lonzo-ball

Don’t Be Mad at Lonzo Ball—Feel Sorry For Him

By now, news has traveled around the globe of Lonzo Ball’s inane comments regarding Nas and the subsequent threat of a curse by the benevolent Basedgod. You could fill a book with the many reasons why Yung Lonzo is so obviously wrong, but instead of being angry, I actually feel sorry for the 19-year-old hoop lord. Here’s why.

Let me state first and foremost that there is nothing wrong with preferring Migos and Future to Nas. We all have our personal preferences, and everyone os entitled to their opinion. But one does oneself a huge disservice by being so dismissive of the voices that shaped hip hop to become the phenomenon that it is. Even if a particular rapper’s music may sound dated to your ears, to paraphrase Dr. Dre, when you dis them you dis yourself. Growing up, I learned that there’s little else in this world more enjoyable than tracing the roots of a culture you love.

I was born in 1982 in the south of The Netherlands. Growing up in my neck of the woods in a small town in northwestern Europe, hip hop wasn’t exactly on my doorstep. It only occasionally caught radio waves, and I lived far from bigger cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, where a local hip hop culture was already gestating. I did, however, have a Surinamese-Dutch cousin, who hooked me up with tapes coming out of the Surinamese community.

Through him, I had copies of DJ Moortje’s bubblin’ mixes, which were laying some of the current tropical house wave decades in advance as well as a dub of Ice-T’s Home Invasion. I must’ve been around twelve years old when I first heard this. As a young, impressionable teen, it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. Ice’s stone cold booming voice started the album by listing off a litany of cuss words, and warning those that were offended by such terms to “Take the tape out now!” Ice T stated clearly: “This is not a pop album!”

Before the beat even dropped I was mesmerized by the confidence oozing from that voice, the comfort with which he did nothing but cuss for a straight half minute, and of course capping it off by distancing himself from pop music. Anything close to pop instantly lost its cool, as I was introduced to a realm of street tales infinitely more dangerous, and therefore more appealing.

I wore out my dubbed copy of Home Invasion in the following months, and bought my first rap CD not much later. It was a compilation put out by a French label titled Rap Connexion, which featured Dre and Snoop’s “Fuck Wit’ Dre Day,” Das EFX’s “Undaground Rappa” and Masta Ace’s “Saturday Nite Live” among others. It made little sense stylistically how those songs were grouped together, but that actually made a pretty good starting point for a young hip hop head without a clue where to start.

 

Listening to “Fuck Wit’ Dre Day” for the first time, I had no idea who Eazy-E was. Hell, I barely knew Snoop and Dre themselves, apart from the fact that they had a hit with Snoop’s “What’s My Name.” But they wanted to slap the taste out the mouth of this guy, and I wanted to know why. There was no internet back then, and it wouldn’t be until three years later that I found out there was such a thing as a rap magazine, when my little brother (who’d caught the hip hop virus along with me) pointed me to the English language section of a store, when he spotted a magazine there with the Wu-Tang emblem on it (it was an issue of The Source which profiled the group a month before Wu-Tang Forever dropped.) My searches through hip hop history were guided by nothing but liner notes, references in lyrics, featured artists, and thank you lists on albums—that and asking record store clerks which of those names had released any records I could order. And I loved every second of it.

Finding out that Snoop’s “La Di Da Di” was a nod to Slick Rick, who had an entire album full of smooth lyrics over pounding drums that I hadn’t heard yet? That the Eazy-E Dr. Dre had dissed was actually in a group with Dre, and that they once recorded a song called “Fuck The Police” that had the FBI investigate them?!? Connecting the dots between De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, and noticing they weren’t just groups creating deliciously jazzy vibes, but part of Native Tongues, an actual movement of even more acts producing music in a similar vein? I’ll never forget the feeling of any of those moments.

Hip hop was like an entire universe of interconnected acts influencing each other, one-upping one another, sometimes feuding with each other, sharing a history and building upon the art of its predecessors. By digging for samples, utilizing turntables as instruments and inventing a new style of vocals, hip hop broke free from all earlier musical traditions, creating a world unto itself. The joy I experienced while tracing every strain of it that I could find was absolutely intoxicating.

I dove in head-first and haven’t come up for air ever since. And even if you were a part of hip hop since its early days, the joy of tracing its roots can take you way beyond the genre itself. Recognizing Wu-Tang’s sample of Gladys Knight & the Pips in “Can It Be All So Simple” (because my mom used to play “The Way We Were / Try to Remember” all the time) was a spectacular revelation to me as young boy. I remember wondering in amazement if anybody could discover exactly how deep the rabbit hole of rap would go.

Some mumble over trap beats in a southern American drawl, and others flow smoothly over jazz loops in Japanese

The answer is that you can’t, because rap moves in two directions: and watching it grow, evolve and sprawl into different directions towards the future, was just as deliriously engrossing as tracing back its roots to the past. My own path started with early ’90s west coast rap, moved to New York, and eventually had me living through the final years of the golden era into the days of the shiny suits. Meanwhile, local offshoots in France like IAM started to get better and better in their own language. Even in Dutch, my native language—full of throat sounds—people like Extince began rapping with impressive fluidity. The sound continues to sprawl and grow into an endless progression of sub-genres and languages. Some mumble over trap beats in a southern American drawl, others flow smoothly over jazz loops in Japanese.

And even if a definitive answer as to the exact depth of this rabbit hole did exist, I wouldn’t want to know it. Sure, I’ve found sounds I liked less than others. Sounds that weren’t much to my personal liking, but I still want to understand how it all connects, how this culture evolved and continues to grow. I want to see that bigger picture evolve on both ends. My own love of hip hop culture and the thirst to keep on connecting those dots continue to feed and enrich each other. Even if a particular thread isn’t to your specific taste, it can still add to the majesty of the tapestry as a whole. I’ve been on this journey for almost 25 years now, and I never want it to end. Because that’s what being a hip hop head feels like.

My story of falling for hip hop isn’t emblematic of everyone’s experience, but I think the sensations in it are universal. Hip hop’s global reach basically proves as much.

I’ve often gotten angry at people for deriding hip hop culture, for only focusing on a few isolated aspects, for basing their opinions on ill-informed clichés, but I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I pity them. If you can’t see the beauty when presented with something this magnificent, it’s your loss. By only glancing at the current crop, and failing to appreciate artists like Nas—or any other master of this mighty art form—you are denying yourself one of the most impressive, refreshing cultural experiences known to humankind.

Never mind cursing him, Basedgod. Yung Lonzo already played himself.

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