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Wednesday, 19 December 2012


The Chicago Crossover Connection.


"You love to hear the story again and again, about these young brothers from the city of wind"-Common.

Two men from the Windy City believed they could fly

Let's take it back. There's nothing like nostalgia. Back in time. Back across the pond from America to an 11 year old boy whose American dreams where oceans of time and opportunities away in the mid nineties of his childhood and the golden era. There he is with a cassette tape in the deck of his boombox waiting for his favorite song to come on the radio again. "I just don't know she's just got that vibe" the public announcement says as he hits record, hoping that the radio D.J. wont talk over the end of his perfectly captured song. Late that same night in a screwdriver panic the reels of the tape are turned frantically round after the overplayed tape gets chewed up in the deck. Not a creature is stirring, there is only the silence of this kid not trying to wake his parents and the glow of the television in our company. But boy does it glow. It may be the middle of the night in England, but in America it's primetime and All-Star weekend for this sport of basketball that seems as theatrical as it is exciting. With volume muted, emphatic player announcements, a dominating figure of assured, silent swagger and legendary legacy making greatness runs across the screen and court. A number 23 is blazed across his chest. Who is this guy? What is this game? In a mid-nineties, mid-February this kid fell in love with the sport of basketball.

Fast forward almost fifteen years and this mid-twenties man is back in the U.S.A. like he was Springsteen born there. Traveling and living the dream his childhood and adolescence promised. Finally after all this time he gets to visit Chicago, climb the Willis Tower, see the city and go back once more less than a year later. Even before his second visit to the second city, this place feels fondly familiar from the t-shirts with Bulls on to the radios and what they play all day. It reminds him of a childhood time. Destiny, where he was meant to be. A place that showed him just what life, the world and dreams are made of. What he always wanted. They say there's nothing like your first love. This kid fell in love with the game of basketball and the man that dominated it. This man fell in love with urban soul and the sounds ruled by the R in R&B. Two men that not only defined the good old decade days of the nineties but also represented the Windy City of Chicago and put this major American market that some see behind New York and Los Angeles on all sorts of maps.

Before Kanye West showed in the new millennium that Chicago, Common and Twista where a major force in music someone else carried the ghetto blasting torch. Before Chicago showed it was the true Gotham City for Christopher Nolan's Batman, and the late, great Heath Ledger's Joker and Christian Bale's Bat duked it out on the same road that 'The Untouchables' made iconic, someone in crisp, collectible sneakers ran the streets, like that jumpman commercial across the rising bridge over the legendary Lake Michigan. Before Derrick Rose and the changing of the guard gave the Bulls and this city it's new hope and charge, going West like Kanye in the middle of America there was a man who cemented his status across the whole world like he did outside the United Centre in the concrete immortality of a statue. Before 'The Chicago Fire' and 'The Chicago Code' hit the screens, two men dominated the tube, like Clooney's 'E.R.' or the noisy, clanging, sweeping of the overground L trains did the city. Just like Snoop and Dre, Magic and Kareem and Shaq and Kobe did for Los Angeles, or De Niro and everyone else did for New York, two men did for Chicago. Just like stars of 'Philadelphia' Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks did for movies that decade, these men did for music and sports in the 1990's.

One man followed in the footsteps of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Al Green and Stevie Wonder. The other Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, David Thompson and Magic Johnson. One would pave the way for Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The other Usher, Ne-Yo and Tyrese to go along with many more inspired by both men. A legion of followers that would make Twitter look like bird seed. These two men of course being Michael Jordan and R. Kelly. One homegrown and one from Brooklyn, New York who put the air back into Chicago and illuminated the second city skies like the Chicago theatre at night, with towering talents taller then any skyscraper, dominating newspaper headlines, rave reviews and the word of mouth of everyone's lips. Two men that took their respective games and shared city across the whole world, not just America. Needless to say New York and the Knicks and Los Angeles and Hollywood where jealous. In the defining, golden era of music and basketball in the nineties, Michael and Robert where king on the same throne. From above the rim to down in the studio and the last shot to endless songs produced. Everyone was watching like Spike Lee, Scoop Jackson was writing. I was listening. The Grammy's and MVP's kept coming with the soaring record sales and scores. As did the gold championship trophies and platinum plaques.

Then one guy with a carrots and big ears would bring them together like the river that ran through their city. When Michael Jordan teamed up with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Bill Murray and more to take on some giant aliens in the blockbuster movie 'Space Jam', Michael truly proved he was out of this world, in a 'Roger Rabbit' classic that framed his talents on the big-screen. Fellow Chi-town hero R. Kelly provided the perfect number for Mr. 23 to rise to. 'I Believe I Can Fly' gave air to the films soundtrack and the films moving first late night, back-yard, father and son scene. It also touched the sky for the two men giving the R his biggest and most recognized epic, hit, as he spread his wings. It even drew some of the attention off Seal's fellow big blockbuster track 'Fly Like An Eagle' for the movie. Michael Jordan wasn't the first M.J. R. Kelly wrote for as the king of R&B wrote 'You Are Not Alone' (and recovered it for a 'Love Letter' tribute to the late, great) for the king of pop, Michael Jackson, who also got down and danced with Michael Jordan for the 'Jam' video. Together Chi-town's finest did it again in a crowning moment that showed that in the nineties the world of entertainment was Mike and Rob's...but that wasn't all folks.

If they could see it, these too could surely be it. Michael Jordan won a three-peat with the Chicago Bulls, while R. Kelly started his own trilogy of success with the classic '12 Play' albums (before adding an unrleased 'Fourth Quarter' edition that hit like Mike in the last period of play). Michael scooped up more championships and awards by the double, while with the classic 'R', Kelly released an epic double album that included so many records like 'Home Alone', 'If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time', 'When A Woman's Fed Up', his Space Jam big-score and his own record for Batman ('Gotham City'). There was even a duet with Celine Dion on there (the heaven sent 'I'm Your Angel'). One had Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc and Phil Jackson. The other the Trackmasters and more hits then an entire genres worth. One rebranded Jive and modern soul music. The other revolutionized Nike and sports marketing. From Kelly's self-titled collection, to Jordan's self-assured performances these two danced and shrugged their way to success. No matter if they had the flu or other problems not much could stop this dynamic duo.

The two men are Chicago like a deep dish pizza, the crust of the city. They reminded us of something but revolutionized their games. It must have been the shoes or the "oh, oh, ooohs". Even when they took different routes they showed they weren't playing. We saw nothing wrong with their bumps and grinds, even if some peoples minds where telling them no. Michael Jordan made his late father proud when he picked up sticks and played baseball for a year, while R. Kelly teamed up with fellow urban music king and the M.J. of rap Jay-Z and held his own on the collaborative 'Best Of Both Worlds' album. You can't trap these guys is closets or lockouts. Michael Jordan was the closest thing the sports world witnessed to Muhammad Ali, R. Kelly wrote 'The Worlds Greatest' song (that and the haunting 'Hold On') for the Will Smith 'Ali' movie, both men went to the Olympics. The nineties was their moment, beyond their respective professions or the city of Chicago. They where icons then. Legends now.

The nineties was truly Michael Jordan and R. Kelly's time it was like they where born in it, even though the sixties debuted them to the world. Still the new millennium still showed the former North Carolina and Public Announcement alumni where here to stay in legacy and legend. Michael Jordan came out of retirement again for the Washington Wizards, showing he could still play with the Kobe's and the T-Mac's all whilst incredibly donating his entire playing salary to the September 11th relief fund. Whilst R. Kelly stuck his key back in the 'Ignition' and spun in a new direction, remixing his career and giving us some of his best, new records harking back to the music of decades gone by with 'Chocolate Factory' and 'Happy People'. Stepping back on court and in the name of love these greats still showed the new school an entertainment education.

Today Jordan owns the Charlotte Bobcat franchise and is even prepared to lace them up to help this young team practice. These days Kelly is still making hits, taking his revolutionary sound back to the good old days of soul as his 'Love Letter' and latest 'Write Me Back' can reply. 'When A Woman Loves' is the mans best song in years, while Mike is still inspiring and influencing generations. That's what happens when your legends, the legacy just goes on and the city of Chicago will never forget it's leading men. This city was built on rhythm and basketball. It'll blow forever through the Windy Cities memory. Michael made the moments, while Robert provided the soundtrack. Music and Basketball was their forte. The 1990's their definition and the city...theirs.