I Know You Got Gasol: Three Friends, Nine Years, One Weird NBA Rap Obsession

For the last nine years, three friends have been making long-format rap songs dedicated to the NBA All-Star Game. Is it impolite to ask why?
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Not these guys. The other guys that write long raps about the NBA All-Star Game.

Image via Hipology.org.

We all have our NBA All-Star Game traditions, even if that tradition is just kind of watching the game and kind of watching some other things, and maybe watching one and only one of either the Slam Dunk or Three-Point Contest. This is fine: there is no need for a more rigorous or serious tradition than this. All-Star Games are All-Star Games, and we're under no obligation to watch them or care about them or toast up a bunch of franks-in-blankets and have a bunch of people over to watch them. This is how it is for most of us, where the All-Star Game is concerned. That is not how it is for Doug SchrashunBeau Alessi and Brian Richardson.

That is just not at all how it is for them, at all. For going on a decade, those three—along with occasional contributors Joe Fontana, Peter Ingles and Richard Funkhouser—have composed an epic length rap tribute to the All-Star Game and its dramatis personae. They are not the first to have done this—Ultramagnetic MC's did it in 1989, and that heroically comprehensive ten-minute oddity remains, if not quite a classic, at the very least the best example on record of Ced Gee rapping about what a class act Lenny Wilkens was and the only instance in which Kool Keith (or anyone else) shouted out Ray Melchiorre, that year's Western Conference All-Star athletic trainer, in a rap. But Ultramagnetic only did it once. This year's effort by Schrashun, Alessi and Richardson is their ninth straight bite at this weird, dorky apple. It seemed worth talking about.

So, how and why did you start doing this? This is a pretty intense thing to do for as long as you've been doing it, and I assume it takes some time to pull it all together.

BRIAN: The three of us constant contributors were bandmates and college roommates when we decided to do the first one. We were used to writing together in a variety of settings, as we also did a radio show together for which we wrote a "humorous" serial drama. A lot of brainstorming/writing sessions came while Doug or I—as actual sports fans and video-game players—played "NBA Live '99" on the Playstation in our dorm. Much of what we wrote together originated in one or both of us saying, "That's the stupidest thing I ever heard—let's DO IT!" The All-Star jams were no different.  One of us heard the Ultramagnetic MCs version and said "WE MUST DO THIS!"

DOUG: I'm assuming that the original song, which I guess is technically called "NBA All Stars," was one of many odd records we came across while doing our college radio show. It seemed like it would be fun to make an updated version. It was such an amazing idea to us that the NBA had hired these guys, who were pretty intense non-establishment type guys, to do a rap to introduce the players, at a time when rap was still sort of a dangerous thing in the eyes of a lot of people. The three of us were in a band, sort of, and this was just one of many weird inadvisable musical things we tried out. There was no plan to do it every year, I don't think. We had a lot of grand schemes, most of which never happened, so the fact that this was originally a one-off thing probably helped us keep going with it. If you listen to the original version from 2006 you can tell none of us had much experiencing rapping.

BRIAN: For the first one, we were pretty obviously aping the Ultramagnetic MCs version, from obvious formatting things—a verse about every player and even the coaches; changing beats halfway through the song—to their cadence. We mostly wrote it to amuse ourselves, but it also seemed to bring out a certain competitive spirit as we kept trying to write stranger and more dextrous verses. After college we all lived in different states, but we kept the annual tradition going either through an annual weekend retreat to Brooklyn or through a "postal service" style system where we recorded our own parts and compiled them through e-mail. We all agreed on a standard tempo ahead of time (90 BPM for 2006 through 2012), and  Beau has been the Master Mixer for all 8 years.  Each of us writes at least one beat for each song, in addition to all of our own verses.

This year's song pushes 20 minutes in length, which is roughly twice the length of Ultramagnetic's. Are these getting longer or shorter through the years? Harder or easier?

DOUG: The length has sort of ballooned over time as we've gradually figured out what the hell it is we're actually trying to do. We realize that even within the very small number of people who are interested in listening to amateur basketball rap, an even smaller number are going to want to tune in for more than a couple minutes, but we also want to give every player their due. The Ultramags were good enough to sum up a player in four bars, but we've found that we need a full 16.

BRIAN: I think every year we've gone a little longer. Our first effort clocked in at nine minutes, but by 2008 we were up to 12 minutes, and 15 minutes in 2010.  This year we went to 19 minutes as a consequence of slowing down the tempo to 78 BPM in an attempt to mimic more contemporary tempos. It gets a little harder each year only because we always try to top our previous efforts, which was not hard to do initially—I find the first few years slightly painful to listen to now—but seems to be a tall order now. Personally, I just hope to maintain the level we've been at since about 2009. I think over the years we've fallen into distinct styles; my raps tend to be the most straight-forward, Doug's tend to be the most conceptual and avant-garde, and Beau brings a unique brand of mania to his verses.

DOUG: As Brian mentioned, it's harder each year only because we want to maintain at least a certain level of quality, if not improve. If we ever produce a total dud, I think we'd probably have to hang it up, and we'd obviously like to avoid that.

BEAU: It gets harder because we run out of things to say. There are only so many times you can rhyme "ability" with "agility." Especially with the perennial All-Stars. I don't think any of us would mind if we never had to rap about Kobe or Lebron or Chris Bosh again. Then again, we're getting better at it, and as time goes on, we keep expanding what we're able to do with it. In the first few years, I would never have attempted a conceptual verse about LaMarcus Aldridge giving congressional testimony. Now that's a thing that I can do. Each year the palette expands because we're able to expand upon the foundation that we've been building all this time.

I'm not going to look this up, but if you've been doing this for nine years, I assume you had to write a verse for Jamaal Magloire, which can't have been easy. Although I guess his name rhymes with a bunch of stuff. Anyway, who, in your years of doing this, have been the best and worst to write about?

DOUG: We've been at this since 2006, so we dodged Magloire, but we did call Rashard Lewis a "supersonic vigilante" in 2009, which is confusing on any number of levels. Personally, I like Dwyane Wade. He's extremely well known, but you never feel like there's anything in particular you need to mention. It gets hardest with someone like LeBron, or maybe Kobe, where you have to come up with something every year that's different, while also feeling compelled to reference whatever happens to be going on with them at the time. I remember doing the LeBron verse in 2011 and, because I felt like I had to address the whole "Decision" thing, it turned out all weird and awful, like I was actually expressing an opinion about something, which is pretty far from the point of this whole thing. We had a joke that if Joe Johnson had made it this year we would have just screamed "Joe Johnson is an All Star" for four bars and called it a day. I say it was a joke but probably that's what we would have actually done.

BRIAN: Yeah, the hard ones are the players we have to do every year.  We've each written multiple LeBron, Kobe, and Duncan verses; I'm pretty sure we've each taken a turn rapping about Paul Pierce, Dwight, KG, D-Wade, Amar'e, Pau, CP3, Bosh, Dirk, Shaq, Carmelo, Durant, and a bunch of other perennials. When we get in situations where we've rapped about someone a bunch of times already, that's when the verses get more abstract and less tethered to basketball itself. I think this is one reason "stalker verses" keep popping up—mine was the Westbrook verse this year. I think we accidentally do a stalker verse almost every year, though we never decided to do that consciously.

I'm not fully sure I want to know what the "stalker verse" is. I assume it's not legally actionable?

BRIAN: I don't know when this started in earnest, but the first one I remember vividly was the Rip Hamilton verse (by guest rapper Joe Fontana).  Sometimes the player in question is the "stalker" of the verse (Hamilton, Brandon Roy one year), and other times the speaker is the one stalking the player (Amar'e one year, Russell Westbrook this year).  I think we've all written verses about falling in love with a certain player, and obviously it gets funnier as it gets creepier. It's become one of several in-jokes within the 200+ verses we've written.

BEAU: It made me ridiculously happy to rap about Gilbert Arenas, and in 2007 I envisioned myself writing verses about him for years to come. That didn't pan out. This year, I was really excited to get to write about James Harden. I always dread having to do Joe Johnson, but the verses I've written about him have actually been some of my favorites. I think the same thing has been true for all of us regarding Paul Pierce. For some reason, it seems like none of us have ever been able to really do justice to Chris Paul in rhyme form. No idea why. 

BRIAN: The players I'm most excited to rap tend to be NBA-geek cult figures and people who have been fringe All-Stars for a while before finally making the roster.  I was pumped to have Luol Deng and Tyson Chandler this year, just like I was pumped to have Iguodala and Marc Gasol last year.  A lot of the verses I'm proudest of were one-time All-Stars" Gerald Wallace, Chris Kaman, Mo Williams, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, Roy Hibbert. 

Which non-All-Stars are on your most-wanted list?

BRIAN:  The players I would most like to rap about who have not been All-Stars yet are probably Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, Damian Lillard, and Serge Ibaka.

BEAU: I was preparing an OJ Mayo verse in November, and I was bummed out when he came back down to earth. There's a lot to work with there. Ricky Rubio will (hopefully) be a lot of fun one day. 

DOUG: We missed out on Ron Artest in 2004—it'll be a true shame if we never get to do a Metta World Peace verse. I'll also hold out hope for Iman Shumpert. He seems like a man after our own hearts.

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