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Today’s update covers Kobe Bryant’s legacy off the court, a Grammys night clouded with controversy, and how music should be categorized.
Remembering Kobe Bryant on-and-off the court
Yesterday was difficult. Kobe Bryant’s death still seems unreal. He’s one of the most influential athletes in sports over the past 25 years. His legacy transcended basketball which is why he means so much to so many. The circumstances make it worse. His 13-year-old daughter, GiGi Bryant, had dreams of going to UCONN then going to the WNBA. It’s sad to know that her life is gone and she can’t fulfill that dream. The same goes for the other seven people on that helicopter whose lives ended far too soon.
I was always impressed by Kobe’s pursuit of excellence both on and off the court. In a 2017 conversation at ComplexCon with Kendrick Lamar, he said this quote that will always stick with me:
“Fast-forward 20 years from now: If basketball is the best thing I’ve done in my life, then I’ve failed. It’s a very simple mission, very simple quest, very simple goal. These next 20 years need to be better than the previous 20. It’s as simple as that, and that is what drives me.”
I’d like to share a round-up of his off the court accomplishments:
From the Los Angeles Times:
In 2013, Bryant quietly co-founded a venture capital fund with entrepreneur Jeff Stibel to invest in media and tech companies. They unveiled Bryant Stibel & Co. in 2016, months after Bryant played his last game as a Laker. Its high-profile investments have included legal services company LegalZoom and Epic Games, the maker of smash hit “Fortnite” — as well as misfire Juicero, whose Wi-Fi-compatible juicer was ultimately laughed out of business. By September 2019, the firm reportedly managed more than $2 billion in capital.
In 2014 he announced he’d formed Kobe Inc., based in Newport Beach, with plans to develop brands that would upend the sports industry. The first investment through the company was sports drink BodyArmor. That initial $6-million investment grew to a value of $200 million after Coca-Cola acquired a minority stake in 2018.
Nike partnered with Bryant and the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club to launch a youth basketball league, called the Mamba League, in 2017, to give hundreds of kids free access to the sport. Bryant later created the Mamba Sports Academy to provide broader athletic and lifestyle training to competitors at all levels in a number of sports.
From the New York Times Dealbook:
“I got tired of telling people I loved business as much as I did basketball because people would look at me like I had three heads,” Mr. Bryant told ESPN in 2017. “But I do.”
The venture capitalist Chris Sacca: “Not sure I will ever know anyone else with his work ethic.”
The Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian: “He still believed he had work to do.”
During an interview on Jimmy Kimmel’s television show recently, Kobe said of Gigi that she “for sure” wanted to play in the WNBA someday.
“The best thing that happens is when we go out and she’ll be standing next to me and fans will come up to me like ‘Hey, you gotta have a boy, you and (Vanessa) gotta have a boy — somebody to carry on the legacy and the tradition’ and (Gigi) will be like ‘Oy, I got this. We don’t need a boy for that. I got this!’”…
When Gigi was 12 years old, Reggie Miller tried to convince her dad to send her to UCLA, Miller’s alma mater. But Kobe said that Gigi’s heart was set on playing basketball at UConn. Gigi did visit UConn to watch her beloved Huskies play last March during their Senior Day.
It’s a lot to process, especially after hearing his reasoning for why he took helicopters so often in Los Angeles. Kobe didn’t have 20 more years as he wanted too, but his impact was felt nonetheless.
I know that some of you knew Kobe personally, but most of you didn’t. Don’t let that invalidate any sad feelings you may have. The Chicago Sun-Tribune wrote an article yesterday that’s worth a read: The death of Kobe Bryant and the pain of losing someone you didn’t know.
RIP Kobe. RIP GiGi. And RIP to the seven other people who were on that helicopter.
The Future of the Grammys
It was a tough night for the Grammy’s for several reasons. First, it was hosted in the Staples Center—the house that Kobe Bryant built. During the ceremony, thousands congregated outside the arena to pay respect to the Black Mamba. Second, the ceremony was clouded with scandal. Two weeks ago, former Recording Academy President Deborah Dugan was placed on administrative leave after controversy swirled about a rigged nominations process and sexual assault allegations. And lastly, several hip-hop acts put the Grammys on blast for its categorization and lack of recognition.
Where does music’s “biggest night” go from here?
For years, people have questioned why hip-hop still cares about the Grammys. There have been some attempts to put more focus on the awards that do celebrate hip-hop. For the past twenty years, BET has done its part with two annual awards shows that celebrate black culture, but it’s never been treated the same. BET Awards draw in 25% of the Grammys audience. The BET Hip-Hop Awards attract a mere 8%. YBN Cordae shed tears of joy after his Grammy nomination. I hate to say it, but no one reacts like that after a BET nomination. It’s incredibly hard to shake institutional merit, whether it’s the Oscars, Tonys, or Emmys. Even the Golden Globes — a 77-year old show that gets primetime treatment on NBC — is barely taken seriously.
The solution is for the Grammys to do better. Deborah Dugan’s diversity push has been encompassed by scandal, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the change she hoped for.
Amid controversy, the Grammys recently announced several upcoming initiatives by its task force. Here are a few coming soon. From CNN:
The Academy will hire a dedicated diversity and inclusion officer. This person will be hired within the next 90 days.
The organization will establish a fellowship, funded by the Academy, that will be responsible for independent review and reporting of the progress of the Academy’s diversity and inclusion efforts. This will be in place within 120 days.
It will create a fund to be distributed annually to different “women in music” organizations that will be managed by the diversity and inclusion officer. This will go into effect immediately.
The Academy will recommit to meeting all 18 of the Task Force Recommendations as outlined in the full report and in a manner that will endure, with the caveat that we will have a deeper exploration, along with the task force into voting processes for the Grammys.
To be frank, these “initiatives” won’t bring more clarity to the voting process or increase the diversity of the voting body. The Grammys need more members that better represent the fluidity of music, internal audits to prevent preferential treatment, and transparency.
Fans would love to see the vote totals. In several professional sports leagues, votes for each end-of-season award are publicized. It gives fans an understanding of how close the race is (e.g. last year’s NBA MVP race between Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden). It increases engagement, which is important for a broadcast with steadily declining viewership.
To be clear, hip-hop doesn’t need to win every major award. No one credible is truly asking for that. But fans rightfully believe that there’s more that the Recording Academy could have recognized these past 25 years than The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Speakerboxx/The Love Below.
The “Pop” category
After Tyler, The Creator’s award, he gave his honest take on his mixed feelings about his award:
“It sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything they always put it in a rap or urban category. I don’t like that ‘urban’ word — it’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word to me. When I hear that, I’m just like why can’t we be in pop? Half of me feels like the rap nomination was just a backhanded compliment. Like, my little cousin wants to play the game. Let’s give him the unplugged controller so he can shut up and feel good about it — that’s what it felt like a bit.”
This has been an issue for years. Hip-hop has had a tough time getting any recognition in the pop category. It stems back to its radio station categorization, which I wrote about last year in White Rappers and Black Rappers Have Different Business Models:
When black rappers try to get on the pop charts, it’s an uphill battle. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Future’s manager said that he couldn’t get “Mask Off” to gain traction on the pop charts. Remember, this was Future’s biggest song. It gave us the #MaskOffChallenge! Future had folks dusting off their flutes and recorders from elementary school to participate in the viral challenge, but pop radio was like, “Nah, we good with The Chainsmokers.” You hate to see it…
A favorable appearance on The Breakfast Club carries more weight for a black artist who wants exposure with their core demo. But The Breakfast Club may not reach the white audiences who are willing to buy concert tickets for mainstream hip-hop acts…
In that same Rolling Stone piece, Lil’ Uzi Vert’s manager discussed the importance of black rappers stopping by shows like ESPN’s First Take and Saturday Night Live as a way to reach the masses.
If the streaming era taught us anything, these pre-ordained classifications gotta go. Genre definitions are archaic. Artists are no longer concerned about genre. Halsey and Ariana Grande use trap production in their music. It’s hard to call Frank Ocean’s Blonde an “R&B album.” These definitions gotta go too.
On Saturday, Diddy called out The Recording Academy as well:
“Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be…“I’m officially starting the clock. You’ve got 365 days to get this shit together.”
A category overhaul would be welcomed. It would be a drastic change to how the Grammys has gone about its business. The Oscars’ failed attempt at a new award for “popular movies” should tell you all you need to know about categorization. Art should be judged on an even playing field. I am skeptical about whether the Grammys will get this shit together in 365 days (now 364) but I’m sure this year’s clouded awards show will force at least some change by 2021.
That said, congrats to Billie Eilish on a record-setting night and congrats to everyone else who took home awards.