Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Turnaround to Glory

It’s truly funny how cliché sayings can come back and remain cliché sayings.

“Can’t judge a book by its cover” was uttered when some thought that first Harry Potter book was probably too much for kids (and too childish and nascent for adults). “My enemy is your enemy,” is the logic that Henry Kissinger used when he was the Secretary of State (and not one of Richard Nixon’s cronies when domestic matters came to haunt him). And “Slow and steady wins the race,” is somehow relatable to NASCAR racing. And if you’re skeptical, ask Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he’ll convince you.

All of those timeless quotes or aphorisms are forever etched in our heads because we won’t ever take them out of our heads. “What a difference a year can make” is certainly in the heads right now of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.

It’s certainly resonates in Rajun Rando’s and Kendrick Perkins’ cerebral. It’s traveling through the nervous systems of James Posey and Sam Cassell, who have tasted this ultimate feeling of success. Leon Powe, Eddie House, Glen “Big Daddy” Davis, Tony Allen (who was rehabbing a torn ACL), P.J. Brown (semi-retired until he got the call in the second half of the season to join the ride), and the ones who never got off the bench in the post season, Brian Scalabrine and Scott Pollard, they surly weren’t in the same mental state now as they were 12 months ago.

Danny Ainge was considered a failure and unlucky as a General Manger, and Doc Rivers, despite some good years coaching in Orlando, was no better to some than Isaiah Thomas.

24 wins, in the shadows of the Red Sox and the Patriots, the Boston Celtics, their team, their staff, and their (loyal, not bandwagoning) fans can truly attest to the sayings “what a difference a year can make.”

Though the moves were made last June, the tone had to be officially set. All the talk of the new Big Three and a commitment to the defensive end was all good and well to revitalize the franchise, but it had to be proven on the court. On the first night in November, that tone was set alright.

The Washington Wizards were the first to see up close what everybody else would see: a devastating balance offensive attack and an impervious force on the other side of the ball that evoked memories of Bill Russell and company. Pierce had 28 points, Garnett had 22, 20 rebounds, and three blocks, Ray Allen pitched in 17 points and Rando dropped 15 points to go along with four steals. They harassed Gilbert Arenas to a five for 19 performance, and they won by a score line that would be indicative of their forthcoming dominance.


They would finish November 13-2, including a foreshadowing 107-94 home victory against the Lakers. They would be more dominate in December, going 13-1,including another clairvoyant result against the same Purple and Gold team in Los Angeles this time, beating them 110-91 two days before the new year.

The new year that saw a change from the previous one.

Only the irrational would label them “stumbling to the finish”, when the Celtics had their first losing streak in February. A three game skid on the road against Denver, Golden State, and Phoenix that had everyone concerned, even if their record was still a robust 41-12, and begin ridiculous talks of them now coming back to the pack. They ended the regular season 66-16, seven games better than anyone else, nine games better than those Lakers. Still, the concerns were there that this 42 game turnaround would fall short.

And the signs were showing in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, a series that should have had no business going the full distance. But for them to fulfill their destiny, it needed to be. Because every struggle that Joe Johnson gave his former team, every idiotic trash talking moment Al Hortford placed on Pierce, and every road game blown in the fourth quarter made this team realize how title worthy they were compared to the regular season. They realized what to do in a tight playoff game, the awkward moment in the dwindling stages down the stretch that tested this squad into making this year a total 360 from its predecessor.

They got through that near embarrassment, and dealt with LeBron James in the next road. A Cleveland Cavaliers team, who was last year’s Eastern Conference representative in the Finals (and the fourth lambs to the slaughter to the San Antonio Spurs), 21 games inferior to the Celtics pushing them to the brink for a second consecutive series. And did they ever push them to the precipice, more so than what the Detroit Pistons or the Lakers would do. But they needed to be pushed to the limit like that, because Pierce would have never had the moment where he was James equal that third Sunday afternoon on May. It would have never propelled him to take the level he did against the Detroit Pistons and the Lakers. And Rivers, his terrific staff of Tom Thibodeau, Armand Hill, and Kevin Eastman, the fans, and everyone else would have still wondered who would be the go to guy when the game was on the line in the waning moments.

The whispers of not being strong and steady enough for a 66 win team continued to be whispered in their ears after surviving Cleveland. A number of people had the Pistons, who have been in the latter stages of the playoffs in this millennium longer than Apple began their I-products market assault, dispatching them. The Celtics weren’t the same team that they were in the regular season some of the pundits felt. And when game two happened in that series, when almost everyone on the Pistons hit a three that you thought Jason Maxell knocked one from beyond the arc, you thought that the dream would be over for the Celtics right there.

They had lost at home for the first time in the playoffs, and the negative thoughts about Rivers, Garnett, Pierce, Allen (mired in the worst slump in his career), and Ainge not being big enough to win (in their current positions) a title crept back in to the public perception.

Then game three of that series happened. And ever since that night in Auburn Hills, a night that would be one of the two shining symbols of how this year wasn’t the same as last year for anyone representing the Boston Celtics, assurance in those figures to orchestrate a championship, to engineer a championship, and to garner a championship would never be in jeopardy. Garnett had 23 and 12 to go along with six assists that night. Perkins had a double-double of 12 and 10 that felt like a triple double. Posey, the man who Shaquille O’Neal says the Miami Heat would have never won the title two years ago without, chipped in 12 off the bench. And everybody on that team played the defense that night to turn that series around.

Just as they did with many prognosticators opinions, when these figures once again discounted their 66-win regular season and wanted to give Kobe Bryant his 4th title (and Phil Jackson’s 10th title to past Red Auerbach, they turned them upside down too. They did that with the second shining symbol of how destiny was on their side like those 16 other times the franchise was the last team standing. And how there was no question that they were the best team this season.


That was the final score, a 39 point victory filled with dunks, threes, and uncontrollable rapture after the game. A Gatorade bath that you would only see at the Super Bowl, the emotion of relief and rejoice of a postgame celebration and a town spoiled with another title from one of their teams.

That final win originated from the first win, on the first night in November 2007. That 103-83 victory over the Wizards originating from a few moves made last June. Moves when the team was brutally unlucky to not be able to select Greg Odom or Kevin Durant. Moves that produced a cliché saying almost 365 days later.

“What a year a difference makes.”

For Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rivers, Ainge, the rest of the team, the rest of the organization and the die-heart fans of this Boston Celtic franchise, there’s nothing cliché about it at all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Album Sales Will Only Flattered Tha Flat Carter III

Inconsistency doesn’t make you come close to being the best rapper in the game. Neither does occasional indolence. And you know sure as hell that an over indulgence in randomness won’t garner that top spot as well.

Those characteristics are the case however for one Dwayne Carter. “Tha Carter III”, despite its best (well, most ambitious) attempts is realistically not the classic that he, his fans, or anyone else wants it to be.

Thanks to more leaks than a gross assortment of hair grease, push backs that would put any barbershop out of business, and guess appearances on almost everyone’s album (heck, don’t doubt him collaborating with say, a Carrie Underwood) Lil’Wayne got the buzz that he wanted for this album. Even with music sales going in the toilet now a days, as Ashanti can attest to, this will more than likely be the Weezy man’s first platinum album.

Thankfully though, sales and hype aren’t the only criteria for defining greatness. A place that despite his beliefs is not the location the young veteran is at.

Is it a disappointment? If the labels of “best rapper alive” weren’t placed all over it, it actually wouldn’t be. No one can fault the man’s -who helped usher in the “swaggin pants” style- creative efforts here. It would be a total understatement to say he came out of left-field with some ideas.

Literally, it would be.

Sadly though, even with that hint of capricious spirit, there are plenty of things to annoy you. If ever there was a master of the simple simile (and there are plenty in rap but don’t worry, we’ll come back to that later), here is one place where the undisputed front man of Cash Money can came “he’s the best rapper alive.”

Right off the bat, the good and the bad are in total amalgamation, a theme for almost every track on this album. “3 Peat” has the obvious energy and sound of a quality opener, but Wayne messes himself up with the middle school level analogies “I could have died in traffic/ Bounce back like Magic/, I’m abracadabra, I’m up like Viagra/”.

“I’m up like Viagra?”

Already the tone is set: expect a lot of the word “like” and no items, topics, or things are safe from a comparison of coincidence.

The anticipated “Mr. Carter” follows up the opener. Its beat, chorus, and topic sound like it should have been on Jay-Z’s “Kingdom Come” instead of on this album. Once again, Wayne lowers his potential with another cheesy line, “I call them April babies, because they are fools/”. If this were poker, Wayne would be showing his entire hand before the first check. How ironic that this is the track where the supposed next heir to hip-hop throne (as Hova said in his verse for Wayne) is far away from that lofty seat. Clearly the superior of the two Carters is still the Roc-a-Fella man.

As said before, the good Wayne and the bad Wayne are all over this album on all tracks. None highlights this more than “A Milli”, the Bangladesh produced thumper that everyone seems to be doing a freestyle to. Everyone in the game is in accord that Wayne killed this beat. His fervor strangles the continuous background, and the beginning line “Tougher than Nigerian hair” proves to any critic that this man truly has a mix of class skill and charisma when done properly.
Still, even when he’s at his lyrical best, that ugliness can come out. His obsession to reiterate lines and words just to keep his flow is a major Achilles heel, even in “A Milli.” Seriously, was there any need to repeat a solid line like “I will make your pic a rest in piece shirt of it,” again? Great rappers don’t need to do that at all.

“Got Money” with T-Pain is what it is, a single that is just really for the party and the mainstream. Weezy’s laziness is completely evident here, but if chicks repeat the ordinary line “I’m the bomb like Tic-Tic” on their away messages, then he won. Even worst is “Comfortable”. The boring singing form Babyface is the worst of his accomplished career, and the beat from Kanye West would make you say “This can’t be Ye!”

After those mediocre at best selections, the album’s shot at being “five-mic” worthy is already out of contention a quarter of the way through. Thanks to clever concepts on “Phone Home” and “Dr. Carter”, Wayne’s sixth solo effort steers back into some respectability. The Cool & Dre produced track with Wayne presenting himself as an extraterrestrial figure maybe nauseating to some with that loud “Phone Home” chorus, but hilarious lines such as “I’m rare like Mr. Clean with hair” make it pass the test. The latter of the two songs mentioned in this paragraph is Wayne’s best song on the album. “Dr. Carter” stays on topic throughout, and his second verse on this track is arguably better than everything on “A Milli.” It may not be a track where you’re going to repeat it over and over again, but you can’t deny how good the Swiss Beats track is.

From then on, the up and down debate on whether Wayne is truly elite or not continue as the album unfolds. A return collaboration with Robin Thicke in “Tie My Hands” sees the political side of Wayne come out, but it’s nice change of pace is hurt by the fact that it was stupidity placed in the middle of the CD instead of at the end. Plus, you wish he was able to put this type of track on the Carter II instead of almost three years after Hurricane Katrina. Still, the focus was there on this song instead of featuring a few nursery rhymes to go along with the serious tone.
But for all the good done on that track, Wayne almost drops the ball on the bounce back effort from West on “Shoot Me Down.” With poor, cliché lines (What rapper hasn’t used I’m hotter than a sauna? comparison) scattered amongst some fine lyrical moments, the 25-year old took to long to get warmed up and finished lackadaisical after a sign of strength in the middle.

He brings fire (and randomness of course) literally on the Streetrunner’s produced “Playin with Fire,” continuing his career obsession with that burning element. He, along with a devastating Busta Rhymes and a pathetic effort from Brisco, brings bragging on the carefree “La.” And with Fabolous and Juelz Santana badly outshining him, Wayne’s brings a superiority complex on “You Ain’t Got Nuthin On Me.”

The highs and the lows don’t stop as the album closes out. On “Good Girl Gone Bad” featuring Bun B, Wayne spits decently but to a topic and idea about as old as John McCain. “Whip It” (not on the official track list) is a waste of time, especially when Polow Da Don embarrasses himself the way he did by attempting to rap. It was music’s equivalent to Mugssy Bogues trying to dunk.

The third Kanye produced effort “Let the Beat Build” has the “Wobblee Wobblee” man trying to be like “Hova” again with his pronouncement of “b-----“ at the end of his verses similar to “Say Hello” off of American Gangster. Through he works well with the chorus on “Let ..”, he tries to save his disappointing lyrics in the last two bars to tie them with the hook, especially at the end of his second verse (As I hit the kill switch/ Now That’s How You Let the Beat Build B----). Worst is when you find it difficult to decipher what he says in the beginning of the third verse of that song. And when you do, sadly, the repetitive innateness in him is apparent yet again.

Finally (and the thankfully for some), the album closes out with whatever you want to call it. The general title of the final track has been considered to be called “Misunderstood”, while last day reports say it is now labeled “Don’t Get It (Misunderstood). Based off the Nina Simone sampled “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” Wayne seems to be on the road to a good closing. Showing apathy to those that don’t fully get him but being cognizant of those same individuals at the same time, Baby’s “son” once again displays some good lyrical dexterity that can’t be denied by any critic. Rhymes like “The barrel if he tattle/My God is my judge, not gown, no gravel/” and “Excuse my French emotion in my passion/But I wear my heart on my sleeve like it’s the new passion/” are fine. But they are then overshadowed by a rambling (and influence by drinking or being drugged) diatribe that ends in giving a “you know what” about Al Sharpton.

Long gone are “The Block is Hot” and “Get off the Corner” days. And even say goodbye to the initial Carter album’s tone, as Weezy gave mixtape DJ’s in a recent interview the same message as he did the reverend.

It’s a shame that at the end of the day, the average metaphors and the irritating “correct myself after mispronouncing a word to just make it right” personalities of the album outweigh some moments of respectable concentration. As T.I is realizing once again, it is always worth penning the song instead of trying to be like Jay-Z, which Wayne is now dead set on making a part of his repertoire .At least at the end of “Mr. Carter” did Wayne displayed love for his favorite Jay-Z song (and I won’t tell which one it is because only good hip-hop heads will know that one).

That acknowledgement is nowhere near enough to put Lil Wayne as truly elite in the game. No doubt, with predicted sales to be off the charts, no one can deny him being a superstar now. But superstars don’t make the best rap artists, especially when inconsistency, indolence, and insane randomness are apart of your skill set.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Sadness of Stupidity

Let it go!

That shouldn’t have been the general theme of the night, but it somehow turned out to be.
Those three words in some inexplicable fashion ushered out more euphoric interjections, such as “Let’s Unify” or “Together We Stand, Divide We Fall.” And I’m sure AARP would understand if there slogan was used by others for the night.

But that wasn’t the case, because life doesn’t always go in the direction of the rational. Correction, the people in life don’t always follow the highway to that sensible destination. Instead of taking the left, they take the right, and that isn’t any political innuendos of criticism by the way.

And when they choose not to go in either direction, they crash right into a sign that says “Turn Either Way”. It is the worst form of stupidity, not when you don’t have knowledge of the situation. That’s naivety, even though if you drive right into a sign it’s still idiotic. However, it pales in comparison to the epitome of simple mindedness, the informative stupidity. When you know what’s the consequences of your actions and you still go on and do them.

Whether it’s robbing a local grocery store when the cameras are on (and placing yourself as the latest figure on TruTV) or pushing yourself to be on an episode of “Scarred”, stupidity is at its zenith when people are cognizant of the risk they take. And sometimes it’s funny to laugh at how people placed themselves in embarrassing situations because of being stupid (Tom Cruise anyone).

On the other hand, there are moments when it is down right depressing to see people subject themselves to the lowest kind of common sense in the most arrogant of ways. Intelligent, smart people that is. Hillary Clinton has added herself to that shameful list.

That list of people who know when to stop for their own good, but refuse to do so.

She had every chance to congratulate Barack Obama last night at Baruch College in Manhattan. Not that “congratulations on running a great campaign” line that has become more tired than anything Terry McAuliffle or Harold Ickes has whined about. Officially congratulating him on his consistent benevolence towards her, never at all wanting the race to be over like some people have wanted. Congratulating him on not using a majority of the media’s facts and level headed opinions to force her out of the race. Congratulating him for acknowledging her tenacity repeatedly like he was apart of her campaign team.

Congratulating him on winning.

On having the most delegates, which are the rules of the process last everybody checked.

On beating her. “You beat me, and you were the better candidate.”

And just imagine this gem she could have came up with.
“I can’t say you were the better man, however.” It would have been the darling quote of the year, and one of the memorable quotes in political history.

She couldn’t say those words at all; she couldn’t embrace a moment that could have actually exonerated her for all the divisiveness she, her husband, and her campaign have placed on the Democratic Party and this race. Those denunciations of Obama’s goals and the cheap shots at his church affiliation and his strength could have all been forgiven, even if she didn’t deserve that outcome.

Instead, Hillary Clinton chose to make the moment all about her. When her supporters at Baruch began chanting “Denver” vociferously, did it ever cross her mind to halt those cries? The fact of the matter is it did, but she chose not to do it. She let the crowd continued in that belligerent tone and basically invited them to do so. It was a total jaw dropping moment that you couldn’t believe. In a primary season where the unthinkable has become a reality, this was the Pau Gasol to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, the Oompa Loopas to Willie Wonker, and the dot that would make a lowercase “I” look like an “I”. It magnetized the situation in front of our eyes, and it quite possibly became the most defining moment in this nomination journey.

More so than Obama’s tone setting win in Iowa. More so than the former First Lady’s tears in New Hamsphire. More so than Bill Clinton’s horrific comments in South Carolina. More so than the candidates titanic duel of strategy and drama in their debates, most notably the one in Los Angeles, where the pre-game festivities were almost College Gameday like in its fervor. And more so than all the other events in between, from “Do or Die” primary after primary to Rev. Wright’s life documentary. Plus, who can forget about “gas-tax holiday?”

This history is secondary compared to what Clinton did at Baruch. It was self-centered selfishness at its finest display. Concession speech be damn, it was the same rhetoric of a person who still believes she can be president. It’s probably the reason why she’s in so much debt if she still believes mathematically that she has a chance. And if she doesn’t believe mathematically any more (or you would hope so), she now believes spirituality, emotionally, and irrationally that she still can be. Combine those three and you have utter stupidity.

“Let It Go” is a slogan that may have to be more powerful than “Change” in the upcoming days. It maybe is the lone answer to ceasing the plugging of the website in the most ungracious of times, asking her voters to say what they feel she should do (no mention if she wanted sentiments from those who didn’t vote from her). The key reply to unwillingness from the one who continues to state her healthcare plan is one she wants to see passed in the Senate. The only forceful choice to a person who still believes, along with her now fully tarnished husband and the delusional fools on her side, she is the stronger candidate and still mentions that she won the popular vote of the primary.

What stupidity can do to even the brightest people, can’t it?

Clinton and her group are the paradigm of denial and obstinacy. There are many talking heads like the great Ed Schultz, who have decided to forgive anything Clinton did last night as a short convalescence period for her. They choose to practice patience instead of petulance for the New York Senator. If Clinton doesn’t decide to give up the executive branch aspirations, then they will do it themselves by burying her for her childish resistance to reality.

But she has already had enough time to “Let It Go.” Unfortunately, instead of telling herself that, she still felt that something colossal was going to happen. That he was going to slip up big time, more than any banana pill Wright gave him in April, and crumble under her pressure. “I/We can’t possibly lose this” is what her, her husband, her daughter, Lanny Davis, James Carville, Howard Wolfson, McAuliffle, Ickes, and so many others around have said in every space of their parietal lobes. You could have understood them holding that thought even when they didn’t win North Carolina and get the “gamechanger” she wanted. You could have slightly understood it after Kentucky and Oregon. But after the Rules and By-Law Committee (at the behest of Ickes) didn’t give Florida and Michigan the way she wanted, for Clinton and her people to still be in complete disbelief over the inevitable outcome has to be considered the new definition for “stupid.”

We all know the reasons why Obama continued to be gracious to Clinton. Yes, his benevolence towards her is partially because of his continued execution of the plan not to show any signs of irking or angering her base from his mouth. He has been tremendously discipline in that regard, never being foolish to get anywhere arrogant about his massive accomplishment. But it’s because he recognizes that it is not all about him. He doesn’t need to fabricate or force himself to give credit to her. It’s just in the man’s nature to heap accolades to her. Despite all of the praise (or “kissing up” if you want to be critical) that he has given her, she continues to see only her picture.

Clinton’s refusal to say “He won, I lost” is akin to that one episode of the Powerpuff Girls (yes, you read correctly) when Buttercup struggled to utter the word “sorry”. She never use that five letter apologetic diction before, always making the “sorrrrr” sound but refused to cave in. And Buttercup felt that she didn’t have to say it to a paste eating whipping boy who she humiliated in front of the entire class. That same boy later turned into a genetic monster who was on the verge of destroying her sisters Blossom and Bubbles. In order to save them, she had to say “sorry”. And after an intense battle with her lips, teeth, tongue, and mind, she finally said the magic word to save the day.

That is not an analogy that will automatically make Clinton become a hero if she admits defeat. It is just a direct parallel to how incongruous and ignominious she was last night.

It is sad that “Let it Go” maybe is the only remedy needed to stop the vanquished presidential ambitions of Hillary Clinton (and even her growing vice presidential subliminal threats). Because regretfully, no other campaign slogan seems to suffice.