Hip-hop fantasies of a black executive have popped up throughout the genre’s history, visions of empowerment that speak to a real-life condition of powerlessness. In this sense, they’re merely a loftier version of the standard hip-hop fantasies of potency, whether it’s sexual domination, VIP access, or street-corner supremacy.
With Obama’s win, this dynamic stands to change. For 25-odd years, hip-hop has been black America’s main ambassador to the white American mainstream. How will hip-hop see itself now that the most powerful man in the country is a) black and b) a Jay-Z fan?” —How will Obama’s presidency change hip-hop?
In the years after World War II, and especially after the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, black Americans’ standardized-test scores improved steadily and significantly, compared with those of whites. But at some point in the late 1980s, after decades of progress, the narrowing of the gap stalled, and between 1988 and 1994 black reading scores actually fell by a sizable amount on the national assessment. What had appeared to be an inexorable advance toward equality had run out of steam, and African-American schoolchildren seemed to be stuck well behind their white peers.
The issue was complicated by the fact that there are really two overlapping test-score gaps: the one between black children and white children, and the one between poor children and better-off children. Given that those categories tend to overlap — black children are three times as likely to grow up in poverty as white children — many people wondered whether focusing on race was in fact a useful approach. Why not just concentrate on correcting the academic disadvantages of poor people? Solve those, and the black-white gap will solve itself.
A generation ago, Jordan re-defined what “basketball greatness” means to a large segment of the basketball watching public. Jordan was the most dominant perimeter scorer ever, the best 1-on-1 perimeter defender in the league in his prime, an aerial acrobat and a crunch-time killer. He was ultra competitive, confident to the point of arrogance, and he backed up all of his great stats and swagger by winning a string of titles unrivaled since the days of Bill Russell.
Flash forward to today. Over his career, Bryant has always been compared to Jordan. He plays the same position. They’re similarly sized. Bryant is the best scorer in the league like Mike, has aerial artistry like Mike, is known for being a late-game assassin like Mike and can play strong man-to-man defense like Mike. Even his demeanor, and the way he moves on the court, reminds many of No. 23 for the Bulls. I think that many have made the transitive logic leap that since Jordan was the best that must mean the guy that looks most like him now is the best as well.
This logic doesn’t necessarily work for me, though, because ultimately Jordan was unquestionably the best because he won. All of the other things certainly contributed, but that Jordan was the best player on the team that nobody could beat is what separated him from everyone else. Without that, he would have been open to comparisons to any of the other great players of his era. As Kobe is today. And frankly, if you look beyond style and focus on substance, it’s difficult to argue that Kobe Bryant has ever been the best player in the league.