It’s the All-Star break…no Mariners games to watch. What better time to share a non-game-based Mariners story?
Raise your hand if you know that Ken Griffey, Jr. has his own rap song? (Not just a rap song about him, but a song in which HE IS THE RAPPER – or one of them, at least). This is my story about Ken Griffey, Jr. , the recording artist, and his buddy, Kid Sensation.
[For those with short attention spans, you can check out and buy the three Griffey-based songs here , here, and here (or on iTunes)…and an Ichiro! song here. For the rest of you, please come on a ride with me back to the 1990s.]
I loved the Kingdome. Safeco Field is outstanding, but the Kingdome will always feel like my baseball home. When they imploded the Dome in 2000, I calculated that I had spent 78 entire days of my life at the Kingdome – 97% or more of that time was at Mariners games.
One thing I loved about the Kingdome was it was sparsely populated. Often times 15,000-20,000 people were crammed into 55,000 seats. There was a ton of room to move around and get to know the place. And I did. I knew the place backwards and forwards.
In 1991, the Kingdome became even more exciting for me. For a 2-3 year span, my family’s partial season ticket plan landed in an interesting spot – about 3 feet from Ken Griffey, Jr.’s good friend and Seattle Rap Legend, Kid Sensation (a/k/a Xola Malik – pronounced “Ko-Lah”).
When I was growing up in the 80s, we would go to 10-20 Mariners games each season. In 1991, my parents decided to get the 20-game plan. We were in the second row behind the visitors’ bullpen (3B line) in the first four seats on the right side of the aisle. Across the aisle in the front row, there were two guys in their early-20s who always seemed to be having a great time. One of them immediately seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place him at first.
Right away, we noticed these guys were interacting with Griffey from the stands. Griff would give them a nod or a point of the glove. Then, we saw the “familiar looking guy” exiting the Dome with Griff through the players’ parking lot. “Who is this guy?”
Before long, I made the connection. I had Kid Sensation and Sir Mix-A-Lot in heavy rotation. I soon recognized my Kingdome section-mate on the cover of Kid Sensation’s debut album “Rollin’ With Number One.” (By the way, my favorite K-Sen song at the time was “SeaTown Ballers,” check it out here).
I wasn’t a shy kid. So I was quick to introduce myself. Xola was one cool dude. Xola and his buddy, who I will call “C” and is Griff’s friend from Cincinnati, were always willing to chat with me and my buddies. When I didn’t have my 20-game plan tickets, Xola and C would let me and my buddies sit in their extra seats (they had what seemed to be about six seats that were often times filled with their friends, including Craig “Younger Brother” Griffey and D.J. Train (see M.C. Ren and N.W.A.))
I seemed to be the only person in the Dome that figured out that we were sitting next to Kid Sensation. And for a teenage guy who was already listening to Kid Sensation’s music it was extremely cool.
In 1992, Xola came out with his sophomore album, The Power of Rhyme. I bought it immediately and was psyched to find a track, “The Way I Swing,” featuring the vocal-stylings of the Mariners All-Star Center Fielder. “Swing” is the first episode of a trilogy of Griffey-based songs released by Xola between 1992-2009. All three are “must have” tracks for any fan of Ken Griffey, Jr. and the Seattle Mariners.
“The Way I Swing” begins with Dave Neihaus’s classic call of Griffey’s home run in his first career at bat in the Kingdome. From there, the two friends banter back-and-forth about their mad skills in the batters box and recording studio. (e.g., “One likes to Bat, the other likes to Battle, one from Cincinnati, and the other’s from Seattle, Griffey’s batting average is three-oh-oh and the Kid is undefeated with a dozen K.O.’s”).
Considering that Griffey undeniably is a first ballot Hall of Famer (he should be a unanimous selection) and one of the best baseball players of all time, it is utterly amazing to me that “The Way I Swing” is not universally known by all baseball fans.
The second installment in the Griffey-trilogy is 2000’s “Do Your Thing.” “Thing” doesn’t feature Griffey on the microphone, but it offers an unique behind-the-scenes look at Ken Griffey, Jr. “the friend.” Xola pays tribute to Griff’s accomplishments as a Mariner, reminisces about the good times the two shared during Griff’s first stint in Seattle, and offers Griff encouragement and love as he joins the Cincinnati Reds. The song can break your heart as a Mariners fan, but offers a moving glimpse into Griff’s personal life and his decision to return home to Cincy.
Finally, with Griffey’s resigning with the Mariners in 2009, Xola released the celebratory track “Back Home.” The song is pure joy. It begins with a radio host announcing to his Seattle listeners that Griffey has resigned with the Mariners, it includes excerpts from Griffey’s re-introductory press conference, and it perfectly captures the sheer joy and elation that die-hard Mariners fans felt the day Griffey decided to come “Back Home.”
In 2009, Xola has, for the most part, retired the Kid Sensation moniker. He is preparing to release a new album simply as Xola Malik (lets face it, neither Xola nor Griff is a “kid” anymore). Meanwhile, he is a successful businessman (see http://www.henchhench.com), a dedicated philantrophist (see http://www.liveunited.org/music), and a creative producer/performer and actor.
Sitting next to Xola back in the Kingdome was a thrill. Although I didn’t meet Griff while sitting with Xola, I got a peak into his circle of friends and a what it must have been like to hang out with him back in his 20s. Plus, Xola and C were just fun to be around. I recall once that Xola ordered a bag of peanuts from Seattle’s famed peanut vendor Rick Kaminski…
The Peanut Man threw the peanuts from the top arrow to Xola standing at the point of the bottom arrow, and nailed Xola in the hands. Sadly, Xola does not quite have the glove Griff has and the peanuts escaped his grasp and landed in the bullpen. (That’s alright though, Griff doesn’t quite have the same skills in the booth as Xola, so we’ll call it a draw).
Well, that’s my story of Griffey the recording artist and his friend Kid Sensation. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll check out and enjoy these three great Griffey-based songs.
Tim and I will be checking out our first second-half game action this weekend in D.C…hopefully they actually play a game this time.