Admittedly, we don't cover too much tennis around these parts because the common perception is that the sport is decidedly posh. However, Naomi Osaka's decision to withdraw from the French Open — one of four majors in the sport — felt like a good time to start. Why? Because Osaka's move was Hip-Hop to it's very core.
For context, Osaka informed tournament officials that she would not be speaking to the press because the experience was causing anxiety, depression, and above all else, her tennis game. As a result of her decision, she was fined $15,000 and warned that any further self-imposed media blackout could be met with a future suspension from the other Grand Slam tournaments.
"We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement," read a joint statement. "As a sport there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honor their commitments."
The "establishment" has been telling young people — especially young people of color — what that can and can't do with their talents since Hip-Hop first exploded out of the Bronx in 1973. When the music became popular, politicians tried to control it with litigation and limitations. However, a Parental Advisory designation only emboldened artists to keep pushing their First Amendment boundaries. Today, it's every bit as effective to hold ones tongue, as it is to challenge obscenity laws like 2 Live Crew
Much like record labels themselves, press conferences are no longer necessary because artists and athletes can use social media to convey messages on their own terms. Thus, press conferences ultimately feed a machine that benefits the entity, rather than the talent.
Sylvia Robinson and Sugar Hill Records may have made the Sugarhill Gang. But did Def Jam make LL COOL J, or was it, in fact, the other way around?
Whether it's an MC, or an athlete, individuals are starting to realize that they no longer need to adhere to an outdated status quo.
Osaka is giving more to the tour, than the tour is giving to her. Ironically, when she tried to take a step back to find balance, they rejected the very narrative that they played up in the first place; a young woman — decidedly not lily white — who was challenging convention on tour.
"I'm genuinely more into Hip-Hop and rap." - Naomi Osaka
In numerous interviews, Osaka has talked about her love for Eminem. She noted that Kamikaze got her through the US Open in 2018 (where she won), and listed "Space Bound" as her favorite song.
"I designed whole dream scenarios for this song and I would check in and out of it every night trying different approaches for my character that I made specifically for that universe. I might be biased but I think it’s a really good song."
"Space Bound" is a song about the physical tolls of love. While often times this emotion is bound to the people in our lives, we can't overlook how undying devotion to one's craft can be detrimental to one's psyche. Like Eminem, Osaka has risen to the absolute summit of her industry — perhaps unnerved by reaching an unfathomable goal that she never dreamed possible. When success comes, outsiders tend to dismiss "famous people problems" even though they are human problems, too.
Journalists, by their very nature, are looking for scoops. With social media, stars can now play the part of both muckraker, and the talent. When they feel so inclined to share something newsworthy, it will now only be on their own terms. Is that fair, who's to say?
It's often been said that Hip-Hop gave a voice to the voiceless. It seems, now, that staying silent is the ultimate act of defiance.