The recollection of this quote could be a combination of two memories. For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to them as one.
It was 1999. I was a ninth grader, still in the acclimation process to my family’s move to Long Island one year prior. I finished middle school in Queens and high school was my first social experience in Nassau County. In spite of an eight mile distance between my former and new residences, they were two different worlds and it was quite a culture shock.
One evening, I sat in the passenger seat of my father’s car as he drove from our new home to our old neighborhood. Out of nowhere, I told my dad “Before I graduate [from high school], I’m gonna put out a tape of my own music and sell (Note: I can’t help but laugh at my now-ancient ambitions of selling music on a cassette tape). Something mentioned struck a chord with my dad and prompted him to give me some words that changed my life.
While idle at a red light on the corner of Linden and Francis Lewis Boulevards, my old man paused. With conviction, he said “If you’re going to do something, you have to do it 100%. Whatever it is you want to do, there are a million people who don’t just want to do it too, they’re doing it and doing it at 100%. If you want to play basketball, there are a bunch of basketball players who spend all day, every day working on their game. Kobe practices eight hours a day in the offseason. If it’s basketball-or a music producer-you have to do it 100%.” That night, I put basketball down and left it in Queens.
The timbre of my father’s voice changed when he said “or a music producer.” I knew it was a dog whistle to what he knew I was in my heart. For a very long time, my father lamented and did almost everything he could to convince me out of a life in the music business; in my early teens, I thought he was. As I’ve learned more about my father, his words of discouragement were a test. Music was his life, calling, and something he’d fallen in love with decades before he knew I would exist; he took it seriously. Somewhere between the wariness of its highs, lows, ebbs, flows, and a desire to want better for his son, he had to see if I was for real or if it was for play.
A couple of months later, he gave me his old four track recorder and I blew through 90-minute cassette tapes. He was on tour for the summer and said “You can make beats in my studio,” only to return home and his computer filled-to the brim-with music I created–all while working a full-time summer job and daily football practices. The next step was to create my own space in my bedroom; I had an EP’s worth of music in a few months and sold copies in school. My parents agreed too much noise blared from my room-nextdoor to theirs-and moved me to the attic where I rolled out of bed and cranked out music. While my peers were concerned about the day-to-day goings on we all remember about high school, I was working. Hell, on senior cut day, I didn’t hang out with anyone; I spent the whole day in my studio.
I took this same approach with writing. I didn’t have a job and was passed over in every job interview. I’d go home and write, completely undeterred by the constant rejection, dedicated to put 2,000 words to a page, daily. This morning, Facebook reminded me how excited I was an article written about me was a top five Google search for the phrase “single black father.” Within a few months, the top five was all articles written by or about I and it remained for years. My father probably doesn’t remember our conversation at all; but I’ve told my nephew “Kobe practices eight hours a day in the offseason” on several occasions.
I reluctantly became my nephew’s basketball coach four years ago. One glimpse of his head coach dribble, a decided “Aight, let take these reins.” My daughter, Cydney wanted to play and I am her team’s coach. I’ve relearned to love the game I one obsessed over. It gives me joy to watch-and yell at-my seventh and eighth grade boys run everyone out of the gym. However, my third through fifth grade girls have my heart.
On the afternoon of January 26, 2020, Cydney and I returned home, high off of our win over an opponent team they couldn’t beat all season. Before my work loaded on my computers, I received a text message about the death of Kobe Bryant. Within an hour, I learned his thirteen year old daughter, Gianna, was on the helicopter and didn’t survive. An hour later, I read they were on their way to Gigi’s basketball game, Kobe was her coach, and they were accompanied by his daughter’s teammates and parents.
My heart broke because I am a widowed father to my little girl. These tragic events happened as I shared my love of basketball with my love; a sentiment those who met their untimely demise could relate to. I thanked God for the families and for my safe arrival home as some other words from my during my teenage years rang in my head: every time you get behind the [steering] wheel, you are operating a loaded gun.
I have heard many fathers reel over last Sunday’s events because their afternoons began as chauffeurs, fans and onlookers, and coaches of their children to basketball games. I guess it is poetic justice the reference to the Black Mamba was a reference from my dad played on a constant loop in my mind.
I have to end this because in the same room I once ransacked to make beats in my dad’s studio is now my work space…I owe my dad some drums for a track he produced.