That unfailing source of rap’s lyrical findings,The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive, is able to provide answers where the average rap listener is stumped. Like say you were wondering what rappers think of when they think of ice hockey – if they do at all. As far as names dropped go, Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, is by far the most frequently mentioned player in rap lyrics. But the fact that rappers have also referenced the likes of Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros, Richard Zednick and Chris Pronger hints at a familiarity with the game that may not be solely based on playing video games.
The cool thing about ‘rap metaphors’ (an umbrella term for all sorts of analogies) is that they can establish a connection where there seemingly is none (much like samples musically). So you think rap and hockey have nothing in common? Common the rapper might have felt similarly when he quipped, “I stand out like a nigga on a hockey team,” but he still connected them both with his analogy. 2Pac’s Outlawz, while insisting on the rap = black, hockey = white distinction, drew an even closer comparison, repeatedly making the point that “the streets is black hockey.” Meanwhile MC Serch used the motif to underline the fact that he wasn’t black: “Got crazy game, so no one can stop me / But hey yo – I’m white, I guess my game is hockey.”
Such sociological similes aside, the majority of hip-hop’s ice hockey references fall into three categories: 1) violence, 2) diamonds, 3) the gliding puck symbolizing movement. Some examples derived from OHHLA.com:
1a) “Makin’ arena sites rougher than the hockey fights” (C.L. Smooth)
1b) “My style starts more fights than hockey” (Erick Sermon)
1c) “The exit wound gon’ be the size of a hockey puck” (Lloyd Banks)
2a) “I’ll get you that stuff that Gretzky skate on” (Cam’ron)
2b) “Hockey players pagin’ me to practice on my wrist” (Nelly)
2c) “I ain’t catchin’ the puck but iced out like a goalie” (Nicki Minaj)
3a) “I’m in the SLAB slidin’ off like a hockey puck” (Paul Wall)
3b) “I play it smooth like a hockey puck / If I ain’t writin’ I’m in the room with a stocky slut” (Joell Ortiz)
3c) “Shit outta luck and fucked / designated to self-destruct / knocked around like a hockey puck”(Kool G Rap)
But if hockey is metaphor material to North-American rappers, there have to be NHL and AHL players who listen to hip-hop at home, on their flights, at the gym, etc. Enter Canadian Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins, age 24, jersey number 63, who embraced the fan-given nickname Noseface Killah and subsequently saw himself backed by the Bru-Tang Clan. The joke took on a life of its own when local supplier of unlicensed sports gear the Boston Sports Apparel Company first decided to manufacture Bru-Tang shirts designed by comic book artist J.J. Kirby and then contacted hometown rap luminary Akrobatik to breathe life into the Bru-Tang Clan in the recording booth.
The culmination was a 6-song free EP released in February 2012, when the Bruins were still the reigning Stanley Cup champs, two months before they would lose their first-round playoffs against the Washington Capitals. It stars Akrobatik lending his voice to all Bru-Tang characters, including, but not limited to, Inspectah Czech/Check (David Krejci), Ol’ Dirty Bruin (Tim Thomas) and Lu-God (Milan Lucic).
Making a genuine effort here, Akrobatik patterns lyrics, vocal tone, tempo, diction, etc. after the Wu-Tang clansmen while trying to reframe their raps into a hockey and Bruins context. He does so with remarkable accuracy, not only invariably recalling Inspectah Deck, U-God or Cappadonna, but simultaneously rapping in the various roles of the players, goaltenders, and even head coach Claude Julien (as GZA/Genius). Reinterpreting Wu staples such as “Protect Ya Neck,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and “Triumph” as “Protect Ya’ Net,” “Bru-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing to Puck Wit'” and “Triumph (Game 7),” he creates virtual Boston Bruins anthems commemorating the successful 2010/2011 season.
The songs and verses are all much shorter than the originals while some appearances go missing altogether, but Akrobatik’s condensed versions still include trivia from either world, whether it’s Raekwon mispronouncing ‘stamina’ in “Guillotine (Swordz)” or a tattoo artist misspelling ‘champion’ on Brad Marchand’s upper arm. The left wing gets his own ‘Noseface Killah Anthem’ over Ghostface’s “Fish,” and Akrobatik even manages to connect them through their shared fashion sense (“Bradley, the only man skatin’ on wallabees”). Let’s not forget, by the way, that in the early days of the Wu’s rise to power, Ghost, true to his moniker, systematically hid his face behind a hockey goalie mask…
The EP closes with another Killah combo, the emotional highlight “All That We Got Iz You,” an ode to the fans that recalls the ups and downs Bruins supporters went through over the years:
“To the fans, we know that we been givin’ y’all hell
But in the bottom of your heart you know we always meant well
We was a young start-up franchise up in the mix
Forever recognized as one of the Original Six
Original fans, the older heads know the story
We signed the first black hockey pro, Willie O’Ree
When we won the Cup in 1970 it was heavenly
Bobby Orr statue at North Station for memories
But then the era got dark
Other crews came up the ranks and started to make marks
In the stands in New York a fight broke out
In the finals with the Oilers the lights went out
We beg your pardon
if you had obstructed vision at the Garden
We had to shut it down in ’95, it was hard then
Break-ups to make-ups with Jeremy Jacobs
He had to show and prove to move y’all to wake up
You hated when we traded Ray Bourque to Colorado, guys
We had to let him get his chip, we do apologize
And you was heated when we let go of Joey Thornton
But at the time the future was more important
And then the Bru appeared and the mysery was shortened
I put that on my post-season beard I be sportin’
Yeah, we had that slip-up against the Flyers
but redeemed ourselves the very next year, you can’t deny us
And what did that do for you and the Bru?
We got our first Stanley Cup since ’72”
“Enter Tha 63 Chambahs” is in many ways unique. You’d be hard pressed to name another sport, another team, another athlete who have a similar project dedicated to them. I doesn’t necessarily appeal to die-hard Wu-Tang or Bruins followers (although to people who happen to be both, it should be the ultimate fan fantasy), but it’s undeniably a testament to rap’s unlimited possibilities. In less experienced hands it likely would have been overly amateurish, but Akrobatik has the skills needed to add a small but noteworthy chapter to Boston’s rich sports history. Sadly, after bigotry reared its ugly head when a black player for the Capitals eliminated the Bruins last April, Akrobatik’s relationship with hockey and his hometeam cooled off. Personally I am of the opinion that true fans are expected to go through thick and thin with their team, but disappointment is understandable when someone makes such a strong case for rap and hockey being distant relatives, an unlikely but all the more compelling analogy for racial harmony.
Be that as it may, for the hockey slash rap fans currently singing the lock-out blues, if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and “Enter Tha 63 Chambahs.”