In our ongoing survey of Sports Rap, we have covered good hip hop songs about sports, and not very good but could've been worse hip hop songs by athletes, and mostly not-good (in very different ways) songs about athletes by non-athletes; there has also been a lot of Paul Wall, which, I know, I know. But we have not quite touched upon anything like the time-capsule floss-ball that Steve Francis just back-rimmed onto the internet. The song in question is called "Finer Things," it features Stevie 'Chise spitting lyrics of (posh, surprisingly not bloated, expensive undershirt-rocking) fury and doing his off-key singing thing on the hook, and it is—as Yahoo's invaluable Dan Devine points out, pretty thoroughly a throwback to the corny Bubblegum Thug work Ja Rule pioneered a decade or so ago.
The video for "Finer Things," while dodging Ja's untouchable choice to make a video that's basically a long riff on Grease—which is just the moost goo-ily softbatch choice any rapper has ever made, and will remain such unless and until Wiz Khalifa does a collaboration with LeAnn Rimes that has a video based on The Notebook—is pretty dated. Dated enough that I think Fonzworth Bentley was edited out of it, but was probably piloting the private plane or something. Dated enough that you expect to see an off-duty, shiny-suited Mase talking on a large cellphone and drinking some tea in the background of the Sandals Resort shots. All of which is to say that I have some explaining to do, because I kind of think it's great.
Okay, "great" is clearly not the right word for a song performed by a guy who sounds like Ja Rule with a better vertical leap, and in which the woman holding down the Ashanti part just kind of runs out of words to sing. That should be clear and I apologize if you thought there would be something great in that video, and instead got a former lottery pick rapping about luxury goods while alternately enjoying a Caribbean vacation and hanging out at a McCormick and Schmick's with his wife and adorable-as-hell kids. That is not great, in the way that most people use the word, or the correct way that people use the word. But, but: in its smallness and doofiness and essential sweetness, there is a little bit of goofy, clumsy greatness in it.
Steve Francis made an astonishing amount of money during his NBA career; Basketball Reference has the salary-only figure at $103 million, all of which he earned before turning 32. And while Francis maybe didn't have the career that he might've wished for—he played in just five playoff games during his decade-plus in the NBA, for instance—it's tough to argue with a few All-Star bids, a bunch of seasons as a highly paid high-volume scorer and nine figures in career earnings. To the extent that "Finer Things" and its goofy video works, it's as a portrait of a guy who seems pretty cognizant of and appropriately pleased with all of the aforementioned. Athletes starting record labels is pretty much always a bad look, and can occasionally lead to some depressing outcomes, and it's hard to hold out much hope for Franchise's Mazerati Music, let alone the "ROTTY" catchphrase he debuts in "Finer Things." The artists on his label all have names and images that seem to have come out of a Random Rap Dude Generator—oh word "Young Fresh"? Is he down with Young Fresh Fellows?—and the experience of Earl Boykins' Mazda Miata Music, to take a similar example, was not a very positive one.
But if Franchise isn't going to go broke behind this particular thing, there are worse hobbies in the world than making amateurish, comparatively sweet-natured New Watch Alert raps, and then filming videos for those songs in which you drink champagne with your wife and then eat hanger steak and play with your kids at a restaurant. It's a perverse and depressing reality of our culture at the moment that our wealthiest citizens are both our pissiest and moaningest—the real distance between creepo Texan petro-nightmares and precision-coiffed finance biz goons decrying an imaginary War On Innovation And Success and a dewy-eyed narcissist like Drake skeeving ambivalently through a booty call from atop a pile of caviar and $100 bills is stylistic, more than it's anything else. Steve Francis doesn't seem to be that way. In place of raging at notional haters or glorying in the barely sublimated (and deserved) self-loathing that chases this type of wild vanity, Francis goes on a nice vacation someplace warm, then heads to the Houston's at the Galleria and shares dessert with his wife and kids. Finer things, to be sure. And, at the very least, something that could've been a lot worse.