Talkin’ Shoes and Shady Fans with Josh Smith

When Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith reflects on his home court, Philips Arena, his feelings are understandably mixed. The A-Town native loves it when a packed house goes bonkers after he throws down one of his monster jams; he just hates it when that same packed house of fickle fans erupts just as loudly for Blake Griffin or Dwyane Wade.

“This year we were rated the worst sports town in all the United States,” Smith says. “I feel like we do deserve a little gratification from the fans. We’ve been good for five, six years now. I know it’s probably hard because of the recession to be able to get good seats, but you know, people inspire me in the nosebleeds. I just want to see you in the stands.”

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The New Gold Standard: A Chat with First-Time Olympian Blake Griffin

It has to be a humbling experience to be a superstar player, making millions as a savior of an NBA franchise, yet having to essentially audition for a spot on a basketball team. That’s basically what Blake Griffin had to do in Las Vegas last week before USA Basketball Men’s National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski and chairman Jerry Colangelo. But as the world knows by now, Blake, Andre Iguodala and James Harden dazzled enough in their respected casting calls to be granted the final three spots on Redeem Team 2.

I was in the audience for the official roster announcement on Saturday. Coach K spoke about commitment and upcoming challenges; Colangelo discussed athleticism and roster depth; Kobe Bryant and LeBron James made their usual patriotic proclamations. As for Blake, the gravity-ignoring All-Star just sat quietly on the stage, looking like the new kid in class. Thankfully, after the announcement, the Clippers’ prized pupil was in a more talkative mood, electing to chat with reporters about everything from the selection process to his humbling role on the super squad. Click this SLAMonline link to see what BG told me and the rest of the group.

Going One-on-One with Wladimir Klitschko

My first scheduled interview with reigning heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko didn’t work out because of time-zone confusion. (Wait, how many hours ahead of Atlanta is Klitschko’s native Ukraine again?) The second interview didn’t pan out because training for Wlad’s July 7 title defense against American Tony Thompson ran well into the night. Frustrations started building on this end. My deadline was approaching, but I knew Klitschko (57-3, 50 KO’s) had so many boxing-related items (controversial Pacquiao-Bradley decision, boxing’s fragile overall state, retirement rumors) to get off his chest. This third interview just had to come together. Thankfully, it did because nobody would have wanted to see my mean side as I labored to set up a fourth interview, not even Mr. Klitschko… Kidding, champ, kidding.

Angel McCoughtry Shoots for the Stars

Angel McCoughtry, star forward for the Atlanta Dream, is arguably one of the 10 best female basketball players on the planet. Last season, the 6-1 offensive machine was first-team All WNBA, tied for the league lead in scoring (21.6 points per game) and the main reason the Dream made a second consecutive WNBA Finals appearance. She’s already leading the League in scoring (22.6) this year. Later this summer she’ll take her hoops act on the road with the U.S. Women’s National Team as it goes for gold at the Summer Games in London. How she finds time to dominate on the court while still pursuing her other love, professional singing, is beyond me.

Congratulations on making the U.S. National Team. What does that feel like?

Oh man. You know what? I mean, it was a couple years ago I was watching the U.S. team in China and all the girls that I am playing with now were on that team, so it’s like, “Wow, I’m on this USA team with the girls that I was just watching a few years back.”  So, you know, it was, of course, a goal and a dream. I think that anybody who plays a sport, they actually dream about it. We know everybody doesn’t get to go, but to be a chosen one…I’m very honored and it makes me work a little harder. You know, some people work hard and they get there and they are like, “Ooh, I’m here. Yeah.” But I’m like, “Man, this means I want to work even harder now.”  It is always a motivational thing.

Let’s stay with motivation for a second. The Atlanta Dream have done really well in the playoffs, but you haven’t quite gotten over the hump. What is going to be the motivation this season to get to that next level?

Um, I think last year would be motivation enough. I mean, we started out rough and it was a tough moment for us, so I know that we don’t want to go there again. So that is motivation enough. The great thing about the team is that we learned from [the WNBA Finals]. We didn’t quit. We could have easily quit, but we didn’t. We kept fighting and showed our heart. So, everybody works pretty hard on the team, you know what I mean? It is a bunch of great people.  It is really a lot of fun to play with the group of girls that we have, a lot of great personalities.  And I am really starting to get to know [Dream ’12 draft pick] Tiffany Hayes. Good girl. She is a sweet girl and she can play. So, we definitely got a steal, a good steal.

If you were WNBA commissioner, what are a few things you would change about the league?

If I was WNBA commissioner, the first thing I would change is our commercials. Our commercials basically only come on NBA TV. Our commercials would come on any channel at any time, because that is how you get real promotion. I mean like, when people watch NBA TV, we’ve got those fans already. You know what I’m saying?  Like when, for instance, a reality TV show is on [makes more sense for an ad]. One of those commercials needs to be a WNBA commercial. And millions of people would view that. So, I definitely would figure out a way of hiring one of the best PR/marketing firms in the world. Then, not only would the WNBA be broadcast in the States, but the whole world would know. They will know the girls, the superstars, in the WNBA. In China and India, they all need to see our face. You know, they know the NBA players all over the world. Why don’t they know us? We work just as hard, we’re just as good. We’ve gotta get promotion. People need to see us. And that’s it. People only know what they see. They’ve got to know that we can ball like we can.

If I knew somebody at the league, I would definitely slide your name on their desk. Now, besides being a great basketball player and WNBA lobbyist, what else do you do really well?

You already know that! Music. I love music and I’m really passionate about it. And honestly, I’ve been getting good. Of course, you’ve got the people that are like, “Oh, you need to stay in your lane. You’re a basketball player. No basketball player is successful in music.” Well, guess what? Those were men basketball players, honey. You’re about to see the first woman basketball player [succeed] in music, because I’m working on getting a record deal, and my music…people like my music. It ain’t cheesy. It’s very professional and sounds great. And I got some more videos coming out soon, and I’m gonna do great things with the music thing, you just wait and see. I’m gonna surprise people. People will be like, “That ain’t Angel.” So, that’s my goal.

How did that love for music come about?

I always loved it growing up, but I never really went for it. So, about last year, I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna actually do something that I set out to do.” I’ve been playing ball since I was eight. I know I got this down. But sometimes we’ve gotta step out of the box. Sometimes people are going to be negative about it, but so what? You’ve got to step out of the box. You have to broaden your mind. So that is what I did, and it just started where I got a beat and I started writing. My song “Illusion,” I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but I wrote that all by myself. In one night, I wrote that song. [The latest single] “Baby I’m a Star,” I had help with that. I had writers and all that. But, “Illusion,” I just wrote that all by myself. I just started writing music. [I thought] I’m gonna do this. I started getting people around me to help me, the right people, and it really just started taking off from there. That’s why I said, if you have a dream, you just have to really go for it. You don’t know unless you try. We all have dreams that we just kinda let pass by sometimes. Shoot, if you just actually try to do something with it, who knows what can come about?

 

Hello, My Name is Kevin Durant

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Over at SLAM.com, they’ve been publishing old stories that introduced current NBA stars when they were in high school. Before recently, I didn’t realize I was the first person to debut to the nation a skinny kid from Maryland named Kevin Durant… Yep, the same Kevin Durant currently starring for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals. But look here and you’ll see that I was. Kinda cool, huh?

The Last Laugh: An Interview with Backpack Rap Icon El-P

Killer Mike is a husky, black Atlanta MC who’s been reppin’ for the inner city since debuting with Outkast in ’00. El-P is a not-so-husky, white Brooklyn producer/MC who’s been loved in alternative hip hop circles since coming out with Company Flow in ’96. To the naked eye, linking these two strangers for a project might seem a bit odd. But to the creative minds at Cartoon Network’s Williams Street Records, the move made perfect sense. And after hearing the new-found friends’ spirited joint effort, R.A.P. Music, you’ll most definitely agree. I caught up with El-P, the project’s sole producer, to talk R.A.P., rap in general and all the rapping he’s doing on his fifth solo CD, Cancer4Cure.

What was the experience like with Mike?

I mean, I went down to Atlanta for a week, basically, to meet Mike and to get in the studio and just to see, kind of like, what our vibe was and to see what we came up with. And when I went down there, I wasn’t committing there. I wasn’t down to do the whole album because I was making my record, and they wanted me to come down there. I was like, “All right, look, I’ll come down. I like Mike’s shit. I’m gonna come down and fuck with him. I’ll do some shit, but I can’t do the whole record. You know, I’ll do as much as I can. I’ll do like 3-4 cuts or something, you know?” And I went down there and honestly, man, after the first day, the shit that had popped off, just like the vibe between us was just so amazing and we got in there the first day and he did his “Big Beast” verse. Basically, I had that beat and he did that verse and he did “Untitled.” It all just popped out of his head. I’ll put it to you this way: The vibe was so good with us that Mike basically didn’t write more than a few words down for this whole album. And I watched him. I watched it all just come out of his head. And I thought that that was just how he works. I thought that that was literally just how he did it and I was impressed. I was telling people like, “Yo, this dude is ill.” And he told me later, like, “I’ve never done that.” He was just like the music just moved him. And it was just special, man. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s weird that you just bump into something with someone that you don’t know and you feel like you’ve known them forever. All of a sudden, it was just happening. It was just so easy and it just felt so good that I was like, “Fuck it. I’m doing the whole album.” I mean, they asked me to do it and I was like, “Yeah.” But it was pretty clear from the beginning that we had something special.  There was just like an energy there from the first moment we went in the studio.

Now, with this experience with a brilliant Atlanta MC, has this opened the door for other southern artists to work with you?

Well, the thing is that, for me, the door had always been opened. I’m a fan of music. I’m a lifelong fan of rap music, so I didn’t have any regional rules. I was already listening to T.I. I was already listening to Jeezy. I was already listening to Mike and Outkast. I grew up on Geto Boys and Scarface, if you can consider that southern. Bun B and Underground Kings and the like. I am well in love with rap music, period. So, I respect those rappers. I respect great songwriters, To me, it’s been open. I think that, maybe, this record is bridging or maybe knocking down some sort of perceived division, you know what I mean? I think the artists themselves, people like me and Mike, we’re never closed off. We listen to everything. I think that there has been [division] in the past, and I think that these lines are starting to erode now. Hip hop is in a good place where, maybe, a record like this can even help seal the deal. A lot of those lines and those perceived divisions and the way that people think about music don’t exist really. Maybe a record like this can help point that out, you know? I think it could, man. I think when we were doing this record, we were excited about that too. We knew that to a degree. We knew, all right, there’re going to be people on both, fans of mine, fans of Mike’s, just outside people looking in who are going to be kind of shocked that we are doing this record together. The only difference is that me and Mike felt like it was the most natural thing in the world. And that’s how I feel about music in general. I think a lot of the perceived separations, eventually, they disappear, man. You make a good song and that’s it. And that’s how I feel about it. That is my genuine feeling about it. So, yeah, to answer your question, I’m open. I love working with people. I love working with people that are genuine in their craft and it doesn’t matter where they’re from.

What else is on tap for you in 2012?

I mean, you know, me and Mike are both releasing our albums one week from each other, and then we’re going on tour. We’re hitting the road. It’s gonna be me, Killer Mike, Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire and Despot. We’re gonna hit North America hard. Then we’re going out to Europe. You know, so just a lot of touring. And then me and Mike are talking about getting right back into the studio again, really. That’s our next shit. We kind of have a different idea of what we want to do for the next one. We might even do a record with me and Mike both rapping together.

What aspect of your project, Cancer4Cure, are you most proud of?

Hey, man, I mean, look, every time I put a record out, it’s everything that I am at the time. And I think that’s why it takes me a long time to put the records out. I just try to put something raw, and funky and heartfelt out and just throw it out there and just try to make a genuine piece of art, man. And as far as what anyone takes it as, I feel that is kind of out of my hands. My job is just to do the best that I can. Because I have a production career and I do other things, [recording is] not always my primary source. I take my time with my records and just kind of throw convention to the wind and I just try to make something that I think is the best that I can do at the time, you know? So, I don’t really have any hopes or expectations. I just hope that it talks to people or gives them a feeling that they’re looking for. I’m proud of it. I think that, at this point, it’s kind of in fate’s hands, you know?

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