They were the archetype. A machine. A pillar of consistency and excellence. They were the self-made model of which all others attempted to be; their dominance, impregnable.
They are the New England Patriots and Roc-A-Fella Records.
The unbridled run of success experienced by the Patriots from 2001 through today is rivaled in hip-hop only by that of Roc-A-Fella from 1996-2004, and with every rise, comes the inevitable set. ESPN’s recent report that the Patriots are on the brink of implosion, regardless of its accuracy, contains similarities to that of the Roc in the mid-2000s.
This comparison is not perfectly symmetrical. Though you might be surprised by the amount parallels involving the principal figures that makes this worthy of an eyebrow raise.
Robert Kraft Is Kareem “Biggs” Burke
True businessmen at their very core, these men played critical roles in laying the foundation of success for their respective teams. They possess the cachet to be larger than life figures (like Diddy or Jerry Jones), but are much happier playing the background.
Kraft, a self-made billionaire who made his bones in manufacturing (not cheese, by the way), has emerged as one of the more notable and powerful owners in football, but not before years of sustained excellence forced him into that position. Even amidst the lunacy that was Deflategate, Kraft was reticent to make a firm statement until it was deemed absolutely necessary. By acknowledging it, Kraft was siphoning focus away from the team and the task at hand. And that’s not “The Patriot Way,” the unspoken set of guidelines that revolves around the team and the next opponent on the schedule. Outside distractions are not acceptable. It’s a lifestyle Kraft has help sell and cultivate within his entire organization.
To this day, Biggs is vague about his job description with Roc-A-Fella. If he were applying for a job and had to submit a résumé, 90% of his previous work experience would be redacted. It’s just who he is. It’s why when making a Roc-Rat Pack analogy, Jay Z once described Biggs as, “the smart one on the low, like Dean Martin.” Biggs is coy about many things, but he had a hand in just about everything that made the label a success, specifically marketing Roc-A-Fella as a lifestyle. He quietly assumed control over the Roc’s day-to-day operations in 2002 and oversaw the creation of Kanye West’s classic debut album The College Dropout in 2004.
Biggs also had a huge hand in the creation of Roc-A-Wear, and partnered with Damon Dash on their Armadale vodka venture. Kareem claims he, Dash and Carter knew they would eventually sell the label back in 1997, only to use their footprint and dollars to invest in something else. He’s a consummate businessman—just like Robert Kraft.
Bill Belichick Is Damon Dash
Prideful and confrontational men, perhaps to a fault. Privately, Belichick and Dash are larger than life personalities that won’t hesitate to flex their muscles for the greater good of the squad. The ESPN report of the alleged rift between the Patriots power trio included a tidbit about Belichick lighting up Brady in front of the team during a film session. And who could forget the time Dash flipped on Def Jam?
Def Jam holding a meeting about Jay Z without any Roc representation is what had Dash charged up; that epic tongue-lashing was warranted. Ultimately, he was riding for his team, and while you may question his methods, his instincts were spot on.
The Dash/Belichick comparison ends at their willingness to speak publicly. Dame is famously loquacious; boastful and gregarious when things are going well, insufferable when things are not. Belichick will refuse to ever say anything of substance to anyone outside of his team. He does this, like Dash, to protect his team. He wouldn’t dare incite any “bulletin board material” for rival opponents that the media will invariably gas up.
The talent would never bloom into what it would become without coaching. He is an integral piece to the success of the dynasty, but maybe this isn’t enough. Perhaps tremendous ego (in accompaniment with the genius, and a necessity for this extreme level of ambition) is what ultimately put the dynasty on the brink of peril. Biggs once referred to Dash as genius, visionary, and great motivator.
Seems like he would make a great football coach.
Tom Brady Is Jay Z
The talent. Actually, “talent” alone is a bit of an insult. They each hold pole position on the race for GOAT in their respective professions. Quiet leaders, insatiable competitors, hard-working self-made men who defied the odds to acquire greatness. Each famously guarded man is married to an iconic woman viewed by many as one of the most beautiful women on the planet. Trail blazers who used unconventional means to perfect their craft. Modest in interviews, boastful in competition—Tom Brady and Shawn Carter will conceal their intensity when not at work, yet it burns incandescently when the lights come on.
Hov & Brady share another commonality in that both were counted out from the beginning. Jigga couldn’t get a deal in the mid-’90s, which prompted the launch of Roc-A-Fella. TB12 was the eighth quarterback on the depth chart when he arrived at Michigan (and he still had to deal with Drew Henson later) and the fourth QB on the depth chart when he was drafted by the Patriots.
When asked about the ESPN report and external team distractions from the media when heading into a playoff game two weeks ago, here’s how the five-time Super Bowl champion responded:
“You know, along with winning and great success comes a lot of things. And, you know I think for a long time we’ve done a great job of winning games. And it forces people to be creative with what they talk about, and the things that they write, and things that they may speculate on because, diagnosing football plays doesn’t get the attention that some of these other things might.”
– Tom Brady
If Jay Z were a football player, that’s exactly how he would answer that question (seriously, go back and reread it in his voice). Both Hov and Brady have defied age and conventional theory with their most recent work. Each benefited greatly from the presence and contributions of the other members of the triumvirate, but it is widely understood they are the driving force behind everything (or, at least it should be).
Sidebar: Is it any coincidence Brady jogs out to “Public Service Announcement” before every home game?
Jimmy Garoppolo Is Cam’ron
New to the equation, this outsider came at a time when the dynasties had long since been solidified. Whether looked upon as a temporary shot in the arm or a long-term contingency plan, Cam and Jimmy G’s mere existence (purportedly) caused problems.
The ESPN report claims Brady felt threatened by Garoppolo and it appeared his understudy had earned great admiration from Belichick, admiration that has alluded Brady of late. Although Tom has famously thrived on competition dating back to his Michigan days, it stands to reason he would view his talented backup as someone who could come between him and his job.
In 2002, Cam’ron was famously introduced as a Vice President of Roc-A-Fella while Jay Z was overseas, causing a rift between Carter and Dash, who signed off on the move. This decision is viewed by many as the beginning of the end for The Roc, with the two Harlemites in one faction and Jay Z in another. The Roc’s rank and file were then left with a difficult decision.
Each man seemingly posed a threat of some kind to the status quo, “The Talent” in particular.
Alex Guerrero Is Kanye West
Who are these men exactly? Are they unconventional geniuses ahead of their time? Are they wack jobs desperate for attention? Could they be both?
Guerrero is a man who once proclaimed his training methods could cure cancer and AIDS. West, aka “God’s vessel”, has admitted that his greatest pain in life is being unable to watch himself perform live. The self-proclaimed “Michael Jordan of music” was given the keys to the Roc-A-Fella kingdom—first as a producer, then as a rapper, before ultimately becoming a cultural icon. Alex Guerrero never attained that level clout within the Patriots organization, but he did gain access into the Pats facility, working with a number of players and offering up training and recovery recommendations that conflicted with that of the team’s trainers and doctors. Most importantly, Guerrero successfully infiltrated the inner-sanctums of the star quarterback’s circle of trust.
If you’re the Patriots, Guerrero is a double-edged sword personified—a gift for elongating the career of the greatest quarterback that ever lived; a curse for inadvertently (we think) creating a divisive environment within the locker room, while bringing a cloud of deceit over a franchise that has already dealt with its share of them.
Once the Jay and Dame split was imminent, much of the Roc’s roster was forced to choose sides. Kanye opted to stick with his “big brother” Hov, to the ire of other labelmates (e.g. Dipset). The result: A long and prosperous friendship/partnership that extended well beyond the organization which brought them together. Brady and Guerrero’s relationship appears identical in nature.
There are several other supporting cast parallels between these two franchises. Julian Edelman is Memphis Bleek (TB12 and JE11 are even from the same area, just like Jay & Bleek). Rob Gronkowski is Beanie Sigel (Gronk is sooooooo Beans). Gisele is Beyoncé. And Drew Bledsoe might just be Biggie Smalls (maybe?). So how have the Patriots managed to keep their dynasty thriving after 18 years while Roc-A-Fella fell apart prematurely?
As difficult as it may be, the answer is as simple as burying ego and maintaining a singular focus.
While it’s borderline impossible to downplay the significance of the Kraft/Biggs and Belichick/Dash roles, it could be argued that Brady/Jigga largely carried their partners. On “Lost One”, it was Jay who took a shot at Dame by uttering, “I heard motherfuckas saying ‘they made Hov’/Made Hov say, ‘Okay so, make another Hov'”. Dash has yet to do so. Brady though is highly coachable and has never let ego interfere with winning. Although Jay Z was justified in his anger over the Cam situation, allowing it to sink the entire operation wasn’t a shrewd decision. That is, of course, there weren’t other underlying issues that spelled doom for The Roc, where there almost undoubtedly had to be.
“Everybody’s head was in a different space,” Biggs said of the split. Interestingly, he never attempted to mediate between Dame and Jay. Dash has laid blame for the breakup at the feet of former Def Jam exec Lyor Cohen. However, he’s also stated, “It look like, in order for one person to exist, they had to destroy everything else that was going on, and then everyone(‘s) getting Donald Trump’ed.”
It’s hard to imagine Belichick ever coming at Brady that way, even after a bitter breakup. It’s fair to wonder though, are we sure Brady and Belichick are destined for a nasty divorce like their hip-hop doppelgangers? The root of The Roc’s issues ranged anywhere from jealousy, to greed, to a lack of respect. But as ESPN’s Ian O’Connor wrote, “Brady’s sustained brilliance is the only reason that tension existed. Still playing at an MVP level at age 40, Brady became the first Patriot to outkick Belichick’s coverage.”
That hardly seems like a just reason to throw away 18 years. And who knows? If they make it to year 19, maybe they can make it to Super Bowl #9 too.