The 20 greatest hip-hop tours of all time Our ranking, inspired by all the great rap acts on the road this summer, is 100% correct

Look around and it might feel like we’re in a golden age of rap tours.

Rhyme greats De La Soul recently finished a European tour billed The Gods of Rap with the legendary Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan and Gang Starr’s DJ Premier. And the summer concert season is set to feature even more high-profile hip-hop shows.

West Coast giant Snoop Dogg is headlining the Masters of Ceremony tour with such heavyweights as 50 Cent, DMX, Ludacris and The Lox. Lil Wayne is doing a string of solo gigs and will launch a 38-city tour with pop punk heroes blink-182 starting June 27. Stoner rap fave Wiz Khalifa will headline a 29-city trek on July 9. The reunited Wu-Tang Clan continue their well-received 36 Chambers 25th Anniversary Celebration Tour, and Cardi B will be barnstorming through the beginning of August.

With all this rap talent on the road, The Undefeated decided to take a crack at ranking the 20 greatest hip-hop tours of all time.

Our list was compiled using several rules: First and foremost, the headliners for every tour must be from the hip-hop/rap genre. That means huge record-breaking, co-headlining live runs such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On the Run II Tour were not included, given Queen Bey’s rhythm and blues/pop leanings. We also took into account the cultural and historical impact of each tour. Several artists, ranging from Run-DMC and Salt-N-Pepa to MC Hammer and Nicki Minaj, were included because they broke new ground, beyond how much their tours grossed. For years, hip-hop has battled the perception that it doesn’t translate well to live performance. This list challenges such myopic ideas.

With only 20 spots, some of rap’s most storied live gigs had to be left off the list. Many were casualties of overlap, such as Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys’ memorable 1987 Together Forever Tour and the Sizzling Summer Tour ’90, which featured Public Enemy, Heavy D & the Boyz, Kid ’n Play, Digital Underground and Queen Latifah. The 12-date Lyricist Lounge Tour, a 1998 showcase that featured Big Punisher, The Roots, De La Soul, Black Star, Common, Black Moon’s Buckshot and Fat Joe, also just missed the cut.

You may notice that Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. are missing from the list. But this was no momentary lapse of sanity. ’Pac’s and Biggie’s brief runs took place when rap shows were beginning to become a rarity, leaving most of their memorable stage moments to one-off shows. Dirty South royalty Outkast’s strongest live outing, when Big Boi and Andre 3000 reunited in 2014, was not included because it was less of a tour and more of a savvy festival run.

There are other honorable mentions: Def Jam Survival of the Illest Tour (1998), which featured DMX, the Def Squad, Foxy Brown, Onyx and Cormega; the Ruff Ryders/Cash Money Tour (2000); Anger Management 3 Tour with Eminem and 50 Cent (2005); J. Cole’s Dollar & A Dream Tour (2013); and Drake’s Aubrey & The Three Migos LIVE! tour (2018).

With that said, on with the show!

20. Pinkprint Tour (2015)

Nicki Minaj, featuring Meek Mill, Rae Sremmurd, Tinashe and Dej Loaf

The most lucrative hip-hop trek headlined by a woman also served as the coronation of Nicki Minaj as hip-hop’s newest queen. What made The Pinkprint Tour such a gloriously over-the-top affair was its seamless balance of dramatic Broadway-like theater, silly high jinks and a flex of artistic ferocity. One moment Minaj was in a black lace dress covering her eyes while mourning the loss of a turbulent union during “The Crying Game.” The next, she was backing up her memorable appearance on Kanye West’s “Monster” as the most wig-snatching guest verse of that decade. And the Barbz went wild.

Gross: $22 million from 38 shows

Kendrick Lamar performs during the Festival d’ete de Quebec on Friday, July 7, 2017, in Quebec City, Canada.

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

19. The Damn. Tour (2017-18)

Kendrick Lamar, featuring Travis Scott, DRAM and YG

When you have dropped two of the most critically lauded albums of your era in Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012) and To Pimp a Butterfly (2015), there’s already an embarrassment of riches to pull from for any live setting. But Kendrick Lamar understood that to live up to his bold “greatest rapper alive” proclamation he also needed populist anthems to turn on the masses. The Damn. album and world tour presented just that, as he led his followers each night in an elevating rap-along. It kicked off with a martial arts film, a cheeky nod to Lamar’s Kung Fu Kenny alter ego, before launching into the chest-beating “DNA.”

Gross: More than $62.7 million from 62 shows

Drake and Future performing on stage during The Summer Sixteen Tour at AmericanAirlines Arena on Aug. 30, 2016 in Miami.

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18. Summer Sixteen Tour (2016)

Drake and Future

This mammoth, co-headlining tour was a no-brainer: Drake, the hit-making heartthrob, Canada’s clap-back native son and part-time goofy Toronto Raptors superfan. And Future, the self-anointed Atlanta Trap King, gleeful nihilist and producer, whose slapping, codeine-addled bars made him a controversial figure on and off record. The magic of this yin/yang pairing shined brightest when they teamed up to perform such tracks as “Jumpman” and “Big Rings” off their industry-shaking 2015 mixtape What a Time to Be Alive. When the smoke settled, Drake and Future walked away with the highest-earning hip-hop tour of all time.

Gross: $84.3 million from 54 shows

From left to right, Sandra ‘Pepa’ Denton, DJ Spinderella and Cheryl ‘Salt’ James perform on stage.

17. Salt-N-Pepa Tour (1988)

Featuring Keith Sweat, Heavy D & the Boyz, EU, Johnny Kemp, Full Force, Kid ’n Play and Rob Base

It may seem preposterous in this outspoken, girl-power age of Cardi B, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, Kash Doll, Young M.A, Tierra Whack and City Girls, but back in the early ’80s, the thought of a “female” rhyme group anchoring a massive tour seemed out of reach. That was before the 1986 debut of Salt-N-Pepa, the pioneering group who’s racked up a plethora of groundbreaking moments and sold more than 15 million albums. The first female rap act to go platinum (Hot, Cool & Vicious) and score a Top 20 hit on the Billboard 200 (“Push It”), Salt-N-Pepa led a diverse, arena-hopping showcase that gave the middle finger to any misogynistic notions. And Salt, Pepa and DJ Spinderella continue to be road warriors. They’re currently on New Kids on the Block’s arena-packing Mixtape Tour.

Encore: Opening-act standouts Heavy D & the Boyz would co-headline their own tour the following year off the platinum success of their 1989 masterpiece Big Tyme.

16. Glow in the Dark Tour (2008)

Kanye West, featuring Rihanna, N.E.R.D, Nas, Lupe Fiasco and Santigold

Yes, Kanye West has had more ambitious showings (2013-14’s button-pushing Yeezus Tour) and more aesthetically adventurous gigs (the 2016 Saint Pablo Tour featured a floating stage, which hovered above the audience). But never has the Chicago-born visionary sounded so hungry, focused and optimistic than he did on his first big solo excursion, the Glow in the Dark Tour.

Before the Kardashian reality-show level freak-outs and MAGA hat obsessing, West was just a kid who wanted to share his spacey sci-fi dreamscape with the public, complete with a talking computerized spaceship named Jane. Even the rotating opening acts — topped off by the coolest pop star on the planet, Rihanna — were ridiculously talented.

Gross: $30.8 million from 49 shows

15. I Am Music Tour (2008-09)

Lil Wayne, featuring T-Pain and Keyshia Cole

Between 2002 and 2007, Young Money general Lil Wayne was hip-hop’s hardest-working force of nature, releasing an astounding 16 mixtapes. Then Weezy broke from the pack with the massively successful I Am Music Tour. The bulk of Lil Wayne’s 90-minute set was propelled by his career-defining 2008 album Tha Carter III, which by the show’s second leg had already sold 2 million copies. By the time T-Pain joined the New Orleans spitter for a playful battle of the featured acts, Lil Wayne’s takeover was complete.

Gross: $42 million from 78 shows

MC Hammer, performing on stage in 1990, had a large entourage for his Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em Tour.

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14. Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em Tour (1990-91)

MC Hammer, featuring En Vogue and Vanilla Ice

With 15 background dancers, 12 singers, seven musicians, two DJs, eight security men, three valets and a private Boeing 727 plane, MC Hammer’s world tour was eye-popping. Rap fans had never seen anything of the magnitude of the Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em stadium gigs, which recalled Parliament-Funkadelic’s army-size traveling heyday in the 1970s.

Each night the Oakland, California, dancing machine, born Stanley Burrell, left pools of sweat onstage as if he was the second coming of James Brown. If the sight of more than 30 folks onstage doing the Running Man, with MC Hammer breaking into his signature typewriter dance during “U Can’t Touch This,” didn’t make you get up, you should have checked your pulse.

Gross: $26.3 million from 138 shows

13. Things Fall Apart! Tour (1999)

The Roots

Each gig was a revelation. This was no surprise given that Philadelphia hip-hop collective The Roots, formed by longtime friends drummer Questlove and lead lyricist Black Thought, had a reputation for being unpredictable. Still, it’s ironic that a group known for being the ultimate road warriors — they were known for touring 45 weeks a year before becoming the house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2014 — is represented on this list by one of their shortest tours.

But the brilliant Things Fall Apart club and hall sprint, which took place throughout March 1999, proved to be an epic blitz fueled by the band’s most commercially lauded material to date, Questlove’s steady percussive heart and the inhuman breath control of Black Thought.

Encore: Neo soul diva Jill Scott, who co-wrote The Roots’ breakout single “You Got Me,” gave fans an early taste of her artistry as she joined the band onstage for some serious vocal workouts.

12. House of Blues’ Smokin’ Grooves Tour (1996)

The Fugees, Cypress Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Ziggy Marley and Spearhead

While gangsta rap was topping the charts, the hip-hop industry faced a bleak situation on the touring front. Concert promoters were scared to book “urban” acts in large venues. Enter the House of Blues’ Kevin Morrow and Cara Lewis, the booking agent who achieved mythic status when she received a shout-out on Eric B. & Rakim’s 1987 anthem “Paid in Full.” The pair envisioned a Lollapalooza-like tour heavy on hip-hop and good vibes. The first ’96 incarnation came out of the gate with Haitian-American rap trio The Fugees, multiplatinum weed ambassadors Cypress Hill, A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes.

Encore: The series, which has also featured Outkast, The Roots, Lauryn Hill, Gang Starr, The Pharcyde, Foxy Brown and Public Enemy, is credited with opening the door for a return to more straight-ahead hip-hop tours led by Jay-Z, DMX and Dr. Dre.

Kanye West (left) and Jay-Z (right) perform in concert during the Watch The Throne Tour, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, in East Rutherford, N.J.

AP Photo

11. Watch the Throne Tour (2011-12)

Jay-Z and Kanye West

In better times, Jay-Z and Kanye West exhibited lofty friendship goals we could all aspire to, with their bromance popping on the platinum album Watch the Throne. Before their much-publicized fallout, Jay-Z and West took their act on the road for the mother of all double-bill spectacles.

Two of hip-hop’s greatest traded classics such as the ominous “Where I’m From” (Jay-Z) and soaring “Jesus Walks” (West) from separate stages on opposite sides of the venue. Those lucky enough to catch the tour can still recall the dream tag team launching into their encore of “N—as in Paris” amid roars from thousands of revelers.

Gross: $75.6 million from 63 shows

10. The Miseducation Tour (1999)

Lauryn Hill, featuring Outkast

In 1998, Lauryn Hill wasn’t just the best woman emcee or the best emcee alive and kicking. The former standout Fugees member was briefly the voice of her generation as she rode the multiplatinum, multi-Grammy success of her solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. By February 1999, it was time to take the show on the road. Hill and her 10-piece band went beyond the hype, especially when they tore through a blistering take of the heartbreaking “Ex-Factor.”

Encore: Outkast (Atlantans Andre 3000 and Big Boi) rocked the house backed by some conspicuous props, including two front grilles of a Cadillac and a throwback Ford truck, kicked off their own headlining Stanklove theater tour in early 2001.

9. No Way Out Tour (1997-98)

Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, Lil’ Kim, Ma$e, Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, 112, The Lox, Usher, Kid Capri, Lil’ Cease and Jay-Z

The Los Angeles Times headline spoke volumes: “Combs to Headline Rare Rap Tour.” Combs, of course, is Sean “Diddy” Combs, the music, fashion, television and liquor mogul who Forbes estimates now has a net worth of $820 million. But back then, the hustler formerly known as Puff Daddy was struggling to keep his Bad Boy Records afloat after the March 9, 1997, murder of Brooklyn, New York, rhyme king The Notorious B.I.G.

But out of unspeakable tragedy rose Combs’ chart-dominating No Way Out album and an emotional all-star tour. Despite suggestions that large-scale rap shows were too much of a financial gamble, Puffy rallied the Bad Boy troops and a few close friends and proved the naysayers wrong. The No Way Out Tour was both a cathartic exercise and a joyous celebration of life. “It’s All About the Benjamins” shook the foundation of every building as Combs, The Lox and a show-stealing Lil’ Kim made monetary excess look regal. And the heartfelt Biggie tribute “I’ll Be Missing You,” which was performed live at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, had audiences in tears.

Gross: $16 million

Rap stars, from left, Redman, foreground, DMX, Method Man and Jay-Z join host DJ Clue, background left, in a photo session on Jan. 26, 1999, in New York, after announcing their 40-city Hard Knock Life Tour beginning Feb. 27, in Charlotte, N.C.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

8. Hard Knock Life Tour (1999)

Jay-Z, featuring DMX, Redman and Method Man

Jay-Z stands now as hip-hop’s most bankable live draw. In 2017, the newly minted billionaire’s 4:44 Live Nation production pulled in $44.7 million, becoming America’s all-time highest-grossing solo rap jaunt. It’s a long way from the days of Jay-Z lumbering through performances in a bulletproof vest when he was last off the bench on Puff Daddy’s No Way Out Tour.

Surely the seeds of Jay-Z’s evolution as a concert staple were first planted on his Hard Knock Life Tour, which was documented in the 2000 film Backstage. This was a confident, full-throated Shawn Carter, and he would need every ounce of charisma, with Ruff Ryders lead dog DMX enrapturing fans as if he were a Baptist preacher at a tent revival and the duo of Redman and Method Man rapping and swinging over crowds from ropes attached to moving cranes. What a gig.

Gross: $18 million

Flavor Flav (left) and Chuck D (right) of the rap group Public Enemy perform onstage in New York in August 1988.

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7. Bring the Noise Tour (1988)

Public Enemy and Ice-T, featuring Eazy-E & N.W.A. and EPMD

There has always been a controlled chaos to a Public Enemy live show. Lead orator Chuck D jolted the crowd with a ferocity over the intricate, combustible production of the Bomb Squad while clock-rocking Flavor Flav, the prototypical hype man, jumped and zigzagged across the stage.

DJ Terminator X cut records like a cyborg and never smiled. And Professor Griff and the S1Ws exuded an intimidating, paramilitary presence. Armed with their 1988 watershed black nationalist work, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, an album many music historians consider to be the pinnacle hip-hop statement, Public Enemy spearheaded arguably the most exciting rap tour ever conceived.

Encore: Along for the wild ride was the godfather of West Coast rap, Ice-T, who was putting on the rest of the country to Los Angeles’ violent Crips and Bloods gang wars with the too-real “Colors.” N.W.A. was just about to set the world on fire with their opus Straight Outta Compton. Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella unleashed a profanity-laced declaration of street knowledge that was instantly slapped with parental advisory stickers. And Erick and Parrish were making dollars with their rough and raw EPMD joint Strictly Business.

6. Nitro World Tour (1989-90)

LL Cool J, featuring Public Enemy, Eazy E & N.W.A., Big Daddy Kane, Too $hort, EPMD, Slick Rick, De La Soul and Special Ed

In early ’85, LL Cool J was a 16-year-old rhyme fanatic living in his grandparents’ Queens, New York, home. Three years later, the kid who became Def Jam Records’ signature artist with his iconic B-boy manifesto Radio was the most successful solo emcee on the planet with more than 4 million albums sold and counting. LL Cool J was also headlining some of the hottest events of rap’s golden era. And he was at his cockiest love-me-or-hate-me peak during the Nitro Tour.

But not even LL Cool J was ready for the monster that was N.W.A. The self-proclaimed World’s Most Dangerous Group completely hijacked the spotlight when N.W.A. was warned by officials not to perform their controversial track “F— the Police” at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. A minute into the song, cops stormed the stage and shut down Eazy-E and crew’s volatile set, a wild scene that was later re-created in the 2015 N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton.

Encore: A few months before the Detroit gig, N.W.A. was booed during a Run-DMC show at New York’s Apollo Theater. “We all had watched Showtime at the Apollo, so we all knew if it went bad what was gonna happen,” Ice Cube explained on the Complex story series What Had Happened Was … “We hit the stage, and as soon as they saw the Jheri curls, all you heard was ‘Boo!’ I mean, before we even got a line out, they was booin’. I guess they just wasn’t feeling the Jheri curls.”

Rappers Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Nolan of Kid ‘n Play perform onstage during “The World’s Greatest Rap Show Ever” on Jan. 3, 1992 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

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5. The World’s Greatest Rap Show Ever (1991-92)

Public Enemy, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Geto Boys, Kid ’n Play, Naughty by Nature, A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders of the New School and Oaktown’s 3.5.7.

Props to the promoter who put together this awesome collection of hip-hop firepower for a tour that at least aimed to live up to its tagline. What stands out the most was the early acknowledgment of rap’s reach beyond the East and West coasts. The significance of including Houston’s Geto Boys, for instance, cannot be overstated.

Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill carried the flag for Southern hip-hop, winning over skeptical concertgoers with their raw dissection of ’hood paranoia, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” which had become a favorite on Yo! MTV Raps. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince proved they could still rock the house with PG-rated material. (It helped that Will Smith had just begun the first season of NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.) Queen Latifah busted through the testosterone with the empowering “Ladies First.” And Naughty by Nature frequently knocked out the most crowd-pleasing set of the night with their promiscuous anthem “O.P.P.”

Encore: The World’s Greatest Rap Show Ever made its Jan. 3, 1992, stop at New York’s Madison Square Garden less than a week after nine people were fatally crushed at a hip-hop charity basketball game at City College of New York. Before Public Enemy’s powerful message of black self-determination, Heavy D, an organizer of the doomed event, made a plea for unity. Fans were certainly listening. The gig was a resounding, peaceful triumph.

LL Cool J performs at the Genesis Center in Gary, Indiana in December 1987.

Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

4. Def Jam Tour (1987)

LL Cool J, Whodini, Eric B. & Rakim, Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew, and Public Enemy

From 1986 to 1992, New York’s Def Jam Records was the premier hip-hop label. Its roster of artists, which included Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, EPMD and Slick Rick, was unparalleled in range and cultural dominance. So when it came time for partners Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin to spread the Def Jam gospel on its first international tour, the imprint’s biggest star, LL Cool J, was chosen to lead the way. And he didn’t disappoint.

James Todd Smith strutted out of a giant neon boombox sporting a Kangol hat, dookie rope gold chain and Adidas jacket. Of course, that jacket would soon be thrown to the floor as a shirtless Ladies Love Cool James tore through his ’85 single “Rock the Bells” as if it were the last song he would get to perform.

For many overseas, their first taste of American rap also included DJ Eric B. & Rakim, who were killing the streets with their 1987 masterpiece Paid In Full. Almost overnight in Germany, France, Norway and the Netherlands, hip-hop became the new religion.

Encore: This was the first proper world tour for Public Enemy, who had just dropped their 12-inch single “Rebel Without a Pause.” Although they were the opening act, Chuck D and his posse stole the show, establishing their standing as global behemoths. The now-legendary show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon can be heard throughout It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

The Up In Smoke Tour in 2000 was a dream team bill, headed by producer Dr. Dre and featuring Eminem, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and more.

Photo by Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

3. Up In Smoke (2000)

Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Eminem, Tha Dogg Pound, Warren G and Nate Dogg, and Xzibit

As over-the-top, profane spectacles go, the Up In Smoke Tour has few rivals. Detroit’s Eminem stormed the stage wearing a red jumpsuit with “County Jail” stitched on the back. Ice Cube, before being joined by his Westside Connection cohorts, Mack 10 and WC, emerged from a cryogenic chamber. Hennessy-sipping and weed-toking Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg rode out in a hydraulically juiced lowrider. There was a 15-foot talking skull!

The multimillion-dollar stage design put the concert industry on notice that not only could rap shows attain the lavish production values of the best rock shows, they could surpass them. It was also an emphatic statement that the largely West Coast rap dignitaries knew how to throw a party. And there still isn’t another hip-hop song that matches the first 20 seconds of Dre’s “Next Episode” in concert.

Gross: $22.2 million from 44 shows

2. Raising Hell Tour (1986)

Run-DMC, featuring LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys and Whodini

There’s a reason Run-DMC is hailed as the greatest live hip-hop act of its era. They understood that less is always more. Because of their stripped-down beats and rhymes, the group amplified the genius of every aspect of their concert presentation up to 11. Jam Master Jay’s scratching was more thunderous than the other DJs on the 1s and 2s. Run’s pay-me stage presence commanded respect. And D had the throat-grabbing voice of God. They wore Godfather hats, black jeans and shoelace-less Adidas sneakers. The Hollis, Queens, crew was the personification of cool.

LL Cool J was just 18 during the Raising Hell Tour, but he was coming after Run-DMC’s crown every night. The hotel-wrecking Beastie Boys co-piloted rap’s bum-rush into Middle America, scaring parents wherever they landed. And Whodini brilliantly straddled the line between electro funkateers and around-the-way dudes representing BK to the fullest.

As “Walk This Way,” Run-DMC’s genre-shifting Aerosmith collaboration, exploded on the pop charts, vaulting the Raising Hell album to 3 million copies sold (the first hip-hop album to go triple platinum), ticket sales followed. The 45-city tour affirmed hip-hop’s cultural takeover.

Encore: The image of Joseph Simmons commanding 20,000-plus fans to hold up their sneakers during a performance of “My Adidas” at a New York show is still a surreal sight.

1. Fresh Fest (1984)

Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, Whodini, The Fat Boys, Newcleus & the Dynamic Breakers, New York City Breakers, Turbo and Ozone

Ricky Walker had an idea: The concert promoter wanted to put together the first national rap music and break-dancing tour. In 1984, hip-hop had moved on from its underground beginnings in the Bronx. Run-DMC had just dropped their self-titled debut, and their “Rock Box” became the first rap video to received play on MTV. Breakin’, the first break dancing movie to hit the big screen, pulled in nearly $40 million at the box office on a minuscule $1.2 million budget. Walker saw the future.

He called New York impresario Simmons to tap some of his Rush Productions talent, which included heartthrob Brooklyn trio Whodini, rap’s first solo superstar Kurtis Blow, the comedic Fat Boys and, of course, the hottest hip-hop act in the country, Run-DMC. But when it came time to promote the first show, billed as the Swatch Watch NYC Fresh Fest Festival, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Walker was laughed out of the room by a radio ad man.

Rap was still viewed by many record industry power brokers as a passing fad. In a 1985 interview with Billboard magazine, Walker recalled the salesperson pleading with him. “You’re a friend of mine,” he said. “Can’t I talk you out of doing this show?”

Walker’s instincts, however, proved to be dead-on. Fresh Fest moved 7,500 tickets in four hours. The tour, which also featured some of the best street dancers on the planet, such as Breakin’ stars Boogaloo Shrimp and Shabba Doo, as well as the synth funk-rap group Newcleus, not only did brisk business at mid-level venues but also sold out 20,000-seat arenas in Chicago and Philadelphia. Like the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll shows of the ’50s conceived by Cleveland radio DJ Alan Freed, the Fresh Fest proved that rap could be a serious and profitable art form. The rest is hip-hop history.

Gross: $3.5 million

How Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier became MLB’s king of custom cleats Fear of Gods, Space Jams, Travis Scotts — Frazier has worn them all and more on the filed to bring some swag to baseball

The night before a game against the Boston Red Sox in mid-April, Clint Frazier might as well have been a kid picking his outfit for the first day of school.

The 24-year-old New York Yankees outfielder wanted to look fresh for the first series of the 2019 Major League Baseball season between the two rival teams. He specifically envisioned pairing Yankees pinstripes with one of his favorite pairs of sneakers, the Nigel Sylvester Air Jordan 1s. But to take the baseball field in basketball shoes, Frazier needed some help. So he sent the Jordans to Anthony Ambrosini, founder and owner of Custom Cleats Inc., who’s been converting basketball and lifestyle sneakers into wearable footwear for grass and turf for 15 years.

“I texted Clint saying I got them,” Ambrosini recalled, “and he said, ‘Can you have them for me for the game tomorrow?’ … I told him, ‘It’s 10 o’clock at night, and I haven’t even started them.’ ” Yet Frazier pleaded, and Ambrosini obliged. He went into his Long Island, New York, shop after hours and added metal spikes to the bottoms of the shoes. By the next day, they’d make it to Yankee Stadium, ready for Frazier to lace up before the game.

In the bottom of the fourth inning of the Yankees’ 8-0 win over the Red Sox on April 16 — when the two teams partook in the league’s annual celebration of Jackie Robinson Day — Frazier launched a 354-foot home run to right-center field, with Robinson’s No. 42 on the back of his uniform and Nigel Sylvester 1s on his feet. It had to be the shoes, right?

“Look good, feel good. Feel good, play good. Play good, get paid good,” said Frazier, paraphrasing the timeless saying from the great Deion Sanders. “I’m trying to do all those.”

That’s certainly been the motto for the Yankees phenom. In the first few months of the season, Frazier has become Major League Baseball’s king of custom cleats. In 39 games, he’s worn 13 different pairs — from Air Jordan 6s to high- and low-top Air Jordan 11s, Nike Fear of Gods and Air Force 1s, as well as multiple models of his most beloved sneaker, the Air Jordan 1. All of his cleats have been converted by Ambrosini, marking a partnership that’s really only just beginning.

“My goal is to have as many pairs of custom cleats as I can over the 162-game season,” said Frazier, who’s batting .270 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs. “I’m trying to bring a little swagger to baseball.”


With the fifth overall pick in the 2013 MLB first-year player draft, the Cleveland Indians selected the then-18-year-old Frazier out of Loganville High School, near his hometown of Decatur, Georgia. Frazier, who was named the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year during his senior season, had already committed to play at the University of Georgia. Yet he decided to sign with the Indians and go straight from high school to the big leagues.

Frazier wouldn’t make his MLB debut until July 1, 2017, less than a year after being traded from Cleveland to New York and emerging as the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees organization. He spent his first season in the majors endorsed by Under Armour before Adidas signed him in 2018. Heading into his third MLB season, Frazier was due for a change.

“I dropped my contract with Adidas,” Frazier said, “and told myself I was just gonna go the solo route and convert shoes into cleats.”

Frazier could’ve bought pairs of Air Jordan 11 cleats that debuted in 2018. He also could’ve waited until late March, right before the start of MLB’s regular season, when the Jordan Brand dropped a collection of Air Jordan 1 cleats. But what he truly sought was the liberty to wear whatever he wanted on the field. Frazier was anxious to start commissioning conversions. He just had to find someone capable of transforming any sneaker he imagined into a cleat. In mid-February, three days before Yankees position players were scheduled to report to the team’s spring training facility in Tampa, Florida, he took to Twitter in search of a customizer:

Most of the replies pointed Frazier in the direction of Custom Cleats, and one of his teammates specifically referred him to the company’s owner. Coming off double-heel surgery in 2018, veteran Yankees shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had Ambrosini make him pairs of LeBron James’ signature Nikes that proved to be more comfortable to wear than traditional cleats as he recovered from the injury.

“Troy took those LeBrons to spring training, and I guess Clint saw them,” said Ambrosini, who began making cleats in the early 2000s while playing in the minor leagues within the Montreal Expos organization. The first pair he converted was Kobe Bryant’s Nike Huaraches for his younger brother and Class A teammate, Dominick Ambrosini, a sixth-round draft pick by the Expos in 1999. Now the elder Ambrosini does custom baseball and golf cleats for athletes all across the country, including Chicago Cubs All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester, retired seven-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens and future first-ballot Basketball Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade. Business is booming at Custom Cleats Inc., which boasts 100,000 followers on the company’s Instagram page.

“I got a text from Tulowitzki’s agent,” Ambrosini continued, “letting me know that Clint was gonna give me a call.”

Frazier’s first commission was a pair of “Shadow” Air Jordan 1s that he wanted to wear in spring training. Ambrosini completed the conversion and shipped the shoes down to Florida. Frazier was so excited once they arrived that he sprinted from the mailroom of George M. Steinbrenner Field into the Yankees’ clubhouse to open the package. Ambrosini had passed Frazier’s test. And the focus shifted to what he’d wear during the regular season.

“I don’t think anybody knew how serious I was about trying to make this a real thing,” Frazier said. “I told Anthony, ‘Look, man. This is kind of my vision. I want to make this into something big. I want to continue to send you a bunch of shoes to make into cleats throughout the year.’ ”

Their system is simple: Frazier cops size 10.5s in the dopest kicks he can find and sends them to Ambrosini, who replaces the rubber soles on each pair of shoes with custom-manufactured spiked cleat bottoms. He can turn around a sneaker in less than a day before having it hand-delivered to Yankee Stadium or shipped out to Frazier if the team is on the road.

“We kicked around ideas about shoes we wanted to do. One night, Clint called me from Flight Club,” said Ambrosini of the popular sneaker boutique in New York City’s East Village. “He was on the phone like, ‘Yo, man. What shoes should I get? I’m staring at all these shoes. There’s so many options, I don’t know what to pick.’ I’m like, ‘Just pick something that you love, that’s comfortable and that’s got the colors that you can wear.’ ”

Clint Frazier of the New York Yankees in action against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on April 20. The Yankees defeated the Royals 9-2.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

That’s right: Frazier has to remain compliant with the MLB uniform guidelines. He hasn’t run into any trouble so far, although he’s broken out all different kinds of flavors with his cleats. Frazier made his season debut on April 2 in a pair of “Olympic” Air Jordan 6s. He hit his first home run of the year on the road against the Baltimore Orioles wearing those “Shadow” 1s from spring training. A day later, still at Camden Yards in Baltimore wearing the Shadows, he went deep twice in one game.

“It almost felt like whenever I wore a new pair of cleats, I’d hit a home run,” Frazier said. “That’s why I was breaking out different shoes. I was like, ‘Damn, man. I just hit a home run in all of them.’ ”

His next homer came against the Red Sox in the Nigel Sylvester 1s. Last year, Queens, New York, native and professional BMX rider Nigel Sylvester collaborated with Jordan Brand for his own edition of the Air Jordan 1. Frazier loves that shoe so much that he has two pairs: one that he wears off the field and another that he got converted into cleats. Sylvester had never seen or heard of the flashy, red-haired Yankees outfielder until the night his friend sent him a random direct message: “Yo! I’m at the game and homie is wearing your shoes as cleats.” Sylvester was flattered by the gesture.

“Being a New York City kid, I definitely have a spot in my heart for the Yankees,” Sylvester said. “To see Clint hit a home run and run the bases in my shoe — bro, it was so crazy. Definitely a moment in my career I will never, ever forget. … He’s brought a level of excitement to the game that’s needed. … At the end of the day, he’s being creative, and I always respect creativity, especially on such a big stage.”

The day after the game, Sylvester showed Frazier some love on Instagram, and designer Jerry Lorenzo (the son of former MLB player and manager Jerry Manuel) commented on the post. Similar to Sylvester’s collaboration with the Jordan Brand, Lorenzo, founder of the stylish streetwear label Fear of God, has teamed up with Nike for two collections of his own sneakers. Frazier saw Lorenzo’s comment and slyly replied, “I got something for u on Friday.”

That Friday, April 19, Frazier whipped out a pair of the Nike Air Fear of God Shoot Around. Oh, and the heat didn’t stop there. He’s also worn a collection of Air Jordan 11s in the “Win like ’82,’ ” “Space Jam” and low-top “Navy Snakeskin” colorways. Two weeks before the release of the “Cap and Gown” Air Jordan 13s, Frazier had them on his feet in the batter’s box.

“Clint definitely represents the hypebeast culture as far as style,” Ambrosini said. “That’s what makes him stand out so much. He’s so in tune with the awesomeness of all the sneakers that are out, and he’s not afraid to get out there and wear them. There’s a lot of guys I do conversions for that at first glance you really can’t tell it was a sneaker — it blends in so much with the uniform. … But Clint is finding the coolest shoes. … They’re so sick and they stand out so much that that’s what’s making him stand out too.”

Frazier has even paid homage to a true Yankees legend with pairs of Derek Jeter’s “Re2pect” Air Jordan 1s and low-top Air Jordan 11s. In 1998, shortly after the official launch of the Jordan Brand, Jeter became the first baseball player to be endorsed by Jordan. Now, 11 active players represent the Jordan Brand in Major League Baseball: New York Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances, Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Gio Gonzalez, Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, San Diego Padres infielder Manny Machado, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Taijuan Walker.

Three of Frazier’s teammates are Jordan guys, and 11 of his 13 pairs of custom cleats are Air Jordans. But landing an endorsement deal isn’t necessarily on his mind.

Clint Frazier of the New York Yankees bats during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore on April 4.

Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

“Jordan is my favorite brand,” Frazier said. “I obviously would love to be a part of the brand one day, but I also don’t want to lose my independence or my freedom with the ability to wear whatever cleat I wanna wear.”

Instead, Frazier has modeled his movement after another athlete who’s embraced not having a shoe contract: veteran Houston Rockets forward and NBA sneaker king P.J. Tucker.

“I’m not a huge basketball guy, but I know who P.J. Tucker is from the buzz he’s created because of all the shoes he’s wearing,” Frazier said. “That was kind of my goal, to build off of his platform. In baseball, we don’t have a lot of guys that have done this.”

No shoe deal means Frazier has an expensive hobby — especially if he’s doubling and tripling up on pairs of certain sneakers to wear off the field, during batting practice and in a cleated version during games. Frazier is definitely a sneakerhead, although his collection isn’t as big as you’d think. “I probably have 50 to 60 pairs,” he said. “But that’s gonna continue to grow — I know that. And I know my cleats collection is gonna probably be bigger than my actual shoe collection.”

Inside the Yankees’ clubhouse this season, a few of Frazier’s teammates call him “Canal Street Clint.” It’s a notorious nickname due to the reputation of that area of New York City. Basically, Canal is the mecca of knockoff designer merchandise, a place you go to find cheap Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and more, albeit fake or counterfeited. Frazier doesn’t shop there, but he earned the moniker because what he plays in aren’t real cleats made for baseball. But they’re real to him, and the people who’ve taken notice: clubhouse attendants from opposing teams who come to his locker asking if they can see a few of his pairs, pitchers and catchers he spots staring at his feet, and even the dudes whose shoes he’s wearing.

“Guys have worn dope a– shoes on the diamond, but the way that Clint’s doing it, it’s kinda crazy,” Sylvester said. “He’s flipping shoes that aren’t meant to be cleats into cleats. Which is so dope.”

Despite the jokes, Frazier plans to keep the customs coming.

“I’m creating a new wave of style in baseball,” he said over the phone from a West Coast road trip in late April, two days after suffering a Grade 2 left ankle sprain with two partially torn ligaments. The injury kept him off the field for 11 games. But when he returned in the second week of May, of course he did so in style.

Frazier debuted five pairs in seven days, including superstar rapper Travis Scott’s “Sail” Nike Air Force 1s and his new Air Jordan 1s, perhaps the most hyped sneaker release of the year. On Twitter, Scott gave Frazier his stamp of approval.

For a game on Mother’s Day, Frazier and Ambrosini teamed up with famed sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache for a pair of custom-painted Air Jordan 1 cleats, featuring his mom’s two cats.

In late May, Ambrosini shared a photo of his latest creation: a pair of suede “Cool Grey” Kaws x Air Jordan 4s, which dropped in March 2017 for $350 but have skyrocketed in value and now resell on GOAT in a size 10.5 for $1,435. The caption on the post read, “Tag someone that might take @kaws to the diamond.” Of course, most people shouted out Frazier, including Houston Astros outfielder Derek Fisher, who commented, “@clintfrazierr might be the only one insane enough.”

And Frazier responded, confirming everyone’s inkling.

“What if i told you those are mine,” Frazier wrote under the comment, “i just haven’t worn them yet?”

The plan: Debut the Kaws 4s at Yankee Stadium when the Red Sox are in town this week. For a four-game series against Boston, it was only right that he broke out a fresh new pair of custom cleats.

But with four months left in the season, the question is, what else does Clint Frazier have in his bag?

“I’ve got some stuff in the works,” he said. “Just keep watching.”

The 23 hottest sneaker sightings of 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend LeBron, Hamidou Diallo, Dame Lillard, D-Wade — pro basketball’s best raised the bar high

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend, and the Queen City was transformed into a mecca of sneakers. Customs were commissioned and executed for athletes, celebrities and even a coach, utilizing every concept and color imaginable. And the bar for player-exclusive (PE) sneakers reached new heights of design and storytelling.

Kawhi Leonard debuted his first New Balance shoe. Puma released its second on-court sneaker of the NBA season, continuing to prove that the brand’s return to basketball is in full effect. Adidas channeled Charlotte’s rich racing history on kicks for Damian Lillard, James Harden and Kyle Lowry. The young Hamidou Diallo leapt over Shaquille O’Neal all the way to the Slam Dunk Contest trophy in a fresh pair of Under Armours that repped his upbringing. And as for Chinese sneaker giant Li-Ning, the company sent Dwyane Wade out in style in the final All-Star Game of his career. The weekend also delivered the long-awaited drop of the Adapt BB — Nike’s first auto-lacing performance basketball sneaker.

Meanwhile, the Swoosh made the sneaker world bow down to heat fit for a King — on LeBron James’ feet. And of course, in Hornets owner Michael Jordan’s city, the Jordan Brand showed out with an extensive All-Star collection featuring the retro release of the iconic “Infrared” Air Jordan 6, which MJ wore in 1991, the last time Charlotte hosted the All-Star Game. In honor of the GOAT, whose 56th birthday fell on the same day of the 68th edition of the NBA All-Star Game, these are the top 23 pairs of sneakers spotted by The Undefeated throughout the weekend.


Adidas

Damian Lillard’s dame 5 PE

Damian Lillard’s shoes during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 17 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

James Harden’s harden Vol. 3 PE

The sneakers of James Harden of Team LeBron before the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyle Lowry’s marquee Low Boost Low PE

Kyle Lowry’s All-Star sneakers. Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Jordan

Russell Westbrook’s “All-Star” Jordan Why Not Zer0.2

The sneakers worn by Russell Westbrook of Team Giannis during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Blake Griffin in the “Infrared” Air Jordan 6

Blake Griffin of Team Giannis sits at his locker during the 2019 NBA All-Star practice and media availability Saturday at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Kemba Walker’s steve Wiebe x Air Jordan 10 PE

Kemba Walker’s shoes for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. Tom O’Connor/NBAE via Getty Images

Dawn Staley’s Air Jordan 1 Custom by the original Shoe Chef

Instagram Photo

Lamarcus Aldridge in the travis Scott Air Jordan 33

LaMarcus Aldridge wears his shoes during Saturday’s 2019 NBA All-Star practice and media availability. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Shareef O’neal’s “ultra instinct” Air Jordan 10 Custom by Sierato

Instagram Photo

“Wings” Air Jordan 4

Instagram Photo

Li-Ning

dwyane wade’s Way of Wade All City 7 Custom by Solesbysir

Instagram Photo

New Balance

Kawhi LeonArd’s oMN1s pe

Kawhi Leonard’s New Balance sneakers. Tom O’Connor/NBAE via Getty Images

Nike

Kyle Kuzma’s adapt bb pe

Luka Doncic’s Kobe 4 Protro PE

The sneakers of Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks on display in the locker room Saturday night at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Quavo’s KD 11 & PG 3 Custom by Mache

Instagram Photo

Kyrie Irving’s rOKIT Kyrie 5

Kyrie Irving’s All-Star Game sneakers. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Lebron JAmes’ “Safari” LeBron 16

Sneakers worn by LeBron James during the 2019 NBA All-Star practice and media availability at Bojangles’ Coliseum. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Ronnie 2K’s Air More Uptempo by the Shoe Surgeon and Sean Wotherspoon

“Watch the Throne” LeBron 16

The sneakers on the feet of LeBron James during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday night. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Puma

Uproar

Under Armour

Hamidou diallo’s m-tag low custom by lcs

Instagram Photo

Joel Embiid’s Anatomix Spawn custom by Dez customz and kreative custom kicks

Instagram Photo

Grammys: From Cardi B to Drake, a night of come-ups, curves and side-eyes What’s next? That’s the real question

No. Question.

Best acceptance speech goes to Drake. In a surprise appearance, he picked up a trophy for best rap song (“God’s Plan”) in person. He also delivered some strong words to the Recording Academy (formerly the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences, or NARAS) about past Grammy snubs.

“We play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. It is not the NBA.” — Drake

“Know we play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport,” Drake said. “It is not the NBA. … This is a business where sometimes it is up to a bunch of people that might not understand what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say … or a brother from Houston … my brother Travis. You’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you are a hero in your hometown. If there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here, I promise you. You already won.” Nice. He was, though, like so many, cut off before completing his remarks.

In the days before the beleaguered show, which inched up in ratings last night, there was a lot of social conversation about how the Grammys are not and have not historically been welcoming to black people and people of color.

So when it was reported by The New York Times just days before Sunday’s telecast of the Grammy Awards at Los Angeles’ Staples Center that three of hip-hop’s biggest superstars — Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Childish Gambino — had turned down the opportunity to perform at this year’s show (Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift chose not to attend as well), the message was quite conspicuous, especially on the heels of recent Super Bowl halftime performance anxieties.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

“When they don’t take home the big prize, the regard of the academy, and what the Grammys represent, continues to be less meaningful to the hip-hop community, which is sad,” Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich told the Times. Indeed, a hip-hop act has not won the much-coveted album of the year trophy since Outkast for their brilliant 2003 double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. In the 61-year run of the Recording Academy’s celebration of musical excellence, the prestigious album of the year has been won by black artists only 12 times, and, while he is no doubt a beloved genius, Stevie Wonder is single-handedly responsible for three of those wins: Innervisions (1974), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1975) and Songs in the Key of Life (1977). So yes, there was much drama heading into the ceremony.

What we soon discovered, among other revelations, was that 15-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys should be given the perpetual reins to host the aging music awards show, much in the same way Billy Crystal did for the Oscars. She was that good, folks. Also: Chloe x Halle, the sister duo who gave a pitch-perfect tribute to Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack with “Where Is the Love,” have a transformative cover album within them. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were nowhere to be found at music’s biggest night to collect their award for best urban contemporary album for Everything Is Love. Yet, while there were some grand moments in black excellence, the Grammys still have serious work to do.


A moment of Michelle Obama magic

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

“From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side …” That’s how she began. Forever first lady Michelle Obama’s surprise appearance at the Grammys was so surreal that even the other legendary women who stood alongside her — Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Keys and Jennifer Lopez — were overwhelmed.

But Obama was instantly drowned out by applause from the crowd. “All right, you all, all right, we got a show to do,” she said with a smile. And yet the statement of women’s strength was just the beginning. Viewers witnessed a record 31 wins by women recording artists and a sharp acceptance speech by best new artist Dua Lipa, who took a dig at outgoing academy president Neil Portnow, who once stated that female artists should “step up” during last year’s ceremony. Calling it an honor “to be nominated alongside so many incredible female artists this year,” she jabbed, “I guess this year we really stepped up.” Ouch.

It’s Cardi’s world

Cardi B continued her fairy-tale run, snatching up rap album of the year for her boss platinum debut Invasion of Privacy, thanking her daughter, Kulture, as well as her husband, Offset of the Migos. “I’m sorry,” the Bronx, New York, rap queen said, before joking, “I just, oh, the nerves are so bad. Maybe I need to start smoking weed.” Cardi B became the first solo woman to ever win the category and brought the house down with her piano-driven, chest-beating 808 anthem “Money.” Rocking immaculate black peacock feathers and surrounded by an army of flapper-era dancers, Cardi earned a well-deserved standing ovation for her 1920s-inspired nod to Josephine Baker.

But Cardi B’s big night was nearly overshadowed by a tweet from Ariana Grande, who posted the word “trash” along with some stinging expletives as the rapper beat out the singer’s ex-boyfriend, greatly missed late hip-hop star Mac Miller. Grande, who won her first Grammy for best pop vocal album, quickly deleted the tweet. Cardi B, however, responded on Instagram.

Lady Gaga turns it up to 11

The first award of the night went to an emotional Lady Gaga, whose “Shallow” duet with actor Bradley Cooper won best pop duo or group performance.

Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

And then music’s most earnest ham, clad in a glittery jumpsuit, transformed “Shallow” into a ’70s arena rock workout.

But can you play?

Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Janelle Monáe came out strapped … with a guitar. Within her lustful “Make Me Feel” were echoes of the Purple One, Prince. Yet Monáe was not alone in her throwback musician bliss. Singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes started out on piano and then switched to guitar. A confident Ne-Yo tickled the ivories as well during an otherwise train wreck of a Motown tribute (more on that later). Post Malone strummed an acoustic guitar on his somber “Stay” before joining the Red Hot Chili Peppers as if he’s already counting down to the moment he’s done playing on the hip-hop side of the tracks. But there was another artist who flexed the most impressive talent of the entire night.

A star is born

Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Imagine Lalah Hathaway jamming with Prince Rogers Nelson while wearing cooler-than-cool shades. That’s the best way to describe the music of singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist and all-around badass H.E.R. The enigmatic newcomer not only won two awards, including best rhythm and blues album for her self-titled EP, she gave perhaps the night’s most dynamic show with the empowering “Hard Place.” Her seemingly effortless soulful vocals were backed by her cracking band — and violinists. And H.E.R. even shredded a translucent guitar, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Childish Gambino has the last laugh

Childish Gambino was a Grammys no-show. But that didn’t stop the renaissance man from taking home two of the biggest awards of the night for “This Is America,” his surreal and sneering indictment of gun violence and institutional racism. Childish Gambino, who ironically appeared in a Grammy ad for Google’s Playmoji, became the first hip-hop star to win record of the year and song of the year.

Dolly, Diana and Aretha

Three of music’s most revered figures received well-deserved tributes. For country music crossover goddess Dolly Parton, who was joined onstage by Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Little Big Town and the night’s other big winner, Kacey Musgraves, it was yet another reminder that beyond her bubbly, self-effacing image, Parton is a brilliant songwriting machine defying genres. Just check out her string of classics, including “Jolene,” “Here You Come Again,” “9 to 5” and her 1974 gem “I Will Always Love You,” which was given new life when Whitney Houston’s definitive cover became one of the best-selling singles of all time.

Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

An always regal Diana Ross, floating through in a flowing red dress while celebrating her 75th birthday, moved the audience after a too-cute introduction by her 9-year-old grandson, Raif-Henok Emmanuel Kendrick. “Young people like me can look up to her for her independence, confidence and willingness to be her unique self,” he said, beaming. “She has shown the world that nothing is beyond our reach. So, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my grandmommy, Diana Ross.”

And that was an understatement. Ross launched into “The Best Years of My Life” and her solo signature classic “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” imploring the crowd to “don’t be lazy” and to stand up. With 70 hit singles and a string of leading feature film roles — including her haunting, Oscar-nominated 1972 portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues — Ross is the template for Houston, Janet Jackson, Lil Kim, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.

Finally, the late, great Aretha Franklin was celebrated with a rousing tribute by powerhouses Yolanda Adams, Andra Day and Fantasia for a once-in-a-lifetime performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Some viewers balked at the idea of Franklin receiving just one song as tribute. “I’m sorry,” said one poster. “Aretha Franklin is one of the most if NOT the most decorated, talented, influential artists in the history of music. The Grammys gave her a ONE song tribute. Trash #Grammys.” Mood.

Berry Gordy Weeps

When it was first announced that Lopez would be taking part in a Motown tribute, the news was met with bewilderment and jokes from the Black Twitter contingent. But to the astonishment of viewers, Jenny From the Block wasn’t merely a supporting player in an already questionable production, she was the star garnering more stage time than the aforementioned Ne-Yo and Smokey Robinson. JLo proved it is indeed possible to lip-sync off-key as she stumbled through such Motown hits as “Dancing in the Street,” “My Girl” and “Please Mr. Postman.”

Free 21 Savage!

Fifteen-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys should be given the perpetual reins to host the aging music award show. She was that good.

There were no loud shout-outs or words of encouragement for the British-born Atlanta native from his fellow rappers. 21 Savage is still being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for failing to depart under the terms of his nonimmigrant visa. Travis Scott made no mention of his collaborator during his performance of “Stop Trying to Be God” and the riotous “No Bystanders.” Post Malone, who partly owes the immense success and the swagger of his career-making single “rockstar” to 21 Savage, apparently wore a 21 Savage T-shirt but was also silent. The first mention of 21 Savage was made by Swedish “This Is America” producer Ludwig Göransson, who warmly stated, “He should be here.”

And album of the year goes to …

Country singer-songwriter Musgraves, whose Golden Hour picked up the top prize. No diss to Musgraves, a talented voice who will shine for years to come. But for the Grammys, it was yet another telling reminder that black art continues to be overlooked in the most coveted categories.

Tell the Grammys f— that 0 for 8 s—, Jay-Z rhymed on “Apes—” in response to the academy nominating his brilliant 4:44 for eight awards in 2018. He left with no statuettes.

The last black act to win album of the year was celebrated jazz pianist Herbie Hancock in 2008, and that was for the star-studded Joni Mitchell tribute album River. Since then, Swift has won the trophy twice, Adele beat out Beyoncé’s monumental 2016 Lemonade and Bruno Mars won in 2018 for 24K Magic, his love letter to Teddy Riley’s new jack swing. It’s a frustration that Prince knew all too well: His genre-busting 1987 double album Sign o’ the Times lost to U2’s The Joshua Tree.

“I don’t go to awards shows anymore,” Prince said in a 1990 Rolling Stone interview. “I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else. But you’ll be sitting there at the Grammys, and U2 will beat you. And you say to yourself, ‘Wait a minute. I can play that kind of music, too. … I know how to do that, you dig? But you will not do ‘Housequake.’ ”

Grammys … do better.

The complete — and insane — list of P.J. Tucker’s 2018 NBA playoff sneakers All 22 pairs — from Cactus Jack Jordans, to custom OFF-Whites, and a trio of Oregon PEs — it’s all here

His reign is already solidified and virtually unchallenged. P.J. Tucker is the NBA’s sneaker king. He has shoes in his collection that hypebeasts can’t even cop, and he actually wears pairs that the biggest sneakerheads in the world wouldn’t even dare to unbox. “With playing basketball and sneakers, there’s no line,” Tucker told Joe La Puma on Complex’s Sneaker Shopping in early March. “If I have them, I’ll play in them.” And, on the huge stage of the NBA playoffs, Tucker didn’t hold back. In Houston’s 17 games during the 2018 postseason, Tucker broke out 22 different pairs of size 14s, while averaging 8.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range. He wore Jordans, LeBrons, Kobes, KDs, Kyries — you name it. He found sneakers that were only meant to be sported by high school players, and represented on his feet colleges the former University of Texas student never attended. This is the complete list of every shoe P.J. Tucker wore in every Rockets game during the 2018 playoffs.


WESTERn CONFERENCE Quarterfinals vs. MINnesota Timberwolves

Game 1, April 15: Nike LEbron Low “4 Horseman” & Air JOrdan 32 “Rossa Corsa”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker walked through the tunnel of the Toyota Center before the Rockets’ postseason opener with a pair of “Flu Game” Air Jordan 12s in his left hand. He then warmed up in a pair of “Stealth” Air Jordan 3s. Come game time, he ran up and down the hardwood in two more pairs of kicks: the “4 Horseman” Nike LeBron 3 Lows during the first half and the “Rossa Corsa” Air Jordan 32s during the second half. What a way to start off the playoffs — with four different sneakers.

Game 2, April 18: Air Jordan 4 “Cactus Jack,” Air Jordan 13 “Playoffs”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 18 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 18 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Sitting courtside during Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, rapper and Rockets superfan Travis Scott, a native of Houston, donned a pair of his own signature shoes, the “Cactus Jack” Air Jordan 4s. On the court, Tucker wore them too. It’s worth noting: The shoes, inspired by the colors of the city’s former NFL franchise, the Houston Oilers, haven’t officially dropped yet — and won’t until late June. But Trav and Tucker debuted the heat, which the Rockets forward wore only briefly. In the second half against Minnesota, he played in a pair of “Playoffs” Air Jordan 13s.

Game 3, April 21: Custom Air Jordan 11 “ACES,” NikE Air Maestro II “Trifecta”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 21 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 21 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

It took only three games for Tucker to break out some custom kicks: a pair of white Air Jordan 11s dubbed the “Aces.” On the heel of the shoes, a red spade replaces the traditional Jumpman logo, and “PJ4” replaces Michael Jordan’s jersey number in the thinly lined, trademark script. Tucker switched his shoes in the locker room at halftime of the road Game 3. This time it was to a pair of “Trifecta” Air Maestro 2s (worn by Scottie Pippen in a triple-double performance in the 1993 NBA Finals) from Nike’s “Art of a Champion” collection.

Game 4, April 23: Nike LeBron 12 Low

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 23 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

In Game 4 against Minnesota, for the first time in the playoffs, Tucker wore only one pair of shoes: white, gray and red Nike LeBron 12 Lows. Perhaps he left his second-half sneaks in his hotel room. Or maybe he just got tired of spoiling us with a footwear fashion show.

Game 5, April 25: AIr Jordan 32 “JBC,” Air Jordan 10 “Dark shadow”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 25 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 25 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

On April 8, Michael Jordan’s billion-dollar company hosted its annual showcase for the nation’s top high school prospects. While competing in the Jordan Brand Classic, young stars wore pairs of player-exclusive (PE) Air Jordan 32s, embossed with “JBC 2018” logos on the midsole and tongue. Tucker is 33 — a decade and a half removed from his prep days at William G. Enloe High in Raleigh, North Carolina. But, somehow, he landed all five pairs of shoes that every JBC player received, including the PE 32s, which he rocked a few weeks after the high school all-star game in a closeout Game 5 win over the Timberwolves. For the second half, he swapped out the 32s for a pair of “Dark Shadow” Air Jordan 10s, which were released on April 20.

Western Conference Semifinals vs. Utah Jazz

Game 1, April 29: Nike Kyrie 1 “WArHAWK”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz during the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 29 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Before Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, a photo surfaced of Tucker sitting in his team’s dressing room as he sifted through a huge pile of sneakers and boxes that flowed out of his locker. For the series opener, he decided to throw it back with a pair of “Warhawk” Nike Kyrie 1s, which are inspired by the World War II-era Curtiss P-40 fighter aircraft. The shoes were released in 2015 and were given exclusively to high school and college players who participated in the Nike Basketball Academy in the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica, California’s airport. But of course Tucker got his hands on a pair — because the shoe term “limited edition” means absolutely nothing to him.

Game 2, May 2: Air Jordan 5 “OREGOn” PE, Air Jordan 10 “University REd”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 2 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals of the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz wrestle for a rebound during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals in the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The University of Oregon — located about two hours south of Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon — is the land of milk and honey when it comes to PEs. Tucker must have a reliable plug on campus, as he’s no stranger to whipping out pairs of shoes that only the university’s athletes, past and present, should have. In Game 2 against the Jazz, he wore a pair of “insanely rare” PE “Oregon” Air Jordan 5s, but only for the first two quarters. In the second half, he sported the “University Red” Air Jordan 10s, a collaboration between the Jordan Brand and famed NBA tattoo artist Steve Wiebe that dropped exclusively at House of Hoops in Harlem, New York, in December 2017. Two pairs of superuncommon shoes in one game. All in a day’s work for Tucker.

Game 3, May 4: Nike Kyrie 4 “Chinese New year”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on May 4 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, kicked off this year on Feb. 16 and lasted through March 2. But Tucker was still celebrating the Year of the Dog in early May, when he showed off the “Chinese New Year” Nike Kyrie 4s in Salt Lake City for Houston’s first road game of the Western Conference semis. Tucker is a mixologist with the colors of his on-court shoes, often choosing to turn heads instead of matching his uniform. But these kicks, which feature a beautiful red, black and gold floral design on the quarter panel of each shoe, perfectly complement Rockets team colors. Well done, P.J. Well done.

Game 4, May 6: Nike Kd 6 Supreme “D.C. Preheat”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on May 6 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

From the conservative “CNY” Kyrie 4s in Game 3 to the vibrant “D.C. Preheat” Nike KD 6 Supremes in Game 4. Tucker had to go deep in his closet for this pair of Kevin Durant signatures, which first hit the streets in 2013. More proof that his sneaker versatility is crazy.

Game 5, May 8: Nike LeBron 8

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 5 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals on May 8 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Why not pay homage to the most dominant player of this year’s playoffs: LeBron Raymone James? With a pair of vintage red-and-black Nike LeBron 8s (which originally released in October 2010), that’s exactly what Tucker did when he and the Rockets sent Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz packing with a Game 5 win that advanced Houston to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2015.

Western Conference Finals vs. Golden State Warriors

Game 1, May 14: Nike Zoom Kobe 3 “Westchester” PE

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA’s Western Conference finals on May 14 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

In 2008, players on the basketball team at Los Angeles’ Westchester High received exclusive red, black and white Nike Kobe 3s. They were personalized for the school, with each shoe’s tongue featuring a “W.” So how did Tucker, who went to high school in North Carolina from 1999-2000, find a pair of these unique Kobes? Perhaps Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, a Westchester graduate, hooked his teammate up. But with Tucker, who really knows? The “Westchester” 3s he wore in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Warriors might just be one of the original pairs. That’s how deep his shoe connections run.

Game 2, May 16: Nike LeBron 15 “Owwhio State” PE

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 2 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 16 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker is a Longhorn at heart. But in Game 2 vs. Golden State, he was a Buckeye, repping THE Ohio State University in a pair of all-red, player-exclusive Nike LeBron 15s. They were presented to the OSU basketball team last fall as part of James’ everlasting dedication to the school he would’ve attended had he gone to college. Also, don’t forget: We’ve seen Tucker in another colorway of Ohio State LeBron 15 PEs. The first pair, primarily in white, was apparently just the warm-up.

Game 3, May 20: Nike Kyrie 4 “Yellow Lobster”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 20 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

In 2009, only 36 pairs of the “Yellow Lobster” Nike SB Dunk Lows were made. Nearly a decade later, Nike paid tribute to the iconic skateboarding sneaker with a bigger, yet still limited, release of the “Yellow Lobster” Kyrie 4s. Before lacing up the kicks in Game 3 against the Warriors, Tucker arrived to Oracle Arena in a magenta suit. He was really in his bag with his style choices that night.

Game 4, May 22: Custom Off-White Nike REact Hyperdunk

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 22 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Between Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals, Tucker took to Instagram, where he posted a photo of one-of-a-kind OFF-White Nike React Hyperdunks — the work of sneaker craftsman Dominic Chambrone, aka The Shoe Surgeon. Tucker teased the custom kicks in warm-ups, but they didn’t grace the court until Game 4. To really appreciate the collaboration between Tucker and Chambrone, you have to remember what a normal pair of the OFF-WHITE Hyperdunks look like. Moral of the story: They started out as white and ended up an intoxicating red. A true masterpiece.

Game 5, May 24: Nike LeBron 15 “OREGON” PE (Black)

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 22 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

From afar, Tucker’s Game 5 shoes appeared to be a simple pair of black LeBron 15s. Yet, up close you’ll notice the subtle “O” on the heel tab, which signifies one thing: Oregon. Somebody in the school’s equipment department must really love Tucker.

Game 6, May 26: Nike Lebron 15 “Oregon” pe (Green)

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 26 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

In the words of the one and only DJ Khaled, “Another one!” — Tucker’s third pair of Oregon player exclusives in the playoffs. Peep the yellow duck wings design on the midsole of these green beauties. The university might as well hire him to teach “PEs 101.” He’s as well-versed as they come on the topic.

Game 7, May 28: Nike Kobe 4 “Del Sol”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals of the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 28 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker entered Houston’s home arena before a decisive Game 7 vs. Golden State on Memorial Day carrying a pair of “Grinch” Nike Kobe 6s (the best Christmas Day sneakers in NBA history — and don’t even think about @ing us). But when he and the Rockets stepped foot on the court, with a trip to the 2018 NBA Finals on the line, Tucker had pulled an okey-doke. Instead of the Grinches, he wore “Del Sol” Nike Kobe 4s. Yet he couldn’t quite channel his inner Black Mamba, as the Warriors closed out the 2017-18 season for the Rockets. There’s little doubt, however, that Tucker had the freshest shoes of the night — and of the entire playoffs.

James Harden is ‘strictly music’ Houston’s in-house DJ TGray spins the beats for Harden and team before each home game

HOUSTON – Just like clockwork, DJ TGray knows when Houston Rockets guard James Harden typically runs on to the Toyota Center floor before tipoff to get his shots up. And even if the Rockets’ house deejay is in the middle of playing a song, within about 10 seconds he will mix in a hip-hop banger definitely beloved by the NBA All-Star to help get him ready.

“I know the clock,” said Teryl Gray, 41, who goes by DJ TGray. “About 10 minutes before the doors open, he will come out to shoot around and warm up. There are different tempos for him. Sometimes I keep it around 90 bpm [beats per minute]. We’ll go trap music to 70 bpm and lower than that. You kind of have to feel him out. And I’ve been doing it for so long, you get a good vibe for people and who they are every day of the week.

“I switch songs as soon as he comes out. It might be within 10 seconds. Sometimes I get lucky and it’s around the time of the chorus. I say, ‘Right on time.’ I can blend in some party jams.”

The sixth-year Rockets guard is a hip-hop head who enjoys hearing his favorite songs when he does his pregame shooting routine. Gray said some of Harden’s friends regularly give him the Rockets star’s current playlist and text him when a new song comes out that he loves. Gray says Harden adores his native Los Angeles’ hip-hop and loves Southern rap, too.

While there are challenges in finding some of the underground rap songs Harden likes and bleeping out the curse words, Gray can usually find it and clean it up. For example, one of Harden’s favorite old songs played pregame during the playoffs last year was, “I Don’t Stress,” a 2005 song Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle that is laced with bleeps for curse words. But it’s hard to stump a deejay who has been spinning since age 10 and first spun at a Houston club at age 15. Gray is also a member of numerous record pools and often hears songs three months before they come out.

“I know his boys. And his boys will come by or they will text message, ‘You got this?’ ” Gray said. “Or, ‘Can you clean this [expletive-laced rap] song up?’ He is from L.A., so it’s a lot of hip-hop stuff. A lot of Nipsey Hussle. Some mixtape dudes that most mainstream dudes have not heard of, Bino Rideaux, 03 Greedo. All these other people out there. YG. And even here locally with Travis Scott as well as Huncho Jack, also known as Quavo.”

Harden and the Rockets host the Warriors in Game 5 of the tied best-of-seven Western Conference finals on Thursday night. The leading candidate for the 2018 NBA MVP award is averaging 29.5 points per game in these West finals. The winner in this key contest will be one will away from the 2018 NBA Finals.

So, what hip-hop songs will Gray spin Thursday night to get Harden’s juices flowing as he gets his pregame shooting routine in?

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets moves to the music during warm ups before playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Toyota Center on March 12, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

“ ’Grindin All My Life,’ by Nipsey Hussle. ‘Shoot’ by BlocBoy JB. The new Drake record and the new Travis Scott song with Kanye West and Lil Uzi Vert. It’s called ‘Watch,’ ” Gray said.

So, does Harden like anything other than hip-hop playing when he shoots pregame?

“Never. Never. I did see him rocking out to an old record I played with Field Mob featuring Ciara. He heard me playing that and looked up and said, ‘Yeah.’ You must’ve been in middle school when it played,” Gray said.

Gray has been working with the Rockets’ game-night crew since the Toyota Center opened in 2001. Initially, the Houston native was the public-address announcer yelling out names such as Yao Ming, Stevie Francis and Tracy McGrady before moving over to his familiar DJ role. Gray is also a DJ for the Major League Soccer Houston Dynamo and Houston KRIV-Fox 26.

Gray said he plays music to please all fans at Rockets games.

“My job is to make sure that everyone here is happy from the players to the people in the top to the oldest fan in here. I try to find that happy balance of playing Nipsey Hussle and KC and The Sunshine Band,” Gray said.

But there is an exception to the music rule for DJ TGray, and that is when Harden arrives on the floor for pregame shots. Gray said he has talked to Harden several times, and the subject is always hip-hop music.

“He’s on it. James is a very keen dude,” Grey said. “It’s very welcomed in music. He’s younger than me, a lot younger than me, and there is some older stuff that he is very knowledgeable of. I’m very appreciative of that …

“He asks, ‘You got the new … ?’ It’s all strictly music. No hoops. None of that stuff, which I appreciate.”

Shooting Rockets at the throne: on the eve of Houston’s most important game of the season Does Houston want to have a problem — or do they want to be the problem?

There’s a Jay Z lyric for any and every situation in life. For the Houston Rockets, their current 2-1 Western Conference finals plight is no different. More on a that shortly. Following elimination by the Golden State Warriors in 2015 and 2016, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey all but confirmed the Bay Area fetish. “It’s the only thing we think about,” he told ESPN last December. “I think I’m not supposed to say that, but we’re obsessed with ‘How do we beat the Warriors?’”

He went on to say, “It’s like 90 percent … if we’re gonna win a title, we’ve obviously gotta beat the Warriors at some point. So we’re extremely focused on that. A lot of our signings and what we do during the year is based on that.”

This year’s Houston Rockets are an all-time great offensive juggernaut. The franchise broke its own record for three pointers made in a season this year. But here’s the thing—beating the defending champions in regular season matchups, as they did two out of three times, is a completely different animal than trying to beat them four times in less than two weeks.

Chris Paul waited his entire career for to advance to the NBA’s final four and it’ll likely end in five if the Rockets put on a repeat performance of their Game 3 curb-stomping.

The Warriors as presently constructed, represent the love child of the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams and 2001 Miami Hurricanes—only the child decided CTE, the lack of guaranteed contracts and football’s stance on social issues were too much to ignore. Golden State is most overwhelmingly dominant team ever assembled with four presumptive future Hall of Fame candidates all still very much in their physical apexs. And Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant could very well end up as Top 10 players of all time.

Now Houston has to beat that same team at home. That same team that hasn’t lost since in Oakland since LeBron’s block and Kyrie Irving’s shot punctuated the greatest Finals comeback in NBA history nearly two years ago. A loss that, by Golden State’s own admission, delivered them Durant. Oracle Arena hasn’t felt the agony of playoff defeat in 703 days and counting. That’s 16 games in a row—the longest such streak in league history. This is the task sitting on Houston’s shoulders ahead of tonight’s game.

Do not bark up that tree, Jay Z warned his foes on the seminal 2001 diss record “Takeover.” That tree will fall on you / I don’t know why your advisers ain’t forewarn you. The best record in the league, with a team specifically designed for this exact moment only to sit on the edge of their own self-destruction. That lyric will haunt the Rockets if they lose tonight.

If Harden wants to continue to live under the label of “superstar” without reproach, this is the type of game that notarizes the stamp.

Head coach Mike D’Antoni called his team soft following Sunday’s baptism. D’Antoni understands the magnitude—even if he is saying Golden State has “all the pressure” — of tonight’s game. D’Antoni is the forefather of the space-and-pace offense: his mid-2000s Phoenix Suns were the kings o fit. Now he’s a mad scientist watching his creation turn against him as the Warriors are a faster, better defensively, and just more crippling version of those Suns. Chris Paul waited his entire career to advance to the NBA’s final four and it’ll likely end in five if the Rockets put on a repeat performance of their Game 3 curb-stomping.

James Harden, the leading MVP candidate (though another James continues to make a case), has had his great season come down to one game. These moments define careers. Big-time players, as Santana Moss once poetically put it, make big-time plays in big-time games. And if Harden wants to continue live under the label of “superstar” without reproach, this is the type of game that notarizes the stamp. Game 4 on the road? In an all-time hostile environment? With a chance to completely rewrite the narrative of both the series and your postseason career? These are dreams that money—not even Harden’s mammoth contract—can’t buy.

Houston called out Golden State like Martin called out Tommy Hearns in the classic 1994 Martin episode “Guard Your Grill.” And, as it stands right now, the Rockets are a two piece and another Steph Curry biscuit away from looking like Martin after the fight. It’s the “s— or get off the pot” moment for these Houston Rockets. Go back to Houston tied 2-2 and it’s a best of three series with potentially two games at home—and the reality that they don’t have to win in Golden State again. Go back to Houston down 3-1 and not even the courtside five of Beyoncé, Bun B, Scarface, Travis Scott and Deshaun Watson would prevent the inevitable. Does Houston want to have a problem or does Houston want to be the problem? Do not bark up that tree. It won’t take long to find out either way.

A new Drake song is landing tonight? A new album can’t be far behind Reading social media tea leaves to predict the musical release dates of albums from Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye and Drizzy

Those on the East Coast might not believe it, but warmer weather is approaching. That means day parties, cookouts, summer vacations — and a tsunami of Instagram Stories and photos with oceans of song lyric captions. It’s not like there’s a shortage of options. This year alone has already produced a plethora of releases from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Jay Rock, Syd, 2 Chainz, Tinashe, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Nipsey Hussle, Ty Dolla $ign, Wale, Arin Ray, Kehlani, Kali Uchis, Eric Bellinger, Tink, Future and DJ Esco, Phonte and others.

The list also includes Cardi B, the patron saint of badass ratchetness, whose anticipated debut, Invasion of Privacy, dropped Friday. Privacy, anchored by the Project Pat-inspired “Bickenhead,” is a collection of songs — past, present and future hits — that ensure Cardi will be one of the most talked-about people in culture for the second straight summer, and likely beyond.

Yet, hiding in plain sight is a game of cat-and-mouse being played by some of music’s most famous forces. While Barbz remain on the lookout for Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, as well as Kanye West and Drake, have all hinted at new music via obvious and not-so-obvious methods over the past several weeks. Although it’s impossible to determine exactly when any album will drop without insider-trading-type knowledge, it’s safe to surmise that music fans could be looking at an incredibly hot summer if (and when) the quartet pushes the button in the coming weeks and months.

Beyoncé and JAY-Z

Here are the four definites:

  1. Beyoncé’s headlining Coachella, which starts next weekend.
  2. Jay-Z is apparently growing his hair out — which, if you’ve followed him at any point over the past 15 years, you know is a dead giveaway that he’s in the studio. Either that or he received an advance screening of Atlanta’s “Barbershop” episode that shook him to his core.
  3. Jay-Z’s interview with David Letterman is a conversation starter — and puts us on notice with a big-look conversation that we’re stepping up to the blocks.
  4. Their On The Run 2 tour starts in June in the U.K. First U.S. date is in Cleveland, on July 25.

The couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary last week and have been photographed in Jamaica filming for their upcoming tour. Bey missed Coachella last year while she was pregnant, but now she’s reportedly rehearsing for 11 hours a day in a top-secret Los Angeles studio. Beyoncé could easily go onstage and perform from a setlist of greatest hits. But, like possibly no other performer on the planet, she understands the magnitude of the moment. Coachella is the official kickoff to festival season. What better way to throw gasoline on a fire of anticipation than with new music on the eve of her return to the stage? And if that were to happen, that means new music very soon. As in next week.

While it makes sense to throw out a loosie or two for Coachella, an entire pack of songs may be slightly further off. I don’t know Jay. I don’t know Bey. But what I do know is there is absolutely no chance ’03 Bonnie and Clyde span the globe with just their older work. Granted, that “older work” houses an embarrassment of riches. But somehow, that feels like settling. What if it’s 12-14 duets from music’s most famous couple? Or an OutKast-like, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below-type double album? All I know is something is dropping probably sooner than any of us realize. On TIDAL first, of course.

Kanye West

Of the superstars on this list, Kanye, quite fittingly, is the most difficult to predict. Regardless, the tea leaves from last month’s gathering of ’Ye, Kim, The-Dream, Nas, Travis Scott, KiD CuDi and several others at a Wyoming resort are enough to get the gossip engines running. And while the two just as easily could have discussed IKEA furniture or NBA MVP predictions, a sighting of Yeezy and Rick Rubin (executive producer of Yeezus and The Life of Pablo) is just another log for the fire.

Ever since his public meltdown in Sacramento and subsequent hospitalization two days later in 2016, Kanye’s been as quiet as he has at any point in his career. An eventual return brings no drought of topics to discuss — his brief kinship with Donald Trump, the birth of his third child, Jay-Z’s statements about him on 4:44 — and those barely scratch the surface. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for West to create a song detailing what it was like in the Kardashian household the day O.J. Simpson was released from prison. Pablo, as scattered as it was at times, was proof that West is still more than capable of producing a high-quality project.

Then there’s this: The last time Kanye went away amid the public’s ire — think 2009 after the Taylor Swift MTV VMA fiasco — and secluded himself in Hawaii, the self-imposed exile yielded magnificent results. If Kanye’s got another My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy in him, then maybe we should’ve trusted the process all along. Keyword being “maybe,” because Kanye be trippin’ sometimes, ya know?

Drake

To quote the great Lester Freamon (and Jonathan Abrams), “All the pieces matter.” Follow the timeline:

  1. March 18, 2017 — Drake’s final proclamation on More Life I’ll be back 2018 to give you the summary — has since become the thesis of a yearlong wait.
  2. Jan. 19, 2018 — The sabbatical ends and said summary begins with the drop of Scary Hours. The EP contains the lyrically poignant “Diplomatic Immunity” and the undeniable anthem in “God’s Plan” (more on the latter, shortly).
  3. March 9, 2018 — With good friends James Harden and Chris Paul in Toronto for Raptors vs. Rockets (held on “Drake Night”), Aubrey confirms he’s working on the new album “for the city.”
  4. March 20, 2018 — Drake hops in the comments during producer (and frequent collaborator) Murda Beatz’s Instagram Live to confirm that the release of a new single is on the way.
  5. April 2018 — With speculation running rampant about a possible move to Adidas, Drake is spotted wearing the “Cream White” Yeezy Boost 350 V2. To some, that was all the confirmation needed that Drizzy’s Jordan Brand days were in the past. But this only lasted until he was photographed in Nikes a few days later at this week’s Celtics at Raptors game. And then again in Adidas on several Instagram posts. The point? Only a very few know what, if anything, is going on. And those parties aren’t saying anything. Chaos is bliss, in this case.
  6. April 1, 2018 — In typical Drake fashion, Drake uploads a photo of himself with the cryptic caption “You can see the album hours under my eyes.”
  7. April 2, 2018 — “God’s Plan” spends its 10th consecutive week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The distinction makes him the only male artist in history with two songs to stay atop Billboard’s charts for that long — 2016’s “One Dance” being the other.
  8. April 5, 2018 — Per the man himself, the single is on the way. That would be tonight.

“Have your party. But I’m coming,” Jon Caramanica of The New York Times said in January with regard to what Scary Hours represented. “I assume what he’s saying is the summer is mine.

A perfect storm appears to sit on the very near horizon. The NBA playoffs are about to begin. A much-needed musical furlough has made way for one of the most anticipated albums of the year — I been gone since like July / N—as actin’ like I died, Drake rapped on BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive.” And the annual debate about who runs the summer will soon commence. Unlike last summer, Drake will be tossing his name in that hat — in search of reclaiming a crown he snatched two summers ago.

About the only thing to do now is keep an eye and ear open to whenever the next couple of OVO Sound Radios are, or Drake’s IG. Those always hold the key to unlocking Aubrey mysteries.

(**Walks away craning neck at Rihanna and Travis Scott**)

Aux Cord Chronicles XIV: When R&B hosts hip-hop From Total and Biggie, Mya and Jay-Z to Rihanna and Drake, 54 of the best R&B songs with hip-hop features

Two things: One, last month I helped launch a rhythm and blues club with two friends, Ashley and Marcus, in Washington, D.C. A monthly meeting that essentially serves as nostalgic listening sessions for classic ’90s R&B (Jodeci’s Diary of a Mad Band in February and Aaliyah’s One In a Million in March), the events have already hit a nerve in need of soothing. And two, this R&B rabbit hole I’ve been in is the exact reason for the return of our Aux Cord Chronicles. The rules for this one? Simple. R&B songs with a hip-hop feature — not the other way around. For example, no Method Man and Mary J. Blige “You’re All I Need” or Big K.R.I.T. and Lloyd’s “1999” because Blige and Lloyd are the featured artists. Get it? Got it? Gucci. Pull up on us on social media and let us know your favorites. Let’s stop wasting time and get to the money …

Mary J. Blige feat. Grand Puba — “What’s The 411?” (1992)

An OG R&B/rap classic, co-produced by the man then known as Puffy, that any list of this sort is incomplete without.

SWV feat. Wu-Tang clan — “Anything (Remix)” (1994)

Let the record show, “Anything” was already one of the coldest bounces of any R&B song in history. Add in Method Man’s legendary opening bars? Kaboom, guess who stepped in the room/ Tical, hailing from the Shaolin Isle / It be me the killer bee, on the M-I-C/ With the S-S-double-double-U to the V-V, and it was a wrap.

Brandy feat. MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah — “I Wanna Be Down (Remix)” (1994)

Of the Sylvia Rhone-created remix, Brandy said in 2012 that the record remains one of the most surreal moments of her career. It helped make for a close friendship with all three MCs too. “The hip-hop remix to ‘I Wanna Be Down’ meant the world to me,” she’s said. “I’m fresh out of the box and these superstars are part of my first single. They’re my mentors and I look up to them.”

Total feat. The Notorious B.I.G. — “Can’t You See” (1995)

Gimmie all the chickenheads from Pasadena to Medina … not much more needs to be said. A classic ’90s cut in every sense of the word.

Jodeci feat. Ghostface killah & Raekwon — “Freek’n You (Mr. Dalvin Remix)” (1995)

Women wanted to be with them. Men wanted to be them. It’s no secret Jodeci was the first real R&B presence with hip-hop’s stamp of approval — long before Ghost and Rae helped give a classic a makeover.

Mariah Carey feat. ODB — “Fantasy (Bad Boy Remix)” (1995)

First off, R.I.P. Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Secondly, Mariah, like Mary J. Blige, has a ton of classics with this formula. ODB brought so much energy and one-of-a-kind swag on this, it’s crazy.

Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen — “No Diggity” (1996)

The rare Dr. Dre feature did not go to waste here. And shout-out to Ted Riley for using the Lil’ Teddy doll in the video — paying homage to Penny Hardaway’s Lil’ Penny. Pop culture synergy at its finest!

Gina Thompson feat. Missy Elliott — “The things that You Do (Remix)” (1996)

Thompson doesn’t get the credit she deserves for the incredible hook on this. Vintage ’90s and with the Missy feature, a year before Supa Dupa Fly dropped? Flawless.

Dru Hill feat. Jermaine Dupri and Da Brat — “In My Bed (So So Def Remix)” (1996)

Bless J.D. and Da Brat for bringing some edge to a ballad that originally had Uncle Sam “I Don’t Ever Wanna See You Again”-type vibes. Aight, maybe not that sad.

112 feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & Ma$e — “Only You” (1996)

Another classic Bad Boy remix. One of the great travesties, aside from the fact Biggie’s been gone for 21 years, is the fact we’ll never know how many more R&B songs he would’ve destroyed. His flow and voice made him a natural on any song, but especially records like these.

Case feat. Foxy Brown & Mary J. Blige — “Touch Me, Tease Me” (1996)

This song’s been getting people in trouble for 20+ years now. And I can’t see that changing anytime soon. Good trouble, that is.

D’Angelo feat. AZ — “Lady (Remix)” (1996)

One of those records that made women feel sexy and men feel cool even trying to croon along to the original and this remix. Shoutout to Erykah Badu, Faith Evans (and her daughter) and Joi in the video too.

Mary J. Blige feat. Lil Kim — “I Can Love You” (1997)

It doesn’t get mentioned nearly as much as it should in either woman’s catalog, but it should. This song was a vibe even before people started calling everything “a vibe.”

Janet Jackson feat. Q-Tip — “Got ’Til It’s Gone” (1997)

“ ‘Got ’Til It’s Gone’ is about a great lesson learned — appreciate what you have while you have it,” Jackson told Jet in 1997. “In my life, I try to take nothing for granted, even if I don’t always succeed.”

Mariah Carey feat. The L.O.X. & Ma$e — “Honey (Remix)” (1997)

In fact / This is why I act like that / I ain’t dropped one single / And I made this money back … Mimi’s 12th No. 1 hit. And one of the biggest hits Bad Boy Records ever worked on.

Destiny’s Child feat. Wyclef Jean — “No, No, No (Pt. 2)” (1998)

A great “did you know?”: The first time Kelly Rowland heard this song on the radio she, Beyoncé, LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson were riding to pick up Solange from school. None of them could believe what was happening. “We started running around the courtyard at Solange’s school and she hops out of the school and is like, ‘Why are y’all embarrassing me?’ ” Rowland said.

Aaliyah feat. Timbaland — “Are You That Somebody?” (1998)

The late Static Major wrote this and “Try Again” for Aaliyah. She wasn’t a huge fan of either. Thankfully, she listened to those around her, as both became huge hits. Unfortunately, neither Major nor Aaliyah is here anymore to see the song’s legacy evolve.

Mya feat. Silkk The Shocker — “Movin’ On” (1998)

So how old do you feel now that this Mya song is 20 years old?

Mariah Carey feat. JAY-Z — “Heartbreaker” (1999)

She wanna shop with JAY, play box with JAY/ She wanna pillow fight in the middle of the night / She wanna drive my Benz with five of her friends / She wanna creep past the block spying again / She wanna roll with JAY, chase skeeos away / She wanna fight with lame chicks, blow my day / She wanna inspect the rest, kick me to the curb / If she find one strand of hair longer than hers. Jay-Z was in his bag something crazy on this.

Jagged Edge feat. Rev. Run — “Let’s Get Married (Remix)” (2000)

Played at black wedding receptions from 2000 until infinity. Jermaine Dupri is a wizard, and it’s dope to see him getting the due his career and catalog rightfully command.

Mya feat. JAY-Z — “the best of Me” (2000)

The Jadakiss version was great. But if I can be completely candid, the Jay version is one of my favorite songs of all time. And while Have an affair, act like an adult for once eventually turned into life imitating art for Jigga, I still proudly recite both verses verbatim — sober or inebriated. Long live the video and the birth of jersey dresses that soon followed.

Jagged Edge feat. Nelly — “Where The Party At?” (2001)

Day parties, rooftops and pool parties are on the horizon. Because that’s exactly what this song sounds like, even 17 years later.

Erykah Badu feat. Common — “Love of My Life” (2002)

Badu and Common were talking about hip-hop, but if you and your better half have always connected over music, it’s the most romantic song ever.

Kelly Rowland & Nelly — “Dilemma” (2002)

Thought you were going to catch me slipping, huh? Nelly and Kelly’s monster hit record was also featured on the singer’s solo debut Simply Deep. One thing we’ve never figured out, though? Why Kelly was texting Nelly on Microsoft Excel and caught an attitude when he didn’t text back.

Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z — “Crazy In Love” (2003)

Crazy to believe Beyoncé’s solo international hit is already 15. Even crazier to see how this marriage has directly impacted pop culture in the years since. Even crazier than that? They’re about to embark on their second world tour together.

Destiny’s Child feat. T.I. & Lil Wayne — “Soldier” (2004)

How much has changed since this song dropped? The “chicken head” was like 372 dance crazes ago. Tip and Weezy went on to become two of the biggest (and at times most controversial) stars of the 2000s. And they’re not yet considered old heads. And Beyoncé’s We like them boys up top from the B.K., a not-so-subtle homage to she and Jay’s still new relationship, was considered big news.

Bobby Valentino feat. Lil Wayne — “Tell Me” (2005)

If you were in college when this song was poppin’, you already know it was big business. The legend of Lil Wayne, still then in the early stages of his iconic 2004-09 run, was blossoming before our very eyes. Wayne owned everything. This song included.

Chris Brown feat. Lil Wayne — “Gimme That” (2005)

You thought it was a joke when I said Wayne’s run was magical? He jumped on any and everything, and more often than not it turned into a hit. Case in point, this early Chris Brown chart-topper.

Ne-Yo feat. Peedi Peedi — “Stay” (2005)

Back when we all thought Peedi had next. Thirteen years later, it’s still impossible to not sing along with this hook. That joint still goes.

The-Dream feat. Young Jeezy — “I Luv Your Girl” (2007)

The-Dream, like other names on this list, could have his own separate list. He’s one of the most important artists since the turn of the century. But Jeezy’s Type of n— leave his skully on while he serving ya was a standout line then. And it still is now.

T-Pain feat. Yung Joc — “Buy U A Drank” (2007)

Again, this is another one of those “if you were in college when this dropped,” then there’s absolutely no way you can have anything bad to ever say about this song.

Lloyd feat. Lil Wayne — “You” (2007)

Lloyd is a great artist who could have and probably should have been even bigger than what he was. Also, 2007 Lil Wayne was just unreal. “Girls Around The World” was the follow-up hit between these two a year later. They had a run.

Mario feat. Lil Wayne — “Crying Out For Me (Remix)” (2008)*

This makes the cut for the vivid, eccentric story only prime Weezy could have gotten away with.

Usher feat. Beyoncé & Lil Wayne — “Love In This Club (Part 2)” (2008)

The original was fire. But this second installment blew it out the water. Keep in mind Usher, a superstar in his own right, landed 2008 Bey and 2008 Wayne. Unreal. Also, congrats to Wayne for being the first artist in Aux Cord Chronicles history to three-peat.

Beyoncé feat. Kanye West — “Ego (Remix)” (2009)

“Ego” was already a huge record, but Kanye’s remix took both of them all the way to a Grammy nomination.

Alicia Keys feat. Drake — “Un-thinkable (Remix)” (2009)

The time’s 2009 and Aubrey’s still the new kid on the block. This kind of introspective and introverted emotional feature became the calling card for the next decade of Drizzy’s time on rap’s Mount Olympus.

Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West & Ne-Yo — “Knock You Down” (2009)

Or as it’s become known in the years since: the song on which Kanye first professed his love to Kim Kardashian.

The-Dream feat. Fabolous, Juelz Santana, Rick Ross & Ludacris — “Rockin’ That Thang (Remix)” (2009)

I remember when this song hit all the blogs. Anything with Dream was a hit. Ross, too. Time flies.

Ciara feat. Ludacris — “Ride” (2010)

While I could’ve easily gone with their 2004 hit “Oh,” this has always been my favorite of the two. The video might have had a small part to do with that.

Miguel feat. J. Cole — “All I Want Is You” (2010)

Miguel’s breakout hit and Cole’s first huge feature has aged quite well.

Chris Brown feat. Busta Rhymes & Lil Wayne — “Look At Me Now” (2011)

Technically, it’s a record with no singing, which partially violates the rules. But given it is by an R&B singer, I’m letting it rock if for no other reason than it was one of the more fun records to party to seven summers ago.

The Weeknd feat. Drake — “The Zone” (2011)

Before The Weeknd became the international pop star we see today, his mysterious vibe produced songs like this on the regular — dark, romantic, maniacal and yearning all at once. Also, Drake absolutely rips this to shreds.

Kelly Rowland feat. Lil Wayne — “Motivation” (2011)

Fun fact: The NBA played a part in making this record happen. Rowland ran into Weezy at a Miami Heat game and told him about the record. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rihanna feat. Future — “Love Song” (2012)

It’s sad that these two haven’t recorded (or at least released) more music together. Because this collaboration, found on 2012’s Unapologetic, proved the two had more than enough chemistry to craft hits.

Ty Dolla Sign feat. B.o.B. — “Paranoid” (2014)

If someone tells you they’ve never sung along with this hook, they’re either lying or that’s honestly so heartbreaking for them.

Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z — “Drunk In Love” (2014)

Quite literally, an ode from man and wife celebrating their sex lives. A massive song that became one of the biggest of the year too. The last mega hit between The Carters before the Lemonade and 4:44 era. Now that things are back on the up and up, do they have another future No. 1 in them?

Jeremih feat. YG — “Don’t Tell ’Em” (2014)

Late Nights is still a criminally underrated album. And how this song, which peaked at No. 6 on Billboard, never got a video is beyond me. And by a video, I mean one with YG.

DeJ Loaf feat. Lil Wayne — “Me U & Hennessy” (2014)

R&B Weezy at his most explicit.

Anderson .Paak feat. The Game & Sonyae Elise — “Room In Here” (2016)

.Paak is a rapper and singer, and on this song he’s the latter to me. This cut on the modern-day classic Malibu has always been an underrated jam in A.P.’s eclectic catalog. A very strong guest feature from Game resides here too.

Rihanna feat. Drake — “Work” (2016)

One of these days Rih and Drake will release the joint project they were destined to: AubRih. Until then, they’ve got bangers on their mantle with 2010’s “What’s My Name?” 2012’s “Take Care” and 2016’s “Too Good.” The best song of their bunch? This one featuring a Billboard assassin’s pot luck of undeniability in island vibes, an infectious hook and incredibly strong guest feature. A tailor-made cut for parties of all sorts, this song helped both own the summer of 2016.

Miguel feat. Travis Scott — “Sky Walker” (2017)

These two were bound to craft a banger at some point together. Evident by this song’s inclusion here, they did just that with one of the waviest singles of the past year.

SZA feat. Kendrick Lamar — “Doves In The Wind” (2017)

A vibe and a half, if we’re keeping it a buck. The whole premise of the song is SZA and Kendrick addressing the role of sex in a relationship — in particular, what SZA proclaimed a “[dedication] to vaginas.” In fact, between the two, the word “p—y” is used 48 times. Twenty-eight by SZA, in case you were keeping count.

Kali Uchis feat. Tyler the Creator and Bootsy Collins — “After The Storm” (2018)

“I have a huge level of respect for people who actually work hard and are survivors,” Uchis said of the song’s inspiration. “When you’re in a good place or when you’re the unicorn that was able to get out of the circumstances, that doesn’t happen for a lot of people because of the way the system is built.” Ain’t that the truth.

Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B — “Finesse (Remix)” (2018)

Bruno’s been at the center of a complex cultural appropriation debate that, to say the least, has folks very much divided. Regardless, there’s no denying that Mars and Cardi B, headed out on tour together, have a bona fide smash that will go down as one of the better singles of 2018 — with a mean In Living Color homage in the video.

The Migos’ Quavo to rock custom LeBrons and Currys in the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game Sneaker artist Mache: ‘Quavo wanted one of each shoe, the LeBron and the Curry. That was the main thing.’

LOS ANGELES — One player in Friday night’s NBA All-Star Celebrity Game will be a little swaggier than everyone else. That drip will be brought to you by Migos’ Quavo, who will take the hardwood in custom Nike LeBron 15s and Under Armour Curry 4s, inspired by the hip-hop supergroup’s No. 1 album Culture II (which reached 1 billion streams in just 20 days) and designed by none other than go-to sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache.

“Them the Culture Brons,” said Quavo in a video Mache posted to his Instagram on Thursday night. Each pair of shoes was presented to him at Finish Line’s All-Star kickoff party, at which the Migos graced the stage.”The Culture Brons and the Huncho Currys.” (A nod to his nickname, Huncho, and his joint album with Travis Scott, Huncho Jack.)

Mache previously worked with both Finish Line and Quavo last December, when he customized pairs of red, white and blue LeBron 15s, aka the “Huncho Berkmar Brons,” which the rapper presented to the basketball team at his alma mater, Berkmar High School in Georgia. A few months later, for 2018 All-Star Weekend, Finish Line commissioned Mache to paint 50 pairs of sneakers, 25 LeBrons and 25 Currys, for both the Migos and their hooping frontman. On Thursday, the NBA announced that Quavo had been added to the lineup of players (along with another addition, Justin Bieber) to star in the All-Star Celebrity Game, giving him a prime opportunity to break out the new heat on the court. (Don’t forget: Quavo can actually hoop.)

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Before the game, The Undefeated caught up with the Connecticut-based Mache.


How were you approached about customizing Quavo’s All-Star kicks?

I’ve been working with Finish Line for a while, and my man Brandon Edler … they were already talking about All-Star Weekend … and we finally got the ball rolling. Quavo wanted one of each shoe, the LeBron and the Curry. That was … the main thing. We worked with a graphic designer to come up with ideas for the themes. Obviously, we wanted them to be about Culture II. … I literally overnighted all Migos’ pairs on Tuesday. I made 25 of each pair. I know Finish Line and Migos, they’re gonna do something, whether it’s giving it away to fans, family, friends or something.

What was the design process like?

I had to get all 50 pairs done in a week. That was a big reason why the theme was pretty clean and not too crazy, just because we had to replicate them in that quick of a turnaround. Yeah, we wanted to make them dope too, so pretty much what we did is we vectorized all the designs. I stenciled a lot of the stuff, in terms of the swooshes … and for the LeBrons, it was about speckling the midsoles. It’s a lot of prep, little tedious stuff. But the actual paint job wasn’t hard.

Q: Do you think Quavo will wear both the LeBrons and the Currys in the Celebrity Game? A: I think he’s planning on wearing one pair each half.

How did you approach incorporating the elements of the Culture II on the shoes?

It was too hard. It’s funny, because I actually did a pair of Culture-themed cleats for Julio Jones for last year’s Super Bowl. That was a lot more about detail because I was doing the real album art on the cleats and incorporating Julio. That was a challenge. This one was more about going by the design. It wasn’t too hard … more of a fun project. The quantity and the turnover was the biggest challenge, but I never say no.

Are the doves on the Currys stenciled?

Yeah, everything we did just for time. We plotted out stencils. They were one-offs for every single pair. There was a fresh stencil for every shoe that I did. So for all of the Currys, there were 50 sets of doves, 50 sets of ‘II’s,’ 50 sets of ‘Quavo’s.’ That was the best way.

Did you know Quavo would be playing in the Celebrity All-Star Game?

No. I think Quavo and Finish Line were hoping. I think they assumed he was going to play. Then when he finally did get added, it was good timing. I know he’s also doing the Adidas Celebrity Game, but obviously he’s not gonna wear LeBrons and Currys in the Adidas game. We knew that wasn’t gonna happen. So when he finally got added to the NBA game, it was like, ‘Oh, thank God!’ The shoes didn’t go to waste.

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What was it like watching the video of Quavo’s reaction to seeing the shoes for the first time?

It’s always the best part. No matter how famous or popular the person is, you can’t fake if you’re happy or not. So to get the reaction, it’s always the most rewarding part for me still. If I have a chance to deliver a shoe myself, I do. But getting the video is just as good.

Do you think Quavo will wear both the LeBrons and the Currys in the Celebrity Game?

Oh, I’m most certain he will. I think he’s planning on wearing one pair each half.

What do you think Quavo represents in terms of fashion, swag and sneakers?

In terms of fashion, obviously a lot of brands are looking to entertainers as their icons now. It’s not so much like in the times when I grew up, when it was Bo Jackson or Michael Jordan pushing the units. It’s rappers like Kanye, Quavo, the Migos, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Kendrick doing a lot with Nike, all those guys. It’s great for the culture and helps bridge the gap. It’s dope because it gives me an opportunity to work with more clients.

Have you met Quavo?

I haven’t yet, but I’m sure at some point I will, especially if we keep working together. I’m just glad he knows who I am. He gave me a shout-out this time.