“I got it sellin’ nickel bags … bitch.” With that, we’re on the hook with Freddie Gibbs’ track “Knicks” off the Piñata album he released with Madlib earlier this year.
The only reason I’m writing about the track is the basketball overlap and the double meaning usage of “Knicks” and “nickel bags.” Gibbs kicks it off:
Pimpin on lil’ sis/
I’m watching Jordan drop a double nickel on the Knicks/
That was ’95, couple of us ain’t live til’ ‘96
(The first line also sounds awfully similar to “Pippen on the assist,” but doesn’t make as much sense with the following verse.)
With that opening we’re transported back to 1995 when MJ had just come back from his baseball sabbatical and was delivering up and down performances for 20-some odd games. In the middle of all, his Royal Baldness returned to the Mecca where he eviscerated the Knicks for 55.
While the rest of us were doing whatever it was we were doing (I was a freshman in high school recovering from a hideous basketball injury where I broke my arm and leg at the same time), Freddie Gibbs was “fresh up out a school bus fighting up at Pulaski.” The MJ game for him, like sporting events are for so many of us, acted as a mile marker on the highway of time. And while the Knicks mark one experience for Gibbs, selling nickel bags marks another.
If life is an endless stream of “same shits, different days,” Gibbs shows the continuity of it all 20 years later as marked by the Knicks and a basketball court and the cyclically painful familiarity of violence:
Chilling with a bitch/
Watching LeBron put up a 56 on the Knicks/
In 2005, police killed my n***a in 2006
While LeBron didn’t ever put up 56 on the Knicks (he put up 56 on Toronto on March 20th, 2005 and 50 in MSG on March 5th, 2008 and 52 in February of 2009), for the continuity of the cyclical nature of the song, it makes sense. In some ways too, the foggy memory more accurately resembles the way many of us end up sorting recollections in occasionally convenient sequences. After all these years though, for Gibbs, the best players in the game are still dropping 50-spots in the Garden and Freddie’s still encountering the same shit: women, friends dying, and nickel bags. I can relate in the sense that I’m still watching basketball, still trying to find a pickup game, and still kicking it with some of the same guys I was hanging out with back in 1995. 33-year-old me is a million miles from 14-year-old me, but there are quite a few things I’ve kept close all the way across these years and evolutions of self.
But as Jordan turns into LeBron and as Freddie Gibbs goes from a “middle school fool” to an emcee signed to a major label, collaborating with a legend like Madlib, we’re reminded that change still occurs within any season.
For Gibbs, both the change and cycle can be traced to the literal and metaphorical nickel bags. Towards the end of the track as he’s shouting out Melo and MJ’s fade away, he’s painting the conflicting dualities of slanging dope in the most Nino Brown style: highlighting the connection between his charitable side (giving out turkeys, building basketball courts) and the source of his charity: selling nickel bags.
I’m not out here selling nickel bags, but I can still tell you where I was when Mark McGwire beat Roger Maris’s homerun record. With clarity, I still remember John Paxson’s game-winning three over the Suns in 1993. Sports stick with us over times and call to mind the events that floated within our orbit for a given time and Freddie Gibbs captured that here in “Knicks” in his own uniquely American manner.