Rapping about sports will always fail

I hesitate to write this, because any attempt by a single person to define what is and isn’t cool is an open invitation to The Internet to destroy that person. It’s like putting an overcooked pork chop in front of a Chopped judge.

Alas, I am willing to become a martyr for this cause.

First, you need to familiarize yourself with the following videos:

I’m not going to spend much time on the exceptionally poor quality of the rapping in either of those videos or the excessive whiteness or that one of the guys in the Mizzou video is named “Tanner,” which — and this is true — was the stock name me and my buddies assigned to anyone who was popping the collar on his polo shirts in 2004, or that the guy in the KU video is ripping off a 50 Cent song that is eight years old and was never cool in the first place, or that the whole “I’m rich and drive fancy cars” thing is not as cool when it’s really your dad who is rich and his cars you’re driving or that the Missouri video has as much to do with Kansas as it does Missouri or that somebody is wearing a Santa Claus hat in the KU video.

I’m going to ignore that stuff, because it’s just dressing on the biggest point in all this. You ready? Here goes.

Sports are not cool.

Sports are fun. Sports are dramatic. Sports are intense. Sports are worthwhile. But sports are not cool.

Coolness is about individuality. It is about rebellion. It is about style. It is the guitar solo in “Johnny B. Goode.” It was Jay-Z’s Yankees fitted, it is the fins on a ’59 Cadillac and it is Farnsworth Bentley’s umbrella. It was the way Outkast sounded in 2000. It is Martin Luther King’s cadence, Bill Clinton playing the saxophone and the twinkle in Ronald Reagan’s eye when he knew he was saying something just right. It is Steve Jobs getting fired from Apple.  It is Barack Obama turning his back to the camera and walking off at the end of the “Bin Laden is dead” announcement. It is the Fab Five wearing their shorts long in 1992 and Dennis Rodman wearing them short in 1996.


Also awesome.

Cool is cool, and certainly there are cool people who ended up in sports. But the overall idiom of sports is inherently uncool. It is all about conformity and shared identity. It is about being part of something larger than yourself, which is the opposite of being yourself. This is not a bad thing. It can be a really good thing. The military, for example, could not operate effectively without this kind of culture, and neither could a sports team. Lots of good things come from conformity, but coolness is not among them.

More to the point, sports fandom is every bit as uncool as Star Trek fandom.* It’s all geeking out about people you don’t know and will never meet. It’s arguing about numbers. It’s coming up with justifications for caring about the outcomes of games. It’s having heroes.

It is not bad, but it is not cool.

*Oh, let’s not split hairs here. I’m exaggerating to make a point. 

This is why any attempt to rap about sports will inevitably fail. Jay-Z could not write a cool rap song about Kansas basketball. It isn’t possible, because Jay-Z might be cool, and Kansas basketball might have some cool things about it or some cool guys on the team, but sports are not cool. The two don’t mix. Sports are institutions, and nothing in sports is more institutional than college athletics. It practically defines the term.

Rapping about a team you like is the same as rapping about a rapper you like. It’s too meta.

Romance and sexiness work the same way. Once the mystery is gone — once you have made it clear you are actively trying to create sexiness — it becomes corny and lame. These things can only exist behind a veil.

Also, you know who is terrible at rapping? Practically everybody on earth, regardless of race. Let’s leave it to the professionals. Most of them are cool, which is why most of them wouldn’t rap about a college sports team. 


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