Welcome to ‘Winning Culture’ the new column focusing on the Philadelphia 76ers for tapintothemainline.com. Throughout the season we will be following the Sixers and trying to make sense of going from 10 wins to hopefully 55 in just three years. Be sure to check back each week for offbeat insights, weird references, and as many words about Joel Embiid as we can write.
Late in the season, it gets hard to find things to write about for a weekly column. I try to write about larger themes of the season rather than a game by game basis. It’s just the nature of a column. As I write this it’s a few days after the Sixers big win over the Milwaukee Bucks on the road, there huge win at home vs. the Celtics, and their disappointing loss to the Hawks. All three games would make good topics, but it’s late in the season, so instead I’m going to compare individual Sixers to old school hip hop songs.
One of the albums I listen to on my commute on a lot of Monday mornings is ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’. I find this usually puts me in the right frame of mind to start a new week at work. This morning I was listening to ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin,’ and when while listening to the final verse, performed by Masta Killa, I thought about how much it made me think of Jimmy Butler.
It’s the hammer verse in the song. It’s nowhere near as brash as U-God’s opening verse, or as bold as Method Man’s chorus. Raekwon and Ol Dirty Bastard’s verses are both ragged and rough. Inspectah Deck and Ghostface Killah both bring it with frenetic energy. Then you get to Masta Killa’s verse, and it’s delivered with an even flow that’s almost calm in its self-assurance. Masta Killa knows he’s on the song to be the closer, to bring it home. That’s Jimmy to a T. Just read these words and picture Butler doing his thing in the 4th quarter with the samurai headband on. He’s not frantic. He’s not roaring. He’s an assassin, just like Masta Killa in ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin.’
Looks like the work of a Master
Evidence indicates that's its stature
Merciless like a terrorist hard to capture
The flow changes like a chameleon
Plays like a friend, and stabs you like a dagger
He’s not frantic. He’s not roaring. He’s an assassin, just like Masta Killa in ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’.
After sitting in my car and thinking about this, I wondered what other songs/players matched up. I put on an old school playlist and decided to see where it went.
The first song that came on was ‘Shook Ones (Part 2) was Mobb Deep. I’m sure you would have had the same reaction I did and think “J.J. Redick of course!” Now, I realize at first that might seem to be a bit of a stretch, but I think it makes sense. First off there’s the line ‘Every man for they self in this land we be gunning.’ J.J. is certainly gunning on the court.
There’s more to it though. Much like Butler, Redick is one of the guys on the team they ask to take the ball at the end of games. Redick is on the court to shoot daggers. He is most definitely not a halfway crook, nor a shook one. He’s happy to take those shots. In Havoc’s verse, he raps ‘You talk a good one, but you don't want it,’ and we know J.J. wants it.
A couple of weeks ago against the Lakers, Redick hit a three-pointer falling out of bounds after a dead run while getting fouled. So many things had to go right for him to hit that, and when I hear the line ‘Getting closer to God in a tight situation,’ that’s the shot I think of.
Tobias Harris is a bit different. He’s not the fastest or the biggest. He’s athletic but not eye popping-ly so. He’s tough, but not a tough guy. He’s a little bit of everything, but above all, he’s smooth and incredibly skilled. He’s not a huge trash talker, but I know if he asked, “Can I kick it?” the answer would most certainly be, “Yes you can.”
‘Can I Kick It?’ is the smaller half of Tobi and Bobi’s song. One of A Tribe Called Quest’s signature songs, it begins with a sample of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wildside’ and a slow and steady beat. After a bit Q-Tip comes in asking the titular question, in a call and response. It’s not fast or slow, it’s just right. Tip’s verse is no tough guy verse; it’s overall positive, uplifting, and very smooth, just like Harris.
Phife Dawg (RIP) takes control of the second verse. It’s a little bit rougher, less smooth but more powerful. It’s clever and has that signature Phife Dawg flow. When you watch, Harris plays he bounces back between that kind of smoothness that Tip has and into the power and cleverness of Phife. He’s a versatile player that has all the talent in the world, just like Tribe. Harris can definitely kick it.
It took a few songs before the right one for Ben Simmons came on, but as soon as I heard, “One, two, three, and to the four” I knew the Simmons was nuthin but a G thang. The classic from Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ is the perfect song for Ben.
Now it's time for me to make my impression felt
So sit back, relax, and strap on your seatbelt
You never been on a ride like this before
With a producer who can rap and control the maestro
Much like with Dre, we have never been on a ride like this before. Simmons is big and powerful and unique in the NBA. Dr. Dre was the same way, and it showed on ‘Nuthin but a G Thang.’ Simmons is a 6’10” point guard who is fast as lightning, smooth as silk, and built like a brick shed. The closest comparison to him in the NBA is LeBron James. He controls the game when he’s in on offense, and almost as much on defense. Everything flows through him. A couple of times a game you can see Simmons decide that it’s time for him to take over, or as Dre said ‘Now it's time for me to make my impression felt.’ You see it when he spots a weakness and blows past people to the hoop, grabs as steal, or decides to swallow a guy up whole on defense.
‘G Thang’ was the track that really blew Dre up as a solo act and put Snoop on the map, and everything that came later flowed from it. It hit like an atomic bomb and changed the game. Simmons came out of the gate similarly. He easily won rookie of the year despite a hyped up challenge from Utah Jazz player Officer Donovan Mitchell (Informer would be his song). Simmons, like ‘G Thang,’ is unfadeable, so please don’t try to fade him.
I listened to a bunch of songs that I thought might work for Joel Embiid. DMX, Biggie, and Tupac all were close but not quite right. I had to go back farther. I flipped through some even older songs and then finally the right one came on. Much like watching Embiid’s first game vs. Oklahoma City, I knew instantly that this was the one.
I’m the King of Rock
There is none higher
Sucker MC’s should call me sire
Nothing is more perfect for ‘The Process’ that the original megastars of hip hop Run DMC, and what other song could it be than ‘King of Rock’?
The song is entirely Run DMC bouncing through verses to make sure everyone around knew how great they were. It wasn’t empty bravado either, and they really were ‘the baddest of the bad, the coolest of the cool.’ For a long time in rap, no one could touch them. They really took rap mainstream, and to this day folks will know their names. If that doesn’t sound like Joel Embiid, then I don’t know what does.
‘King of Rock’ is a mission statement and If you bring it up on youtube and then blast it while watching Embiid highlights it works perfectly. Much like Run DMC, Embiid is the biggest and the baddest in the land. When he hits a dagger three, as he did against the Bucks on Sunday, and walks down the court with his arms outstretched, you can just about hear the heavy guitar from ‘King of Rock’ while The Reverend Run and DMC bounce lines back and forth:
Now we crash through walls, cut through floors
Bust through ceilings and knock down doors
And when we're on the tape, we're fresh out the box
You can hear our sound for blocks and blocks
Run DMC had a song, and Joel Embiid has a game that is so strong it’s knocking down trees. What other song is quite as perfect for the big, brash, bold, and dominant heart of the Sixers?
So there you have it. Five old school rap songs for the best starting five in the NBA. It’s not a deep statistical analysis, but it’s hard for the mind to not wander during the long slog of the NBA season.
What about the rest of the team?
- Brett Brown would be the Lords of the Underground classic ‘Chief Rocka’ because brown absolutely has the flavors and the funk.
- Mike Scott gets Eric B., and Rakim’s ‘Eric B. is President’ because muck like Eric B, Mike Scott should be president.
- James Ennis has to be ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ by LL Cool J because he’s definitely towering over his competition with Jonathon Simmons.
- Much like the rap in EPMD’s song, Jonathan Simmons is out of control, so he gets their song ‘Rap is outta control.’
- Amir Johnson is the elder on the team. He’s there as a backup, but also to help the young guys learn. He gets the Leaders of the New School ‘Teachers, Don’t Teach Us Nonsense’ because his job is to spread the truth.
- Jonah Bolden’s nickname is ‘Ruckus,’ which is also his job. How could he get any other song but ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ by the Wu-Tang Clan?
- Boban is absolutely the ‘Humpty Dance’ because his entire role on the court is to ruin the image and the style that we're used to.
- I struggled with TJ for a bit and decided on ‘Professor Booty’ by the Beastie Boys because Brett seems to think he’s chocolate milk in lineups with Simmons, but for the most part, he’s watered down yoo-hoo.
- Zhaire Smith, Justin Patton, Shake Milton, Haywood Highsmith, and Furkan Korkmaz all get the same song, ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ because we haven’t seen enough of any of them to know which is the real Roxanne.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for the playoffs to start.
Jacob Jones-Goldstein has written about the Sixers for Roundballrev.com, loves statistics, and Trusts the Process. He dabbles in fiction, watches a lot of movies, and goes to more concerts than he should.