, Khaled curated arguably the greatest song of his career in “We Takin’ Over.” As a senior, this song will forever hold a special place in my heart (and not because Wayne’s verse was the first I ever committed to memory). This epitomizes the difficult journey so many seniors have taken — from the eagerness of freshman year to the doldrums of sophomore year to the nostalgic anxiety of senior year. The world better watch out for us ’cause we takin’ over (one city at a time).

Little Brother — “Dreams” (2007)

In case you didn’t know the great trio of Phonte, Big Pooh and DJ/producer 9th Wonder out of Durham, North Carolina, once known as “Little Brother,” the group was one of the most highly acclaimed underground hip-hop groups of their time. The title of the song about says it all: Have dreams, while keeping in mind that dreams alone don’t keep the lights on.

F.L.Y. (Fast Life Yungstaz) — “Swag Surfin’” (2009)

No matter what school you attend, but especially at a historically black college, this track is almost mandatory to know line by line. Whether you hear it in the club, in the gymnasium or your school’s stadium, you better grab your nearest friends and be ready to surf with swag.

Big K.R.I.T. — “4EvaNaDay (Theme)” (2012)

Want a subwoofing, bass booming, Dirty South track to start the first day of school? Well, this track, made by Mississippi rapper and producer Justin Scott, aka Big K.R.I.T., is for you. As said by K.R.I.T., If it don’t touch my soul then I can’t listen to it. … Listen and enjoy.

Lupe Fiasco — “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” (2012)

Let’s face it: Being black in America is an everyday struggle, especially with the political climate of the United States today. In 2012, Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known as Lupe Fiasco, created this track to paint the problems in the American social, economic and political systems. Five years later, the words still resonate. If you need a track to raise your consciousness as the semester begins, Lupe’s got you covered.

Meek Mill “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)” (2012)

We’re more than two years removed from the Meek Mill-Drake beef, yet Drizzy fans still refuse to acknowledge the greatness of this song. Even Toronto’s favorite son had to recognize it at one point. Regardless, it’s one of the best rap intros of all time. This song tells the tale of Meek’s dreamlike ascension in the rap game before launching into a full-blown assault on all his haters, with the Philadelphia native dropping knowledge throughout. From I had to grind like that to shine like this to I’m the type to count a million cash, then grind like I’m broke, the entire song is an ode to anybody who has endured the struggle. If you take that mindset into school, the sky’s the limit. Play this at any college party and everybody should be screaming this track verbatim. Key word: should.

Travis Scott — “Apple Pie” (2015)

On the final track of Rodeo, “Apple Pie” is Scott’s way of telling his mother that it’s time for him to go out into the world and make his own way. For many of us, college is that time. Don’t be afraid to follow in Scott’s footsteps and jump off mom and/or dad’s porch. Separation anxiety will hit you like a ton of bricks, but it eventually subsides. Anybody who went away to school empathizes with the line I hate to break your heart, I bet I’ll make the mark/ That y’all see a legacy go up.

Kamaiyah — “How Does It Feel” (2015)

Oakland, California’s own Kamaiyah initially burst on the scene after receiving Pitchfork’s “Best New Track” honors for “How Does it Feel” in late 2015. Her inspiration? She was trying to make “it cool to be broke again.” Being broke and college broke are two entirely different things. College broke is really humbling because you see how terrible things can be if you don’t find your side hustle. Sell mixtapes, work at the bookstore, become a party promoter — do something that’ll put a little extra change in your pocket. Making a way where there’s no way is what college is all about. And when you finally find your hustle, don’t be afraid do your little two-step while proudly singing I’ve been broke all my life/ Now wonder/ How does it feel to be rich?

2 Chainz — “Get Out The Bed” (2016)

If you are one of the unfortunate few who scheduled an 8 a.m. class, may God be with you. Luckily, the Drench God made a hook with you in mind: Get out the bed and grind and hustle/ Did it before and I’ll do it again. Make this your anthem and you’ll be able to take anything this cruel campus life throws at you — except maybe a pop quiz. At the very least, please try to keep your eyes open.

Big Sean feat. Migos — “Sacrifices” (2017)

I definitely could’ve gone with the Drake version. Or even Elton John’s. But the Kid Studio-provided visuals place Big Sean’s version in a league of its own. Picture this: It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday. That party starts at 10 p.m. That girl or guy you like wants to come over at 9 p.m. — and you have a test at 8 a.m. Friday. Big Sean said it best: To get ahead, man, you have to make sacrifices. Not every single event requires your presence. Stay in, tell that girl or guy to come over and study to get that A in the morning.

Future feat. The Weeknd — “Coming Out Strong” (2017)

This one’s for the freshmen. The title says it all. Don’t get lost in the sauce. Start your college career on the right foot. Freshman year is by far the easiest, as long as you don’t succumb to distractions. Side note: Pluto don’t dance, but I make moves is one of the best bars off of HNDRXX, even if Future just flipped around The Weeknd’s opening line.

Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid — “1-800-273-8255” (2017)

School can be extremely stressful. Trying to balance academics, extracurricular activities and a social life can often seem overwhelming. If you need help, please do not hesitate to ask. It is not a coincidence that the song title is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Find your school’s Counseling & Disability Services Center. There are always resources available. Remember these lyrics — It can be so hard/ But you gotta live right now/ You got everything to give right now.

Also, do not be afraid to take a mental health day. If your mental health isn’t intact, life won’t make sense.

Kennedy Center is bringing hip-hop center stage and Simone Eccleston is making it happen A full season at the nation’s premier performing arts venue signals the art form is adulting

Four decades after its birth in the Bronx, New York, hip-hop has moved into the era of adulting. Among the many markers of maturity, one of the most significant happens today when the nation’s premier home for the performing arts announces its first full season of hip-hop programming.

The performance season at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., was curated by A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Q-Tip along with the center’s first director of hip-hop programming, Simone Eccleston.

And while this moment says something important about the evolution of a still-young art form, it also marks a necessary evolution in the tradition-bound world of high art. After years of lower-profile partnerships with hip-hop festivals and free performances in its lobby, the Kennedy Center is moving hip-hop out of the programming D-League to join theater, opera, jazz, dance and classical music as featured art forms.

The season will open Oct. 6 with a performance featuring Q-Tip and Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz, and closes in spring 2018 with a multimedia performance of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book-length letter to his son, Between the World and Me.

Besides the big-name acts to open and close the season, the schedule is light on live performances, relying heavily on curated dance parties. The center is also re-upping its longstanding partnerships with hip-hop advocacy organizations Hi-ARTS and the D.C.-based Words Beats & Life. The programming, which isn’t limited to music, includes a staging of Chinaka Hodge’s Chasing Mehserle, a performance piece about Oakland, California, and gentrification.

The Kennedy Center will host a 35th anniversary screening of Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style, a documentary about the early days of hip-hop, followed by a panel discussion including Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Caz and Busy Bee.

The commitment of full-time staff and space to hip-hop sets the Kennedy Center apart from other marquee arts institutions such as Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center while expanding the definition of American culture. Like jazz and the blues — and even the iPod one might play them on — hip-hop is a uniquely American invention, a beacon of coolness that shines brightly around the globe.

“As the nation’s cultural center, that’s a heavy-duty title that we hold,” said Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter. “It’s important that we have all of the nation represented here. And candidly, we still have a long ways to go. … Hip-hop is a 40-plus-year-old art form. It ain’t going away. It isn’t a fad. This is an art form that continues to develop and grow and have impact, and it is broadly seen throughout several generations as the voice of their generation, and how could we not have it fully here at the center? The sophistication of the work that’s being done has to be brought here.”

The hiring of Eccleston, 37, and the announcement of the new season are only the latest in a series of events that suggest hip-hop is thriving even as it starts to get gray around the temples. That maturation isn’t just an accounting of raw years of existence, but also the emotional growth in the genre’s most high-profile acts. Certainly, earlier hip-hop featured adult, introspective voices such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Little Brother, Consequence and Talib Kweli. But witness the confessional nature of Jay-Z’s 4:44 or Dr. Dre confronting his past sins as a woman beater in the HBO documentary The Defiant Ones.

Simone Eccelston

André Chung for The Undefeated

Hip-hop is now old enough to inspire nostalgia and reflection. In the past few years, there have been the retrospective gazes of The Get Down and The Breaks, and Jigga’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame — heralded by consummate Jay-Z fan President Barack Obama. And don’t forget about Snoop Dogg pooh-poohing misogyny, releasing an album one critic called “the audio version of linen pants and fish fries,” and co-hosting an Emmy-nominated reality show with an ex-con 30 years his senior, Martha Stewart. Even Atlanta trap god Gucci Mane seems like a new man after exiting federal prison last year. Rather than touting his time as a signifier of masculinity, Gucci was candid about just how unpleasant the experience was.

It was only roughly 20 years ago that Eccleston was hopping on the D train from the Kingsbridge stop of her childhood home in the Bronx to go to her first rap concert at Madison Square Garden. Now, her task of making hip-hop a fixture at the Kennedy Center seems obvious, if not overdue.

Wait. Wasn’t this already a thing?

When the Kennedy Center announced in 2016 that it had netted Q-Tip as its artistic director of hip-hop culture, the move was part of a trajectory that had been in the works for years. Moran had been lobbying Rutter for more hip-hop programming. So had former White House social secretary Deesha Dyer, who had covered the scene in Philadelphia as a freelance journalist.

“[Dyer] and Jason really pushed me over the edge to say, ‘OK, we should do this more than just one-offs and really make it something,’ ” said Rutter, whose background is in classical music. “We have programs for young artists rising, and then we were doing these big names … but how do we really have that bigger impact? We were going to need somebody to curate it all. And that’s where having an artist and then an administrator [came in], because you can’t really have an artist who’s not supported by an administrator.”

Q-Tip offers name recognition and communicates something about the center’s intentions tastewise. Eccleston, on the other hand, is an experienced arts administrator well versed in the nitty-gritty duties needed to realize an artist’s vision. Before traveling south to Washington, she spent more than 11 years at Harlem Stage, finishing as its program director.

Previously known as Aaron Davis Hall, Harlem Stage is known for promoting artists of color. Eccleston was a natural fit for its hip-hop ambitions: a product of the borough whose Latino and black musical influences melded to birth the genre in the first place, she completed graduate studies in arts administration at Drexel University and studied curatorial practice in performance at Wesleyan University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Eccleston’s first job was at Artistas y Músicos Latino Americanos, a nonprofit in North Philadelphia.

Rutter and Harlem Stage executive director Patricia Cruz say Eccleston possesses a valuable skill set: She’s got a good ear for finding new talent, she’s passionate about nurturing relationships with artists, and she’s got a knack for developing community outreach and education programs.

While at Harlem Stage, Eccleston took responsibility for an initiative to connect New York City students with playwrights, choreographers, musicians and dancers from around the world. Also, Cruz said, “She developed programs that were scholarly, that really communicated to an audience what this artist’s intent was, what their philosophical approach to what they were doing was, so that audiences could understand this was not just performative.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

“We’re not just putting people on the stage and saying, ‘Here. Enjoy them.’ It’s not entertainment, in that regard. It’s about the ideas the artist is representing. … For us, if art is to have a meaning for people in their lives, I think it is critical to have a context and talk about the history.”

Q-Tip may be the initial draw, but if you want to see your favorite act on stage at the Kennedy Center (cough OutKast cough), Eccleston’s the person you want to lobby.

Let’s talk about sex music!

Perhaps surprisingly given her age, Eccleston is not an evangelist for ’90s hip-hop. Sure, she grew up loving De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kwamé, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill. She watched WNYC-TV’s Video Music Box and remembers dancing in the street when someone would start playing their radio in Kingsbridge.

But she’s not stuck in the decade.

“We’re always like, ‘It’s the golden age, it’s the golden age,’ ” Eccleston said. “I think that that doesn’t allow for the music and the artists to evolve. I think it’s about creating space for the next generation of artists. Who knew Kendrick [Lamar] was coming? When you think about the fact that [’90s artists] created space for alternate views of black masculinity, just the joy in music, just the intellect. It’s like being brilliant and comfortable with that. Not having to necessarily play to specific ideals of what masculinity looked like, what it meant to be black at a specific point in time.

“I think that they created space for us to be complex, diverse and really tell our stories. They were able to create these pathways within that generation of artists. I think that it’s interesting to see people that kind of take on the mantle and continue to move it forward.”

When it comes to revealing her musical tastes, Eccleston is a skilled politician. Asked to choose between Biggie or Tupac, the native New Yorker initially named Biggie. But there was an addendum: “You know what? Tupac was also very brilliant,” she said. “Just from an activist standpoint, in terms of being a woke MC.”

Eccleston has the potential to be an inspired choice as an administrator for a genre that has a complicated relationship with black women. While she straddled the East Coast/West Coast divide, for instance, she was fully comfortable sharing her thoughts about Kendrick Lamar’s lyrical endorsement of stretch marks on “Humble.”

“I was like, ‘Go ahead, Kendrick!’ ” Eccleston said, grinning.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

“I think that there are certain images, certain artists, that are celebrated who may have had some augmentation. That is seen as beauty, or as beautiful. Then young women that may look up to the artist, or the ideals that are being portrayed in music videos, they then think that they have to alter who they are in order to be considered beautiful or attractive. We need to interrogate that, which is why it was great that Kendrick celebrated stretch marks.”

While hip-hop isn’t the only genre that features misogynistic themes and lyrics, it is the one that often gets publicly dinged for it. Eccleston, like many of her feminist friends who are also hip-hop fans, has experienced times where she felt that a particular artist or song just wasn’t for her.

“I think it’s important for us to maintain healthy critique,” Eccleston said. “I think that it’s also important for us, as we’re looking at the songs that we may want to challenge, or the artists that we may want to encourage to dig a little deeper, to look at all of the other work that’s being done that either celebrates us or provides a multidimensional portrayal of who we are.

“It’s delicate because you have to provide space for an artist to be an artist, you can’t censor them. … It’s just real complex because we all have our hopes for something that we’ve seen ourselves reflected in, something that provides us with a sense of space. I think we’ve all got to continue to complicate it and disrupt it.”

Eccleston now has the power to further that disruption. With the Kennedy Center’s resources, she can expose audiences to lesser-known female emcees such as Brooklyn, New York, rapper Jean Grae and Snow Hill, North Carolina, artist Rapsody. She wants to bring more female graffiti artists and beat girls into the fold.

“There’s a whole generation of hip-hop … culture producers that are impacting literature and theater and scholarship, and it’s getting pressed into that. I think that one of our roles as an institution is to create space for the celebration of all of those things so people understand the depth, the breadth, the complexity of the culture,” Eccleston said. “I think it’s important for people to know hip-hop culture isn’t just one thing.”

What now?

One of the most significant challenges Eccleston faces will be making the Kennedy Center feel accessible to everyone.

While it’s a national institution, it’s situated in a city that for decades was majority black and is still majority minority. Eccleston is adamant about wanting the community to feel a sense of ownership and investment in the center, rather than seeing it as a stodgy, predominantly white institution finally granting validation to a still relatively young art form.

While existing partnerships, such as those with Hi-ARTS and Words Beats & Life, the D.C. nonprofit dedicated to advancing hip-hop culture, provide a foundation, the Kennedy Center faces hurdles that predate Eccleston in attracting eventgoers who are economically as well as racially diverse. The most obvious hurdle may be geography. The Kennedy Center is situated in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom/West End, a neighborhood that’s home to George Washington University, where tuition and fees run nearly $70,000 per year. Its immediate neighbor is the Watergate complex.

Of course, black people frequent the Kennedy Center. They show up for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s yearly appearance. They line up to see Brandy play Roxie Hart in Chicago, to hear George Benson, to witness the brilliant athleticism of Misty Copeland. And it has no problem selling out concerts like the ones Nas and Lamar did with the National Symphony Orchestra.

But the center is still figuring out how to extend the same sort of welcome to audiences with fewer resources, and that’s where the inclusion of free dance parties, open to the public, appear to come into play.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

These concerns aren’t exclusive to the Kennedy Center. They bubble up every time hip-hop veers into spaces such as Broadway that are traditionally coded as white. Class and accessibility were a big part of conversations surrounding Hamilton, so much so that its practice of making tickets available to those who couldn’t necessarily afford its astronomical market rate prices has become central to the show as it’s expanded into multiple cities. That includes the upcoming production of Hamilton coming to the Kennedy Center. (Hamilton, while heavily influenced by hip-hop, is still under the Kennedy Center’s theater programming slate.)

“Part of the goal in terms of instituting hip-hop as an integral part of our institution’s work is about creating space for the community to engage in the work that we’re doing,” Eccleston said. “To see themselves and their culture reflected. Right? That’s how I got into the arts, understanding the significance of it. As many opportunities as we can create for people to know that this space is theirs and open to them. A place that they can call home. I think that that is important.”

While there’s a moral argument for expanding hip-hop into a dedicated programming season at the Kennedy Center, there’s a financial one as well, especially when you consider the graying fan base for opera and classical music. The Kennedy Center relies on funding from corporate sponsors, philanthropists and paid memberships that unlock access to ticket presales and opportunities to hobnob with talent. If additional hip-hop programming results in more memberships from rap fans with money to drop, that’s all the better for hip-hop and the Kennedy Center. So far, it appears Q-Tip and Eccleston will have to figure out how to find a balance between buzz and revenue. While names such as Fab 5 Freddy and Kurtis Blow may draw older, more financially established attendees, a healthy dose of current voices is necessary too. Yes, hip-hop is famous for its backward-facing references and samples, but it’s always charging forward to new musical territory, thriving on the spirit of reinvention.

Still, if this experiment goes well, who knows? We might one day see the same programming in the ritzy fine arts institutions of New York — you know, the birthplace of hip-hop.

Drake just joined the game, but these celebrities have held down their beverage brand partnerships for years What You Got On My Drank?: Top 7 most Undefeated rapper/alcohol beverage partnerships

Now, I’m all for a good adult beverage when it comes to chillin’ at a good social outing or just winding the day down. One thing is certain, and that is the fact that my choice has never been influenced by a celebrity endorsement.

That’s why the news of rapper and actor Drake jumping into the whiskey game didn’t really move me. Everything Drizzy touches turns to gold, so I’m sure the venture will be a success, but will his partnership with Virginia Black Whiskey have staying power?

Perhaps.

In October of 2016, the $39.95 bottle of bourbon was the highest-selling liquor in Toronto. According to the Toronto Star, on Sept. 30, Virginia Black topped single-day sales at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario after “moving 1,779 bottles across 220 stores.”

Weeks after its launch in June 2016, 4,650 bottles were sold in the province, raking in $186,000 in retail sales. To put this into perspective, Ciroc sold 1,855 bottles in its first week. Virginia Black was launched with ex-financier Brent Hocking and company Proximo Spirits. According to Business Insider, the brand sold 30,000 cases globally in its first year.

The verdict is still out on the taste for me, but he’s already causing a buzz taking a shot at Dos Equis.

The liquor business and rappers go back as far as Snoop Dogg and Tupac and their St. Ides partnership. But, thanks to Drake, we’ve decided to break out my list of the Top 7 most Undefeated rapper/alcohol beverage partnerships.


#7 Roc-A-fella – Armadale Vodka

Armadale Vodka was Jay-Z’s first venture into the liquor game, but this one was with his Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam partner Damon Dash. It was 2002 when Jay-Z and Dash purchased Armadale Vodka. Dash said in a statement back then that “Roc-A-Fella has always respected quality vodkas, such as Belvedere and Grey Goose. Just like we do with our businesses, we wanted to present a vodka that represented the best. And we feel Armadale is of elite quality.” Although the two have parted ways, this wasn’t the last of either in the liquor business.

Hip-Hop mogul Damon Dash arrives at “A Night of Celebration” in honor of director Rob Minkoff and the completion of “The Haunted Mansion” at Minkoff’s home on Nov. 20, 2003, in Los Feliz, California.

Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

 

#6 Ludacris – Conjure Cognac

Being a big cognac drinker and fan of the rapper, I gave this a fair shot. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Kim Birkedal Hartmann founded Conjure Cognac in 2009. With a decent taste and at $48 a bottle, it’s nice but not good enough to trade in my Hennessy.

#5 Rick Ross – Belaire Rose Champagne

Rozzay made being down with the “Black Bottle Boys” a real thing. I’m not a big champagne drinker, but I bought a couple of bottles once for the wife on our anniversary, not a bad sip. She was impressed. Luc Belaire is a brand of sparkling wine with two varieties: a Rare Rosé and a Rare Brut. The Maybach Music Group founder became the brand ambassador in 2013 and fused Luc Belaire and the rap game. Priced at $30 to $50 per bottle, it’s not a champagne that will break your pockets.

#4 Jay Z – Ace of Spades

This drink is the champagne of champions these days but is a bit overpriced at $300 a pop. Formally named Armand De Brignac, it got its street name from the label of the bottle and was acquired by Jay-Z on Nov. 5, 2014. So far it has three different blends. One contains grape varieties of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. One is a rosé and a chardonnay, and in 2015 under Jay-Z’s reign a demi-sec and pinot noir. It debuted in the video for “Show Me What You Got.”

Jay-Z poses with “Ace of spades” Magnum at his American History Inaugural Gala at Club Love on Jan. 16, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Prince Williams/FilmMagic

#3 50 Cent – Effen

This is a good, affordable vodka with multiple flavors from Curtis Jackson. Kudos to 50 for working his drink into his show Power, but an even bigger salute for recently making $60M by selling his stake in July. In 2016 it was announced that the rapper, producer and actor was partnering with Effen Vodka. According to XXL, 50 Cent is still with the brand in some capacity. Effen issued a statement in July stating, “Contrary to any inaccurate media reports, EFFEN Vodka’s partnership with 50 Cent continues.”

Instagram Photo

#2 Jay Z – D’ussÈ

Jay-Z’s most recent brand venture is the fine French cognac D’ussè, and this will put you back about $45 a bottle. Aimed at a younger audience, Hov has infused the drink into his hip-hop empire and even sipped it from his award at the 2013 Grammys. Even rapper Lil Wayne has a song title “D’ussé” after the drink. Its round shape and gold double cross give it the appeal it needs to attract some buyers. Bacardi launched the VSOP cognac in June of 2012 in New York City, when it announced Jay would be the brand’s frontman.

#1 Diddy – Ciroc

Puff is an expert marketer, so it should come as no surprise that his vodka comes in at No. 1. When it comes to my vodka, I prefer Tito’s or Ketel One, but Ciroc is definitely the go-to when it comes to the club, lounge or house parties. The ladies and men seem to love its sweet taste, and whenever a new flavor drops the fam flocks immediately to the liquor store to cop the latest offering from Sean Combs.

Combs became the face of Ciroc in a joint venture with beverage company Diageo. Its growth has been consistent, and it keeps making noise on the scene. Combs told Fortune in 2014 he’s had challenges in diving into the liquor business but he keeps moving forward.

“With Ciroc, people may have thought that [the vodka] was for African-Americans. People wanted to put it in a box. So the biggest lesson I learned is that I had to work harder to overcome those perceptions and create a wonderful product regardless of my color, regardless of my celebrity. The reality is I have to work harder than other brands to do that.”