December 16, 2010
There's an old saying that rappers want to be ballers and ballers want to rappers, and one of the most popular ways musicians aim towards athletic stardom is by name-dropping basketball players in their songs. I'm not sure how that brings them any closer to the court, but it's at least a sign that these two groups operate in moderately similar worlds.
Few hits have been played on the radio more over the past year and change than Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," an ode to the City that Never Sleeps featuring a delectable Alicia Keys hook. (The preceding sentence wonderfully encapsulates why I am not a music writer.) In the song, Jay-Z name-drops LeBron James(notes), noted rogue of the NBA.
Even though that reference wasn't terribly offensive a few months ago, it's an issue now, especially in Cleveland. Enough so that one area DJ has decided to cut James' name out of the song entirely. Waiting for Next Year explains:
In the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys hit "Empire State of Mind," the folks behind the scenes at Cleveland's KISS FM affiliate have decided to edit the word "LeBron" as found within the song's second verse. What was once "[If] Jeezy's paying LeBron, I'm paying Dwyane Wade(notes)" -- a reference towards the purchase price of an illegal drug -- is now relatively indecipherable as the two-time NBA MVP's name is edited -- or as female hip-hop star Missy Elliot calls, "flipped and reversed."
WFNY caught up with the man behind the decision, night time disc jockey ("Java") Joel Murphy, to discuss the move. Murphy tells us that the decision was more of an epiphany, but its one that the station feels resonates well with Clevelanders given their well-documented feelings towards the departed James.
"I was playing the song and realized that the word "LeBron" is as offensive to some people as the ‘Seven Words You Can't Say On The Radio,'" said Murphy. "Anytime one of those words shows up in a song, we either bleep it, cut it out completely or obscure it by flipping it backwards. So, I suggested to our programming dept that we should treat the name "LeBron" similarly."
There you have it: LeBron is now Cleveland's version of Voldemort, to the point where his name can't even be uttered in a popular song that's played on radio stations every hour more than a year after its release. Why not just play Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" instead and say it's about LeBron instead of Warren Beatty, or David Geffen, or whichever hot rumor is around about that song's origins these days? (No, I am not 56 years old, but thanks for asking.)
Never mind that the lyric in question now makes no sense without LeBron's name (although it has made little sense anyway since James changed his jersey number from "23" to "6"), or that the Federal Communications Commission has never fined a radio station for broadcasting a name without legitimate obscenities. Imagine if fans in Dallas decided to edit "Van Exel" out of Jay-Z's verse in his wife Beyonce's "Crazy in Love," or if Boston fans tried to cut around Magic Johnson's scenes in the video for Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time." Does that seem like a mature thing to do?
I realize that the LeBron situation is different from those of most players in cities that hate them, but I also hope that Cleveland fans don't think all their uproar over his departure makes them more sympathetic to outsiders. It's one thing to talk smack to the man when he's in a basketball-related context, but it's another to act like he doesn't even exist. In 15 years, when LeBron is retired, will any of these actions look good? It seems much more likely that they'll look like poorly directed forms of revenge and rage.