“It’s not bragging if you can back it”. So said Muhammad Ali. But at least he backed up his boast about “being the greatest of all time” by becoming the greatest of all time.
The time for showing off has not stopped and never will. In fact, it seems to have just started.
From rap music to sports, braggadocio is the order of the day. Whether it’s being arrogant about one’s physicality, fighting ability, financial wealth, sexual prowess, coolness or rhymes, athletes and rappers pull it off so well.
Boasting is becoming increasingly common. And out of control.
The brag is the backbone of rap. When used correctly, it can turn an awful collection of words that rhyme into massive punchlines.
Macho boasting is rap’s bread and butter, and Hip Hop, rap music to be specific, has been the primary avenue for the expression of this attitude.
You will hardly hear a rap song without an element of pride thrown into it. Not just a song, but some artistes will do it over an entire album (read Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne).
Braggarts have been in existence for decades. During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when black oppression was at its darkest, Black Americans used this as one of the many kinds of ways of lashing out and defying the system.
But let’s not be judgemental. Just as Common wouldn’t be Common without his socially-conscious rhymes, Birdman wouldn’t be Birdman without his baller status.
Bryan Williams aka Birdman aka #1 Stunna is a master show off – so much that I don’t remember hearing him rapping anything conscious in his songs. Take “I Run this”, for instance. He raps: “Bought a brand new range and a brand new ‘bac (maybach), old school caddy, fifth wheel slab back, brand new truck, a brand new bike, a brand new house, a brand new side, a brand new b with a hood rich life…”
He’s not the only one though. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative album “Watch the Throne” is a pride monster – the sound of booming beats and loud mouthed, tuneless egotists chanting. Listening to it makes it clear that Jay-Z and Kanye West are much richer than the listeners are.
Kanye West gets into full show-off mode on “Cold”, a track on his and his labelmates’ Cruel Summer album. He enthuses about matters fashion credibility, besides implying that he would have basketballer Kris Humphries kicked out of the New Jersey Nets if he wanted to, simply because he (Yay) is close friends with part-owner Jay-Z.
Sure, boasting is integral in Hip Hop, but some rapper’s lines border on the ridiculous. One of the most memorable ones is Diddy’s “Young, black, and famous, with money hanging out the rear” from the “Can’t nobody hold me down” remix.
Yet rap is not the only arena that people try to conquer through their self-imposed egos. Sports is another.
Upon being crowned the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2009, superstar footballer Cristiano Ronaldo said that he was good enough to be the top three all by himself, that is pick up what he had won as well as the runner-up and second runner-up awards.
Quite befitting for a man who once showed off to his mates some text messages that he had supposedly got from socialite Paris Hilton.
His manager at Real Madrid is no stranger to boastful antics. While manager of Chelsea, Jose Mourihno once intimidated Arsenal before a match against the club by indicating that he had never lost a big game in his entire career.
Amid suggestions that Lionel Messi is a greater footballer than Pele was, the Brazilian said he wants all the comparisons between him and Messi to stop until the Argentinian scores his 1,000th career goal.
Boasting is not always verbal though. People have witnessed Usain Bolt’s pre-race clowning, and the stunts he pulls after he wins races. At least he backs this up with gold medals and time records.
The norm is, however, in boxing. The sport is perhaps the most associated with such as before matches, contenders usually exchange a tirade of words.
There is not the least a sign of humility when Floyd Mayweather Jr evaluates his own place in the spectrum of all-time boxers. He in the past told journalists that “Ali was a great fighter, but I’m better. Robinson was a great fighter, but I’m better.”
Better than Ali? Neither in the ring nor in bragging rights.
Ali, one of the best fighters of all time, used boasting as a tactic to put opponents under pressure. He was such a confident man.
“I have wrestled with an alligator. I done tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail. That’s bad! Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick! I’m so mean I make medicine sick!”
This he said during a press conference before his Rumble in the Jungle match up with George Foreman in October of 1974.
Why is this the case? One might ask.
A recent study by Americans S Mark Young and Dr Drew Pinsky argues that celebrities are a self-selected group of people preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.
Whereas it is certainly true that some individuals decide to pursue acting or singing careers for the pure love of the artistic forms in question, the great majority of celebrity wannabes are largely driven by the outcomes, for example fame, money and adulation. The extraordinary attention that is lavished on celebrities makes it easy to succumb to one’s hype.
For many celebrities, an explanation of the concept of self-confidence is hardly necessary. In essence, when they (and anyone else) brag, they feel confident and are more readily able to turn their potential into superior performance.
After all, as Ali again said, “I don’t think it’s bragging to say I’m something special.”
So, some would say that there’s a clear line between confidence and pride, but as these artistes and athletes continue rubbing our noses in their riches and achievements, let’s just understand that it’s a little ego boost on their part.