Death struck chord
Rapper Hawkins was a positive influence in Dempsey's life
Clint Dempsey's music video is part hip-hop, part soccer. (Nikesoccer.com)
Earlier this month, Clint Dempsey was awaiting the news that he would be named to the United States national team for the World Cup, a designation that could lift his soccer career to the next level. But early that Tuesday morning, Dempsey received a disturbing call -- John Edward ''Big Hawk" Hawkins, who had recorded a soccer rap song with Dempsey, had been killed in Houston.
Understandably, Dempsey took the news hard and, before going to Revolution practice in Foxborough, called his brother, Ryan.
''Did I dream that or did it really happen?" Clint asked.
Ryan had telephoned his brother after receiving a text message informing him of Hawkins's death at 3 a.m. May 2. That evening, the World Cup team was announced and Dempsey's name was included.
The next day, Dempsey was still dealing with his emotions.
''I don't think either one has really set in," Dempsey said. ''It was certainly a bittersweet day. For the World Cup, once I get to the camp, I guess it will hit me. For the other, it probably won't be until I hear from my friends what actually happened or go home to Texas."
Dempsey's world while growing up in Nacogdoches, Texas, revolved around soccer and music. Often, the two were combined during seven-hour round-trip journeys to Dallas for games and practices, Clint working on his rap routines in the car.
And when Dempsey became involved in an advertising campaign for soccer earlier this year, he again was able to combine rap and his favorite sport, this time in a recording studio.
Dempsey and his US national team roommate, Eddie Johnson, in fact, inspired part of the text to the ''Don't Tread on This" advertising theme, their backgrounds symbolizing rags-to-(potential)-riches stories and the spread of soccer to nearly every strata of society. Dempsey grew up in a trailer park, and the family automobile did not have a radio -- hence the long-distance rapping. Johnson emerged from an underprivileged neighborhood in North Florida.
Dempsey and Hawkins also quickly found common ground. Dempsey considers himself something of a crusader for soccer and for being a motivational role model. Hawkins tuned into this and realized he could spread his word into the soccer nation.
''He was the man we looked up to," Ryan Dempsey said of Hawkins. ''It was a huge event in our life, working with Hawk in a video. It's not equivalent, but it was similar to Clint getting to play with [Diego] Maradona. Hawk was a semi-celebrity, the guy you saw in all the magazines. Clint doesn't get starstruck, but just say he had the utmost respect for the guy."
By the time the video had been completed, Hawkins had started viewing soccer matches on television. Each time Dempsey scored, Hawkins would call him. Hawkins was particularly impressed when Dempsey converted in a 1-0 win over Poland in Kaiserslautern, Germany, according to Ryan.
''Before, I didn't know Hawk personally but I knew him through his music," Clint Dempsey said. ''We bought all his CDs. He had to take a step out of his comfort zone to see what was going on. But he put a lot into the project and went that extra mile. He didn't know who I was and we just kind of hit it off. Hopefully, kids hear the track and it touches a few of them and they get influenced and motivated by it, because that's what it is for.
''They play the song before the national team games, which is really cool. I think it will pick up as we get toward the World Cup and I hope it does, in memory of Hawk, so that people get to see one of the last projects he worked on and what a good artist he was."
The rap/soccer connection stretched to the recording itself, made in the Nacogdoches studio of Mike Chehade, whose father had played soccer in Lebanon and was a key coaching figure in Clint and Ryan's budding careers.
''There was talk of Hawk performing at halftime for the Houston Dynamo," Ryan said. ''He wanted to show this wasn't a one-time thing, thanks for the money, I'm done. He wanted to show the soccer world he was on board and at least draw attention toward the game. He's got a following that's ridiculous in Texas. So, you see Hawk bringing people into soccer, but we also see it the other way around -- we helped get Hawk's face out there on a different frontier."
The Dempsey boys reflect the socio-cultural fabric of Nacogdoches, their family an ethnic minority in an area that is mostly black and Hispanic. Clint is among the few Major League Soccer players equally comfortable with Anglo, Caribbean, and Hispanic media; talking rap is second nature.
No motive has been determined and there have been no arrests in the shooting of John Edward Hawkins. But police believe the killing was different from the slaying of other rappers.
''Investigators spoke with numerous family members who really couldn't think of anybody who would want to harm or kill him," police spokesman John Cannon told the Houston Chronicle.
Hawkins had driven to a friend's house next to Texas Southern University for a game of dominoes when he was shot at about 10:45 p.m. May 1, according to police. The friend had not yet arrived, and Hawkins was shot several times after going to the side of the house.
''It's got to either be a case of mistaken identity or attempted robbery by somebody who didn't realize who they were robbing," rap artist Paul Wall told the Chronicle. ''Hawk was all about bringing people together."
Said Port Arthur, Texas, rapper Bun B.: ''There were no chinks in this man's moral armor. Because he was a rapper, there will be people who will take his death the wrong way, but he was a peaceful guy and family man who had no beefs with anybody."
Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, and others have emerged on the national rap scene, partly because Hawkins paved the way and acted as a mentor.
''When he lost his brother a few years ago, that got Houston even more behind that group and that scene," Ryan said of Hawkins. ''Any guys that are making it big on MTV today, they all pay tribute to him and his group.
''When we ran into [Hawkins], we were all ears. And he was more than willing to dish out secrets and help Clint with his delivery. We looked at him, basically, as the legend of Texas."