Finally, the Ray Lewis mixtape is here

Jim Rogash

You wanted a mini-mixtape of Pharrell beats and vague but deeply felt Ray Lewis motivational speechifying, right? Anyway, you've got it.

Ray Lewis has spent most of his life working at exactly the right job for him. This isn't to say that Ray Lewis couldn't have been a successful nutritionist or muffler salesman or yoga instructor or server at Red Lobster. But it's hard to see Lewis' gift for violence in the service of extreme emotional conviction and dewy-eyed motivational barking playing up quite as well at Jenny Craig or Meineke or Bliss Yoga and Wellness Center or in the service of pushing the new Sweet N' Drippy Shrimp appetizer.

Lewis would certainly be convincing in his calls to limit portion size and so on. But there would be the sense, in a non-football setting, that this nutritionist/muffler salesman/yoga instructor/server is getting pretty mystical and awfully passionate and off topic. (Also the faint suspicion that you or someone else is in danger.) This was not the case for Lewis during his years as a Baltimore Ravens linebacker. His personality and passionate improvised victory rhetoric suited him perfectly, there.

Take his speechifying out of a NFL context, though, and Lewis' extra-emotional feel-blasts are, while clearly heartfelt, pretty close to nonsense much of the time. A fan-made YouTube compilation of Lewis' rhetorical highlights -- the inevitable Explosions In The Sky soundtrack doesn't get dropped in until around the one-minute mark, if you want to skip ahead -- is a perfect example of this.

Throw the right music underneath it, and stick it in the mock-martial context of a NFL game, and you're ready to run through a wall. Watch it at home, and it's misty gobbledygook. That the video is entitled "Law of Victory" is perfect, in this sense, because it sounds significant and serious and strong, but also doesn't mean a blessed thing. It's something a Conference USA coach writes on a dry-erase board before the Tulane game, then underlines a few times. But in Ray Lewis' mouth and with the right music underneath, and over images of Ray Lewis destroying things and vibrating intensely in slow motion, it works like crazy.

So it makes sense that someone at Under Armour thought it would be a good idea to make a mixtape featuring disconnected Ray Lewis motivational blurps over inspirational beats. It even makes a sort of sense that Pharrell Williams would be the guy to make those beats. But the resulting mixtape -- it's called Natural Born Hitters, and is just four-and-a-half minutes long, in total -- does not really make a lot of sense. And not in the good/effective way that Ray Lewis generally does not make a lot of sense.

Only some of this is Ray Lewis' fault. It is true that a lot of what he says is passionate word salad, but that is at least somewhat the point in something like this, which is designed to set a mood for high school weight room sessions, not work as an instructional guide to personal improvement. Still, the tape clips even that low bar. Here are some things Lewis says on the first song of the tape, "Training." I'll capitalize for emphasis, because the whole thing, as with all Ray Lewis sentences, is in italics.

Life is about moments. Life is about remembering that One Thing that changed my life.

Do you have that real look in your eye. That when you look at yourself in the mirror you can ask yourself this question: did I give everything I got?

Well? Think about it before you answer.

Anyway, that's probably the best of the three songs. The second, "Practice" sounds like an unusually motivational Philip Glass song, or the music playing under the Player Select screen on a Sega game about exercising. It has very little Ray Lewis in it, too -- what small vocal flourish he provides sounds like it came from mashing away on this soundboard. The third song, "Pre-Game" has some more Lewis-ian shouting, which is a good thing, but it also sounds like Matt Foley arguing with a M83 demo. And that's the whole tape.

It's something of a disappointment, given that Lewis is such a promising vocalist -- imagine Mystikal without the Mystikal-crippling burden of having to rhyme words, or M.O.P. shouting about Pushing Yourself To Pursue Greatness instead of gun violence. It's still something of a success, relative to Lewis' new peers in the world of NFL broadcasting -- it's safe to say that Ron Jaworski's mixtape would have less energy, for starters. But it still feels like something of a missed opportunity.

And that's a shame. Because someday, in this life, Ray Lewis will have to look back. And he'll have to ask himself: can I look myself in the eyes, can I ask myself the question: do you have the hunger that it takes, in your heart. In your mind. And to make the decision... to say... that this game, this day, this hour could be my last. And to do it. All sixty minutes. Not for me. Not for glory. But for all of us. And to be there for that. And to say, when it's all over, there goes a man's effort. To achieve.

And the answer, I think, will be "maybe, but not necessarily on this particular collection of songs."

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