"Diamonds & Wood" is an ongoing series in which music critic Shea Serrano breaks down the 5 hip-hop tracks you need to hear this week.
The most consequential basketball of my entire life was played when I was 20-years-old. It was played close to midnight and near Christmas at an empty outdoor court on one of Jupiter's moons (in San Antonio, actually). It was against my cousin who, for the rest of this space here, will be referred to as THE YOUNG GOD.
THE YOUNG GOD, I idolized him growing up. I don't have any brothers of my own and I was the oldest kid in my immediate family and the oldest kid even if you counted all of the kids that my uncles on my mom's side had, which is who we grew up with, so mostly all of them were looking at me. THE YOUNG GOD was one of my dad's sister's kids. They lived on the street next to us but still we only saw them sparingly (his parents and my parents got into a big fight one holiday season when we were pretty young, so they mostly stayed away from each other after that). THE YOUNG GOD, he was older than me and taller than me and cooler than me and had better hair than me and was better at jumping over fences than me and was better at basketball than me and basically better at being alive than me. The only thing I had was being smarter than him, and being smart is totally fucking useless against a guy that can rise and drain threes from half court at will.
THE YOUNG GOD came to live with us for a bit when I was in 8th grade. His home life wasn't all that stable and my parents were hella strict, so he thought if he came and lived with us he'd have a better shot at not going to prison. He made it all of two months before he decided he preferred the lawlessness of his house to the oppression of my mother and father's regime. During those days together, we played basketball every single day that the sun was out. We probably played 40,000 games. I never won one. If I ever happened to even get close, he'd spend the next 90 games making sure I didn't score more than three or four points. It was a goddamn nightmare, and maybe the most fun time of my young life.
Despite our assertion that we'd push each other to earn roster spots on the San Antonio Spurs' lineup card, after he moved out, we didn't get to see each other too much. Our lives headed in different directions. Eventually, I graduated high school and left the city to go to college. He dropped out of high school and stayed living with his parents. The quicksand of south San Antonio was, at the time, too strong for his legs. (He later graduated and joined the military and got married and became the man that I'd always imagined him to be, which made me especially happy to hear.)
I always tried to touch rings with him when I visited home from college, but mostly I missed him. It wasn't until Christmas break 2001 that I we were able to link up. I'm going to skip the entirety of the reunion and jump ahead to our game because fuck you I don't have to explain anything to you.
THE YOUNG GOD and I found ourselves at an empty basketball court close to midnight and near Christmas on one of Jupiter's moons. He was as good as I'd remembered him to be: an admirable ball handler, a superheroic jumpshooter, an unstoppable post player and comically long-armed and nimble on defense. I was proud that he'd not let his skill diminish because I was ready to tear his basketball windpipe from his basketball throat that basketball night.
The way that the basketball court system worked at the college where I went was that there were five courts lined up side by side in the athletic facility. At one end was the worst players—the guys and women that were there because haha wouldn't it be funny for us to play basketball—and at the other end was where all of the players on the college team ruled. The better you were, the further down the line of courts you were picked to play. It took me playing every single day for one and half years before I was able to get on the court with the college players. I still remember the first time someone picked me to play with his team over there. I did a pretty great job of not letting anyone see my boner.
So, after spending most of my time playing against college players, I was ready for THE YOUNG GOD's assault. We played to 21. I ended up winning (21-17) on a completely ludicrous fall away shot that I'd tossed up into the cosmos only hoping for it to hit the backboard, so I could maybe chase down the rebound and restart my offense. When it fell through the hoop, neither he nor I could believe it. Neither of us really said anything, we just gathered the ball and got in the car and went home. If Twitter had been around then I'd have been completely insufferable and intolerable.
Were I to guess, I'd assume THE YOUNG GOD probably doesn't even remember that game. I do. I'm certain I always will. It was the first time in my adult life that I knew what it was to feel invincible.
1-5. Propain, Ridin' Slab
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This is a mixtape called Ridin' Slab.It's from a guy named Propain, a currently not-that-famous rapper that I'm a very big fan of. If you're not going to listen to the entire thing (which you absolutely should), then I'd point you towards "All Day", which features Z-Ro, "Reverse", which unwinds itself in reversed chunks of time like that movie Memento, "Father's Day", which'll make you cry infinity tears, "Louder", which features a sparkplug named Doughbeezy, or "Two Rounds", which features Rich Homie Quan doing his very best Future impression. But just listen to the entire thing.
Shea Serrano is a writer living in Houston, TX. His work has appeared in the Houston Press, LA Weekly, Village Voice, XXL, The Source, Grantland and more. You can follow him on Twitter here.