October 27, 2015

ELIOT | We All Got Game

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“What is game? Who got game?

Where’s the game in life, behind the game behind the game

I got game, she’s got game

We got game, they got game, he got game”

— Public Enemy

Before he became a VH1 reality television star, Flava Flav was a member of the Long Island-based hip hop group Public Enemy. Flav is not a talented rapper. This is why you probably associate him more with his show Flavor of Love, the words “Yeah boy!” and the clock worn around his neck than with the wildly successful hip-hop albums of which he was a part. The group’s label, Def Jam Records, originally did not understand what role Flava Flav actually played and attempted to sign the group’s more eloquent and articulate voice, Chuck D, as a solo act. Chuck D relied on deep, booming vocal chords and anti-establishment rhymes that he hoped would resonate with the nation’s youth and compel them to challenge the status quo. Flav, on the other hand, relied on a combination of big hats, his clock and oftentimes shrill interjections to get the crowd excited and tuned into the truths the group wanted people to hear.

Between 1987 and 1994, Public Enemy released their first four albums. Each went gold or platinum. Their politically and socially conscious lyrics tackled themes like governmental manipulation of its subjects, racial inequality and the what they viewed as the moral decline of America. The group rocketed to stardom when the opening credits of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing featured their single “Fight the Power.” And once the they earned a soapbox to preach from, their willingness to force conversation about the issues and the authority with which they did it created an indelible change in the hip hop industry. Without the music of Public Enemy, it is hard to say if modern rap artists like Fetty Wap would have the bravery to allude to Remy Martin 1738 51 times or say the word “baby” 253 times in one album (both true statistics). Without Public Enemy, that hotline bling could mean any number of things.

If Def Jam executive Rick Rubin had his way back in 1986, Public Enemy would have featured only Chuck D as a vocalist. Without Flava Flav’s gregariousness and endearing lack of rap skills, the group may have alienated would-be listeners — all because some bean counter in a New York City office didn’t think it made sense to bring a “hype man” aboard. The group became an unexpected and surprising success, heavily influencing the future of rap music and helping to build the label into a musical goliath.

How many examples are there of someone or something overcoming doubt to do something great throughout history? If Herb Brooks and the rest of the 1980 United States hockey team had listened to all of the doubters leading up to their Olympic semi-final game against the Soviet Union, they may not have even laced up their skates and taken to the ice. The team played that game though and shocked the world with an improbable win.

Unable to get its RottenTomatoes score of 20 percent out of my mind, I begrudgingly agreed to watch Reservoir Dogs and was shocked at how much I enjoyed the movie. What I thought was going to be yet another rendition of Tarantino’s uber-violent, over-stylized films without much substance behind it turned out to be yet another uber-violent, over-stylized film, but Willem Dafoe dressed in drag at the end of the flick which is enough to merit a score of at least 85 percent in my mind.

For some reason, we find ourselves entrenched in this attitude of “I’ll believe it when I see it.” We convince ourselves of something being true or untrue, possible or impossible and will refuse to be open to any other possibilities until something directly contradicts what we believe. While this approach can set us up for moments of patriotic incredulity (think Al Michaels’s iconic call “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”) or a surprise boost in a Def Jam bank account when Flava Flav helps propel Public Enemy to superstardom, it only holds us back when we apply it internally.

Rather than “I will believe it when I see it,” we should tell ourselves “I’ll see it when I believe it.” I am not suggesting we blindly put our faith in proofless affirmations. Rather, we should believe that inherent in all of us is some form of greatness allowing us to live up to our potential.

The epigraph for this installment of my largely unmoderated creative space comes from the Public Enemy song “He Got Game.” It was featured in the 1998 Spike Lee film of the same name and was the first song the group had released since 1994. (The reason for this four year hiatus was the group’s DJ, Terminator X, was in a motorcycle accident, hurt his leg, decided to move to a farm in North Carolina and raise African black ostriches for an early retirement. It took the group a few years to find a suitable, presumably non-ostrich farming replacement to create the beats.)  The song has a laid-back and earnest vibe, juxtaposing the booming vocals of Chuck D with the fun background of Flav hyping up the listener (think the “Squaaaaa!” you hear 43 times in the new Fetty Wap album). It may allow you to look at Flava Flav through a different lens. Although the movie, He Got Game, was a basketball film starring Denzel Washington (my celebrity doppelganger) and Ray Allen, the idea of “game” in the song extends far beyond the hardwood or blacktop. Game can be found anywhere from the basketball court to the recording booth to paint and canvas to computer coding languages. In the words of Flava Flav, “we all got game.” It just falls on us to define exactly what our game is and trust in ourselves to have it.

Christo Eliot is a graduate student in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]. Christo’s Largely Unmoderated Creative Space appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.