ESPN Music: New York Knicks

Action Bronson talks 'Blue Chips' mixtape

April, 24, 2014
Action BronsonJoseph Okpako/Redferns/Getty ImagesAction Bronson is a "die-hard" Knicks fan.
The year is 1994. The MLB Players Association begins its season-long strike; O.J. Simpson takes a long ride in his buddy’s white Ford Bronco; and "Blue Chips," the film about college basketball and its broken recruitment system starring Nick Nolte and Shaquille O’Neal, hits theaters and leaves an indelible mark on one 11-year-old boy in Queens, N.Y.

Twenty years later, that boy is known to rap fans as Action Bronson, who over the course of the last two years has put out two mixtapes -- "Blue Chips" and "Blue Chips 2" -- inspired by the film. While recording his new album in Santa Monica (slated for a late summer release), Bronson talked about the impact basketball has had on his music.

“I love 'Blue Chips,'" says Bronson. "It was one of my favorite movies growing up, and it’s just one of my favorite movies period. It definitely influenced the projects, for sure -- nothing direct, just the whole feel. Nile Rodgers did the score, the guy from "The Exorcist" directed it -- I knew that "Chips" was going to be ahead of its time.”

Bronson’s mixtapes, produced by Party Supplies, have the crunchy swagger of "Blue Chips"-era New York rap, replete with vinyl pops, guitar tremors and shimmering ride cymbals. For Bronson, other similarities come to mind.

“I just feel like it’s similar to the rap game. They give you the bag of money and you go out there and you do what you do. I don’t know if there’s any point-shaving going on, but I’m all about making a quick buck on gambling -- dice games, horse racing, cockroach racing, chicken fights. That could sum up my entire being.”

A self-described die-hard Knicks fan with the word “Knickerbocker” tattooed on the back of his leg, Bronson hasn’t been taking the team’s recent woes well. “They disappoint me a lot. I don’t think we’ll win anything with Melo on that team. The man has never dunked the ball hard in his life! He doesn’t have the killer instinct.”

But even a true die-hard must be thrilled on the recent hiring of Phil Jackson. “The Knicks have made a lot of moves lately that are too little, too late," he says. "Why did we get Baron Davis at the end of his career? B-Diddy is one of my favorite players of all time. If we’d had him at a younger age, what could’ve been? It’s upsetting.”

Despite the emotional ringer the organization has put Bronson through, he still goes to games whenever he can. “Last time I went to a Knicks game was when Kevin Love hit me up and got me his tickets. So I sat right behind Spike Lee.” Love is apparently a fan of Bronson's music and, in the words of Bronson, “a great dude.” As any great fan would, Bronson has attempted to recruit Love to the Knicks in 2015. “You already know I did! I pretty much begged.” The result? “I can’t disclose that.”

You can catch Bronson at the home of one of his other favorite teams, the N.Y. Jets, when he hits MetLife Stadium for Hot 97’s Summer Jam on June 1.

Caveman with a van: Heartbreak

May, 24, 2013
Tyson Chandler, Carmelo AnthonyIssac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesStill mourning the end of the Knicks' playoff run? Read on for some help coping.
Editor’s note: Drummer Stefan Marolachakis is traveling the country in a black van with tinted windows, touring for his band Caveman’s eponymous second album. Every week, Marolachakis will hunt the nation to gather musicians and athletes to discuss the link between the two clans. This week, our caveman reflects on his grief for his beloved Knicks and offers some tracks for respite.

Sometimes it feels like being a Knicks fan is simply the most painful thing a sports fan could be asked to endure, unless you live on the wrong side of Chicago or anywhere in Cleveland.

This Knicks season was, at many points, glorious to behold: they beat the Heat three out of four times; the defense was mugging; Carmelo was an offensive genius, and J.R. Smith was his wild-eyed wing man in the clutch. But the run is over, and I’m left to sit in shock, parsing out what exactly happened.

Sadly appropriate, when the Knicks ultimately fell to the Pacers in the second round, I was in a hotel room in Mississippi, mere miles away from the Delta, the cradle of the blues. And since all know that when the going gets tough, the tough turn to their record collection, I have been using music to cure my NBA-PTSD and creating a soundtrack of new music (and one very old song) as I climb through the classic Five Stages of Grief.

1. Denial

During this stage I blamed the refs, almost exclusively. My dad pointed out to me after the Game 6 that in the final six minutes of play, there were a total of nine fouls called, eight of which were called on the Knicks. Eight! Yes, I realize that the Pacers were too big, they killed the Knicks under the boards, etc. But eight fouls to one? And 46 free throw attempts versus 18 for the Knicks on the game? For shame! It felt like the Knicks had no chance of moving forward in the playoffs with a crew of whistle-happy refs.

Soundtrack: Tame Impala, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”

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Is Iman Shumpert the best athlete-rapper?

December, 18, 2012

In 1993, a young Orlando Magic All-Star by the name of Shaquille O’Neal broke new ground when he dropped the first studio rap album by an active pro athlete. Driven by novelty, as well as Shaq’s star power and goofy personality, “Shaq Diesel” went Top 30 on the Billboard charts, eventually earning platinum certification.

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And it changed everything.

Before long, a slew of jock MCs, inspired by Shaq’s success, swapped the rock for a mic, among them: Deion Sanders, Chris Webber, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Troy Hudson and Tony Parker.

They, and darn near all of their one-and-done kind, stunk.

Even the most prolific of the sports world’s active MCs, Metta World Peace hasn’t quite cracked the code. According to one of Metta’s rhyme-spitting peers, the Lakers forward’s most recent offering, “Represented,” leaves plenty to be desired.

“Oh, he’s horrible. He is horrible,” says Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks.

“’Represented’ is brutal. Just brutal. I feel him on, ‘I’m not letting anybody tell me anything, I’m just going to do my music.’ More power to him. But it’s not my type of music.”

While it’s unusual for an athlete-rapper to dis another, Shumpert might’ve earned the right to talk some trash: On Dec. 21, the Knicks’ second-year guard, through his website, will drop his first mixtape, “Th3 #post90s."

And get this: Shump has skills.

Rapping under the pseudonym “2wo 1ne” -- a play off of his jersey number -- the 22-year-old Oak Park, Ill. native and Georgia Tech product began laying down tracks in the offseason while recovering from the torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee that have kept him sidelined all season.

What emerged from recording sessions in Atlanta, Chicago and New York are twenty-one tracks -- some good, some not so hot. But taken as a whole, “Th3 #post90s” might very well herald the arrival of the sports world’s first good rapper.

In a phone chat with Blitz, Shumpert talked about his music, his inspirations and why he’s different from the guys who came before him.

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Fat Joe thinks his Knicks can beat the Heat

November, 14, 2012
Fat JoeJames Devaney/WireImageKnicks fan Fat Joe, right, with Tracy Morgan, is often front and center at Madison Square Garden.
Fat Joe has been in the rap game for what's about to become his 20th year in the business. That's quite an accomplishment as we've seen many rappers debut with one album, never to be heard from again.

Born and raised in the Boogie Down Bronx, the Puerto Rican rapper made it his goal to put Latinos on the map, introducing himself to the hip-hop masses with "Represent" in 1993. Over his career, he's been involved in some feuds, most famously with 50 Cent, with both New York rappers quashing their drama. Fat Joe has put together 10 albums with one more on the way next year, which could very well be his last.

When Fat Joe is not in the studio during the months of the basketball calendar, he's either home in Miami watching his beloved New York Knicks or in the front row at Madison Square Garden.

Fat Joe spoke with Playbook about discovering Big Pun, James Harden and the Rockets, Raymond Felton, and his theory that the Knicks will knock off the Miami Heat this season.

You released your first album in 1993 titled "Represent." As you sit at home today, did you think you would be around the rap game this long?

[Laughs] Hell no, man. No way. No way man. I was just a kid from The Bronx that had something to say. Being Latino -- you know, the Bronx created hip-hop -- and since day one Latinos and blacks [have been] in the hip-hop culture since it started. So I just felt like there were never no Latino rappers before me that were really, really big that could tell the story or could really represent Latinos in hip-hop and I knew, if not for anything else, I would fill that void. I knew I had to speak up, but to think that we would make it this far and this long, no way. Impossible. I still can't believe that we're relevant till this day, man. We're still making good music. That's amazing.

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Recap Wale's day of 'First Take' debate

April, 23, 2012
Watch rapper Wale on "First Take" debating Skip Bayless and Rob Parker on who will win the Western Conference in the NBA:

Wale and the "First Take" crew also debated:
How many games Tim Tebow will start this season.
Which NFL team HBO should pick for "Hard Knocks.
How far the Knicks will go in the NBA playoffs.

Or listen to a podcast of the entire show here.
Celebrate Carmelo Anthony's 39-point performance, including the game-winner in Sunday's 113-112 Knicks win over the Atlanta Hawks, with this heart-wrenching ballad by The Sports.