What Had Happened Was Trending stories on the intersections of race, sports & culture

The Drake-Kelly Oubre ‘beef’ proves just how good the rapper really is

Drizzy is firmly planting himself as a storyline in the NBA playoffs — and the Wizards star may just be a pawn

5:58 PMThe Toronto Raptors are up 2-0 in their first-round series against the Washington Wizards. And in those two games, Drake has finagled his way into the series’ storylines. Before Game 1, he engaged in Instagram comment warfare with John Wall. Exhibit A:

This led to the “God’s Plan” rapper taunting Wall from the sideline during Tuesday night’s Game 2. Exhibit B:

During the same game, Drake and third-year Wizards forward Kelly Oubre crossed paths as the cameras caught the former calling the latter “a bum.” Exhibit C:

Leave it to social media to recover an old Oubre tweet from 2011 in which he said the rapper had no swag — which was deleted almost immediately after Tuesday night’s game. Oubre downplayed the incident, saying the two were jawing back and forth all game. Exhibit D:

The trash talk compounds to a fascinating subplot in the playoffs that highlights courtside celebrities involving themselves in the game, most recently evidenced by Dwyane Wade and comedian Kevin Hart in Game 2 of the Philadelphia 76ers/Miami Heat series. But the dynamic isn’t new — the league’s greatest athlete-celebrity rivalry was basketball star Reggie Miller and film director Spike Lee. But let’s focus on Drake for a second. Whether you deem him a fair-weather fan or not, there’s no denying his love for the NBA. There’s also no denying everything he does is with a purpose. Drake is either rap’s savviest director, an evil marketing genius or a love child of the two. Look no further than last week’s Atlanta episode, appropriately titled Champagne Papi, which even served as part of the rollout for his newest anthem, “Nice For What” — which, this week, replaced his previous No. 1, “God’s Plan,” as the top song in the country. And on Monday, he announced the title of his highly anticipated new album, Scorpion, dropping in June. All the pieces matter.

His hometown Raptors are the top seed in the Eastern Conference. A potential second-round matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers looms on the horizon. And his album could very well drop dead-square in the middle of the NBA Finals. From Fortnite to hit TV shows, Drake has firmly entrenched himself in several culturally relevant conversations. The NBA playoffs are just his latest muse.

Kendrick Lamar’s win proves black lives matter to the Pulitzer board

Or at the very least, the concept of black lives

6:57 PMKendrick Lamar, on Monday, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 DAMN. It is but rather the first nonclassical or jazz work to win the award. The Pulitzer board’s reasoning? DAMN., they said, “captured the complexity of African-American life.” History, made.

Since 2012, with the release of his good kid, m.A.A.d city — and even before then, with a series of acclaimed mixtapes — Lamar has cemented himself as rap’s foremost cultural critic. His music is a palette of relevant topics such as gang violence, police brutality, systemic inequality, mental health and depression, women’s rights and survivor’s remorse. DAMN.’s running theme is Kendrick lamenting upon the idea that no one prayed for him, and that he, a young black man from Compton, California, was left to fend for himself in a world that yielded no other result but early death. We can’t know which songs in particular pushed the Pulitzer judges, but “FEAR.” likely played a part.

If I could smoke fear away I’d roll that m—–f—– up / And then I’d take two puffs, he says on the record (co-written by The Alchemist). Focusing on the specific ages of 7, 17 and 27, Lamar deeply explores the concept of fear and how it dictates decision-making processes. The terror of upsetting his strict mother is the first verse. The second verse takes on the terror of possibly losing his life via gang violence, or at the hands of police. And the third verse delves into self-doubt — the fear of losing the reputation he’s built for himself. The song’s calling card is hopelessness.

I’m talkin’ fear, fear that humbleness is gone/ I’m talkin’ fear, fear that love ain’t livin’ here no more, he opines with a tidal wave of anguish pouring out. I’m talkin’ fear, fear that it’s wickedness or weakness/ Fear, whatever it is, both is distinctive. “FEAR.” is Kendrick’s finest song, according to the Pulitzer winner and 2018 Summer Jam headliner himself:These verses are completely honest.”

Pulitzer cited “vernacular authenticity” as a determining factor in awarding a Pulitzer to DAMN. That’s simply another way of saying, “Damn, I didn’t know it was like that?” Lamar’s music — much like James Baldwin’s words, Marvin Gaye’s harmonies, Angela Davis’ valor, Maya Angelou’s poems, or Muhammad Ali’s swagger — is representative of the generation in which he is a leader. Speaking of Baldwin, he of course said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” That rage in Lamar was certainly too much for the Pulitzer board to overlook.

Adidas doesn’t need Colin Kaepernick in the NFL to sign him to an endorsement deal

Three reasons that the quarterback-turned-social activist would be a perfect fit for the culture’s favorite brand

6:49 PMAt this point, the rumor of Adidas luring Drake away from Jordan Brand to sign him to an endorsement deal is old news. Now, the multibillion-dollar brand is apparently targeting another big name — one that belongs to perhaps the most polarizing figure in pro sports.

However, according to one of the company’s highest-ranking executives, a partnership with Colin Kaepernick — the accomplished quarterback-turned-social activist (who’s been blackballed from the NFL in the process) — would come under one condition.

“If he signs on a team, we would definitely want to sign him,” said Mark King, president of Adidas North America, on April 13 at Arizona State’s Global Sport Summit. Kaepernick spent the entire 2016 NFL season, then a signal-caller for the San Francisco 49ers, kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest racial injustice against minorities, particularly African-Americans, in the United States. In March 2017, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with San Francisco, making him a free agent. And for more than a year and counting, he’s gone unsigned by all 32 NFL teams.

Since he began kneeling, Kaepernick has sparked a movement of player protests across multiple sports and leagues, donated $1 million to “organizations working in oppressed communities” and been named GQ’s Citizen of the Year. So that brings us to one question: Why does Adidas need Colin Kaepernick in the NFL to sign him?

The answer is the brand, which is endorsed not just by athletes but also by rappers, singers and fashion designers, doesn’t — and here are three reasons why.


Adidas is a lifestyle brand

At its foundation, Adidas is a global sports brand. Yet at its essence, Adidas is a cultural lifestyle brand. You probably can’t tell us what Adidas cleat Lionel Messi is rocking on the pitch, but you certainly know the name of Kanye West’s culture-shaking lifestyle sneakers: the Yeezy Boosts. In December 2017, the brand released an ad titled Calling All Creators, which featured the likes of the brand’s top endorsees, including nonathletes such as Pharrell Williams, Pusha T and Alexander Wang. You can’t tell us Kap wouldn’t have fit into the brand’s one-minute short film (with his Afro perfectly picked out), and the campaign’s overarching message as the creator of one of the most impactful social movements of his generation.

adidas has embraced the pasts of other endorsees

We’re not here to judge people’s pasts; however, let’s check the receipts of two musical artists whom Adidas has signed to endorsement deals. Murder Was the Case is the name of Snoop Dogg’s 1993 track and 1995 movie that both tell the story of the first- and second-degree murder charges of which he was acquitted at the beginning of his career. Nowadays, Snoop is the inspiration behind multiple Adidas shoes and football cleats. On The Clipse’s 2002 record “Grindin’,” Pusha T spits, From ghetto to ghetto, to backyard to yard, I sell it whipped, unwhipped, it’s soft or hard. The Virginia MC isn’t shy about rapping about his history of slanging drugs, and that artistic creativity has contributed to a reputation that warranted a signature Adidas sneaker. But Kaepernick has to be in the NFL to get signed to a deal? C’mon …

Colin Kaepernick is a man of the people

In his first month of protesting back in 2016, Kaepernick led the NFL in jersey sales despite starting the season as a backup quarterback. And by the summer of 2017, his jersey was still selling at a high rate despite him not being on a NFL roster. He boasts a combined 4 million-plus followers between his Twitter and Instagram accounts and was one of the runners-up on the shortlist for Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2017. And not only did he walk the walk, he talked the talk by living up to his pledge to give back to underserved communities, with donations of $100,000 a month, for 10 months, to different organizations. (He even donated his entire sneaker collection to the homeless.) For a company like Adidas that’s the brand of the culture, it almost seems like a no-brainer to sign a man of the people like Kaepernick. And why not give him his own signature sneaker too?

More Beyoncé gold for HBCUs with new BeyGOOD scholarship initiative

The announcement comes days after her Coachella performance

3:43 PMAfter Beyoncé’s thrilling Coachella performance, which highlighted the rich culture of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the superstar is going a step further to invest in students of select HBCUs around the country.

Through her BeyGOOD initiative, Beyoncé will award a $25,000 grant to one student at Xavier University of Louisiana, Wilberforce University, Tuskegee University and Bethune-Cookman University. The grants are part of the initiative’s 2018-19 Homecoming Scholars Award Program, which will be awarded to all qualifying students studying literature, creative arts, African-American studies, science, education, business, communications, social sciences, computer science or engineering. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

This is the second installment of scholarships Beyoncé has awarded to students attending HBCUs. Last April, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her latest album, Lemonade, Beyoncé launched the Formation Scholars award geared toward helping young women at participating HBCUs who studied creative arts, music, literature or African-American studies during the 2017-18 academic year. The idea of that scholarship was to “encourage and support young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious, and confident.”

“We salute the rich legacy of historically black colleges and universities,” said Ivy McGregor, director of philanthropy and corporate relations at Parkwood Entertainment, which houses BeyGOOD. “We honor all institutions of higher learning for maintaining culture and creating environments for optimal learning which expands dreams and the seas of possibilities for students.”

Winners are set to be selected by the universities and will be announced this summer.

All hail King Bey, queen of the desert and mistress of the internet

#Beychella served up a panoply of blackness, from HBCUs to Wakanda and Fela Kuti to Nina Simone

11:37 AMThe internet has been taking a hammering lately, especially from people who don’t quite understand it.

Earlier this week, a good portion of the chattering classes tuned their televisions to cable news to watch congressmen grill a tech billionaire using a booster seat about his creation, and how it and Vladimir Putin together might be responsible for the downfall of Western democracy. Or something. Earlier this month, the federal government seized the online classified site Backpage.com, shutting it down and putting sex workers at risk by moving their work further into the shadows, many argued. And the Cannes film festival banned Netflix from entering films in its competition, in part because French film purists argue that Netflix is destroying the communal aspect of consuming film.

If you pay attention to the news, the overwhelming conclusion is that the internet is a dangerous place full of lies, conspiracy theories, hate speech, free porn, and Russian trolls and it’s making us worse as human beings. And there’s some truth to that.

But it’s not the whole story of the internet. Leave it to Beyoncé to remind us.

The first lady of Tidal, Houston, fish fries, and — let’s just say the modern African diaspora — made history (again) late Saturday night as the first black woman to headline Coachella, the oovy-groovy, hippie-dippie, psychedelic-infused annual music festival in the California desert. Naturally, she used it to serve up a panoply of blackness, from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Zamunda to Wakanda to Egypt to Fela Kuti to Nefertiti to Malcolm X to James Weldon Johnson to Nina Simone. But her decision to livestream her entire two-hour performance is what makes Beyoncé as astute as any tech billionaire about the power and possibility of the internet.

It’s not the first time she’s used the internet to vault herself into international conversation. She did it with the surprise release of BEYONCÉ, with the HBO debut of Lemonade, with the launch of her expertly curated website and Instagram account. Beyoncé knows how to create a moment.

But choosing to livestream her Coachella performance signals something more. Rather than limiting her audience to the tens of thousands of ticket-buying festival attendees in Indio, California, Beyoncé created an internet community around #Beychella, harnessing a Southern-fried When and Where I Enter moment to be exported, dissected, and re-created.

This was something everyone with an internet connection got to witness, too. For free.

It’s exactly the sort of democratizing act that used to give us hope in the internet. Because what is the simultaneous clattering of keyboards about #Beychella if not a moment of community, a mechanism for sharing our amens together as we all visit the sanctuary of Beysus?

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots. Instead, she brought an HBCU-style halftime show and a probate exhibition, complete with a marching band and dancing dolls. She aggregates elements of black culture, high and low, American, African, Creole, and everything in between, and spits them back out into something new, craveable, and instantly consumable.

Honestly, how many people knew who the orisha Oshun was before Lemonade dropped? Don’t lie, either.

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots.

Ever since she released “Formation,” Beyoncé has been exploring ways to carry black people on her back via a series of high-profile, unapologetic salvos in the culture wars. There was the Super Bowl. There was the Grammys. And now there’s Beychella. Forget about Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. We got Beyoncé in go-go boots.

Thanks to the internet, we bear witness to the way police are weaponized against innocent black people waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks. And thanks to the internet, we can rightfully raise hell about it, too. And then, because the nonstop reminders of how black people aren’t fully recognized as people is exhausting and depressing, we can have a much-deserved moment to celebrate ourselves, even if that moment happens to be at 2 o’clock in the morning on the East Coast.

Some will skip over the art and jump straight to arguing that Beyoncé has commodified black liberation.

But I’d say Beyoncé has assessed her power in the world, the possibilities of the internet, and combined the two to march on as an evangelist of black feminism.

Wyatt Cenac can’t fix the world, but he’s sure going to try

The comedian’s new HBO show, ‘Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas’ isn’t about identifying everything wrong with the world. It’s about finding solutions.

12:46 PMThe most unusual thing about Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, the comedian and Daily Show alum’s new late-night show for HBO, is its startling focus on finding solutions to complex, scary, seemingly impossible problems.

This approach to late night, to comedy and to, well, life on earth is, frankly, surprising. After all, Cenac, 41, is a self-proclaimed nihilist. And his show, which premieres Friday night, joins a field of late-night comedy shows that, to one degree or another, are about all the ways our hair should be on fire because of nutjobs with too much power. They’re all influenced by the OG of this model, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which called out hypocrisy and incompetence. Now we have:

  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: calls out corruption and incompetence
  • Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: calls out sexism and incompetence
  • The Rundown with Robin Thede: calls out racism and incompetence

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: offers a nightly summation of all these things while making us laugh before we’re all vaporized in a nuclear Holocaust.

Perhaps sensing that there’s only so much ha-ha-hair-on-fire programming an audience can take, Cenac has steered Problem Areas in the other direction. While billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson may be looking for ways to bail on Earth, the vast majority of humans can’t afford to do that. The pragmatic approach, Cenac suggests, would be to make Earth work — you know, while it’s still here. This is particularly amusing given that Cenac’s last show, People of Earth, was a fictional comedy for TBS about a journalist investigating an alien invasion. Apparently the aliens aren’t going to save us.

And so, through 10 episodes, Cenac is taking a look at police violence and what can be done to curb it. His studio audience is composed not of other humans but of Siri and Alexa, and Cenac takes his television audience through his “problem areas” in the comfort of a ’70s news set appointed with lots of wood and earth tones. The show re-examines the death of Philando Castile with expert interviews, including of police officers.

The result is a show unlike anything else on late night, a mix of mirth, seriousness and palpable sensitivity. Problem Areas, whose executive producers include Oliver, Cenac and Oscar-winning documentary director Ezra Edelman, feels like a cross between 60 Minutes and Last Week Tonight, but hosted by a guy whose affect suggests he’s just taken couple of hits off a really good vape pen.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s interested in answering questions that too often are ignored. After showing a clip of the daughter of Castile’s girlfriend attempting to comfort her mother, Diamond Reynolds, while she’s handcuffed in the back of a police car, Cenac asks, “For the people of Philando Castile’s community around St. Paul, what needs to happen for them to feel safer? How do they get a different outcome?”

Can another late-night comedy news show change the world? Probably not. But maybe it can inspire us to think differently. And that’s a start.

Taylor Swift’s cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘September’ is the bland potato salad Chadwick Boseman warned us about

Seriously, no one thought to suggest another song?

11:14 AMLet’s get the facts out of the way first. Country megastar Taylor Swift’s cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 landmark cookout classic “September” is the latest in the Spotify Singles series. Previous installments include Miley Cyrus covering Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and Demi Lovato doing Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way.” There are several other examples, but you get the gist of the blueprint. To be fair, covers are a staple in music dating back before Swift or the internet itself were even born. There’s no denying Swift’s song will introduce the original to an entirely new audience in her massive fan base. And if EWF can get some coins off this on the back end, it quite simply is what it is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ns8f77qtz8

But all that being said, this — this, my friends — is the “bland a– potato salad” King T’Challa was telling us about last week during Black Jeopardy on Saturday Night Live. (Seriously, watch the skit and tell me it doesn’t fit this to a tee.) Swift might very well be a huge fan of the record. Millions of people have a sentimental attachment to “September.” It’s a classic in quite literally every sense of the musical definition. You can’t go to a black family reunion and not hear “September.” You can’t go to a black family’s house over the holidays and not hear the song at some point. And you absolutely can’t go to a wedding reception and not hear it — the first half of the reception because we all know the back half of the reception is when the open bar and twerking commence. This isn’t even hyperbole when categorizing the record as one of the most important of a decade that produced a plethora of timeless anthems and albums. You can’t strip the soul and groove away from a song and expect it to fly. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

To keep it a buck with you, I’m not even mad at Taylor. She’s obviously connected to the song enough to want to pay homage. I’m more so mad at everyone else who was in the studio session. Like no one thought to say, “Maybe ‘September’ doesn’t need a banjo in it.” Like no one suggested, “What do you think about [insert another song]?” True story — one time I purposely moved in the barber’s chair when I was 8 or 9. I wanted to get a bald head like Michael Jordan and I had a basketball game that weekend, so in my mind this would all work perfectly. Nevertheless, my mom cursed me out, telling me I “looked more like a bright a– light bulb” than my favorite player. I played horribly that weekend, and it’s all because I went rogue in the barber’s chair. In my mind, that’s what happened on this cover of “September.”

Last but not least, though, R.I.P. Maurice White. And since we’re all gathered here today, we might as well listen to the original.