Hip-Hop, Baseball Meet At Crossroads

By Justice B. Hill
Updated: January 22, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Bob Kendrick had his misgivings.

Kendrick, marketing director at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, worried about how the rap group “Bone Thugs-n-Harmony” might pull off writing a song that would serve as the anthem for the Negro Leagues.

The Bone Thugs singing a mainstream track on baseball? Would the song be a cut that resonated with the traditional baseball crowd?

Kendrick simply didn’t know. He knew that the museum was considering a number of artists or groups to cut tracks for a compilation CD about “black baseball.” He never figured the Bone Thugs would be one of those groups.

“But when I heard it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really good,’” he said. “These young men did an outstanding job of interpreting the Negro League experience and embracing it and appreciating what that experience was about.”

As hip-hop meets baseball, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s “The Negro Leagues Anthem” is a perfect embodiment of the Legacy Award, a celebration of baseball’s past and present.

Music has long been part of that celebration, Kendrick said. In the past, the music was jazz. Kendrick is now hoping that rap might find its place in baseball, as well. If hip-hop does get more ingrained, it could play a part in wooing black youth back to the national pastime.

Not that music alone is a selling point, but Kendrick can see rap as bridging the generational divide that tends to separate those who like baseball and those who don’t.

The track that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony recorded showed an understanding of baseball. Kendrick said the rappers went in, did their research and captured in lyrics the spirit of the Negro Leagues and the men who played in it.

“They got a real understanding of what the struggles were, but also how talented these athletes were, as well,” he said. “They brought that out in this first track.”

He said he hopes the rest of the tracks on the CD will cover the same kind of momentum. The working title hasn’t been picked, but Kendrick refers to the project as “A Hip-Hop Salute,” which is essentially what it is.

The finished project, which will raise money for the museum, will be 100 percent positive. It will not be denigrating in any fashion to the legacy of baseball, Kendrick said.

“We’ve got complete control over content — over what hits the street with this project,” he said. “We would never want to relinquish that. This is about pride, and it is about the spirit that made the Negro Leagues so special.”

Kendrick is looking for the CD to hit the streets in late summer. Right now, he’s got one track completed, and it’s pure rap from artists with a hardcore reputation. Their work will surprise people who might expect Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, rappers from the east side of Cleveland, to stick to its street-talk ways.

Those people will have the same reaction he had, Kendrick said.

“I loved it,” he said. “I loved it.”