May 31, 2010
I was certainly more raised on baseball than I was on hip hop. I was whiffing at balls on a tee for my preschool squad and Baltimore choppin’ in the batting cages before Biggie and Pac ever started beefin’. I knew California Love and was vaguely familiar with some other more popular rap of the day, but didn’t really get into hip hop until my older brother Griff played me Dr. Dre’s seminal Chronic 2001. It was labeled parental advisory and I’m not sure how he even acquired it but knowing what a vile opinion our parents held of rap music we didn’t dare bump that shit in the house. The only place we could safely blast such depraved filth was in Griff’s Ford Exploder and I’ll be damned if we weren’t bumpin’ the Doc just about every day on the way to school my 8th grade year, two years after I had actually stopped playing baseball.
I had no idea at the time but from its release 2001 has been generally recognized as a masterpiece. Not having released an album since 1992’s groundbreaking debut The Chronic, Dr. Dre came out swinging for the fences alongside an all-star ensemble of rap legends and since its release 2001 has gone 6X platinum. Snoop reminded us that he was still rollin’ with the D.R.E. but my favorite is still hands down track #10, Forgot About Dre. Along with a thumpin’ bass line and top notch verses from Dre reminding us of his influence and continuing relevance in the game, this song introduced me to who I believe to be the greatest lyricist/rapper/hiphoppapotamus of all time, Detroit’s one and only blond bomber, Eminem. His lyrics were catchy yet crafty and his pitch and inflection such that my virgin ears had no problem interpreting his every well-enunciated syllable. I’ve since become infatuated with this entire genre and over the past decade feel like I have cultivated my ear into something of an aficionado for the sound. I’ve explored many elements of rap and hip hop, and even tried my hand at developing my own melodious methods under the moniker SloMo (keep your ears open for another mixtape in the ChronicL’s of Flips and SloMo droppin’ this summer). I am discriminating in my taste only in that I prefer to listen to what I perceive to be either talented or entertaining, preferably both. I don’t even care if all you rap about is bling and whips as long as you do it in some creative way. Most rap songs that get spun on popular radio do not fall into either category for me, but there are exceptions. While I generally prefer underground these days, my all time favorite is still Eminem and considering he was the top-selling musical artist of the last decade, it would be foolish of me to say I don’t appreciate the mainstream side of rap. But the question still remains, what does any of this have to do with baseball?
The answer is lots. Sure, the obvious athletic association with beat boxin’ and battlin’ is the other b-ball. Basketball is inherently better suited for a dense, urban environment and has taken roots in the same ground as the block parties that inspired the first MCs and DJs to start boastfully rhyming their toasts to the crowd. Baseball requires far more space and equipment, not to mention formal instruction, than basketball, so it is not surprising that MLB has no Thuggets or Jail Blazers, no Rucker Park and definitely no Skip to My Lou. Even the Polo Grounds, site of Bobby Thompson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World, was torn down in 1968 to make room for government housing projects, but Ron Artest has the honkey of all honkeys, Craig Sager (in all his poorly dressed, insultingly obnoxious glory) shouting out the same PJs that Nas and Mobb Deep rep. While rap permeates every level of hoops culture, it doesn’t seem to make it much further in baseball than the five-second clips one might hear as a player walks to the plate. I’m sure there are plenty of hip hop and rap fans in the Big Leagues, but I can’t recall a single one ever taking time off in the middle of the season to promote his upcoming album. However, that’s not to say that baseball hasn’t left its own indelible mark on the world of rap music.
This chorus line from Below Zero and Lil Flip’s “New Era” tells in short baseball’s biggest contribution to hip hop culture, the New Era 59Fifty fitted cap. The Fittty9Fitty, an iconic and stylish headpiece, is the official hat for all 30 Major League Baseball teams and a staple of any self respecting rapper’s wardrobe. While hip hop has borrowed the baseball theme for a number of songs, this hat has become a true emblem of urban style. Erupting onto the scene in 1996 after director Spike Lee personally requested a custom red Yankees fitted, this style of cap is now as essential to inner-city steeze as a fresh pair of Air Force Ones. Similar to the Air Force Ones, New Era “Fitteds” are available in an astonishing array of color and logo combinations, and more rare releases are coveted by collectors (hat heads?). New Era started making hats in 1920 and in 1954 introduced the original 59Fifty, the style of which has remained virtually unchanged since. In 1993 New Era gained exclusive licensing rights with MLB and today the look is as recognizable off the field as it is on it. Just ask NYC heavyweight Jay-Z, who claimed he “made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can” when performing his hit single Empire State of Mind with Alicia Keys before Game 2 of the 2009 World Series. Even if that isn’t exactly true, it ain’t far from it. Which brings me to the whole point of this article…
On Thursday, May 13, rappers Jay-Z and Eminem stopped by the Tigers’ Comerica Park to make a landmark announcement: this September they will be playing two shows, one at Comerica and the other at Yankee Stadium, with each megastar headlining for his hometown crowd. This epic night will be the first official concert at the new Yankee Stadium (H to the izzo’s World Series gig didn’t officially count) and is guaranteed to go down in both baseball and hip hop history. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t sacrifice body parts to be there in person, proudly representing our little population of Mexican hat wearers in this zenith of America’s pastime meeting with America’s present. Eminem has been quite reclusive in recent years and I’ve feared for some time now that my window of opportunity to see him perform in person had been closed. These shows have given me another opportunity, a chance to live out my new school dream in the House That Ruth Built (sorta).
Tickets are not yet available to the public; I’ve heard they will be going on sale June 12 and they’re sure to sell out quick. The problem is I’m totally broke. I have an empty bank account, two maxed out credit cards, and live on the other side of the country. I’m asking for your help on this one Sombrero Nation. If you have any NYC or Detroit connections, ideas, spare change, or anything else that could possibly help me fulfill this fantasy please hit me up. Most of you guys sit in the stands of a major league stadium and wonder what it would be like down there batting or fielding, but the only way I could ever dream of stepping on the field at Yankee Stadium would be with a mic in my hand, rockin’ my fitted like the Jigga Man. I need to make this happen and I need all of your help. SloMo out.