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Plus: Chris and Andy recall their favorite albums of 1996 and RZA remembers Phife Dawg.
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In the March 25 newsletter, Bryan Curtis takes a look at Twitter’s top trolls and RZA remembers Phife Dawg.
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Make America Tweet Again: The Bond Between Jim Harbaugh’s and Donald Trump’s Twitter Accounts

By Bryan Curtis

This week, a tweet was posted by a baseball-cap-wearing strongman. His name is Jim Harbaugh. But the tweet was a dead ringer for one of Donald Trump’s. It mocked a rival, helped Harbaugh seize control of the news cycle, and made otherwise skeptical reporters sprint to their keyboards.

Jim Harbaugh tweet

Observers from Paul Finebaum to the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein have pondered the link between the Michigan football coach and the Republican presidential contender. But it’s on Twitter where you can most closely see their common aesthetic. This week, Harbaugh was tweaked by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith for holding a team practice in Florida. Harbaugh might have laughed it off. Instead, he wrote, “Good to see Director Smith being relevant again after the tattoo fiasco” — a reference to a scandal that nearly obliterated the Buckeyes football program five years ago.

This is the classic Trump style: bludgeon an enemy with a tweet so cutting that it makes the press forget what the argument was even about. In this case: Michigan had just come out of a slack period, as Smith suggested; Tattoogate was a really dumb NCAA investigation. But nobody much cared. They were saluting Harbaugh’s “burn.”

Harbaugh has launched similar tweet-missiles at Georgia and Tennessee coaches. There was this classic from January, apparently aimed at the 49ers: “Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.” A 2015 blast (quoting Sir Walter Scott) was directed at the Buckeyes’ departing running backs coach.

As writer Ben Mathis-Lilley notes, most Harbaugh tweets don’t channel Mean Trump. In fact, they channel Dada Trump — the CEO who’s adding luster to the brand through winking self-parody. In this case, the Harbaugh brand is that of a hypercompetitive but hopelessly dorky dad, the kind who would have sleepovers at recruits’ houses. So here’s Harbaugh tweeting from inside the theater while watching The Force Awakens. Here’s Harbaugh throwing a football on the streets of Paris (“pretty darn nice!”). Here’s Harbaugh lobbying President Obama to put Judge Judy on the Supreme Court.

The two men have their differences. Harbaugh is a master of the subtweet; Trump is prone to add his target’s handle. But both men love bragging about “good friends” (Harbaugh: Jason Day; Trump: Tom Brady). And at least once, Harbaugh hewed to the classic Trumpian formula: a string of over-the-top compliments (or insults), followed by an exclamatory kicker:

Jim Harbaugh tweet 2
As with Trump, the press will enter a period of self-scrutiny about Harbaugh’s tweets. They will begin to see the posts as tantalizing semi-news that distract from stories about Michigan that are actually important. But until then, Harbaugh’s and Trump’s accounts share a final, almost noble quality: They reveal each man’s rivals (Ted Cruz, Mark Dantonio) as stuffed shirts that are utterly deaf to Twitter’s comic possibilities. Sad!
albums of 1996 artwork

The Watch 1996 Music Podcast Special

By Chris Ryan

This week on The Watch, Andy and I hit the rewind button, revisiting the music of our youth with a little help from our friends. We went back 20 years — when he and I met — to the music of 1996, and talked about what it meant to us then and what it means to us now.

It was a forward-looking, exploratory year for music. Albums from artists like Beck, Tricky, and DJ Shadow were like two-way radios, with new sounds coming in and going out. They blended country, reggae, metal, funk, psychedelia, rock, and, of course, hip-hop to make the future sound immediate.

Perhaps no record from 1996 better represented that generous pastiche than DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. The New Yorker’s Hua Hsu called in to the show talk to about the legacy of that loop-digger masterpiece.

It was also a huge year for rap music, and one of the chief architects of its sound at the time was Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, who called in to talk about Ghostface Killah’s Ironman album and the energy around Wu-Tang during their historic mid-’90s run.

Chris and Andy’s Top Five 1996 Albums

Chris Ryan

  1. Afghan Whigs, Black Love
  2. Ghostface Killah, Ironman
  3. The Spinanes, Strand
  4. Nas, It Was Written
  5. DJ Shadow, Endtroducing
Andy Greenwald
  1. Belle & Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
  2. Guided by Voices, Under the Bushes Under the Stars
  3. Various artists, Headz II
  4. Spoon, Telephono
  5. Suede, Coming Up
Phife Dawg
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Watch ’96 Bonus: RZA Remembers Phife Dawg

As told to Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald 

People were asking about [Phife] all day, and I just think it’s a personal day. But I’ll give you one thing. One of my favorite moments [with Phife] was the first time — I didn’t meet him, but kind of saw him. There’s a club in New York called the Red Zone, and I must’ve been 19 at the time, up in the club, and we all in there partying. Funkmaster Flex is the DJ, and this is right before they dropped “Can I Kick It?” … before the record comes out. Phife comes in — and everybody’s already on Tribe’s d-ck already, you know what I mean? And he comes in, and, yo — he climbs up to the DJ booth and kicks the verse from “Can I Kick It?”

He tore the whole f-cking club down. I was like, “Oh, sh-t.” ’Cause I didn’t know him, and he just came in there and just — as a MC and as a confident individual — came in there and flipped the whole club. I think somebody else [performed] before him, and I don’t know if it was Busta [Rhymes] or one of them. [But] it was over when he got on. So rest in peace to that good brother, man. Rest in peace. … Bong-bong. Long live hip-hop.

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