When funds are on E and money’s tighter than a headband, the right song can really help to make sense out of hard times. “What If Times” is that anthem from the mighty Shinobi Ninja, a six-person hip-hop, punk and pop-metal mash-up band. They downshift from their signature louder, more playful sound to get eye-level and personal on this tune, sharing personal war stories about growing up working poor and resilient in their native Brooklyn.
Shinobi Ninja, fronted by MC/vocalists Baby G and D.A., has earned a substantial fan base following the span of two well-received albums since their formation in 2008, and the slow-burn exposure of touring steady nationally. They’ve also benefited from some savvy new media moves. Their 2011 single, “Rock Hood,” was featured on the NBA 2K12 video game, propelling the song to sell 5.5 million copies worldwide; and they put out their own video game app, Shinobi Ninja Attacks!, in 2010—which was eventually downloaded a whopping 60,000 times.
The video for “What If Times,” told visually through a fish-eye lens, perfectly captures beauty in economic struggle, in all of its humbling grace. A game of handball in the summertime. Offering a hand to a weary panhandler. Neighborhood kids singing along to the hook’s every word. Simple human connection and community.
For Baby G—the band’s female lead vocalist who formerly sang and danced professionally for Rihanna, Diddy and Santigold—“What If Times” is a song “about growing up. How things weren’t optimal, but that if times didn’t get better than the best they ever were, then that would be okay. Because even though times are hard [for us], they’re harder for other people. We don’t have it that bad. But the struggle is real to achieve. So it’s about gaining success but also understanding how good even the hard times are. Life is beautiful. And so are you.”
In the lyrics to “What If Times,” co-vocalist D.A. also uses a breezy basketball metaphor to sum up its meaning and philosophy: “Sometimes you get the swish, sometimes you get the miss.”
Sun Singleton is a musician/editor/journalist based in New York City whose work has been featured in a variety of publications, including Vibe, Mass Appeal, Complex.com, EBONY.com, Bronx Biannual, YOYO/SO4 and BET Digital. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter at @sunsing.
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