By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
The NBA’s All-Star weekend is one of the most exciting components of the NBA season and arguably of the entire sports calendar.
Between the young rising stars competing in the Rising Stars challenge, celebrities going at it in the Celebrity All-Star game, the competitive contests on All-Star Saturday night and the game itself, fans and observers get a cornucopia of sights and sounds to thrill them each year.
And that’s nothing to say of the out-sized role the weekend plays as a cultural gathering, a rare international sports event that is pretty much powered by black creativity, ingenuity and fellowship.
Each year that cultural resonance seems to deepen with the all-star weekend and with this weekend’s festivities, which take place in Charlotte, NC., the league has shown once again how on point they are and in tune with what the league’s audience wants by providing two of the best musical performances available to them.
Headling the musical performances this weekend will be Philadelphia rap star and developing social commentator Meek Mill before Sunday’s All-Star game and North Carolina’s largest rap star, J. Cole, for the halftime show. Featuring this duo at this ASG was among the best decisions the league could have made not just from a talent perspective, but from a perspective up representing social justice and utilizing platforms in its name.
In a key scene in the movie “Straight Outta Compton,” N.W.A. was being interviewed at a press conference and questioned pointedly about their musical content. In response Ice Cube would make a statement encapsulating the group’s point of view as it emerged as a needed critical voice against police brutality and inequality towards people in America’s inner cities — “Our music is a reflection of our reality,” said Cube.
Robert Rahmeek Williams a.k.a. Meek Mill stands now as a descendant of Cube’s approach to using one’s voice as a rap artist, a prime example of an artist that speaks as a product of his environment, utilizing his experiences growing up in gangs and as a drug dealer within the streets of Philadelphia, to his experiences in prison and fighting for his freedom against crooked elements of law enforcement and the justice system.
Since his last imprisonment and his much publicized release, Meek has done much to show how changed his life is and with help from a who’s who of friends in sports and entertainment has raised his game personally to become a respected figure in many facets of African-American social life currently.
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Meek went through various periods of imprisonment while establishing himself as a rapper and performer, having been convicted in 2008 on charges related to the possession of drugs and guns and serving eight months in prison before being placed on probation for five years — a period that has been extended several times. A wrongful arrest sent Meek into his most trying time and led him to him being handed a 2-to-4 year prison sentence in November 2017 for parole violations, including two arrests, one of which was on a reckless driving charge while shooting a music video in New York.
After much rallying and public protest, Meek was released on bail by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in April 2018, stating his conviction should be vacated because of questions about the credibility of his arresting officer, according to his lawyer’s statement via the New York Times. One of the first things he did upon being released was attend a Philadelphia 76ers playoff game. The story of Meek’s relationship with the team and co-owner Michael Rubin was detailed many times in national media.
Meek used his unjust treatment and experiences as a foundation to turn his life around and fight against social injustice. His latest album “Championships” features many of his biggest hits yet along with his most visceral commentary against the traps and impediments laid out toward the black people and the poor alike in America.
Pairing up with Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and CNN political analyst Van Jones to create the REFORM Alliance, Meek has helped established an organization dedicated to fight against the number of people having to serve unjust probation and parole sentences. Various sports representatives have joined REFORM’s organizational board, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brooklyn Nets co-owner Clara Wu Tsai.
Meek Mill is an incredible opening option for the game, but the addition of Jermaine Lamarr Cole a.k.a. J. Cole for the halftime show was a homerun.
A native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cole has always been known as a “deep-thinking” artist, essentially meaning that when you listen to his music, he will have you to a point where you will be in deep thought, open to the critical analyzing of life issues that permeates his music. Cole is a leading figure in rap music regarding social consciousness and he relies on his personal narrative — from his rise from poverty to the struggles African-American men go through on a daily basis, including social injustice, mental health issues and institutional racism — to inform his music and connect with audiences on a world-wide level.
Like Meek, but in a much more easily digestible fashion, Cole lives up to the legacy of artists like Ice Cube and NWA in regards to using the language and posture of the streets to deliver harsh truths when needed and universal connectivity to rally against injustices.
Cole’ 2018 album “KOD” is a representation of those topics of discussion and even his latest single “Middle Child” acts as a motivator to himself and others to not just strive to better themselves, but also build up your brothers and sisters in the process.
That’s to say nothing of Cole’s own basketball history, which saw him establish himself as a prep star in North Carolina and made him worthy of walking on at St. John’s University, but, likely for the best, Cole figured music to be his calling. As the video shows above the game and its athletes, like Dennis Smith Jr., still stay close to his heart.
In the era of commissioner Adam Silver like never before, the NBA has made it an imperative to support and promote social justice while allowing its players to use their personal platforms to be proactive members of their respective communities and express their fight for social injustices across the country .
At this ultimate showcase of what the NBA wants to promote about itself and its allegiances, Meek Mill and J. Cole, artists that many NBA players listen to on a daily basis and support religiously, being headlining performers at All-Star is the perfect fit for this NBA weekend and the prevailing social justice narrative that the league continues to excel with.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media