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Waiting 4 the Dough

Nate Brooks goes from gangsta to athlete to rapper -- and wonders what's next

Norris agrees that Brooks will make an impact on the kids by speaking about the rigors of the music business just as he did when he spoke about sports during college. For Norris, however, part of the power of Brooks's message comes from the difficulties the rapper faces. "I want to show [the students] both sides to the entertainment world," adds Norris. "These kids just see the party and don't understand all the hard work. Nate is a good example, because he's still struggling. He's not where he wants to be."

That struggle is evident in the mixed messages Brooks sends. While he criticizes black youth's obsession with materialism, he also proudly features his new Jaguar in Black with No Excuses. A tattoo on his chiseled abdomen reads, "THUG LIFE," in homage to his idol, slain rapper Tupac Shakur, while a second tattoo reads, "LOVE LIFE," a testimony to his girlfriend and two kids who live with him in a small rental apartment near Dadeland Mall.

His music is even more out of sync with his rhetoric. His first self-produced release focused on the celestial realm, dedicated to keeping Marlin Barnes's memory alive. His second CD, Games Over, thumps heavily to Earth, full of baller clichés and derivative execution. The first track, "Money," describes all types of green in an unsophisticated call and response. There's "that shake that ass money/that get on your knees money/that crackhead money," he raps, ending with the nonsensical chorus, "I got that, you got that, she got that." The title track, featuring First Degree, begins with an eerie, synthesizer heavy, X-File-sounding bass line. The lyrics of the hook -- "the game over boy, it's all over/the Megaball player 'bout to take over" -- promote the positive Megaballer lifestyle on one level, but the mocking tone of the delivery leaves the message open to question. That delivery is an imitation of Juvenile, employing the established rapper's signature stretching of vowels and liquified last syllable. At its most successful, Games Over offers a good time, as with the remake of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" as "Kountrified," but even then the execution is like so much you've already heard.

Nate Brooks and his sons lead the Love Life
Steve Satterwhite
Nate Brooks and his sons lead the Love Life

As Brooks monitors the downloading of his CD from the Internet, ringing up the bling-bling at nine cents per hit, he is keeping his options open, including an upcoming tryout for NFL Europe. His personal journey out of the ghetto follows the most familiar paths open to young black men. "I'm just doing what I been doin' my whole life," he concludes on Black with No Excuses, "and see who pays me first."

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