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On Braxton Miller, Kendrick Lamar & The Pensive Celebrity

By 12.01.11

Transparency: I’m an Ohio State Buckeyes fan. To say this year has been one Hellish rollercoaster ride through Dante’s seven levels of the Inferno (and back again) is an understatement. I witnessed the dismantling of a storied program over tattoos (tat-f*cking-toos). This makes me very sad.

Yet, there have been bright spots: chief among them being this freshman quarterback kid from Dayton who looks pretty good. This kid, Braxton Miller, appears to be the antithesis of former Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor with the same level of “Holy Shit!” athleticism: he can run and he can throw (when permitted), but he’s quiet—almost pensive. It’s this latter characteristic that makes Miller interesting.

He’s, dare I say, the Kendrick Lamar of college athletics, an exemplar of today’s pensive celebrity.

And that’s odd. In a time when a person’s dissemination of image is the catalyst to success, artists and athletes who embrace a slightly quieter persona seem like hermit outliers. Grantland author Carles had a great column on how our perceptions of athletes (and, in turn, musicians) have changed:

“In the past, the most valuable athletes to a franchise or to a fan were usually those who provided value on the field. Now, I will accept anyone who can deliver a consistent stream of compelling content, even if much of his or her value comes off the field. These days, an athlete who delivers a funny interview on a late-night talk show is probably worth more than one who plays an instrumental part in a win.” [Grantland]

Carles is totally right; however, what about if an athlete or a musician is less concerned with amassing amusing YouTube clips and more concerned with generating his/her respective product? In the cases of both Miller and Lamar, it’s hard to argue that they’re trying to achieve celebrity only through social media salaciousness. They and their fans utilize social media (it’s impossible not to), but that doesn’t define the crux of their personas.

Take, for example, the early season camera shots of Miller. Benched for Ohio State’s senior quarterback, Joe Bauserman, ABC and ESPN crews caught the frosh phenomenon standing in solitude along the Buckeye bench. The commentators pondered what Miller’s quietness meant. They threw around numerous theories much like Bauserman threw incomplete passes to Ohio Stadium’s upper decks.

In hindsight, the only thing it really showcased was Miller’s inability to seek attention—the complete opposite of the ostentatious Pryor. Miller eventually showed an uncharacteristic maturity to complete that Hail Mary pass to beat Wisconsin, which one could credit towards his desire for results and not fame.

Lamar’s similar. Scan through TSS’ posts tagged “Kendrick Lamar” and the Compton rapper will almost always appear secluded with his hood up in every photo. His critically acclaimed Section.80 buoys these images, as he philosophically reflects on the plight of the modern inner city citizen, prostitution and democratic empowerment (“HiiiPower,” anyone?).

Then there’s the video of Lamar’s “King of the West Coast” crowning. After being recognized by Left Coast legends Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Game, a visibly choked up Lamar receives hugs and an ovation, while showing an emotional vulnerability not recently seen this side of Drake.

As Gotty™ mentioned in his post of the event, “Kendrick understands the significance of the moment.” Kendrick understands it precisely for what it isn’t: a false annunciation of an artist’s “value,” based purely on buzz built through sensationalistic content. There’s no smoke and mirrors.

Now, Miller’s only a freshman and Kendrick’s only a hypothetical Hip-Hop “freshman.” Both could act in a way that would negate this entire argument—namely, ridiculous Tweets, interviews inside Walmart and/or a movie with Wiz Khalifa. For now, though, they provide the counter-arguments to Carles’ column. They’re the pensive superstars who are more concerned with actual results than off-the-field (or out-of-the-studio) happenings.

This makes me very happy.

Here’s highlights from his freshman year at OSU.


TAGSBraxton MillerKendrick LamarSMOKE BREAKSPORTSThe Ohio State UniversityVIDEOSWe Got Now

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