Photo courtesy of Dyckman Basketball.
By David Cordova
Since the 1990’s, hip-hop record labels and summer basketball leagues have been in sync with one another. In fact, hip-hop or rap, is usually the soundtrack to what goes on in the summertime. At every basketball tournament, you’re always likely to hear a rap song playing in the background.
It’s always cool when those same artists that the people listen to make an appearance at the park. Major record labels such as Def Jam, Terror Squad, Roc-A-Fella and Ruff Ryders used to sponsor teams at the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic (EBC) in Harlem, as a way to promote their music, but also as a way to make their presence felt in the urban community.
It’s a joy for the fans to see their favorite artists come into the park, mainly because of the fact that concert tickets can be very expensive or many people are underage and can’t attend those shows unless they are 16 years of age or over. So this is the only chance for people to see these artists in person.
This summer, there is one up & coming record label that has managed to make waves around New York City and around the country that is on the rise. Highbridge the Label, a musical entity that was based out of the Bronx, has been as many people call it, “in their bag,” over the last year, due to the rising musical success of rappers A Boogie wit da Hoodie and Don Q.
A Boogie, born Artist Dubose, has enjoyed plenty of success as of late, with songs such as “My S**t” (certified Platinum), “Jungle” (certified Gold), “Timeless” (certified Gold) and most recently, “Drowning,” which features Southern rapper Kodak Black (certified Platinum). He has also been a featured artist on other artist’s songs, and also soundtracks such as The Fate of the Furious: The Album.
Don Q, born Donald Quilio, has also had success of his own, with mixtapes such as Don Season and Corner Stories. He has also had songs that featured rappers such as Jadakiss, Styles P. and Fabulous. His hits include “Bag On Me,” (which also features A Boogie), “Game Winners,” and “Floyd Mayweather,” (which is also another A Boogie feature).
Now that HBTL is rising fast in the rap game, their presence is felt all over New York and in different places. This summer, they sponsored two teams (high school division and pro-am division) in the Dyckman Basketball Tournament in Manhattan, a league that is considered by many to be the “Red Carpet of Streetball.”
Whenever it was mentioned that an HBTL team in one out of two of the divisions would be suiting up at Dyckman, there would be excitement, because the people were expecting plenty of talent to come out.
“I live six blocks away from Highbridge,” says the team’s coach Stardyan Jones, “I’ve been coaching at John F. Kennedy High School since 2004, where I met most of the HBTL members.”
“It was a good feeling after Star called me and ask me to help him with the team,” says Jaden “The Dark Knight” Edwards, another one of the coaches. “It was a no-brainer to say yes, especially after I attended high school with one of the co- founders of ‘The Label’, QP.”
In the summer of 2016, right around the time of A Boogie’s rise, the HBTL team made their debut at Dyckman. “It was in the plans last summer, right before most knew or heard about Artist or Don Q to let the world know that HBTL is here, and what better place than the red carpet of street ball, Dyckman, to showcase this up & comping brand,” says Jones.
Being that their music was making waves regionally, it was a treat for many of the fans to see both A. Boogie and Don Q in person. “The coaching part was fun. I remember the first time Artist and Don Q showed up at the park, the fans was going crazy. A Boogie took pics with the kids,” says Jones.
On their high school squad, they showcased two outstanding gems in Storm Jones, who is now a freshman at Hostos Community College in the Bronx and Jaylen “JuJu” Murray, a freshman at Cardinal Hayes High School, also in the Bronx.
“Being from Highbridge, we was always groomed to play basketball, most of the older guys on my block was nice in basketball, and since they started seeing me, like, getting better in basketball, they supported me.” says Murray.
When asked about how it felt to play for HBTL, he replied, “Well, of course, I’ll always play for my city, that’s my hood, so I always gotta give back to the hood, if they ask me to do anything, I’m gonna do it.”
To see a member of the community rise up from the madness of the urban plight brings a lot of joy to those from the community, especially Murray. “It’s good. I knew A Boogie for a long time, I knew him when he was just freestyling and stuff, so seeing him getting big, some of his songs is going platinum and gold, it’s a blessing.”
“It was regular, , cause that’s where I’m from. The hood ask me to put on.” says Storm Jones, who is known for his high-flying athleticism when going up to the rim.
The high school squad also garnered a lot of support from the Highbridge community as they held a large contingent of people there to watch them play. Storm Jones played so well, that his highlights are now featured on the sports app, Overtime and on mixtape videos such as one from the entity, 4 the Culture Hoops.
In the pro-am division, the level for the college players and professional ballplayers, HBTL was one of the premier teams. Throughout the summer, they had as many as four NBA players on the roster, such as Chris McCullough (Washington Wizards), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Brooklyn Nets) and Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead (Brooklyn Nets). They also brought out some college players in Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington, both of whom are now seniors at Seton Hall University.
Another standout player on the HBTL’s pro-am squad was Jawaun Daniels, a Harlem native who is starting his freshman year at Central Georgia Technical College in Macon, Georgia.
“Well, I was in my house & my Instagram page was getting rushed & somebody had tagged me in the photo like, “Heard you, Wauny.” says Daniels about getting acquainted with the A. Boogie, “& I was like, ‘Oh, shit, Boogie just shouted me out, my ‘gram about to break & then its crazy cause [NBA star] John Wall was one of the first celebrities to mess with boogie last summer & right after that he followed me & told me he’s been following my story he was “inspired.” I couldn’t believe it.”
Another great thing that happened during the summer was the arrival of D’Angelo Russell on August 9th, after being traded to the Brooklyn Nets from the Los Angeles Lakers back in mid-June. On that night, there was pandemonium at Dyckman from start to finish. On that night, Russell, Hollis-Jefferson and Whitehead teamed up to help HBTL advance in the Dyckman playoffs, with Russell hitting the game-winner.
Although the presence of A. Boogie has been felt in the rap game, he is still an inspiration to a lot of kids out there that listen to his music. “A Boogie provides a sense of hope,” says Storm Jones, “You only hear about people making it out of the hood. Being in Highbridge and seeing his dreams come into reality, just made my dreams seem all the more realistic.”
One of the most appealing things about the music is that many kids can relate to things that go on in the hood: “Kids in the community see themselves when you look at them. Inner-city youth that want a way to feed their family and take care of their friends. A & Don both talk about what kids see every day.” says Star Jones, “A’s first mixtape, he talked about his ex-girlfriend through most of it. Don Q’s mixtape, he talked about how he got to the point how people didn’t believe in him. This is what most kids are going through every day. Artist and Don Q are like most rappers in that they say that you can make it out the hood through hard work and people around you to push you. Now they’re just living the dream.”
Now that they’ve become successful, the public wonders what’s next. So far, A Boogie’s new album, The Bigger Artist, which is in stores today, has gotten a lot of positive reviews from the public. As Highbridge the Label continues to have success, it is safe to say that they will be around for a long time. The Bronx is being represented in the rap game, once again.