With the Brooklyn Nets basketball team on the verge of being eliminated in the playoffs by the Toronto Raptors, it's an opportune time to analyze the subtext of the games -- the battle between Jay Z and Drake.
It's well-known that Brooklyn and Jay Z are inextricably bound at the hip from birth to the grave, his role in establishing the Nets in the mind of Hip-Hop America much larger than the minuscule 0.67% he has since sold. His influence has been enormous as Creative Consultant in the say of Nets' Brooklyn uniforms, the choice of team colors, the design of arena club spaces and the branding of the move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. He often sits in the front row with Beyoncé. Need I say more?
Drake has also become identified with Toronto. He was born in the city and is a front row fixture at Air Canada Centre, a visible presence at the playoffs and a global ambassador for his home city. So much so that when a video of Drake daintily removing lint
from his pants using a roller during Game 2 of the playoffs went viral, the Raptors teamed up with a manufacturer to distribute 1,200 Drake lint rollers to fans outside the arena.
In a face-off between Brooklyn grime and Toronto cleanliness there's not much competition unless you bring the comparison to the basketball court where the Raptors are leading 3-2. Jay Z's roots as a drug dealer from the projects make him "hard" whereas Drake's middle class quasi-suburban upbringing and transition from teen actor to rapper make him appear "soft." The basketball teams are similarly aligned. To counter critics who called the Nets soft in the past, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were brought in from the Boston Celtics, two tough guys from one of basketball's winningest franchises. But Garnett's age has made him a non-factor and except for Game 1, Pierce's contributions have been minimal.
The issue of age also crosses over from basketball to hip hop. Jay Z is old (44), Drake young (27). Jay Z's hegemony and brand of defiant rapping has been on the decline as Drake's more sensitive stylings have redefined the genre. Nets v. Raptors comparisons raise similar issues. As Sports Illustrated pointed out
: "The veteran-laden Nets boast plenty of postseason experience, while the Raptors' starting five features three playoff rookies. Can Toronto's youth and enthusiasm overcome Brooklyn's experience and wisdom?" The answer on the basketball court will soon be apparent and I think the writing's on the wall for Jay Z as well.
PS -- And for the cherry on the argument that Toronto measures up against Brooklyn as Drake does to Jay Z, I offer the sad case of Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto who not only talks the talk but smokes the crack. Take that for what you will.