Derrick Rose, point guard for the East’s top-seeded Chicago Bulls, is obviously having a hell of a season. Not only has he taken the next step on the court, raising his numbers significantly while leading his team to the league’s best record, making his second All-Star appearance (and first start) and becoming the overwhelming favorite to win this season’s MVP, but he’s also jumped a level off the court, appearing in countless Adidas and 2K commercials, while generally raising his profile from being a rising star to being the most marketable guy in the league not on the Heat or Lakers. All that remains — aside from a Nicki Minaj lap dance, since that appears to be a rite of passage for elite point guards these days — would be his own hip-hop theme song.
Enter Chicago’s own Yung Berg. You may remember the Windy City rapper from his 2007 hit “Sexy Lady,” or his appearance on Ray J’s “Sexy Can I,” or his rip-roaring guitar solo on Prince’s “Sexy MF” (maybe not so much the last one). Or in all likelihood, after a three-year hiatus from the limelight, you might not remember him at all. But the Berg is back (with some dude named Marvo in tow) and he’s commemorating his hometown Bulls’ much-anticipated playoff run with more than a playoff beard, recording “Derrick Rose,” a not-a-moment-too-soon players’ anthem based around references to the team’s franchise player. But is it worthy of the presumptive league MVP? Take a listen, and then let’s break it down one time.
Central Lyrical Conceit: “Bitch I’m ballin’ like / Derrick … Rose.” Nothing particularly creative and revelatory, but rather simple, almost classic in its approach. (How many “ballin’ like” references have there been to hoopsters over the course of hip-hop history?) While I generally tend to prefer my hip-hop theme songs to be more of the third-person omniscient variety, a solid first-person comparison narrative can certainly work as well. Besides, the way Berg rushes out the “Derrick” and the glides in with the “Rose” is a creative (if only accidentally so) approximation of Rose’s spellbinding stop-start quickness and fluidity, and the chorus’s proclamations of “All the girls say a n—- No. 1″ is a cute way to reference both Rose’s NBA supremacy and the number of the back of his jersey. Verdict: Ballin’.
Description of Player Strengths: You don’t necessarily need a sabermetric style breakdown of the player’s statistical dominance — though it could be cool, depending on the rapper — but a good NBA player theme song should at least describe a number of nifty things that the player does to demonstrate his awesomeness. This is where “Derrick Rose” falters significantly, as references to specifics are mostly eschewed for basketball vagueries that could also be taken as sexual or gangsta-lifestyle double entendres: “Crossover hos, then I work ‘em in the middle,” “Signal to my shooters / They get open like Ferraris,” et cetera. Plus, Berg opens the song claiming “First quarter, feeling like I’m ’bout to drop 50″ — every real Rose fan knows the dude’s career high is just 42. Verdict: Not Ballin’.
Dedication to Subject Matter: You can forgive a couple self-references in a hip-hop NBA ode as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the central thesis. Unfortunately, Berg and Marvo’s focus is fleeting, and they are easily distracted, lapsing into irrelevant discussions of their own awesomeness. “Hawk from Atlanta, yeah a girl named Crystal / Fucked her all night and only fed the bitch crystals.” Huh? Is that even that good? Even if it is, it bears little relation to D-Rose’s hoops prowess, and thus is less than germane to the discussion. Stay focused, guys. Verdict: Not Ballin’
Sound Clip Demonstrating Player’s Greatness: Every good hip-hop theme needs at least one of these, an original-source document testifying to the subject matter’s worthiness. Usually it’s a clip of a broadcast of one of the player’s highlight moves — think Kevin Harlan bellowing “OHHHHHH WHAT A CROSSOVER DRIVE AND FINISH FROM ROSE!!!” — but I actually really like what Berg does here instead, opting for an interview clip from the beginning of the season, in which Derrick talks about his expectations for his third year, and wonders aloud, “Why can’t I be the MVP of the league? Why can’t I be the best player in the league? I don’t see why…” None of us thought much of it at the time, but damn if it doesn’t sound prophetic — or just suddenly really, really obvious — by now. Shrewd choice. Verdict: Ballin’
Bad-Ass Beat: Ultimately, these things tend to come down to whether or not the song sounds huge and destructive enough to convey the player’s largess, even if the lyrics occasionally let them down. But while the beat certainly sounds big, all synths and treble and bombast, it also sounds unsettlingly familiar, like a watered-down version of any number of Rick Ross productions — especially “I’m Not a Star,” recast recently for Lil’ Wayne’s “John (If I Die Today)“. Regardless of its shape or size, a player of Rose’s singularity certainly deserves a theme with a beat more original than this poorly reheated leftover. Verdict: Not Ballin’.
In the end, it’s hard not to feel that Rose should hold out for something a little stronger and more personally-related than this. The obvious candidate to do it? Common, who’s not only Chicago born and raised, but has a little extra appreciation for the point guard position after his star-making not-career-destroying turn as two-time MVP PG Scott McKnight in “Just Wright.” Maybe we can get a presidential mandate or something.