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Exclusive Michael Jackson Book Excerpt: In MJ's Shoes

Long before sneaker lines became a prerequisite for music moguldom, the King of Pop launched his own multimillion-dollar L.A. Gear shoe. Though his endeavor didn’t enjoy the success of subsequent footwear ventures by other entertainers, Jackson blazed a trail in business just as he did in music—just ask 50 Cent.

By Zack O’Malley Greenburg 50 Cent isn’t known for being giddy. Born Curtis Jackson, the Queens native put himself on the hip-hop map with the 1999 hit “How to Rob,” in which he outlines his plans to relieve stars from Jay-Z to Will Smith of their cash. He rose to international superstardom after releasing Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in 2003; on the album’s cover, his face is contorted into a fierce scowl, perhaps a consequence of getting shot nine times at close range a few years earlier. These days, he’s more concerned with entrepreneurial ventures (though he still keeps a framed photo of a pistol in his office, behind a gold placard that reads “CJ Enterprises”). He took home $100 million on a single deal in 2008—payment for a stake he’d taken in vitaminwater parent Glacéau in lieu of a one-off endorsement fee—when Coca-Cola bought the beverage company for $4.1 billion. He’s launched his own video games, record label, sneakers, clothes, headphones and energy shots. Yet it still comes as something of a surprise when, a few minutes into an interview in his Manhattan penthouse office, he jumps up from his plush leather chair and begins bouncing around the room, gesturing with cartoonishly muscled forearms and smiling uncontrollably. The topic responsible for his good humor? Michael Jackson, the man whose early shoe and clothing lines helped open the door for the brand extensions of the next generation of entertainers, 50 Cent included. “When he did ‘Billie Jean,’ I had that poster on my wall,” says the rapper. “Like, he could have sold me penny loafers . . . the showmanship that was involved in his presentation was so much more advanced than the things that we’d seen in the past.” Long before 50 Cent created his G-Unit sneaker for Reebok or Jay-Z launched his S. Carter line, Nike had MJ. To be clear, those initials don’t refer to the King of Pop, but Michael Jordan. In 1987, the Chicago Bulls legend became the first entertainer to be paid on a scale commensurate with today’s stars when he inked a seven-year, $18 million contract with Nike to launch his Air Jordan brand. The agreement marked the apotheosis of the rapidly growing athlete shoe deal, which was virtually nonexistent just ten years earlier. In the 1970s, Nike’s first signing was University of Oregon track star Steve Prefontaine. He agreed to wear the fledgling company’s shoes for a then-whopping $5,000. The scales quickly shifted when Adidas signed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to a $100,000 deal in 1982; shortly thereafter, New Balance spent $1.2 million to lock up fellow basketball star James Worthy before Nike upped the stakes by another order of magnitude with Jordan; the company’s revenues soared from $10 million to just shy of $1 billion over that span. Athletes were finally getting paid to wear shoes, but musicians didn’t begin to break into the market until Run-D.M.C. released the song “My Adidas,” an initially uncompensated ode to shell-toes. In 1986—after a handful of Adidas executives showed up to a Madison Square Garden show and witnessed some twenty thousand onlookers raise their own sneakers toward the rafters at the behest of the rappers—Run-D.M.C. signed a deal worth more than $1 million. By 1990, upstart sneaker purveyor LA Gear was desperately looking to grab a bigger piece of a multibillion-dollar market. So the company’s chief, Robert Greenberg, turned to cofounder Sandy Saemann and said, “Let’s get Michael Jackson.” Saemann, a loquacious Californian who later resigned from the company after amassing millions in stock holdings—and now runs a high-end hot dog stand in Manhattan Beach—thought this was a bad idea. Even without a big-name endorser, he believed LA Gear had a shot at eating into its rivals’ domestic market share. The way he saw it, Michael Jackson’s image was still smarting from recent tabloid fiascoes and wouldn’t necessarily help sell sneakers in the United States. Greenberg saw things differently. Even if the singer couldn’t help with their domestic efforts, he was still huge overseas, as the Bad Tour had shown. If Jackson could sell over 4 million concert tickets—with more than half his tour dates occurring abroad—why couldn’t he move a million sneakers worldwide? Thus began the relationship between Jackson and LA Gear. When Greenberg and Saemann finally reached out to his camp, they found the singer was amenable to doing a deal as long as his financial conditions were met: $20 million. That surpassed even the seven-year, $18 million Nike deal signed by Michael Jordan in 1987 (though the basketball legend would earn far more after receiving a royalty on every Air Jordan shoe sold). But Jackson knew his worth, even when it came to sneakers. “He wanted it to be the biggest deal known to man,” recalls Saemann. “He was very conscious of where the scale was. . . . That’s the side of him that nobody understands. He knew where he was. He wanted to be number one and he wanted to stay number one, he wanted to be the largest entertainer with the most deals.” During early conversations over the venture, Saemann and Greenberg told Jackson and his attorney John Branca, who was negotiating the deal, that they wanted to launch the shoe abroad only. That way, they figured, it wouldn’t be such a gamble. But Jackson refused. If he was going to launch his own sneaker, it had to be the biggest and the best—bigger even than Jordan’s—and there was no way he’d settle for an overseas-only deal. LA Gear agreed, and Jackson accepted the offer of $20 million, about one-fifth of the company’s annual advertising budget, to help launch a line of co-branded sneakers that would be sold both in the US and around the world; he’d get half of that sum up front. The press release announcing the shoe would refer to him as the King of Pop, and his agreement with LA Gear would be described as “the largest entertainment endorsement ever made.” In return, says Saemann, Jackson promised he’d shoot television commercials for LA Gear and wear the sneakers in the promotional materials for his upcoming album, Dangerous, which was supposedly almost finished. When Jackson showed up at a press conference in Los Angeles on August 6 to announce the agreement, it seemed a perfect match. “The theme of our ad campaign is ‘unstoppable,’ ” said Saemann, introducing the singer. “This word epitomized what LA Gear and Michael Jackson represent. . . . I want to tell the competition, we’ll up you a Jackson.” “Thank you very much,” said Jackson, looking spiffy as ever in sunglasses, a sleek dark suit, and a purple dress shirt. “I’m very happy to be a part of the LA Gear magic.” Around the same time, Jackson hired a new manager, Sandy Gallin, who won the job after bonding with the King of Pop over the scope of their shared dream of making Jackson as big in the film world as he was in music. “What he thought he could become and what I thought he could become were very similar,” says Gallin. “Michael thought of being the biggest, the best . . . to repeat the great success of Thriller and to be able to have more people attend your concerts, to be able to have the most successful short films at the time, to be able to do movies, and to succeed more than anyone else in any form of entertainment that he entered into, whether it was writing, producing, singing, acting, directing. It was innate to his personality.” Despite the managerial changes, Jackson’s business career was chugging along at a healthy clip. To help promote Jackson’s shoe, Saemann directed a commercial that features the King of Pop spinning through a dark, steamy street in his new kicks. His face appears for only about three seconds toward the end when, after destroying a street lamp with the sheer force of his mojo, Jackson looks up to find a young girl smiling and clapping from an upstairs window. Saemann and Jackson also developed a close working relationship. They’d go to record stores and sales meetings together; on one occasion, Jackson elevated the moods of seven hundred sales reps by dancing on a table. He and Saemann would even edit videos together late into the night. “He was no slouch,” recalls the former LA Gear executive. “When Michael went to work on something, it might take two weeks to get ahold of him, but he’d give you five hours.” Jackson, however, still hadn’t completed his new album. Whenever Saemann broached the subject with Jackson, the response was the same. “I’m a creative guy,” he’d say. “You can’t force it.” In the end, LA Gear had to move forward with the launch of the sneaker line though neither the album nor the promised product tie-in had emerged. Retailers were expecting the shoes to be delivered on schedule—but they were also expecting the footwear to make an appearance in promotional material that accompanied Jackson’s new record. When that didn’t materialize, the results were disastrous. The shoes sold hundreds of thousands of pairs, says Saemann, but there were also hundreds of thousands that had to be returned to the manufacturer after languishing too long on the shelves. Jackson hadn’t held up his end of the bargain, and LA Gear was suffering. The day Saemann introduced him at the press conference, the company’s stock stood at $20.75 per share, down from a high of $50.38 the previous year. By January 1991, the stock had plummeted to $2.88; it lost 21.5 percent on a single day, thanks to the announcement that the company expected to lose $4 million to $6 million in the fourth quarter. Jackson’s deal factored heavily into that figure. In June of 1991, Saemann voluntarily resigned from the company “to pursue other business interests.” Roy A. Disney’s Trefoil Capital bought 30 percent of the slumping company around the same time. LA Gear would go on to sue Jackson in 1992; after the singer countersued, the two sides settled for an undisclosed sum. Saemann suspects the company let Jackson keep what they’d already paid him—the first half of the promised $20 million—but didn’t have to fork over anything more. And despite the damage to Saemann’s stock options and reputation, he still has some fondness for the singer. “I enjoyed every minute around him; we talked as equals and friends,” recalls Saemann. “But, genius or not, he didn’t deliver.” Back in 50 Cent’s office, the rapper is done pacing. Now he’s sitting down again, musing on his shared connections with Michael Jackson. There were plenty of those on the business front, given that the King of Pop proved it was possible for an entertainer to start his own clothing label, shoe line, and record company long before the birth of 50 Cent’s G-Unit empire. But he connects with Jackson on another level. Right or wrong, many people define both men by their most successful album—Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was the rapper’s Thriller. Like Jackson, he had many other hits, but the album remained something of an albatross because of the inevitable comparisons it evoked whenever a new effort was released. “[Reviewers] go, ‘Yeah it’s cool, but it’s not as good as it was when you came the first time,’ ” he explains. “And you can’t have a second chance at a first impression. No matter who you are.” Despite spending more than a decade trying to top Get Rich, it’s still his bestselling album and most critically acclaimed. 50 Cent doesn’t seem too distressed, though; he’s turned his attention to new business ventures like his SMS headphone line and SK Energy drink. The specter of success took a seemingly heavier toll on Michael Jackson. One need only consider how much time and money he spent on subsequent albums to see how badly he yearned to top Thriller—a perfectionist’s longing that caused him to drastically delay the launch of multiple works—sometimes at the expense of interconnected business ventures like the LA Gear shoe line. He did all of this in an effort to achieve something that was, by definition, basically impossible: to make an album more successful than the most successful album of all time. And Jackson was spurred on over and over again by reviewers and listeners who continued to hold his work, both sonically and commercially, to the standard of Thriller. “They just put you up against yourself,” says 50 Cent. “If they give you an opponent, you can analyze and figure out their weaknesses and beat them. But if it’s yourself, how do you win? How do you top that?” Adapted from Michael Jackson, Inc.: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of a Billion-Dollar Empire, by Zack O’Malley Greenburg. The book will be published by Simon & Schuster in the U.S. on June 3.

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Royce da 5'9'' visits Build Series at Build Studio on May 1, 2018 in New York City.
Jamie McCarthy

Royce Da 5’9” Talks Consciousness And Self-Sufficiency On ‘The Allegory’

How do you move forward when you’re already one of the greatest of all time? In rappers’ circles, a 20-year career has seen Royce Da 5’9” considered one of the best MCs on earth. His witty punchlines, versatile flows and irreverent sense of humor have seen him compete with the likes of Black Thought, Kendrick Lamar, his former Slaughterhouse groupmates, and his longtime friend Marshall Mathers. “Eminem himself will tell you I'm the only ni**a livin' that done ever spanked him on the same record with him,” he pointedly rapped once. In recent years, he’s added a personal tone to his music, using songs like “Cocaine” and “Boblo Boat” to grapple with his family history of substance abuse and incarceration while conquering his own alcoholism and infidelity.

Now, after introducing listeners to his lineage, Royce is using his new album The Allegory to continue his artistic progression. His first two singles are more sociopolitical, lines that he isn’t known for drawing in his music: “Field Negro” chastises uppity blacks for forgetting their roots, while “Black Savage” calls on T.I., CyHi Da Prynce, and Sy Ari Da Kid to unite for an anthem against white oppression. The latter was chosen for the Jay-Z-led Inspire Change initiative with the NFL. And the third single, “Overcome” with Westside Gunn, features a music video that tells a “fictional” version of the story of 6ix9ine’s gang affiliation and his infamous testifying on the stand. “I hate when rappers get a mic in front of them and somebody asks them about something that affects us socially, and they write it off,” Royce said while visiting VIBE’s office in Times Square. “... I think with as much emphasis as we put, there’s certain rules that you’re supposed to be tapped into the hood. Just as much as you go out of your way to be tapped into the hood, you need to be tapped into us.”

There’s also one other detail: after a career working with legends like DJ Premier, Bink! and The Alchemist, Royce has decided to make his own beats this time around. He even landed a production credits on Eminem’s new surprise album Music To Be Murdered By, to go along with his trio of guest verses. “I call it rabbit hole behavior – I just start practicing a whole lot, just like I do anything else if I’m interested,” Royce shared. “...I didn’t set out to produce the whole album, it just happened that way.”

In a conversation with VIBE, Royce Da 5’9” talks about the importance of keeping up with your community, a musical lesson from T.I., and why he doesn’t care if he makes a wack beat.

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VIBE: On your last two solos, Layers and Book of Ryan, you shared more of your personal life than ever before. After sharing that much, where do you go next creatively?

Royce Da 5’9”: I’m definitely taking my time. I don’t always know what I want to do, but it’s pretty easy for me to look at what I don’t want to do, and rule that out. I just create and try not to think too much. The important thing for me was, when I did do the super personal thing, when it was about myself, to make sure that I really did it thoroughly. Did it in a way where people get it. And also, I’m presenting the people in my life in a respectful, positive way, but truthful, honest way. From there, it’s just taking in as much information as I can and just talking about the way that I see the world. Whatever inspires overrules.

You said that you ruled out what you didn’t want to do. What did you not want to do?

I don’t want to look like I’m an artist that’s doing this as some type of job. There’s nothing wrong with that; I just don’t want to do it. I’m not an employee of the people; I don’t make music for people. That’s not my job, that’s not what I’m here to do. I think some people can do that, but in my mind, that’s crazy. I express myself through the art as a coping mechanism most of the time. I look at it as putting paint on a canvas and hanging it up. You’re more than welcome to come by look at it, but if you don’t, that’s fine. And then when I’m leaving, I’m taking it home with me so I can look at it for memories. Whatever that feeling is, money won’t give me that feeling.

Between “Field Negro” and “Black Savage,” both songs have a more conscious, sociopolitical slant. People don’t associate that with you. 

I like “conscious” better than political. I think we separate those a little bit. I’m very conscious. I’m not very politically-inclined, but a lot of things that people associate as political are important to me. I don’t care who the president is. I don’t care about that type of sh*t. But I do care about the way that some of the things that happen on a higher level of government affect us in our community. So I’m very conscious of our people, and I’m very conscious of artists having a platform and understanding how important that is and understanding how important it is to be connected to us and how we need to take care of each other first. Then we’ll be able to take care of everybody. I’m conscious of that. But I’m not trying to run for senator in ten years. I don’t have any aspirations of being president or a political activist. But as I get older, the things that I say begin to get more important.

A lot of artists have their feelings on issues like that, but they completely separate them from their music. What made you decide to integrate it into your music?

Everything I’ve made has always been a reflection to what I’m doing at the time, who I am at the time. As black men especially, our perspective changes so much. I don’t know exactly what did it, but I know I hate when rappers get a mic in front of them and somebody asks them about something that affects us socially, they condemn it, and they write it off. That’s a pet peeve of mine. They condemn the concept all the way together. They don’t want to answer it, and they condemn it. Most of the time I feel like it’s because they don’t know, they’re unaware of it. They don’t know enough about it to be able to speak on it. Or they just look down on being smart or being socially aware. I think with as much emphasis as we put, there’s certain rules that you’re supposed to be tapped into the hood. Just as much as you go out of your way to be tapped into the hood, you need to be tapped into us. That’s important. But it’s not going to become important to you until you start taking in information the proper way.

So how do you keep in touch with what’s going on?

I mostly read. I don’t watch a whole bunch of TV. I just read. I do research online like a crazy person. I just stay aware, I look at what everyone is talking about, constantly on my phone. When I used to get drunk, I’d see everybody talking about something, and I’d just go look at something else. I don’t do that no more; I need to know now.

It’s always interesting to me when I hear about your life pre-sobriety and post-sobriety. Because I realize how many things stem from that - getting your personal life in order, being more lucid with your family, being more aware of the world around you.

Well, that’s the problem. Drinking makes it to where you don’t care. Perfect: I’ll go cheat on my girl, I’ll become a ridiculous person. Nothing is connected into nothing until I started going to therapy, then I realized everything was for a reason. And then, I started learning about myself in a way that made me elevate, first my mind and then better as an artist. I’m like damn, I can keep learning about myself – how can I stop being better at everything? Most of us we come in, and if we want to get better at rapping, then we just figure we’ve got to keep up with the times, let me keep up with rap and I end up being a better rapper. That’s all you’re dialed into, all of that misinformation that’s being spread around. You’re doomed. There’s no way you’re gonna get better. No way. It’s impossible. If I’m keeping up with what’s current, but everything that’s current, there’s no future in none of it. I focus on me, getting myself better. I make a lot of music I don’t use. Every time I do something that I feel is cool, I let it go.

How old are your kids?

Twelve, 10, 5 and 3. And 21.

Do you have conscious conversations with them?

Only Roycee, my oldest son. We can go pretty deep. My daughters, they’re just having fun right now. I’m not going to lay too much on ‘em. [laughs] Just let them be kids. I’ll eat with Kino, his kids know how to order at a steakhouse. … Nah, none of that. They don’t watch rap videos. They aren’t tapped in yet. Just chillin’. That’s one of the only reasons I celebrate Christmas: I just want to see them open gifts and having fun. But there’s lots to tell, lots coming on the horizon.

On this new album, you made all of the beats. Did you make beats at all before then?

Nope. But I have made a beat here and there before in different situations. Sometimes in the studio 4 in the morning, and we’re all drinking, I just decide to start hitting piano keys. Make some terrible beat that we rap on at the moment. [laughs] But I never had equipment, this is my first time doing that. But I’m glad I did it that way. I learned Pro Tools first. I learned how to cut my own vocals first, just engineering. Denaun showed me how to make beats in Logic, and it was easy for me to catch onto because it was very similar to Pro Tools. I call it rabbit hole behavior – I just start practicing a whole lot, just like I do anything else if I’m interested. I just kept on practicing and came up with this song, came up with that song. If you do it enough, stuff comes out of it. I didn’t set out to produce the whole album, it just happened that way. That’s the fun part. Normally, we would tell ourselves, you can’t do nothing like that. I’m glad I didn’t even have expectations. I wasn’t even thinking. I just love practicing. If I make something and it’s terrible, it does not bother me, as long as I don’t have to play it for nobody else. [laughs]

Did anything spark that initial creativity to start making beats more?

It was boredom. But there wasn’t a starting point. One time we were working on a mixtape or something, and I decided I was going to do the beat. I’ll just have my engineer play something. I never applied myself and bought equipment like, “I’m going to make beats.” Little stuff in passing. But just drunk shit. This is my first time deciding to do it that way. I went to Guitar Center. I bought Ableton, bought the Maschine, it starts out like that – get a bunch of stuff, and see what sticks. Everything went back except the MPC. [laughs] I kept that, but I gave it to my friend. I just use Logic now.

What’s interesting about what you’re saying is that your raps are very meticulously crafted. I think if you were to write a rap that was wack, you’d be upset. But you’re saying that if you make a beat you don’t like, you don’t have an issue with it?

It goes both ways for me. But I do understand being that way about a rap. I was that way for a long time. I think we start out like that. I don’t know if it’s “upset” – it’s more of a fear. Most people won’t admit that, but it’s like a creative fear. You don’t want to come up with something that’s not good, or you don’t want to admit that it’s not good. If you don’t know no better, that’s synonymous with falling off. You never want to admit that. But the more honest you are with yourself, the better off everything is. So going out and working with Puff, and him making me rewrite the same verse 8,000 times, is what made me introduce the art of rewriting into my lexicon. I just started rewriting stuff to rewrite it. And then i developed this relationship with the verses in a song where it’s just, I don’t have no respect for it. I call it clay. I just lay a bunch of stuff, poke holes in it, fill a line in, take the bottom half out, fill that in, remove the top of it, put some back on top of it. [laughs] It’s like playing LEGOs or something. Take the best pieces, take it from there, and then just A&R it. There’s no such thing as a bad verse – I’m sorry, yes there is. But it can be great for different reasons. Just because it’s lyrical, that doesn’t make it great. “Ain’t Nuttin But A G Thang'' is a perfect verse. Add too many syllables, you f**k it up. I’m sure that if Dre knew Marshall back then, and Eminem hit him with a super technical verse, he’d probably be like, “that’s lyrical, but that ain’t it.” It’s almost like you’re A&Ring yourself. It’s so much going on, you don’t have to be so tight if it’s not the right one.

“Black Savage” is you, T.I., CyHi Da Prynce, Sy Ari Da Kid, and White Gold. How’d that song come together?

The producer me picked the people. I always knew I wanted to work with CyHi on something. Anytime I ever do anything that’s a little bit socially conscious, I always think of T.I. He’s very aggressive, I can tell he hit that point in life. I think we have spiritual awakenings, man. Us as black men, we just wake up one day like, “this is what I am,” and we have no idea where it came from. T.I. seems like he’s there with it. You get to a certain point and start seeing things for what they are. You don’t always like what you see. I think T.I. is at that place, so I always told myself if I was ever doing anything along the truthful line, to speak up for us, I would call Tip. We did some stuff before, but it ended up slipping through the cracks. Tip actually suggested Sy Ari to sing the hook. He said, “the hook we have is a little bit too direct,” and he asked me what I thought about somebody else taking a shot at it. I said, I’m more than open if you think you can make it happen. He reached out to Sy Ari, and he sent it right back. That’s one dope thing about collaborating. I learned that in Slaughterhouse: learn that with an open mind. A lot of guys would’ve taken it personal. I was cool with what we had, but when he sent Sy Ari’s hook, Sy Ari’s was better. But I still liked what we had, because the part that we had as the hook was White Gold’s part. So I was able to use both, and I moved them and made it more like a bridge. I had to change the music around a little bit, but it worked way better. But he was right – it was super direct. I’m a very blunt, direct person, and I heard what he meant. So it actually taught me something, so I’m glad we had that conversation.

That really sounds like Producer Royce, man. Not just beatmaker Royce, but producer Royce.

I could never be a beatmaker, because I’m around too many guys who make beats who have been doing it their whole life. You can’t catch up, it’s impossible to catch up to Bink!, Denaun, DJ Premier. I’m way behind. There’s never been a beatmaker Royce, but I’ve been producer Royce even before I was making tracks. I had to play that role in Slaughterhouse, I had to have that relationship with the music in Slaughterhouse. I was the guy that was more on the technical side, doing the drops and stuff like that. I just always had a knack for the sonic stuff. After us getting our own place, I think it was the logical next step. It just kind of happened spur of the moment, and I like for things to happen like that. Every time I ever planned to do beats, I didn’t end up seeing it through. But the one time I just thought of it real quick, I was at Guitar Center 30 minutes later. I came back and it didn’t just end up being a conversation – I saw it all the way through, because I wasn’t thinking about it.

How did you connect with the NFL for their campaign?

Kino was talking to Jason from Tidal, and he said they were looking for a song to launch the initiative. Everybody knows about the initiative. They were saying they were looking for something, and Kino was like, “I think I may have the perfect song for you.” It was just a shot in the dark. He sent it over to them, and they loved the song. Once he explained to me what the initiative was and all of that, I was 100 percent with it. After that, I found out that we needed to partner up with them and go do stuff, which was cool too. Anything Jay-Z related, man, I’m in. I’m not a real big football guy, but I’m willing to be for that cause.

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Courtesy of adidas

Rapsody And Pusha T Inspire Students At Adidas' All-Star Weekend Career Day

The recording artists, alongside WNBA star Liz Cambage, encouraged student-athletes to chase their musical dreams at adidas Legacy's “World’s Best Career Day.”

Last weekend, stars from all over the country flew into a frigid Chicago for the 69th annual NBA All-Star Weekend, where they celebrated their accomplishments, promoted their projects, and rubbed elbows with other industry leaders.

The NBA All-Star Weekend often serves as a fun spectacle with slam dunk competitions, brand-sponsored parties, and big music showcases. But on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 15), adidas gathered professional athletes, media personalities, musicians, filmmakers, and other creatives to participate in a more impactful endeavor – making connections with the youth and giving them the exposure and resources to chase their dreams.

adidas hosted 240 student-athletes from eight Chicago public high schools at its “World’s Best Career Day” event in downtown Chicago during the highly-anticipated weekend. The event gave the kids an opportunity to get some hands-on learning experience using professional equipment and face-to-face time with celebrities, including Jonah Hill, James Harden, Candace Parker, and others.

Rappers Pusha T, Rapsody, and WNBA star Liz Cambage ran the “Sound Lab,” which served as the music portion of the seven interactive workshops during the career day. The “Sound Lab” consisted of professional recording equipment, including a vocal booth, turntables, mixing consoles, and drum machines. After a brief panel discussion, the students broke up into three groups, where they could work more closely with one of the stars.

“A lot of people don’t have these opportunities, I didn’t have these opportunities,” Pusha T told VIBE after the workshop. “People weren’t really pushing you to go toward your dreams if they were in the music business. To see all of this put together like such, to have makeshift recording studios, engineers, people of quality, who can really explain the game to you. To me, it just sort of reinforces the idea of pushing kids toward their dreams and goals. I think that’s what it’s about.”

Pusha’s workshop mostly focused on the technical aspect of working in a studio and emphasized the importance of the vocalist and recording engineer relationship. He referred to engineers as “the cornerstone of making music” and explained that while it’s an overlooked job in the music business, it’s an important and lucrative one.

After he spoke with a group of about 13 students, a couple of them went into the vocal booth to spit a verse. The G.O.O.D. Music President gave them tips on recording vocals and explained that having a trusted engineer is crucial.

“When the kids did get in the booth, sometimes there’s a bit of anxiety and feeling like, ‘oh man I gotta rush and hurry up,’” Pusha said. “The engineer is the reason you don’t have to rush and hurry up. You can take your time. You can do four bars at a time, get it perfect. And get another four bars, put it all together, and make it sound seamless. You know just being new to the recording structure, I was trying to share those tips with them.”

Rapsody also shared how she hopes the kids in attendance will learn to “think outside of the box” after the career day event. She said the “Sound Lab” workshop will show them there are many different avenues to pursuing a career in music.

“There are so many ways to inject yourself into the music business, outside of just being an emcee, or just being a producer,” Rapsody told VIBE. “Just opening their minds creatively and interacting with them one on one. It’s always dope to look at people who are doing things that are successful and be able to reach them and talk to them because it gives you an aspiration.”

During her section of the workshop, she and her producers, Khrysis and Eric G, showed the young athletes how to use drum machines and samplers while using her song “Aaliyah,” from her 2019 album Eve, as a reference of how to chop up samples.

“Exposure is the biggest thing for kids,” Rapsody said. “Once you expose them to something, it’s endless, like their mind goes. But if you don’t expose them to it, it’s sometimes* they think that it’s not for them and they put themselves in a fishbowl. So it’s dope to be able to have these kids touch machines and talk to myself.”

After the workshop, Rapsody was approached by a few of the student-athletes, including a young, teenage girl who sang for her.

“I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and for music and creativity, all I really had was TV. I watched videos,” she said. “If I had something like this, I would’ve started following my heart, my passion a lot sooner. Just to have the knowledge, for somebody to teach, to show me that it is available to me. Whatever I want to do is available to me, that I can do it.”

Cambage, who is a house DJ in addition to playing for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, spoke to the teens about being an athlete who also has a passion for music and other creative outlets.

The three-time All-Star center spoke to them about her love of house music and referenced Canadian DJ/producer KAYTRANADA as one of her favorite current artists because he often takes “old ‘90s hip-hop and (puts) a house beat with it.” During her interactive workshop, she showed them different mixing and beatmatching techniques.

“You don’t know how talented someone can be at something until they try it,” said Cambage, who won a 2012 bronze medal as a member of the Australian women’s basketball team. “We could have the next Mozart in the building today, and I think that’s the really exciting thing. Kids are putting themselves out there, being like, ‘yeah I really am interested in this, and I do want to learn about it.’ And adidas is giving them that platform to go chase another dream.”

Since all of the students that attended the career day event are basketball players, Cambage told VIBE she wanted to show them that they can “break that mold of just being an athlete.”

“We do it all, it doesn’t have to be just one thing,” she said. “There are so many things I love and things that inspire me... So I think it’s really important that we’re not just one thing, we can keep learning, we can keep evolving, we can keep finding things that inspire us.”

Fellow WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike, who moonlights as full-time basketball analyst at ESPN, also emphasized to the kids at her workshop they can be a successful athlete with other interests. Ogwumike worked on the broadcasting workshop, alongside Tracy McGrady, Candace Parker, and Maria Taylor.

She viewed the event as a great way to show the teens, particularly the girls and young women, that they can achieve so much when they have opportunities and the infrastructure to succeed.

“Visibility matters, especially for those who feel invisible in society,” she said. “It’s on us as women to uplift others. For so long, we’ve been so competitive, because like a seat at the table, there’s only one for a woman. Now there are more seats at the table, so instead of being competitive, we’re now being collaborative. We’re harnessing our collective power to lift each other up.”

The “World’s Best Career Day” coincided with the launch of adidas Legacy’s expansion to Chicago. The high school basketball program, Legacy, partnered with eight underserved Chicago public high schools, providing their boys and girls basketball teams with fresh adidas gear and opportunities to connect with peers, learn from mentors, and gain exposure to different career paths. The program was founded in Los Angeles in 2017, later expanded to New York City in 2018, and now serves a total of 28 schools and 840 student-athletes within those cities.

Brandon Walker, adidas’ head of North America Sports Marketing - Basketball,  highlighted how Legacy equally serves the boys and girls basketball programs and is made up of 98 percent of students of color.

“I just hope it’s an opportunity for these young men and women to reimagine their future,” Walker told VIBE. “It’s very difficult to dream it if they’ve never seen it. And for them to be in these workshops and see people that look like them, it gives them a chance to realize their potential long-term. Them having a chance to sit across from somebody and get hands-on learning, and say, ‘you know what? Broadcasting isn’t all that difficult, I might be able to do it myself. I’m a real good sketch artist or I can draw, I could be a designer for a major brand.’ Those types of moments are what we hope these young men and women leave with, just opening up their ideas of what’s possible in the future.”

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Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant reacts during the Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals in Boston, Massachusetts, June 17, 2008.
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP

Kobe Bryant Went From Peerless To Peer, And That's Why It Hurts To Lose Him

If you were to list the major events of Kobe Bryant’s life, it would read like one of those cheesy, unbelievable movies on Netflix that you scroll right past every night. Born to an NBA player, grew up in Italy, made it to the NBA at 17 years old, won five championships, won an Oscar, won an Emmy, died in a helicopter crash.

The abruptness of the ending of the list is matched only by the totality of the list itself. As fellow NBA superstar Kevin Durant put it, “You’ve seen Kobe in every situation… he lived life to the fullest.”

Ultimately it was that all-encompassing nature of Kobe Bryant’s life that made his death so tragic and so painful. Kobe was the rare entity that made the entire world feel something about him. Whether it was love, hate, admiration, fear, respect or whatever other emotion he could elicit out of you as a spectator, you felt it. As such, everybody felt something when the news broke that he’d perished in a helicopter crash, even his most feverish haters.

Perhaps you were attached to Kobe the basketball deity, with his insatiable competitiveness that became its own mantra for life: Mamba Mentality. Or maybe you loved Kobe the artist and storyteller, who found new ways to express himself and succeed after leaving the sport most thought he would be miserable without. But the most wide-ranging side of Kobe is surely the father and the family man. That was the most “normal” of his superpowers.

There was a side of Kobe for everybody, and as such he may have lived as the most revered and celebrated athlete in the world. There are others more popular by standard metrics, but the adulation Kobe received in every pocket of the world is the type of devotion that only existed in eras past, before the internet opened up niches for every single interest and gave platforms for every single counterargument.

In the sports world, Kobe may be Patient 0 for that sort of internet native life, as we’ve been privy to almost his entire life since the moment he arrived, arm and arm with Brandy at his high school prom. His entire career exists on camera somewhere, and most of his adult life is Google-able and available at the click of a button, in HD.

As such, we get the feeling we know Kobe, a sentiment that became amplified when he allowed us to get even closer to him with the intimacy of his social media profiles. His random thoughts were strewn across his Twitter account. His adorable family life is plastered on both his and his wife’s Instagram accounts. Plus, there were documentaries, stories, books, Oscar-winning shorts and every other sort of content for all the rest of his life and the arbitrary contemplations that exist between those two worlds.

Kobe was as transparent as any superstar on Earth, and that made him as endearing as any superhero can possibly be. We felt we came to know Kobe, a jarring turn of events after he existed for two decades as the most sinister, malicious and villainous athlete since Michael Jordan, a man so feverishly and obsessively devoted to winning it left him with strained relationships, but five championship rings to warm his bed at night.

 

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My Gigi

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Sep 3, 2019 at 1:59pm PDT

Suddenly he was approachable, an aloof basketball dad, now fully devoted to family life in a way that somehow seemed even more dedicated than he ever was to his previous profession. It made for a few comical pictures and stories, but it resonated, and the supernatural had become normal. After two decades of Kobe doing things no other human could hope to do, he was doing the things every other human does on a daily basis and it made him even more lovable.

But that turn is what made his sudden death even that much more painful. Kobe was doing something every parent of an athlete has done hundreds of times, taking their child to a game and sharing that intimate ride and alone time that may not exist if the sport had not brought them together for that moment. That’s the innocuous moment that led to the death of Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his own 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

For many, that made the tragedy hit unbearably close to home. Whether as a parent, a coach, someone who was once that kid riding to the game with their parents or any other cog in the village that raises a child. Everybody has been within that equation somewhere, and now the reality of how fleeting those moments can be is staring the entire world in the face, forcing them to come to grips with the fragility of life. Not only your own life, but those closest to you who could be doing something as ordinary as driving to a game on a Sunday morning.

 

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Had a great trip to @uconnwbb for senior night and the retirement of basketball legend @promise50 with my baby Gigi. Thank you Gampel, Thank you Coach Geno and Cd for the warm welcome. Good luck the rest of the way 💪🏾 #mambamentality #wizenard

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Mar 2, 2019 at 9:22pm PST

Once again, Kobe is making everybody feel something. Once again, he’s bringing people together, united by a common cause, and feeling ever so strongly about the topic at hand. Gone is the hate or even the fear for the man they call The Black Mamba. Now that’s been replaced by somber regret, sadness, reflection and perhaps most importantly, appreciation.

Rarely does the death of a complete stranger create ripples in someone’s life, but it seems Kobe’s has caused tidal waves for many. In stripping away the layers of mythology that once shrouded him from normalcy, Kobe was no longer a stranger. He’d become a big brother, an uncle, a friend to so many, even from afar. Kobe spent his entire basketball life as a peerless prodigy, a wonder of the world who was simply unmatched. From the moment he retired he became the exact opposite, he was a peer.

So, on January 26, the world didn’t lose a stranger who played basketball for a living, they lost a peer, a friend who they’d known for over 20 years. Even if you never met Kobe, you met him. You watched him grow, from an innocent, smiling child who dreamed of the impossible, to a hyper-focused brooding adult at work. And what did he become after achieving the impossible over and over? He went right back to smiling, as a gleeful father entering an entirely new and exciting stage of life.

There was a little bit of Kobe in all of us, and that’s why it hurts so bad to lose all of him.

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