Nike P-Rods, and Falling for the Okey-doke

by rafi on August 16, 2009

I went to high school from 1990 to 1994, a time when Ice Cube was at the height of his hip-hop power. Aside from demonstrating the skills to earn a spot as one of the all-time great mc’s and lyricists, Cube in this era was angry, candid, and viciously funny — the perfect traits to make him hero material for teenagers like me worldwide. This effect lingers even as an adult; when I had the chance to meet my former idol briefly at a Tower Records three years ago, I was transformed back to adolescence and completely starstruck.

I’ve also already professed my unapologetic love of skating videos so I should be enthralled with the new Nike P.Rod ad based on “It Was A Good Day”.

The spot features champion skateboarder Paul Rodriguez Jr. (son of the comedian) having the best day ever, skating around Los Angeles to a soundtrack provided by an ADHD edit of the Ice Cube classic. Eventually his deck rolls off ahead of him and gets snapped in two under the tire of a low rider driven by Ice Cube himself. Cube gives the skater a pissed-off intimidating look, similar to the first glance he shot me at the record store that day, and then drives off. But P-Rod takes it all in stride, probably because he now has a decent story to cap his day off with and besides he’s too stinking rich to worry about losing a skateboard.

I have to admit, watching the ad the first few times was euphoric. Hot nostalgia flooded through my veins, as potent and warm as William Burroughs’ junk (no boho).

The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to the product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client.

The junk merchants at Nike have this down to a science. Rodriguez is dressed in what feels like one of Cube’s vintage looks of the early 90s: black pants, the black t-shirt is not quite solid but the Nike logo is so faded it’s practically subliminal, and on the feet – a classic looking pair of black on white Nikes. Of course, Cube was more likely to be found in Chuck Taylors or stalking in big black boots. He even cited his preference for the short-lived Ewings over Air Jordans a couple of times.

Still the beat is there, the solid black wardrobe feels right, sun-drenched LA the backdrop, Ice Cube’s got the sweet ride but snarls anyway, there’s even some coy reference to the police – the mutual enemy of skaters and gangsta rappers – too flatfooted to pursue P.Rod as he flips the script of the original. He didn’t even look in their direction as he ran the intersection.

It all feels pretty cool until you watch the original video and remember that Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day” wasn’t really about some kick-ass day. The day singled out was remarkable because for once none of the usual bullshit associated with the terror of life in the hood reared its ugly head. No hassle from carjackers or police, no one killed, the narrator can’t believe he didn’t even have to shoot at somebody.

It was almost subversive that a lucid and humane critique of inner city conditions — a day in the life of the “other America” — became a top 40 hit, an MTV rotation and keg party staple.

Nike has extended versions and bonus scenes galore up on YouTube. In the alternate ending above, Ice Cube is a gangsta with a heart of gold, picking up P. Rod for a ride. This ups the Entourage factor by a thousand. It cuts right before Ari Gold pops up from the backseat and makes them hug it out.

Nike isn’t in the business of highlighting social disparity (and neither is modern-day Ice Cube for that matter). And so the ad’s use of “it was a good day” is stripped of irony and more in congruence with the storyline of every single episode of Entourage. The fact that P. Rod’s swarthy good looks, curly hair and goofy grin evoke Adrian Grenier only adds to that overall effect.

I’m not suggesting that people should be mad about this bit of fluff. It’s just another example of hip-hop’s transformation to lifestyle marketing tool and its astonishing disconnect from the reality it used to represent.

Ice Cube in those days was a Race man and he made Race records. I know Rodriguez is the guy with the sneaker line but I can’t help but ponder how this commercial’s meaning could have changed if Nike had done the same spot with a black kid from the hood as its star.

Theotis Beasley, also of the Nike skateboarding team, does make a cameo appearance. Am I wrong to think they’d be doing more to honor the tradition of this classic song if this were Beasley’s commercial? Not that O’Shea Jackson himself seems to mind.

Three years ago I saw a big hip-hop show in New York City just days after Sean Bell’s murder. The city was buzzing with rage and confusion everywhere except inside the show where the incident wasn’t even mentioned. I said back then that there was “a time when rap was supposed to speak to and speak for the streets”. But shows like that Rock the Bells performance and ads like this one from Nike show how far we’ve come from that. The acts and songs of that era are being used to market to aging hip-hop fans like myself but it is all sound and no fury.

As I keep thinking about that drug known as Nostalgia, it also occurs to me that was the name of the scent Adrian Veidt created in Watchmen. Funny then that Ice Cube marketed himself back then as a real-life Rorschach, hell-bent on never selling out or compromising. That kind of thing resonated well with teens once upon a time.

We are past the point of the history eraser button being pushed. Sometimes I think it’s being pushed every 108 minutes by a sweaty dude in an underground bunker. And who can blame that man? It is a jolly, candy-like button after all.

A wise man told us that too much candy is no good, but I don’t see anybody closing up shop.

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