Sports and music have always been not-so-strange bedfellows — just look at Sheryl Crowe and Lance Armstrong, or Madonna and Alex Rodriguez, to name a few. But in recent years, this marriage has gone beyond celebrity relationships as the institutions themselves are becoming increasingly “synonymous.”
Each passing year, it seems like there are more references to star athletes (particularly basketball players) in hip-hop. Just this past week, however, Drake took this phenomenon to a whole new level with his single,”Draft Day,” which is essentially a personalized pump-up song for Johnny Manziel’s impending journey to the NFL Draft. In the song, Drake parallels his own rise to that of Manziel, saying, “Man that boy growin’ up quick, that boy know he the sh*t.” The well-publicized friendship of the two celebrities is certainly at least in part based on their shared fame from a very young age.
But some star athletes have more in common with rappers than the celebrity experience. Occasionally they’ll drop a few bars themselves. In the offseason of 2000, all-star point guard Allen Iverson recorded a rap single, “40 Bars.” The song was never commercially released due to its derogatory and homophobic content, which was severely criticized by the likes of NBA commissioner David Stern.
In spite of Iverson’s highly publicized failure in the hip-hop scene, athletes continue to dabble in the art form, albeit in a more lighthearted spirit. On April Fools Day of this year, TMZ released a recording of Lebron James rapping over the beat of “F**kWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” by Jay Z. James’ flow isn’t much better than Iverson’s, but at least he doesn’t say anything that would disappoint his impressionable young fans.
While more conventional explanations of this “marriage” can be attributed to the African American community’s predominance in both basketball and hip hop, there are other, more subtle and perhaps more sinister forces at play.
Many of America’s favorite athletes and pop stars are represented by the same elite talent agencies that are constantly looking to find innovative new ways to create more value out of their clients. The Creative Artists Agency (CAA) is particularly notorious. In a Grantland podcast, former NBA all-star and media personality Jalen Rose described the agency as “the biggest conglomerate in sports and entertainment in the world.” After being established in 2006, CAA’s sports division has represented superstars like David Beckham, Derek Jeter and Lebron James.
Conglomerates like CAA know how to turn talented people into universally recognizable brands. To them, designations like “athlete” or “musician” both translate to “marketable celebrity.” It is in the best interest of the money behind all forms of commercial art and entertainment to present an interconnected and monolithic vision of pop culture. And it’s only Draft Day. Sports and music will surely only become more intimate as the media age progresses.
Ben Schneider is a freshman majoring in international relations and English. His blog, “The Way We Live Now,” runs Tuesdays.