I know zilch about basketball. I know the players are eighteen feet tall in their bare feet. I know they can shoot hoops cleanly from half a mile away without either the use of the backboard or the ball ruffling the interior sides of the net as it registers three points to the shooter. I know Michael Jordan – number 23, I believe – got very rich off of a particular brand of Nike
sneaker training shoe and that, aside from watching the Beastie Boys play two-on-one, the Harlem Globetrotters are by far the most dazzling team to watch. I also know that when they list the scores – eg Lakers 124 v 118 Celtics, the match in question was played at the home of the team listed second, which is just daft. So yes, I know zilch about basketball. I’m much more of a football guy. And that’s Scottish football, not yer American variation. Ask me anything about a provincial team’s perennial benchwarmers or just how shoogly the manager’s jacket is at any of the lower league teams come Easter time, and I’m yer man. But basketball, or to be exact, the regular actions of one of its more prominent players, was the stimulus for one of the modern era’s greatest tracks.
Anderson .Paak – King James
For a short second, those of us in the west of Scotland and select other provinces could be forgiven for doing a double take at the title of the track in the spotlight. Here and elsewhere, King James has very different historical connotations, all of them involving battles on white horses and all of them bigoted, religion-fuelled and best-kept in the knuckle-dragging past.
The King James in .Paak’s track (and while we’re on the subject of daftness, what’s that rogue dot all about?) refers to LA Lakers’ LeBron James – also, coincidentally, number 23 – and his ceaseless championing of America’s black community, his outspoken anger at trigger-happy policing and the tireless charity work he carries out to help the oppressed, the marginalised and the disenfranchised.
James follows in the footsteps of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A football player (US variety) with the San Francisco 49ers, he began in 2016 to kneel during the national anthem – a protest – what’s so great about America, eh? – at the regular and ongoing social injustice and police brutality of African-Americans. Kaepernick wouldn’t play in the game for much longer. His actions polarised America. Donald Trump battered in as only thick bigots can by declaring that NFL owners should fire any player who refuses to stand for the national anthem. At the end of that season, Kapernick was released, free to join any club who wanted his services. He has never played again.
In solidarity, and to highlight Kaepernick’s unjust treatement from his sport’s paymasters, LeBron James began taking the knee before Lakers’ games, a powerful action that, on the back of the George Floyd killing last year, eventually led to the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Released in 2019, Anderson .Paak’s track perfectly foreshadows the BLM movement. It refers to both Kaepernick and James throughout. Its subject matter is the sort of contemporary politics that Marvin Gaye might’ve gone for had he recorded What’s Going On half a century later.
Anderson .Paak keeps the wooly bunnet and bearded handsomness but updates and reboots the Gaye protest, going less for smooth, airy soul and more for a glitchy, jerky, bump ‘n grind modern variation.
Bubbling on-the-one bass and a repeating sax motif that calls to mind the sort of breathy, freeflowing jazz that Maceo Parker was adding to Prince records when he was last untouchable carry the track, as skittering, breakbeating drums rattle the rhythm to its conclusion. Surfing somewhere inbetween is a subtle electro tick tock and a harmonising female backing vocal that adds sass and gloss, but never gets in the way of .Paak’s incredible lead vocal, part gravel, part grease, but always great. His phrasing…his control…his delivery… it’s fantastic.
A lot of the other material on the track’s parent album (Ventura) has, so far, left me kinda cold, but King James is a play-once and repeat-often modern-day stone cold classic. Worth investigating, I’d say.