The rap on athletes

May 6, 2007


After we set aside the headlines and the stories it prompted about Bears top draft pick Greg Olsen and his attitude toward women, does ''7th Floor Crew'' work as music?

The Sunday Drive asked me to listen as the paper's pop music critic, and I have to say that if it crossed my desk, I'd give it a half-star on our four-star scale.

Lifting the beat and chorus of ''If Your Girl Only Knew'' by the late R&B singer Aaliyah -- who first made headlines at age 15 when R. Kelly illegally married her -- Miami producer Marvelous creates an intentionally retro sound, even for 2004. With its cheesy drum machine and mind-numbingly repetitive sing-song choruses, it evokes early '90s West Coast gangsta rap, in particular Snoop Dogg's ''Gin and Juice.''

Great hip-hop can be made using even the most offensive words and themes employed in this nearly nine-minute jam -- Snoop or the much-vilified Geto Boys, among many others, proved that. But ''7th Floor Crew'' doesn't come close. If we judge only the flow and rhyming skills of the then-University of Miami football players/wannabe rappers, they're strictly on the level of a sixth-grade talent show.

Olsen, who performed under the moniker G-Reg, is actually one of the better rappers -- besting, for example, Shaquille O'Neal, another star athlete who dreamed about being a musician. But that's like saying Olsen is better at catching a pass or blocking a running back than Britney Spears is. It's certainly nothing to brag about.

To discount the content, however, is a major disservice: The lyrics are part of why great hip-hop is art. And in this department, G-Reg is thoroughly artless.

Desperately trying to one-up his teammates after each tediously has bragged about his sexual prowess and freaky escapades, Olsen starts slowly, answering the questions ''What's your name?'' (''G-Reg'') and ''What you do?'' (''Get [oral sex]''), before climbing out on the limb and then sawing it off.

I can't quote any of the rapid-fire lines that follow because they're so scatological.

Nothing in popular music is ever new, and even this odd thought has been voiced before, in Iggy Pop's classic ''Lust for Life.'' With Iggy, though, the lyric merged with the music to be funny and provocative in the best way. With Olsen/G-Reg, it's simply a pointless effort at outrage that's ultimately more demeaning to himself than anyone else.

Jocks looking to rap shouldn't quit day job

Cristalle Bowen -- aka Psalm One -- is a critically acclaimed up-and-coming rap artist who isn't shocked when she hears about another misogynistic song. And neither is the Whitney Young grad surprised when it's a song by an athlete who can't rap.

Granted, Bears draft pick Greg Olsen -- aka G-Reg -- wasn't trying to break into the business with his ''7th Floor Crew'' effort, but athletes often believe their talent in sports will translate into success in front of a microphone.

''Sports and music are all part of the entertainment industry,'' Bowen said. ''They mesh together in an unnaturally natural sort of thing.

''A lot of people think they can rap. I think I can play basketball, but I'm not going to try out for the WNBA.''

That's not to say Bowen thinks all athletes are without vocal skills.

''I like Shaq's beat,'' she said. ''He did a single with Biggie called 'You Can't Stop the Reign.' It's so dope. I think Biggie wrote Shaq's lyrics. But other than him, nah, I haven't heard one [athlete with rap skills]. I tell them what I tell anybody: 'Don't quit your day job.'''

Bowen, who earned a degree in chemistry from Illinois, describes herself as a ''tasteful potty mouth.'' She said she doesn't see her industry changing for the better in its view of women.

''It's more like a hopeful thing,'' she said. ''People always want to dog the generation coming up, and there are a lot of young, talented people out there who don't use misogynistic or demeaning lyrics. But you're always going to have the other side; you're always going to have that edgy culture that demeans women. On the flip side, they sing 'Dear Momma' songs.''

As far as athletes rapping, all it takes is a bankroll.

''You can buy into the culture pretty easily,'' Bowen said. ''It's a culture born out of poverty. You get a couple of grand, and you can get on the radio. But I'm not talking about skills.''

Bowen isn't familiar with Olsen's song, but she's not surprised to hear it described as misogynistic.

''He's an athlete,'' she said. ''I'm sure he's come across all types of women who probably fit that stereotype. But it's sad that of all the things you talk about, you talk about bitches and hos.''

Sun-Times rap music critic David Jakubiak ranks athletes as rappers:

1. ''The Super Bowl Shuffle'' ''It's a classic. Nobody had done it before. I was home in Massachusetts when it came out, and the Patriots came up with a rebuttal before the Super Bowl called 'Bury the Bears.' It was god-awful.''

2. Shaquille O'Neal ''He didn't take himself seriously. I thought he fit in real well with the Fu-Schnickens.''

3. Allen Iverson ''He brings a lot of street cred to his music.''

4. Ron Artest ''He was dedicated enough to his craft that he abandoned basketball for a while. But he's a better producer than an artist.''

5. Kobe Bryant ''His stuff was just so contradictory to who he is. At least AI and Ron lived it, but Kobe?''