The Cavaliers are strangely reminiscent of Outkast's mind-blowingly great 1998 album Aquemini. The album explores human nature, resilience, relationships, and all the things you'd hope a good album would cover. More importantly, there are a ton of ways that the lyrics/themes/song-titles apply perfectly to this year's Cavs team. Allow me to explain a few.
The album starts with a simple mantra of a song. It's just over 1:00 long and calmly, serenely repeats "hold on...be strong." This is perfect for the team that has endured the most media scrutiny (and 2nd most media coverage behind Golden State) this season. These guys have more stories made out of nothing than I've never seen before, including with the Heatles.
In the most popular song on the album, Rosa Parks, Andre 3000's verse is one of my favorite verses of all time. He starts with "I met a gypsy and she hit me to some life-game. To stimulate and activate the left and right brain. Said 'baby boy, you only funky as ya last cut. You focus on the past ya ass will be a has-what.'"
Just like Dre, the Cavs can't focus on the past. They can't look at last year and think they're breezing to the Finals again. They can't look at last year and think they can constantly flip the switch on and off. Maybe even more pertinent, they can't look at what's happened this season and worry about how they didn't play very well against the top-teams in the East. They simply have to go about their business and get things done. They have to be themselves and do what they're capable of doing.
The album cuts to "Skew it on the Bar B," which is fantastic, and follows that with the title-track, Aquemini. Aquemini is the symbol of a Cavs team that's clicking. Big Boi and Andre make the whole song sound effortless and relaxed. The beat is soft, the tune is slow, but the lyrics come fast. It's just like what the Ty Lue offense is supposed to be: controlled, lots of movement, but not necessarily hurrying shots. They take their time. Bonus points on this one because each rapper gets two verses and the 2nd from each of them is devastating. Andre uses one sound to rhyme an entire verse, using 24 words on that sound. This is the Cavs blowing open a game by playing smart basketball and hitting consecutive threes. Or maybe it's just Delly being Delly.
Track 6: Synthesizer. A song exclusively about "have we taken things too far?" Spoken word portions ask things like "Einstein or Frankenstein? Are we digging into new ground or digging our own graves?" This is the story of Kevin Love. Everyone is asking if we outdid ourselves as a team and bit off more than we could chew by bringing him into the mix. Can Kevin Love do this? Can the Cavs do this with Kevin Love? Does Kevin Love wish he was just back in Minnesota where nobody paid attention to him outside of All Star weekend? Is it possible for a star player to contribute on a not-star level?
Tracks 7-10 are just great songs. Lyrics apply to the team, but maybe just listen to these few songs in silence. The story of Sasha Thumper gets me emotional every time.
Spottieottiedopaliscious...the horns. It's beautiful, it's relaxing, it's a JR Smith stutter step, spin, step-back three that doesn't even touch the rim.
The whole reason I had this idea to merge Aquemini and the Cavaliers was from listening to the penultimate track, Liberation.
It's Outkast plus CeeLo, Erykah Badu, and Big Rube. It's damn near 9 minutes long. The song is all about escaping what everyone wants you to be and becoming what you want to be. The first line is "there's a fine line between love and hate..." The starting-hook (from Andre) repeats "can't worry bout what another n*gga think, that's liberation and baby I want it." Isn't that what we want for the Cavs? Stop worrying about the fallout of everything: Yes, the media will crush you if you lose early, but that's not the reason to win. The reason to win is because your teammates and conscience will crush you if you lose early. Simply put, can't worry about what anyone else thinks.
But there's more:
Verse 1, Big Boi: "My relationship with my folks is give and take, and I done took so much, not giving my glory." Teamwork, people. It's give and take. That's how anyone succeeds.
Verse 2, CeeLo: "I sacrifice every breath I breathe. To make you believe, I'd give my life away." Teamwork, people. Give up yourself and you get the greater good - and you get your teammates to believe. If this isn't a metaphor for a team winning together, I don't know what is. This song is starting to feel like the Warriors' theme song.
Verse 3, Erykah Badu: "Folk in your face you're a superstar, n*ggas hang around 'cause of who you are. Get a lot of love 'cause of what you got - they say they happy for you but they really not." People are following this team so closely because it's a story. They're following this team because it's got star-power, and what's more fun than seeing star-power fail? Wasn't the best season in NBA history the year that the Wade/Bosh/James Heat lost the title to Dallas? Didn't that just make the world seem like a good place? People don't necessarily want to see the Cavs lose, but they're not going to be overly happy for Irving/Love/James if they win the title. That's life. Shake that load off.
There are over 2 minutes of instrumental music at the end of this song. It's time to think about what you've done and what you've felt. These two minutes are the final days of the NBA season in preparation for the playoffs. The music picks up a bit and gets a little louder; the pieces of the music begin to layer on top of each other. The chaos of a 24 second possession. The scrambling of a defense to cover after a pump-fake on a three leaves everyone rotating to the open man. Then things quiet down for the final 30 seconds, readying you for what's next. But what is next? Is it the playoffs? Is it a title?
Or is it the the hardest track on the album, Chonkyfire? This song closes with the full-audio of when Outkast won the BET Award for best newcomers and got booed onstage. This song is their F-You song. After that award, Outkast dropped two monstrous albums that landed in Rolling Stone's top 500 albums of all time. This closing track reminds people that they had serious doubters and they chose to silence those doubters by putting out excellent music.
Chonkyfire can be that retaliation - or that vindication - for the Cavs. It's a tough road, but just like Outkast, Cleveland is loaded with talent.