By Eric Taffet
A new phenomenon involving stars of the entertainment industry has arisen over the past two decades. An unprecedented number of rock stars and sports stars are trying to crossover and become professional athletes and musicians, respectively. As talented as these celebrities may be in fields other than their own, the incredible talent required to be a successful musician or athlete makes the chances of effectively crossing over very slim. Nevertheless, the notoriety of rock stars and sports stars make any unconventional career choice, worthy of media attention.
In 2000, when country music star Garth Brooks played for the New York Mets during spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida, he received more attention than most of the players. As players finish their normal routines for the day, fans typically line up and wait for their favorite stars to autograph their belongings. I was intent on having Mike Piazza sign my baseball, but as I jumped over a fence in the rain while a security guard held back other fans, I noticed something interesting. Other than Piazza, Garth Brooks was surrounded by more fans than any other player. While people usually bring baseballs or trading cards to have signed, fans approached Brooks with guitars and cowboy hats.
While Brooks had no intention of making it onto a professional baseball team, other musicians have had serious aspirations of participating in amateur athletics. Master P, best known as the founder and CEO of No Limit Enterprisers, which includes No Limit Records, and for his hit single “Make Em Say Uhh,” made a failed attempt to play in the NBA (National Basketball Association). Before missing out on a roster spot with the Toronto Raptors, Percy Robert Miller attended the University of Houston on a basketball scholarship, and was the most recognizable name on all of his CBA (Continental Basketball Association) teams. Master P’s involvement in the rap world may be a symbol of the connection that has appeared between sports and hip-hop culture. This relationship may also explain the recent emergence of hip-hop music that has been put out by professional basketball and football players.
Two of the most famous professional athletes to first release rap albums were Shaquille O’neal and Deion Sanders. O’neal released Shaq Diesel in 1993, and Shaq Fu-Da Return in 1994, while Sanders used his nickname Prime Time as the title for his 1994 album. Neither O’neal nor Sanders were particularly successful because their music was produced primarily on their marketable personalities and star power.
More recently, NBA star Ron Artest has tried to make a move into the music world. Artest’s 2004-2005 basketball season is best known for his role in the “malice at the Palace,” the brawl that took place in the Palace at Auburn Hills during an Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons game. He was ultimately suspended for the remaining 73 regular season games and the playoffs. However, before the season started, Artest made news when he asked the Pacers if he could have time off during the season to work on his music career, as both a producer and artist. He suffered backlash from both basketball fans that thought he should be committed to his team, and music fans who thought he was a phony. Ultimately, Artest released an album in 2006 that only sold 343 copies in its opening weekend.
It is relatively understandable why rock stars have had little success as professional athletes; everyone has physical limitations. On the other hand, sports stars have had trouble making successful music careers perhaps because fans don’t get a sense of authenticity from them. There exists little doubt that athletes turned musicians are, at least to certain degree, trying to capitalize on their celebrity status. However, the recent intertwining of sports and hip-hop culture undeniably still exists. This trend is apparent in song lyrics such as Three Six Mafia’s It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp, which features the line; “I gotta keep my game tight like Kobe on game night.” Furthermore, some of the most important aspects of contemporary hip-hop fashion include sports jerseys and baseball caps. The relationship between music and sports is highlighted by recent discussions of Muhammad Ali as one of the originators of rap.
In the ESPN documentary, “Ali Rap,” airing Saturday November 9, Chuck D, Public Enemy front man and host of the show, explains, “long before songs like The Message injected a social consciousness into rap, Muhammad Ali used the language of the street to get his point across.
Racism, the Vietnam War, and his conversion to Islam were themes of Ali’s throughout the turbulent 60’s and 70’s. Watching him I knew I had something to say and that nothing could stop me from saying it.” While Ali did not produce any music, his unmatched wit and charisma, along with famous rhyming phrases like, “Who would bet on (insert opponent’s name) beating me? I told you I was floating like a butterfly, and stinging like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see,” allowed him to possibly unknowingly contribute to the invention of rap music, simply by being himself. While proclaiming Muhammad Ali to be the inventor of rap music seems to be a bit of a stretch, Chuck D admits that he has always recognized the relationship between rap and sports. He claims that some of his rapping style is adopted from sportscaster Marv Albert.