After last night’s 14-inning heartbreaker, the Houston Astros are basically toast; no team has ever overcome a three-game deficit in a World Series, and Roger Clemens’ gimpy hamstring bodes ill for their comeback chances. But Astros fans can take heart in knowing their team has emerged victorious in one crucial off-the-field competition. Houston has, hands down, the better unofficial theme songs.
Chicago White Sox fans are still listening to the archaic, 1950s-era ditty “Let’s Go Go Go White Sox!” By contrast, Houston’s airwaves have been saturated with “Turn It Up (Astros Version),” a hip-hop nugget by native son Chamillionaire and “They Don’t Know (World Series Version)” by fellow Houstonian Paul Wall. “Turn It Up (Astros Version)” and “They Don’t Know (World Series Version)” are some of the finest examples of sports-fan rap—a genre of hits inspired by athletic success.
Houston may have the upper hand now, but Chicago does have a proud sports rap history. One of the first fan-authored hip-hop hits, “The Cubbies Are Rockin’,” was released by Hollywood composer Barry Goldberg (“DJ Barry”) and former P-Funk backup singer Gary Moody (“MC Gary”) in honor of the Chicago Cubs’$2 1989 division title. (A lyrical excerpt: “The Cubbies are rockin’, all over town/ There’s a new sensation and it’s really comin’ down.”) And though fan rap shouldn’t be confused with jock-penned rap, the Chicago Bears recorded the granddaddy of that genre, the 1985 novelty tune "Super Bowl Shuffle.”
Sports-fan rappers rarely possess pedigrees as impressive as those of the chart-topping Paul Wall, Chamillionaire (aka Houston’s “Mixtape Messiah”), or MC Gary. Rather, the genre is dominated by minor artists looking for a way to kick-start their careers or make a quick buck. As a result, sports-fan rap often flourishes in cities that are beneath the record industry’s radar, where capitalizing on the local team’s playoff run may be the only way to snag some attention. How else to explain that three tributes to the up-and-coming Cincinnati Bengals are now in circulation: “J.U.N.G.L.E. (Bengals 2005)” by Brandon “Blayze” Floyd, “Shake N’ Quake” by Leslie Isaiah Gaines, and Clinton Crawford’s “Who Dey Think Gonna Beat Dem Bengals.” (Floyd and Gaines live in Cincinnati, while Crawford is a Dayton native now living in Atlanta.)
Of the Bengals-loving rappers, Blayze has the most promise, based on such slick rhymes as, “Defense step it up, bring the heat/ We’re tasting a win while they smell defeat.” However, unlike the best sports-fan rappers, he doesn’t name-check specific players. That might be a good business strategy, as it adds a certain timelessness to the music, but it’s a creative decision that leads to more humdrum lyrics.
Drive-time radio listeners afflicted with playoff fever don’t demand top-notch production values and lyrical brilliance. As long as their heroes merit a mention and the opposition gets lyrically humiliated, they can’t get enough (at least until the season is over). Both Houston rappers have simply reworked their hit singles. Chamillionaire subs lines like “They gonna show you how to hit a home run/ Competition don’t really want none” for “I’m a show ‘em how to get the club crunk/ Give ‘em something that’s goin’ rattle that trunk.” Paul Wall goes to the trouble of mentioning every Astros player by name—“What you know about Brad Ausmus and what you know about Jason Lane?/ What you know about Andy Pettite, up on the mound, bringing pain?” Krazy’s 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers anthem “Welcome to Raymond James” takes a similar tack, replacing the lyrics of Jermaine Dupri’s “Welcome to Atlanta” with obscure references that are sure to fire up Tampa natives: “Buccaneers back, breaking teams like dishes/ What you know about Stecker and Jurevicius?
Time is of the essence when celebrating a team’s playoff run; songs can get written, produced, and distributed in a matter of days. Brad “Big Hit Buda” Turner’s “Tha Illini,” written in honor of the 2005 University of Illinois basketball team, was recorded two days before the national semifinals. The song aired on a local radio station the following afternoon. A few days after that it poured out of the public-address system at the Final Four, where fans thrilled to such witticisms as “We ain’t goin’ nowhere/ Like Gene Keady’s hair,” and “The nets in St. Louis, we gonna cut ‘em/ Even the minister will tell you, prayin’ won’t do nuttin’.”
The trouble with rapping about a team is that your career is tied to its success—if they wash out, you’re stuck with crates of unsold CDs. When Melvin Blakely co-wrote “Bad Like the Braves” in 1993, the Atlanta Braves were battling the Giants for the division crown. The record received steady airplay, and CNN even interviewed Blakely about the phenomenon. But when the Braves lost to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, Blakely’s career petered out. DC the Brain Supreme is another Atlantan sports rapper who enjoyed fleeting success. His “Dirty Bird Groove,” a 1998 single inspired by the Atlanta Falcons’ improbable Super Bowl run, got heavy radio play until the Falcons got walloped in Super Bowl XXXIII. In subsequent weeks, the $6.99 maxi-singles became as popular as Sen. Orrin Hatch’s Put Your Arms Around the World. DC the Brain Supreme was one of the lucky ones, though; as one half of Tag Team, he had his royalties from “Whoomp! (There It Is)” to fall back on.
A very lucky few have actually built a semblance of a sports-fan rap career. The trio Cheeseheads With Attitude (C.W.A.) released an entire album (Straight Outta Wisconsin) of Packers-themed raps during the team’s 1996-97 Super Bowl season. Rather than fade away once Green Bay won the Lombardi Trophy, C.W.A. released two more full lengths in the next two years and a 2003 greatest-hits package. The pro-Packers shtick has garnered the group decent sales—50,000 units, by their label’s count. The members still lament the fact, though, that they have yet to meet Brett Favre.