Take it from the top

Van Wagenen mentioned "free agent." Even if not compared with the terms "owner" or "trade," which of course remain thick with history as they relate to colored men and labor, "free agent" is a dangling totem finally snatched, a self-given name wrought in fat platinum cursive and draped nonchalantly around a neck of one's own. As Drake raps: "Just as a reminder to myself, I wear every single chain, even when I'm in the house." Free. Agency. One who doesn't have any commitments to restrict his or her actions. The capacity of a person to act in the world as one wishes. Who better than the shark poet born Shawn Carter to decode jargon taken for granted? Who better than a reformed dope dealer to demand value? It seems Jay Z sees in "free agent" a tiny verse as glorious as Baldwin: "Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be."

Drake's precision selfness -- his absolute comfort with being both "biracial" and "black," pop and hip-hop, corny and cool -- is made possible by the hip-hop rights era, including the shooting deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., of the 1980s and 1990s. Spoonie Gee and Eazy-E and Chuck D and Jay Z didn't pave the way as much as create a world for Drake and J. Cole and Nicki Minaj and Wale. Allen Iverson came up through the earthquakes of Tupac and Wu-Tang, Timbaland and Clipse and in turn laid out for the likes of Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin and Dame Lillard a freedom to not be him. Rap allows Griffin his dryly sincere irony, Westbrook his avant-garde game-day looks. James Harden's beard should send a quarterly thank-you note.

Combine all this with how endorsement deals are now more of the matrix than they used to be. People like Drake and Blake and LeBron and Jay Z aren't endorsing brands; they're helping brands exist via the stars' stated or assumed core beliefs and surrounding aura. This is possible now because hip-hop's influence is at last a true and not merely an ancillary currency. It's not just the Grammys, and it's not just the games -- life itself is to be touchdowned and home-runned, slam-dunked and Spotified.

The game is always on. And it's to be won.

"WE'RE INFLUENTIAL TO athletes," USC Trojans fan Snoop Dogg said last spring about himself and his musical colleagues. "And we're very business-minded and savvy. So what better way to do, than our way?"

His way is fist-bumping with Secretary of State John Kerry at the Kennedy Center Honors. It's training his son, Cordell Broadus, a wide receiver deciding among scholarship offers from Notre Dame, UCLA, USC, Washington and more. Cordell himself dubs his highlight recruiting video with self-spouted, original lyrics. Snoop's Youth Football League (established 2005) counts the Denver Broncos' Ronnie Hillman as an alum. "There's a lot of kids who come out of my league who are venturing off into the NFL ... " Snoop said to AOL's Paul Cantor in April of last year. "They're going to need direction ... so that may be a field that I want to venture in."

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