Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has a serious NBA problem, but it has nothing to do with the National Basketball Association. No, Morant has a YoungBoy Never Broke Again – aka NBA YoungBoy – problem.
A recent video of Morant in a Denver nightclub captures him singing YoungBoy’s song “Bring 'Em Out” while showing off the three “Gs” of the “Thug Life” starter pack: golds, grills, and guns. Some people may not care for Morant’s taste in chains and dental enhancements, but it was his decision to brandish a firearm on Instagram Live that got him in hot water with the Grizzlies and Colorado authorities. His behavior in the club, combined with other bad decisions he has reportedly made off the court, led his team to suspend the All-Star guard indefinitely.
The outpouring of encouragement and support Morant has received from former players, analysts, and cultural commentators reflects their concern for a young man they know is on the verge of destroying his personal life and professional career.
Morant and YoungBoy are both rich, 23-year-old men from the South. That is where most of their similarities end. Morant was raised by two married parents in a home where both his mother and father nurtured his athletic gifts. Morant is the father of one child with his girlfriend, Kadre Dixon.
YoungBoy’s mother left him to be raised by his grandmother. His father was sentenced to 55 years in prison for an armed robbery. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade, and as of 2022, he is alleged to be the father of at least nine children by several women, including a son by Floyd Mayweather’s daughter, Yaya.
The opening of YoungBoy’s “Bring 'Em Out” video shows a shirtless toddler with several large chains, a diamond-studded watch, and a wad of cash. It is a perfect distillation of the problem facing young black men across the country.
No group has had more influence on shaping the boundaries of black masculinity over the past 30 years than the young men who took hip-hop from an art form to a global phenomenon. Unfortunately, what they have created is a culture characterized by materialism, consumerism, violence, drug use, and irresponsible sexual behavior.
The fans, academics, corporations, and journalists who think you can promote rap music while rejecting the excesses of hip-hop culture are living a fantasy. The NBA is finding this out the hard way. The league recruits rappers to perform at games and pumps rap music through the stadium speakers. It seems to believe it is fine promoting rappers like YoungBoy or 21 Savage as long as players don’t try to mimic their behavior. The same people who constantly claim that “representation matters” when it comes to recruiting more black doctors and lawyers suddenly forget their “kids want to be what they see” mantra when it comes to hip-hop.
The siren song of street life, popularized and glamorized in hip-hop culture, exerts a gravitational pull on black boys across the country, whether they grow up poor in a big city or middle class in the suburbs. It makes boys who were raised like the Cosby kids mimic the style of dress, language, mannerisms, and behavior of gang members.
A common response to this observation is that hip-hop record sales are driven by white consumers. I’ve heard this claim for years, and even if it is true, it is largely irrelevant. For young white men in the suburbs, rap is music to be enjoyed and rappers are tour guides to the challenges of street life. White teens who try to mimic the speech patterns, behaviors, and fashion choices of their favorite artists have been called “wiggers,” “wankstas,” “wegroes,” and “wannabes” for decades. These are all different ways of saying they are “acting black.”
But for young black men, regardless of where they grow up or how they are raised, hip-hop is a lifestyle that fits like a bespoke suit. No rapper or athlete in the past 30 years has had his racial authenticity questioned for talking about his gang ties, drug sales, or sexual exploits. The BET Awards have welcomed shooters, pimps, drug kingpins, and deadbeat dads with no hesitation. This doesn’t mean hip-hop has no standards. Being on record as a Trump supporter will earn any person in hip-hop the cultural death penalty.
Politics aside, young men who reject the hip-hop archetype can expect to be criticized and ostracized. The video of actor Michael B. Jordan during a "Creed III" red carpet interview is a perfect example. Jordan stopped to speak with a media personality and "Love & Hip Hop" cast member named Lore’l. She mentioned that they attended the same school as children, and he reminded her that she once called him “corny.” She denied this charge but admitted her classmates made fun of him because of his name and the fact that he brought head shots to school.
It was a somewhat playful interaction, until the interviewer concluded by saying, “Well, you’re not corny any more.”
Most viewers had no problem with how Jordan handled the interaction. Joe Budden, a rapper and former "Love & Hip Hop" star cast member did. He called Jordan “corny” for how he handled the interaction. Perhaps Budden would have related more to Jordan if he called the woman a “b*tch,” which is unfortunately the most common synonym for “woman” in the rap genre.
A world that glamorizes NBA YoungBoy will inevitably pressure boys who grew up like Ja Morant and Michael B. Jordan to act like gangsters, even if they were raised to be gentlemen.
This is the reason comedian Paul Mooney felt comfortable saying that white people love Wayne Brady because “he makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.” That joke was part of a skit on Dave Chappelle’s Comedy Central show in the early 2000s. Chappelle followed that up with askit in which Brady got his “black card” back.
By doing a drive-by shooting and collecting money from prostitutes who were working the streets for him. It was a popular skit, but the choice of activities used to prove Brady’s racial authenticity was telling.
The glorification of violence in rap music is deeply embedded in the art form and culture. It is a feature, not a bug. At 13% of the population and about 50% of murder victims, the homicide rate for black Americans is about seven times higher than the rate for white Americans. Rappers are not immune to this reality.
Sports world commentators are begging Ja Morant to leave that lifestyle alone because they understand where it leads. But it remains to be seen whether the commentators at ESPN, Fox Sports, or any other platform are willing to speak out against the industry promoting this culture in order to give the black boys who don’t have Morant’s talent a little room to just be kids. Doing so would mean a lot of people—including rappers, DJs, producers, and executives—would lose money. That fact is at the heart of this problem.If there is one lesson the past 30 years of commercial rap have taught me, it’s that the main color that matters to artists willing to say and do anything to a catchy beat is not black – it’s green.