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Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Follow the flow

By Elena Bergeron
ESPN The Magazine

Kendrick Lamar, Arron Afflalo
Rapper Kendrick Lamar's "Black Boy Fly" follows Arron Afflalo's ascent to NBA stardom.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 18 Music issue. Subscribe today!

RAP LYRICS are littered with athlete name drops, but none can match the emotional significance of "Black Boy Fly," a standout song from Kendrick Lamar's critically acclaimed debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. In the first verse, Lamar takes us back nine years to Centennial High in Compton, Calif., where he was one grade below -- but seemingly light-years away -- from UCLA-bound basketball hero Arron Afflalo. Here, rap's shooting star and the Magic shooting guard break down the story behind the verse.

THE VERSE
I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo
I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo

THE BACKSTORY
Kendrick Lamar: We didn't know anybody that went to the NBA out of Compton. That was huge. But it was bittersweet. Of course I'm going to be happy for him. It was more about how it reflected on the rest of us. Where were we going?
Afflalo: There wasn't a lot of success in that area. Things that I went through -- not doing what other kids in that area were usually doing -- I think that's what made him write it.

He was the one to follow
He was the only leader foreseeing brighter tomorrows
He would live in the gym
We was living in sorrow

Lamar: Centennial is a real cultured Blood-gang school. Arron was the only dude we saw that was actually doing something to better his future rather than living for the time being. But he did sell me a $5 burned copy of Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt.
Afflalo: I actually used to sell to the whole high school. Kendrick was a younger dude really into music.

Total envy of him
He made a dream become a reality
Actually making it possible to swim
His way up out of Compton with further more to accomplish
Graduate with honors, a sponsor of basketball scholars
It's 2004 and I'm watching him score 30

Lamar: We went to state, and the whole school huddled up on buses for seven hours to Sacramento. Arron was just killing. We took our first title.
Afflalo: That was my senior year. We had a lot of support. It was big for us that it was loud in there.

Remember vividly how them victory points had hurt me
Cause every basket was a reaction or a reminder
That we was just moving backwards

Lamar: That's the metaphor. Each basket was a blessing for him. That's me counting his blessings and not counting mine. It was tough.

The bungalow where you find us
The art of us ditching classes heading nowhere fast

Lamar: When I started traveling, I realized California schools are different. No hallways with lockers in one big building. There were bungalows, like little huts, throughout the yard. The abandoned ones is where we ditched.
Afflalo: I cut a few classes, but not that bad. Cutting is easy when there's nobody around demanding you do the right thing.

Stick my head inside the study hall, he focused on math
Determination, ambition, plus dedication and wisdom
Qualities he was given was the s -- we didn't have

Lamar: Arron had that reputation for doing what had to be done, either in the gym or making sure his grades were right. So everyone respected him -- the girls, street dudes, nerds, cool guys.

Dug inside of his book bag and Coach Palmer asked for his finals
He had his back like a spinal,

Lamar: Coach [Rod] Palmer had to be on top of Arron's academic game because he taught too, and Arron was in his class. I never had anyone there that was on me like that.
Afflalo: Coach Palmer coached a lot of guys before I got there and helped them get to college.

Meanwhile we singing the same old song, spinning the vinyl

Lamar: 50 Cent's "In da Club" was the song that we turned up.

11th-graders gone wrong
He focused on the NBA we focused on some Patron
Now watch that black boy fly

Afflalo: I was very fortunate that my mom and dad were a great support system. That school helped me develop a demeanor that I carry throughout life, but I didn't have the problems that a lot of those kids from a young age had growing up.
Lamar: Watching Arron on that journey helped me become a better person, made me become more ambitious. When you see somebody like him go to the NBA, you can connect the dots better between where you are and how they end up.

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