"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.
I wish that this story had more meaning than it does, that it was something beyond itself—a parable about life or an extended metaphor about existing or, dare to dream, a parable about life that’s really an extended metaphor about existing. It is not though. It is simply a thing that happened. Because sometimes that’s all things are.
The boys, my boys, they are not particularly aggressive children. Now, they are not above wrestling with one another, and they are certainly not above blindside karate kicks, but those particular acts are almost always delivered without malice. It’s just their nature.
For example, at the beginning of football season, I taught the boys how to tackle. I don’t imagine they’ll ever play football, but still, we were probably supposed to be practicing reading or something and FUCK THAT. Front room football is WAY more interesting than whatever bear it is that needs to learn whatever sham life lesson the book is written around. So, the two were swapping in and out as tackling dummies and each time one would hit the other (they are EXCELLENT tacklers, BTW: head up, shoulder into the opponent’s midsection, arms wrapping up and pulling down), the tackler would hit and yank the tacklee to the floor, then, without fail, laugh and nuzzle him with his nose, because I guess that’s what they think J.J. Watt does.
Anyway, the point: They would always much rather be funny than fierce, which is why what happened recently was so strange.
The boys and I, we play all sorts of silly, dumb little games that help them practice being boys. One of the things we do (and one of the things they seem to simultaneously like and dislike at the same time) is sparring. Generally, it’s me versus either of them, which is more treacherous than I’d like to admit—for being half my size, those little fuckers hit HARD. It’s gotten to the point where I have to wear headgear too, lest I’ll end up with a proper shiner and in a foul mood.
My favorite unfavorite moment: Boy A and I were sparring and, because I’m so amazing, I attempted this silly up and under move. Boy A immediately noticed my head go down, calculated the angles, then delivered a brutal knee right to the side of my face that legitimately hurt. I pretended like my phone was ringing and left the room so he wouldn’t see me wince. He quickly responded, “That’s why you don’t put your head down, daddy.” Rotten little bastard.
Anyway anyway, the boys, they’re both good against me, so I wanted to see if they’d be good against each other, so I had them spar with each other.
In the beginning, they had their little gloves on and they were just sort of tinking at one another, laughing and being happy children. But then Boy B accidentally caught A with a stiff jab as A walked towards him and shit got serious. A, for all of his joviality, has a tremendous temper, and is capable of going absolutely insane when he’s angry (he nearly mauled a kid during Tae Kwon Do one day because he felt like the other boy was being a bit too forward with his side kicks). So when he got popped, he went into Incredible Hulk mode. He stammered back, processed what had happened, allowed a split second for the lava to reach his chest, then exploded.
He charged in on B, strategy abandoned, and attempted to put a hole in his forehead. B absorbed the hits (he absolutely knew what was going to happen as soon as A’s eyes turned black) and waited for me to stop the action. I didn’t. The only assistance I offered was a very insightful, “Protect your face, because he’s trying to murder you.”
Now B, at the moment, he’s the beta child of the two. He defers to A for everything. They’ll switch roles every so often, but for the last couple months it’s been A then B. And for his entire life, he has always been the less tenacious one. But where A’s strength is in his passion, B’s is in his ability to memorize and replicate nearly any set of athletic movements shown to him. His jumper is already Ray Allen-esque, he throws a baseball like Cy Young and his football passes are tight and accurate. So after absorbing a couple of haymakers from A, he recalled his training. It was like watching a computer turn on.
His hands went up to his cheekbones, he tucked his chin away into his chest, hunched his shoulders up a bit, then steadied himself. A might as well have been trying to punch his way into a bank safe. B took one step back, slid to his left (he is a southpaw, which forever stymies A), delivered two crisp right hand jabs to A’s left eyeball before A even noticed he’d moved, then unloaded a left cross that recalibrated his existence.
The blow knocked A off balance. He hit the ground for all of .1 seconds before he was back charging in, angrier than angry. Boy B began to replay the series again. And he dropped A again. And A got back up again. I imagine they’d still be sparring if I hadn’t stopped them.
I peeled them apart, removed their head gear and gloves, patted them on their sweaty heads, then sat them down. I tried to insta-formulate a speech to give them. But it wasn’t necessary.
As soon as their gear was off, it was like nothing had happened.
They smiled and touched each others hand and then that was it. Match over.
I said, “Good job, boys. You have big Serrano hearts.”
Boy A just nodded.
And Boy B said, “Daddy, I have to go poop.”
And that was that.
1. Pat Gallo, "Don't Play Games," featuring DMX
I will forever argue DMX’s greatness. I mean, the man made “Jingle Bells” sound like the greatest song of all. He is a human hurricane.
2. Mayalino, "Godfather Business," featuring Scarface
Scarface is always infuriating. He just is. But no matter how frustrating his behavior is, it doesn’t take much more than from him to descend down from the heavens for a verse or two before all is forgiven. He’s like an abusive boyfriend with a really great smile. Or something. I don’t know. The guy is an all-timer, is what I’m saying.
3. Chief Keef, "Hate Bein' Sober," featuring 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa
Somehow, despite his best attributes being 1. His ability to appear to give zero fucks, and 2. His mush-mouthedness, Chief Keef is turning into an undeniable talent.
4. Game, "Blood of Christ"
Game’s new album is proper. Get it. I mean, this isn’t even one of the songs that got included.
5. Turk, "Reunited Wit Da Block," featuring Gudda Gudda
This sounds like a song that belongs on a CD that has a cover with a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated items photoshopped together, which is maybe the highest praise I can give anything. (If none of that makes any sense to you, you should definitely listen to more southern rap.)
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.