MC Harvey may be the only rap star who plays football to a decent standard but there are plenty of players who would love to move the other way, as Phillip Mlynar explains
Taking a hiatus from his role as one of the rappers that make up the So Solid Crew, MC Harvey – or simply “Harvey” to his new team-mates – now spends his Saturdays as left-back for AFC Wimbledon. Debuting in a 3-0 victory at Chipstead, Harvey proved to be a defender with an eye for a goal and struck up a promising understanding with Ryan Gray down the left. He also appears just as pleased with the team’s form as any of his peers who, as is usual in the Combined Counties League, don’t have a sideline in Top of the Pops appearances. “The music thing was always really just a hobby in one respect,” says Harvey who was once on Chelsea’s books. “It was fun, especially when we had top-ten hits and performed at the Brits, but I’ve always loved football first. And now I’m back playing with some old mates and I’m loving it.”
Which is all fine and dandy as a quirky news item, except Harvey’s fusing of football and rap music is indicative of the growing influence of hip-hop values in today’s game. Examples are plentiful: the hapless player who at the height of the “spit-roasting” allegations – “running a train” in rap lingo – appeared on the front of a tabloid clad in a top pledging his allegiance to hip-hop; the professed love of rap music of young black players such as Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Yet it’s Nicolas Anelka who seems to have internalised the values of a cliched hip-hop way of life more than any other.
Deemed egotistical from day one (a vital trait in any half-decent rapper), Anelka has deejayed in nightclubs and thinks nothing of being photographed with one leg of his trousers rolled up to half-mast posing with a foreign sports car, looking for all the world like an extra in an LL Cool J video. But it is in his demeanour that the influence rings truest.
“People in France are jealous. It appears being young, black, coming from the housing blocks and driving a Ferrari is not looked on well,” he recently lamented in terms that, if recited in rhyming couplets, could have come straight out of any number of rap songs bemoaning the criticism of “playa haters”. Anelka’s hip-hop counterpart is Beyoncé’s future husband, Jay-Z, the multi-platinum selling rapper who openly flaunts his disdain for the very art that pays his wage.
Both are undeniably talented, but suffer from chronic inconsistency as they veer from the sublime to the apathetic via a simple shrug of the shoulders. Yet where Jay-Z revels in proclaiming his disdain for the art that pays his rent (“I thought I told you dudes I’m not a rapper...” he’s boasted many a time), for those brought up on the traditional values of hard work, loyalty and putting the team’s welfare before the individual, Anelka comes off as a bad egg, more in love with the money than the football. (In comparison, it’s presumably their good team ethic and willingness to chase lost causes that allow Roy Keane and Michael Owen to avoid being seen as money-mad mercenaries when their contract renegotiations take place.)
More disturbingly, the depiction of many young black players as surly suggests a subtle form of discrimination running through the game. While no one is throwing bananas at Anelka, even after scoring a brace he’ll often be criticised for not showing enough enthusiasm in pursuing the third and when things go bad he’ll be tagged as having a chip on his shoulder and a problem with his attitude (both traits part of the mainstream perception of the average US rap figure).
Likewise, both Anelka and Jay-Z can buy as many fancy cars as they want but when the latter attempted to purchase a penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s Tribeca district he was turned down for being “unsuitable”. It seems there are still some things that a bulging bank balance and professional success can’t buy.
Similarly, while Wayne Rooney is rumoured to be infatuated with the white-bred pop stylings of Robbie Williams and Atomic Kitten, his team-mate Kevin Campbell has formulated an altogether more ghetto fabulous way to while away the retirement years. Not for him the undignified detour down the lower leagues, a graceful falling into running a country pub or – heaven forbid – accumulating some FA coaching badges before learning how to take charge of a mid-table Premiership club. No, the man who once waited backstage for a few hours with pal Andrew Cole to play chess with members of New York’s Wu-Tang Clan rap collective has earmarked up to £5 million to start his own 2 Wikid Records. (A re-release of Cole’s 1999 rap effort Outstanding is yet to be confirmed.) Sensing that it was the notoriety of a bad-boy persona that helped take Eminem’s protégé 50 Cent to point of sale at Sainsburys, our Kev has snapped up Britain’s own self-styled singing gangsta – Mark Morrison (he of Return of the Mack number one hit and a jail term after paying someone else to take his community service).
It’s all a far cry from Gazza “humorously” rapping with Lindisfarne. Just as Gazza’s international career effectively came to an end at Euro 96, so did Stuart Pearce’s reign of terror over the England dressing-room music box as a new generation replaced punk and stadium rock with the one-upmanship, blatant materialism and braggadocio stylings of rap.
And Sir Alex may strive to rule via iron discipline over at Manchester United, but come the club Christmas party and there’s Ryan Giggs delighting all with his yearly rap while Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt presumably look on in bewilderment during the now annual breakdance tournament. (It’s not known whether they still dance to Outstanding...)
But what would you really expect from a club where David Beckham spent his formative years? It’s not just what Spike Lee would term a “black thing”. Just like the demographic make-up of gangsta rap punters in the UK – mainly middle-class kids from the suburbs – many a white player has signed up, too. Becks is often to be found sporting bandanas, oversized trousers and sneakers worn but once (as, apparently, his rap idols do), Becks owns two dogs named Puffy and Snoop (not, alas, in honour of Charles Schulz’s famed beagle) and his wife is the female face of Roc-A-Wear, the latest in shoddily-stitched hip-hop clothing lines. That just happens to be part owned by Jay-Z. Who’s also making moves to purchase the New Jersey Nets basketball team. And move them to Brooklyn. Odds on Brooklyn Beckham making his debut for a football team relocated from Manchester to Manhattan thanks to a hip-hop mogul? Long. But for now, the smart money says the music blaring out of Wimbledon AFC’s dressing room these days is more 50 Cent than Oasis.
From WSC 204 February 2004. What was happening this month