By day, not-so-mild-mannered Delonte West is a NBA basketball player, a combo guard too small for shooting guard and too selfish to play point. West is notable for tattoos, somehow having red hair despite an African-American and Native American ethnic mix, thugging in a motorized tricycle with two handguns and (inexplicably) a shotgun, and reportedly copulating with Gloria James, celebrity mom to an apocryphal king. An antihero of sorts, pariah in a league that forces its players to wear suits and follow rules. But there’s a side of Delonte that exists away from the spotlight, where a burgeoning rap career transforms Mr. West into Charlee Redz, car aficionado and purveyor of optimal rhymes.
This week, 4 singles off upcoming mixtape Cadillac Music: Come Ride Wit (sic) Me were leaked to Slam; while one might think that hackers saw West’s compositions as grail, the leak occurred from within the Charlee Redz camp; more specifically, Redz himself was responsible for the breach. The unabashedly explicit “My Dually” begins by expressing Transcendentalist distaste for confinement in the studio and the label’s aim for an audience elevated 12 feet above traffic.
As a wordsmith, Redz drops a clever double entendre into the title. A “Dually” is a truck with four wheels on the back, typically tricked out in a display of gangster braggadocio. But lesser used is the Urban Dictionary definition, where a Dually refers to a woman shaped like the truck, possessing wide hips and a protruding posterior. Essentially, a pear-shaped figure. The refrain makes more sense when viewed in this context, with Charlee Redz heralding his affinity for “loud,” in arenas of both audio and cannabis, as well as custom rims and stacks of cash pledged to his dually. Life’s finer things.
Charlee Redz gets introspective with the creatively titled “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy.” He opens his verse insisting that his eyes are low, bringing his streak of opening songs with shoutouts to a plant banned both by the NBA’s conduct policy and Federal law to a perfect 2 for 2. But the line I find interesting is “This life fast, sometimes it comes slow/ so I wear a mask, so nobody know.” His intense and challenging rhymes try to conceal an important revelation, but it’s extractable if you pay close attention. By adopting the Charlee Redz persona, Delonte West is putting on his mask, “so nobody know.” With this, he’s able to segregate the pristine image of Delonte West, innocent child balling on a wire hanger hoop until his momma whooped him, from the swagged-out artist living life for the pleasures of the finer things in green.
The third track leaked is the thankfully brief “Texas I Like It.” Redz’ voice is distorted, taking it from a terrible track with monosyllabic rhymes and intellectually devoid lyrics to a deeper-voiced terrible track with monosyllabic rhymes and intellectually devoid lyrics. This song is literally everything abhorrent about rap. Concepts presented in chronological order: getting paid, hearing 50 gunshots last night, hardness in the hood, trying to get laid, haircuts, hats, enjoying stardom in Texas, using credit cards instead of cash to impress the “hoes on the poles.” This is the most gruesome Texan atrocity since the Alamo, or the death penalty, or Vanilla Ice.
As the saying goes, “Blood runs thicker than water and faster than Shaq.” Charlee Redz showcases his familial piety by including his uncle Rudy preaching the gangster gospel of being a man and wooing women. Highlights of Rudy’s message, combined with a soft backing track, include relationship dissolution, the struggle with body ideals, humanizing Tyra Banks, and mythological odes to Helen and the Trojan War. Rudy’s role is evocative of the teacher on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a sage who helps break down life for the audience (a classroom of children, as opposed to Uncle Rudy’s gangsters riding 12 feet high.)
Parallels can be drawn between West and Ron Artest, a baller on and off the court with his own rap label (more here.) The gig should feel stale, but I can’t help but be excited about everything Delonte West does. He falls somewhere between brilliance and outrageousness, and the spectrum is almost impossible to calibrate. His Twitter is routinely hilarious, consistently talking about everyday things like fixing driveways and binging on chili. Watching Delonte’s career is like watching the NFL with replacement refs, or Univision on mute. And that might be just the way he likes it.
When one searches for Arian Foster in Google, his eponymous website is only the 9th result. It’s preceded by a myriad of sites, most centered around Foster’s value as a running back. Sites such as NFL.com and Pro Football Reference log his professional stats, while Rotoworld considers Foster’s value as inherently related to fantasy sports. One might consider this a simple SEO pissing contest, with metrics determining Foster’s relevance to the world. But beyond the surface, it offers a brutal thesis: Arian Foster, the football player, is more significant than Arian Foster, the human.
If you maneuver through the minefield of stats on stats on stats and injury reports, you might reach ArianFoster.org. I suspect that this is the first site curated by an NFL player featuring a tab called Musings, home to quotes, miserly (and untitled) poems, and more liberal prose. The fan who watches football to taunt, celebrate violence, and eat doesn’t click on Musings. The fan with insatiable bloodlust doesn’t know that all four of Foster’s poems contain either “bleed,” “blood,”, or “cuts.” Not cuts like the ones he makes slicing up defenses, cuts as in burden and pain.
Foster is comfortable bearing his soul. His signature celebration is a Hindu bow, hands clasped at the heart, an intimate handshake offered in reverence to the world. Called Namaste, the gesture is salient enough for Foster to include it in his Twitter biography, styled as a trend. If Foster’s intent was to trend it, he succeeded; Justin Tuck pilfered the overture in front of millions of eyes in the Super Bowl, as well as on morning program Live! With Kelly (now co-hosted by Tuck’s ex-compatriot, Michael Strahan.) Foster’s response was a zen “#namaste Misure Tuck.” And his poetry offers emotional voyeurs a window into his inner self. His poetry (unlike SSH favorite JJ Redick) is introspective, and quite good. I would call it surprisingly good, but it should come as no shock that an enigmatic personality like Foster transcends the mold of an athlete.
Where we dwell – By Arian Foster
When minds are at war with hearts,
And light is at war with dark,
This is where glory dwells,
Where warriors whisper hymns,
Of blood lost in vain,
Where time twists and bends,
And echoes all our names,
Here is where those diamonds dwell,
Polished in dust.
From swamps to stars, we dreamed far,
They called it far-fetched, we called it ours.
We called them lessons, they called them scars,
They call it blessings, this work was hard,
That is where we dwell.
The past worn as capes, memory as armor,
The karma we bring,
Sings truth to the soul,
Like kings mingling with pawns, or soup in my bowl.
We came from golden slums, and makeshift drums, but our music made the spaceships come,
Navigate our thoughts and sever our tongues, unbound by men,forever we run…
I’m not going to bore you with form and meter- Foster’s composition isn’t about pretentiously cramming thoughts into the burdensome confines of syllabic patterns. In the sole stanza, Foster dramatizes the conflict between adversity and success. He creates a pivotal peak in life, the summit of the journey that cedes into the descending into the valley of greatness- if one has the fortitude to resist naysayers and haters. The turning point of Foster’s life he may be alluding to? Intuition says that it’s his 2012 switch to veganism. The “wounded warriors telling “of blood lost in vain” are clearly those against the slaughter of animals, the beasts mutilated for human consumption.
Where We Dwell then shifts the subject from this crossroads to “diamonds…polished in dust.” The word polished is a juxtaposition, as these hidden gems are sheathed by the dust that obscures them from vision. Foster himself is a clear example of a hidden gem, an undrafted backup from Tennessee who possessed the will, size, and talent to become the jewel among NFL rushers. Perhaps Foster’s dust was the nickname “Fumbles,” bestowed upon him after a costly bowl game giveaway.
Line 10 claims the journey was “from swamps to stars.” Using a swamp to describe Foster’s lowest point is a nod to the dominance of the Florida Gators (who play home games in “The Swamp”) over his Volunteers, as Foster never defeated them in four collegiate meetings. Held to only 37 rushing yards in a 30-6 2008 thrashing, Foster was even worse the year before, tallying only 26 with a fumble returned for a Gator score as Florida romped, 59-20. Foster ran for a total of 13 yards in two Gator wins in 2005 and 2006.
Foster crusades against negative thinking, denouncing those who ridicule shooting for the stars. In the line bearing the title, Foster builds the adobe of the collective reader in the dwelling of concealed diamonds and glory. He has overcame the doubt and warnings, the dust obscuring the prize. And though he has eclipsed them, he has not forgotten them, instead donning the past as armor. Foster is a white knight, on a quest to free others of negative vibes.
The concluding 5 lines adopt an almost rhapsodic assonance. “Kings mingling with pawns” is likely a reference to Foster’s Twitter feed, where he actively converses with fans and followers. Alternatively, last weekend, rushing royalty Foster mingled with Dolphins sharkbait Jimmy Wilson, taunting him for his relative anonyminity in the league.
The final phrase being emphasized in bold affirms to me that Foster is the speaker, and lends a literal interpretation to the figurative final line. When Foster straps on his armor every Sunday, it’s as if he’s being unbound from from the rigors of pessimism. The line also refers to the collective we- just like Foster’s trademark bow. Foster dwells both in text and beyond the goal line, his end zone namaste a physical incarnation of the inclusive first person, of the We.
Maurice Jones-Drew tallied 343 carries and 1606 rushing yards in the 2011 season, a superlative output that earned him the NFL rushing crown. Jones-Drew should be elevated to the Rushmore of rushers; instead, he begins the year as a third down running back, playing second fiddle to a guy with less than 700 rushing yards in his career. Why aren’t feature backs valuable commodities anymore?
Since the league’s inception, running backs were the most valuable players on the field. Backs like Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and most recently LaDainian Tomlinson have owned the league in their prime, filling highlight reels with surreal runs under fan adoration and scrutiny. But the game has shifted radically. Ball carriers been rendered discardable pawns in the game, their careers ticking time bombs with every hit escalating imminent detonation. Statistically, they’re plagued with the shortest career spans, an abbreviated blip on football’s radar.
Mike Shanahan is the Victor Frankenstein of this horror story for fantasy owners, grafting together a nimble offensive line and a one-cut zone blocking scheme. Shanahan’s innovation spawned Terrell Davis, Monster incarnate and essential cog in the late-90s success of the Denver Broncos (having John Elway under center didn’t hurt.) Davis was a 6th round pick who made the Pro Bowl three of his first four years, initial success that was historically unprecedented. His shooting star fizzled out due to injuries, and his stunted career collapsed after only 7 NFL seasons, a mirage of unfulfilled greatness that dimmed as fast as it appeared.
Other running backs to thrive under Shanahan’s wing? Forgettable pros Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns (who later had a pedestrian stint with the Browns,) and Tatum Bell all eclipsed 1000 yards on the ground in a season with Denver. Clinton Portis, aka The Mad Scientist, aka Kid Bro Sweets, aka Dolla Bill, aka Sheriff Gonna Getcha and many other elaborate characters, rushed for over 3000 yards in his rookie and sophomore campaigns under Shanahan. Fans pined for Portis’ success, because increased production led to an uptick in schizophrenically surreal press conferences.
Today, Shanahan is a fantasy football menace, confounding owners of Redskin backs with his perpetual oscillation of starters. Over the last year, Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, Evan Royster, Ryan Torain, and Alfred Morris have ridden the Shanahan carousel of cyclical production. All found temporary prosperity, and all have a muddled outlook for the future.
Meanwhile, more traditional bosses have copied the Shanahan system of old, featuring untouted backs excelling in the celebrated role. Arian Foster, signed by Houston as an undrafted free agent, has found time in between penning poetry and insulting fantasy owners to become arguably the premier rusher in the league. Foster is one of my favorite players; he has eclectic interests and innate intelligence reminiscent of Ricky Williams. In the near future, I plan on explicating a poetic work of Arian Foster, bridging the gap between genius and blue-collar proletariat. For now, consider Foster’s backfield acumen as his crowning achievement, coming from obscurity into success.
Of the elite players who tote the ball in the NFL, most hail from a humble draft spot. LeSean “Shady” McCoy and Ray Rice, reigning members of the premier RB triumvirate, were both chosen late in the second round. Same with Maurice Jones-Drew and Matt Forte. Jamal Charles, DeMarco Murray, and Frank Gore are products of the third round. Michael Turner was on the board until round 5; Ahmad Bradshaw lasted until round seven. And even first rounders often slid. Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson both lasted until pick 24, with plenty of teams that could use their production forgoing them early on.
A few celebrated backs were taken early on, but all are outliers with troubles. Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden have both excelled when healthy, but each has missed significant time in each of the past two seasons. Both had backups (Toby Gerhart and Michael Bush, respectively) fill in for extended absences without missing a beat. Marshawn Lynch was a high pick who fizzled in Buffalo before finding his stride in Seattle with the help of both rushing guru Tom Cable and the taste of the rainbow.
Fred Jackson, the man who outperformed Lynch in Buffalo without performance-enhancing treats, calls Division III Coe College his alma mater. After not being offered a college scholarship and ignored by NFL teams in the draft, Jackson played in an American indoor league, followed by a stint in Germany with NFL Europa’s Rhein Fire. Jackson dazzled at Bills training camp and rendered early first rounder Lynch expendable. Then, because they’re the Bills, they wasted another first rounder, this time on backup C.J. Spiller.
So why did the Cleveland Browns buck the trend and trade up to select Trent Richardson third overall? Other franchises have grown hip, yet the perpetually-rebuilding Browns seem hesitant to emerge from the cave and embrace the light. I place the blame on an unlikely culprit, Shaun Alexander.
It’s the year 2000, the not so distant past, and the Seattle Seahawks are on the clock. A short but stout running back from the University of Alabama is available. This player wowed for the Crimson Tide while splitting time as a freshman, before setting many school records as the feature back. The Seattle Seahawks make a trade to acquire this guy (sound familiar?), sending stud WR Joey Galloway to the Cowboys for the pick. The player they take is Shaun Alexander, who became a three time Pro Bowler and the NFL MVP in 2005. The man at the helm of the organization? Mike Holmgren.
I don’t know Holmgren’s karmatic beliefs on reincarnation, but I do know that he recognizes these parallels. The problem is that Holmgren is of the old guard in the NFL, and hasn’t adapted to the new principles governing the drafting of running backs. He wasted a choice on Montario Hardesty, an injury-prone back from the University of Tennessee who Holmgren chose in the second round despite a torrent of injuries (surprise, surprise, Hardesty can’t stay healthy.) Also from Tennessee, a product of the same backfield, is undrafted dynamo Foster. Holmgren needs Richardson to replicate Alexander’s successes if he is to validate his reign in Cleveland. As the refrain goes on Erie shores, don’t get your hopes up.