By Isaac Welch, Creative Content Team
Last weekend, 2 Chainz, released his fifth studio album titled Rap or Go to the League. The 14-track follow up to 2016’s Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, features big names such as Marsha Ambrosius, Kendrick Lamar, Ariana Grande, and no other than four-time MVP and three-time NBA Finals Champion LeBron James, serving as the album’s A&R (artists & repertoire).
Beyond the input of an NBA superstar, this album is significant for its breakdown of a recurring theme in the narrative of Black America. Music and athletics are two of the few areas in which our abilities as Black people are appreciated, rewarded and most importantly, publicized. The financial freedom and the alleviation from the tribulations of poverty that these two avenues provide make them especially appealing. This, in conjunction with the natural abilities we possess allowing us to excel in these fields, contributes to the fact that as of 2018 the racial makeup of the NBA was 74.4 percent Black and the top charting Hip Hop/R&B artists of 2018 were 78 percent Black and Brown artists.
One of the most disparring characteristics of this theme is the narrowed lens it presents to the Black youth as they gaze into the prospects of their own futures. These two avenues are presented as the few where Black and Brown people are able to express themselves freely and play the role of a star rather than a tokenized sidekick and earn success in doing so. They are also the few where the minority youth can find role models. North Carolina native J. Cole rapped about this phenomenon back 2014 with the line “I turn the TV on, not one hero in sight / Unless he dribble or he fiddle with mics” on the track January 28th. This elicits the title Rap or Go to the League.
This theme is most bluntly speculated over on the chorus of the album’s seventh track NCAA, where 2 Chainz chants
we the young and dangerous, yeah/
We be ballin’ hard, yeah/
I just want some paper, yeah”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is the intermediate entity that scouts and recruits young athletic talents typically coming out of high school before they go on to play in the National Basketball Association. The NCAA does not pay its athletes on the basis that their compensation comes by way of education and scholarship, which seems reasonable until the incredible amounts of money that their labor generates is taken into consideration.
Ahead of the 249th meeting between NCAA giants Duke and The University of North Carolina this past February, the average ticket price for the rivalry game reached $4,670; the cheapest seat was $2,970 according to Sports Illustrated. The high demand for this rivalry game can be attributed to Duke’s show stopping star player Zion Williamson, an 18-year-old 6’7’’ 284-lb freshman whose game and physicality has been compared to LeBron James’ himself. People fortunate enough to afford one of these tickets were met with disappointment as the freshman phenom, who usually floods social media with highlight reels of windmill dunks was sidelined after spraining his right knee 33 seconds into the game. The chorus of 2 Chainz’s NCAA echoes the sentiments of 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year Finalist Donovan Mitchell, who tweeted “ Again let’s remember all the money that went into this game…. and these players get none of it…. and now Zion gets hurt… something has to change @NCAA.”
As the album’s A&R, LeBron James had direct oversight on the inclusion of this song on the final tracklist as well as its content, giving the go-ahead to 2 Chainz as he spits outright “I can’t wait to go to the league so I can buy my mama what she want” and “Wait a minute, let me follow this/You think because I got a scholarship/That I don’t need dollars just to parlay with? What?”
The track also ends with an outro sampling an audio clip from an unknown speaker who says
“I think that we have brainwashed our kids in the Black community
To think they can only be entertainers, uh, and jocks
I said, first of all, we can be doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, fire and policemen
And the truth of the matter is, you got a much better chance of bein’ one of those
Then you do bein’ in the NBA”
However this outro is only found on physical copies of 2 Chainz’s project.
This is perhaps a flawless demonstration of LeBron’s unabashed activism in standing up for the Black youth. This is his latest statement proving himself to be more than just an athlete, a campaign of his that has always been in motion but became more personalized after he was condemned by Fox News talk show host Laura Ingraham who told him to “shut up and dribble” in response to his political comments.
There was perhaps no greater pairing to discuss these regularities than a Grammy Award winning Rapper and a three time NBA Finals MVP, one who chose Rap, and the other who chose to To to the League. We look forward to more collaborations like these and eagerly await the results of the discussion that this song and this album promotes.