by J. Henderson
Alabama Defensive Lineman Keith Saunders tried to keep Brad Lester from the obvious, the destined. He failed.
He clung to Lester’s #1 jersey and the Auburn tailback from Lilburn, GA drug the New Jersey yankee into frame, the end zone, the ordained. Up shot Lester’s hand, the new salute of our modern times – four fingers, one thumb.
Auburn had scored a touchdown, and for five years, that’s all it’s taken – the Iron Bowl was in the bag, a bag Auburn fan Maurice Kelley, Jr. had been holding wide open and talking about for a whole year, crystal ballin’ that very scene from his Harpersville home since the earliest hours of thumbophobia. Auburn scores? Auburn wins. These are modern laws.
Maurice Kelley, Jr. is, of course, a prophet.
“2006 ‘gon be a loss,” he said, over and over. From cars, I-Pods, laptops… wherever young-ish Auburn fans listened to music… all over.
For nearly 365 days, the 21 year-old Auburn fan known to his friends and fans as Reese, or better yet, R33SE, predicted a fifth Iron Bowl defeat in a row for the University of Alabama. He didn’t wait for their 2005 10-2 season to be filed as fluke, he didn’t wait until “Bama’s Back” Sports Illustrateds dropped to .99 cents on eBay or Mike Shula’s job literally hung in the balance. He hated Bama early, like you’re supposed to.
In fact, so strong was his faith in the Tide’s ineptitude, and his Tiger’s prowess, he set his convictions to music. And by doing so – by rendering rap anthems heralding his team’s inherent superiority, songs popular among the Auburn players he freely and repeatedly references therein, and who’s on-line internet persona’s dot, in virtual friendship, his MySpace profile, his cyber soapbox on the psychic streets of Dixie’s beloved turf war – he himself may actually have aided in Alabama’s defeat.
The math isn’t that hard to do.
Ask today’s defensive ends and running backs the methods used to pump themselves up for a game and you will inevitably hear tales of locker-room ritual meted by hip-hop.
Survivor doesn’t cut it anymore and their Eye of the Tiger, blasted whenever the stadium DJs feel they can get away with it, is, despite its inspiring title, mainly for Auburn fans – Jordan-Hare’s middle-aged majority. Even the white players are boiling their adrenaline with 50 cent, Eminem, Tupac.
“Yeah, for me and my friends, it’s mostly hip-hop,” says Brad Lester during a breather from Auburn’s spring training. “We don’t play any music [out loud] in the locker room, we have our own I-pods and stuff. I listen to a lot of Lil’ Wayne, 50 cent, Lil John, stuff like that, stuff to get you going before the game.”
It was The Inspiration, the latest release from Young Jeezy, that had Lester primed for the T-Town taunting (“Yeah, I [held up five fingers] just to mess with their fans a little bit, you know, five in a row.”). Of his particular brand, Atlanta-based Jeezy has been quoted as saying “I ain’t a rapper, I’m a motivational speaker.” Say what you will about hip-hop motivation – Lester put 6 points on the board in the Iron Bowl within just a few touches, led the team last season in touchdowns, and the songs in his head when he did it were raps. If the music of the self-proclaimed thugs and gangstas of today’s rap world can pump our young men up into conquerors while glorifying crack abuse, Athletic Departments from coast to coast should be drooling over the genre’s potential for explicitly diagramming a Saturday victory.
This, to an extent, is exactly what young R33SE has done, ergo, the suggestion that his prediction was to a degree self-fulfilling seems an easy bridge to cross.
“I’ve heard it a couple of times actually. Me and some other guys were sittin’ around and somebody said ‘ya’ll heard this yet’ and we listened to it and thought, yeah, this is pretty cool,” says Lester, speaking of R33SE’s most popular song, Let Me Hear Ya’ Say (War Eagle) which, lyrically, is little more than Auburn’s 2006 starting roster spliced with football verbs.
“It’s surprising to hear your name in a song and stuff like that… most songs, when they try to put a whole bunch of people’s names in it, it usually doesn’t sound right but he actually did a real good job with the song and a lot of our guys really like it.”
“It actually made a lot of sense, it sounded good too,” he added.
And if R33SEs lyrical end arounds (“It’s War Eagle for the state / and to us this is a piece of cake / the first quarter we had 28 / ya’ll started comin’ back but it was too late”) and addictive hooks (he likens his sound unto Chamillionaire and Pastor Troy) and the sense they made together indeed helped roll out the red carpet of kismet which, on November 18th, in Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Tiger’s took to like shoulder-padded Jay-Z’s sloshin’ orange and blue Crystal at the Grammy’s (Jay Z’s Show Me What You Got is the template for R33SE’s I-Told-You-So 5NAROW), then Reese was possibly, from a certain perspective, as responsible for Alabama Quarterback John Parker Wilson’s 2nd quarter decapitation as was Quentin Groves (in his songs, R33SE stylishly summons the dominating defensive end, who’s middle name is Demonic, as “Grooooves”), as key to the Tigers’ first score, that 15 yard dash by Brad Lester (Reese credits the first points in the Platonic Auburn game he conjures in Let Me Here Ya Say <War Eagle> to a touchdown run by the nimble running back), as Lester himself.
If so, it is a dream come true, if by an unexpected route.
“I was a football player [in high school] and I had a dream of playing for Auburn, just playing for Auburn, and my Daddy, I could tell he wanted me to play for Auburn,” R33SE says wistfully.
But injuries suffered his senior season at Harpersville’s Vincent High School stopped any chances of playing at the next level just short of the goal line.
Now the former fullback shoulder’s his inheritance of Auburn zealotry the only way he still can, the only way that comes natural.
“I feel like the only way I can make my Daddy proud is representin’ Auburn through rap.”
So it comes as no surprise that the most recent addition to R33SEs growing hit list, Like My Daddy, is little more than an exultant, introspective mantra of existential fandom, of a variety to which most folks in this state can instantly and easily relate. Maurice Jr. is an Auburn fan because Maurice Sr. in Auburn fan.
R33SE is by no means a pioneer of Auburn balladry, nor even its first rapper. Variously styled musical expressions of Auburn football fandom, both sanctioned and unsanctioned by the University, date back 40 years or more. Dusty vinyl totems of War Eagle lore, celebrating, in song, everything from “Sullivan to Beasley” to the most points ever scored against Bear Bryant (Auburn’s 1969 Iron Bowl victory – “Birmingham, Birmingham, War Damn Eagle-Damn!”) can be found in thrift-store record bins across the state. They feature bluegrass songs, rockabilly songs, ‘70s pop. In 1989, a rap was commissioned to commemorate Alabama’s first trip to Jordan-Hare, in the hopes of “puttin’ Bama in the slamma with the gramma.’” That Fresh Prince-esque ditty also proved prophetic – Auburn won by 10.
But R33SE is different, for reasons not least of which being his evident talent for corralling the unquestioned emotion and devotion of football fanaticism into three minute songs you wouldn’t mind being a 5, or 6, or even 10 minute songs. They’re actually good and are intelligently constructed.
As such, they transcend gimmickry, novelty. They are not Galleria kiosk kitsch. He didn’t make them to cash in on the schadenfruede of the Auburn Nation – it was only after counting the copious number of hits to his MySpace page that he began to ask for .75 cents per download (who would blame him?). In fact, were it not for the healthy desire to rub it into the crimson-clad members of his family (a pillar of pigskin partisanship) these songs would likely have never been written, an added dimension that only authenticates their existence and effect.
From Da Boss:
Uncle Pat gettin’ mad, Gary Hall gettin’ sad
and Rod can’t believe how many sacks Auburn had
Cry Babies, Cry Babies
All yall’s nose is runnin’
I still hadn’t heard from ya’ since the loss, Johnny
“I started out doing this for my family,” R33SE says in all seriousness. “And a light bulb popped up saying, ‘well, what if other Auburn fans might want to hear this.’ The first two songs I did were just strictly for my family… I wasn’t thinking about other people [hearing them] at the time.”
He does it for love, for hate. Not money. Nor does he mind running the risk of forever being “the Auburn rapper” in people’s minds, despite exploring off-the-field subject matter in other songs.
“No, that wouldn’t bother me at all, I mean, it’s Auburn, I would love that. I’d rather be known as [the Auburn rapper] because these days rappers go by such bad names, rap about violence and all that, but rap isn’t about that,” says R33SE.
Add to this principled position the fact that he is a genuinely nice guy; whatever mocking scorn he slings in his songs is directed not towards rival beat barons but his team’s archrival.
And when he does dip into standard rap modes of the personal diss, as with the line “we didn’t give ya’lls quarterback time to even throw, ya’ll woulda been better off handin’ the ball to Tyrone Prothro,” he claims it is intended only to illustrate, not to belittle.
“I didn’t mean to dog him out like that,” R33SE says of his rhyming reference to the injured Alabama wide receiver in Da’ Boss, his ode to the “Honk if you Sacked Brodie” debacle of ’05. “I mean, I got mad respect for him, but they woulda been, you know? They would have been better off even handin’ the ball to Prothro.”
(When Prothro hobbled onto the field in full-pads during the pre-game theatrics in Bryant-Denny last year, it briefly looked as if Alabama had taken his advice to heart.)
But all the young man from Harpersville, who at the time of this interview was enrolled in an Orlando-area mechanics school, seems to want from the recognition his pigskin paeans have brought is the chance to continue his work for Auburn’s gridiron gospel.
Auburn, he emphatically states, “needs someone to actually let people know they’re really good because people think they’re overrated and this and that.”
For himself and the growing group in on the secret, R33SE is that someone.
“When I say I’m an Auburn fan, I’m really an Auburn fan, I’m not doing this to get famous.”
If, however, the opportunity to take his mic to mid-field for a half-time rap-rally – to make 178,000 hands wave in the air in ways only football fans can care – were ever offered him, on it he would not hesitate to pounce.
“The main thing I just want to do is perform at the game, to hear the roar of the crowd, I mean, I feel like I can do it, cause like I said, I wanted to play ball for them, but I couldn’t. I still think about it though, sometimes I’m like, man, I’m gonna go walk on…”
The point is that… you know… he may already have.