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The Hilltop Through Hip-Hop

John J. Thompson Jr. was hired as Georgetown’s head basketball coach in 1972. His presence ignited a trend that launched Georgetown basketball into the middle of the ‘90s hip-hop scene. He arrived the year after the Hoyas went 3-23 and turned them into a team that became national champions in 1984, led by the first Black coach to ever do so. His aggressive on-court strategy matched his off-court persona: he was a fierce advocate against racial adversity and injustice, leading protests against inequitable NCAA rules and fighting race-based stereotypes. The team was unmistakably Black, and that made much of white America uncomfortable.


Thompson's office received a large amount of racist hate mail, Thompson himself was accused of being racist, and his players—according to a 1973 The Hoya opinion—had “mental laziness” and should bring their “minds and as well as their bodies” to the games. However, through the coinciding rise of what is called the “golden age” of hip-hop, it was ever more clear that Georgetown—a predominately white institution—had become one of Black America’s most beloved teams.


The golden age of hip-hop came into being in the mid-1980s and was characterized by diversity, quality, innovation, and influence. AllMusic writes that this period “witnessed the best recordings from some of the genre's biggest rappers,” featuring the likes of LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Ultramagnetic MCs, the Jungle Brothers, Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, KRS-One, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, and Eric B & Rakim. Furthermore, this period was also a form of political and social protest. The lyrical content of this era frequently addressed various social issues, with hip-hop tracks responding to the impact of American capitalism and the conservative political economy and policy of the Reagan administration.


During this same era, with insistence from Coach Thompson, Nike released a Georgetown version of their Terminator basketball shoe in 1985. The sneaker gained massive popularity, even among players on rival teams. Additionally, the legendary blue and gray satin Georgetown Starter jacket became inextricably linked with hip-hop culture, with music videos for LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali” (1987) and Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” (1989) featuring these jackets.


Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Records


Chuck D, frontman of the rap group Public Enemy, once said the Hoyas were “looked at unfairly as menacing just because they had a big, imposing Black coach” who “wasn’t taking no shit from nobody.” He also had the vision of creating the rap group “Georgetown Gangsters,” branded around wearing the Georgetown jackets in their music videos.


Perhaps the clearest indicator of the Hoyas' influence on hip-hop culture is the prominent lyrical references to Georgetown and the Hoyas in some of the most acclaimed and popular hip-hop songs of the ‘90s and ‘00s.


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The artists 2Pac, Big Syke, Richie Rich and Warren G teamed up on the song “Animosity.” The four rappers freestyled their verses in a recording studio in 1993, where they discussed a plethora of topics, including the Georgetown Hoyas:


One time for the camera, Richard's come to slam ya

Pickin' out your hat, yeah, Georgetown's phat

With the bulldog, ooh wee, why's he wanna do me?


Here, you could claim Richie Rich is being braggadocious, but he is also praising Georgetown. “Phat” is ‘90s slang that means “cool” or “impressive,” so Richie suggests that Georgetown’s basketball team is highly regarded.


Bars in “Warning” (1994) by The Notorious B.I.G. recount:


They heard about the Rolexes and the Lexus

With the Texas license plates out of state

They heard about the pounds you got down in Georgetown

And they heard you got half of Virginia locked down


“Pounds,” in this sense, refers to a large quantity of drugs intended for distribution and sale. Mentioning Georgetown here carries the implication that even in a wealthy, affluent, well-established, and mostly white area like Georgetown, illegal drug trade is still taking place. Biggie Smalls (who in this case plays the character of “Pop” on the other end of a phone call), may be implicitly commenting on the hypocrisy of white America, whose systems and programs like the War on Drugs have disproportionately prosecuted Black Americans, even though white Americans are also complicit and involved in the trade of illicit drugs.


Big Boi, Outkast rapper alongside André 3000, raps on the hit single “Rosa Parks” (1998):


ATL, Georgia, what do we do for ya?

Bulldoggin' hoes like them Georgetown Hoyas


Bulldogging” is a rodeo technique where a rider on horseback chases a steer, dismounts their horse, and then wrestles the steer, ultimately bringing it down by seizing its horns and yanking it off-balance until it hits the ground. Big Boi communicates that you can also do this to your girlfriend, if she’s into it. While provocative, this lyric illustrates the cultural presence of the Hoyas in the hip-hop scene; the mascot of Georgetown, of course, is the bulldog.


Legendary rapper Jay-Z recounts in his opening track “The Prelude” to his 2006 album Kingdom Come:


Just sent a million dollars through a hands free

That's big money talk, can you answer me?

Before the answer was a 3

I was down in Georgetown with a Hoya chick, lawyer chick


Allen Iverson, an 11-time NBA All-Star and Georgetown alum nicknamed “The Answer,” wore the #3 jersey. Jay-Z is saying he got down with a Georgetown Law student before Allen Iverson, number 3, was famous. Adjacent to the reference to Hoyas basketball is a story about Jay-Z and a Georgetown law student, playing into the theme of the team's anti-establishment values within a prestigious, predominantly white institution.


Photo Credit: KLEAR.com


In 2007, Lil Wayne mirrored the rhyme scheme of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Upgrade U” in his version titled “Upgrade,” which includes a Georgetown reference:


Understand: I am Michael Jordan balling, yes

I'm a dog, I'm a Hoya, homie

I'm a boss, your man's just an employer, mami


Lil Wayne isn’t immune to equating a Hoya with a bulldog, but he clearly knows that “balling” and the Hoyas are culturally linked.


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The Hoyas became a symbol of hope and empowerment, and this cultural significance is reflected in the world of music. As former coach John Thompson recalled in his memoir, “We didn’t need racism to motivate us… the people who said Georgetown had too many Black players, whoever busted a hole in my door—they’re the ones who went 3-23.”


The hip-hop community identified with the team’s resilience and assertive, uncompromising approach against injustice. In Thompson’s own words, “It wasn’t like I strategized or planned to be an outspoken person. If I thought my team, myself, or people in general were being treated unfairly, I tried to say something about it.”


One of Thompson’s most beloved players, Patrick Ewing, looked back on his team’s culture in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary Requiem for the Big East: “Everybody in Black America loved us. Grandmas and grandpas coming up to us saying that we admire things that you guys are doing, admire the way that we carry ourselves.”


Basketball made the Hoyas a national phenomenon, yet it was the accompanying cultural environment that inspirited America’s Black community.

 

Ted Bergman is a First-year in the College. He is interested in extreme ironing and tree law, among a few other things.

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