Crawford and Inoue Close July With Indisputable P4P Statements; Prove ‘Sleep is the Cousin’

Sound For Sound is a recurring column that further explores the relationship of rhythm and boxing by celebrating the music that influences and motivates fighters as they prepare for, and to excel under, the game’s brightest of lights.

Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford

Boxing’s Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue Lit Up Late-July; Vega7 the Ronin Showcases Boxing Royalty on His Debut Album

A pair of monumental matchups solidified that the rightful owners of the summit of boxing’s Pound-for-Pound ranking would be decided before the world reached August 1. In boxing’s glamorous Welterweight division undefeated unified champion Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr. and WBO champion Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford was finalized for July 29. And for a highly anticipated mid-week early-morning scrap on Tuesday, July 25, Super Bantamweight division undefeated unified champion “Cool Boy” Stephen Fulton would pack his bags to face Naoya “The Monster” Inoue over in Tokyo, Japan.

During combat the swordsman must not concern himself with matters of the living. While in battle he is neither alive nor dead. – Narration from the “N2” interlude on the album Sleep is the Cousin

Both Crawford and Inoue previously achieved boxing’s highest distinction by becoming undisputed, four-belt champions at the max limit one below the divisions they fought in last week.

The rap industry is arguably a close cousin to boxing in terms of its waning popularity, as well as the complexities involved with its most skilled performers being able to receive his or her just due. The most elite performers in both fields often originate from the same modest beginnings. Today, nonexistent attention spans and the trending purchasing habits of listeners don’t lend themselves to this being an era in which the quality of an album is a chief factor regarding which artists are lauded as the best. Rappers are either on the readily available number of “Most Streamed” lists or they’re nonexistent.

A few months ago, while scrolling on Instagram I stumbled across some content featuring Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco, for sure, and I think Mickey Factz. The main statement that stood out was Fiasco – a highly regarded emcee in his own right – stating the claim some artist named Vega7 the Ronin (pronounced as “Vega Seven”) is the best rapper alive. Maybe it was – and I paraphrase – the best rapper he’s heard.

High praise! Especially for an emcee I’d never even heard of until that clip. I clicked on Vega’s “@”, perused his roughly dozen posts, and saw enough to just follow and monitor what happens next. Either that day, or within a few weeks later, another IG post revealed that a Vega album – a Long Play or LP – was forthcoming and that it would be exclusively produced by a talented European producer named Superior. Hmmm – I was a pretty big fan of Superior’s work, but it was mostly a small sampling that consisted of his 2019 joint project Long Story Short featuring rapper Eto. I was led to Long Story on the strength of Estee Nack’s 2020 Superior-helmed LP Baladas.

Out of the four EPs and three LPs I actually listened to in 2020, Long Story was my “My Most Slept on Best Album of 2019.” A bold stance I vigorously argued, with the three IG followers I have, in the latter part of 2020! At any rate, the debut album of Vega landed on my radar, and I started monitoring mentions of the title in a familiar sounding new hashtag – Sleep is the Cousin. I’m just going to presume you understand the origins of that title if you’re reading this.

Ironically, the arrival of the album and the voice of this Lu-endorsed Vega was slated for early-July.

Boxing Started Cooking in July

The long-awaited Spence-Crawford fight by itself cemented July as boxing’s best month of 2023 for (most) boxing fans. It was a bonus that the postponed Fulton-Inoue clash landed in the same week. Briefly, talks of an Anthony Joshua return surfaced, also for July, as a means to get the two-time former Heavyweight champion a fight in ahead of a rumored December showdown versus former WBC champion Deontay Wilder.

Naoya Inoue

While the Joshua bout ultimately slid back to an August date, fans received a bonus attraction in the form of rising Welterweight sensation Jaron “Boots” Ennis against one-loss Roiman Villa in a July 8 bout. A day before Sleep is the Cousin dropped on all DSPs.

Ennis-Roiman represented excellent staging by Showtime Boxing in providing fans a somewhat side-by-side comparison of the 147-pound division’s future, and then the coronation of its king a few weeks later. Boxing rarely goes off without multiple hiccups. Fellow top-ranked Welterweight contender Vergil Ortiz Jr. withdrew from his twice-postponed showdown with WBA (Regular) champion Eimantis Stanionis.

Stanionis-Ortiz was scheduled to stream concurrently on the DAZN app with Ennis-Villa. The schedule was set up to deliver fans the whole shooting match at Welterweight.

Is ‘Sleep’ the Arrival of a New Contender?

While the rap game does somehow remind me of the fight game, there just aren’t really any head-to-head battles nowadays to definitively settle such debates regarding who’s the best. Or did Verzuz survive COVID?

Commercially, Vega probably never stood much of a chance of being lauded as Best New Artist. Not for the GRAMMYs, BET Awards, or even the BET Hip Hop Awards. I know ‘Hip Hop’ is in there, but… c’mon you’ve seen who the previous recipients have been. I know I haven’t.

I don’t know if I wholly agree with Lupe Fiasco’s assessment of Vega. Is he the best rapper alive? Maybe. The honor is totally subjective. That whole argument has just become way too convoluted for me to even engage in the conjecture with a straight face. People like who they like. Or people like who’s right in front of their eyes. And an emcee of Vega’s ilk just isn’t going to be force fed or showcased to today’s hip hop listeners. He’ll have to be searched for, found, and really listened to in order to be fully appreciated. Frankly, amid the bevy of today’s ‘coke rap’ records and artists whose material centers hustlin’, and all the spoils and tumult associated with it, Vega is attempting to do something unique with the content of Sleep. The opus represents a return to lyricism, vocabulary, expansive subject matter, and individuality.

I will say Vega and Superior teamed up and delivered 14 substantively rich, exceptionally produced songs to complete an intricately packaged LP. The album is fire – maybe its arrival is just 20-plus years past when fans are capable of comprehending its exceptionalism. One quality of today’s albums – real hip hop albums that hearken back to the genre’s Golden Era of concept albums – that’s probably lost on much of the public is that there used to be a larger machine that produced such albums. The quality attained by some of today’s indie artists with their releases is commendable.

Today, there’s a rare number of individuals who have high enough of a personal standard, plus an internal operating system, that inherently steers one towards crafting a project such as Sleep is the Cousin.

Fortunately, for the intents and purposes of S4S this album is the perfect match! Typically, unless its Ransom season, boxing just gets a slick mention or two in a bar of a song by Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher, and possibly some GOATs with multiple decades of service like Nas or Black Thought. Oddly enough, Vega’s sweet science references often make him come off as a peer to the Queensbridge legend that coined the phrase that’s become this album’s namesake.

No time to brilliantly tie in Vega’s lyrics to the captivating recent performances of Crawford and Inoue. I’ll just let them be the highlights that they are in the order they appear on Sleep. Let’s stick with how fight fans are introduced to most prospects – check out these four one-sided rounds with Superior adroitly working the corner with the production.

“N1 (Sleep is the Cousin)” (track No. 1):

“The dank aroma of hydrochloric acid on ya flesh/Ya burnt skin got the room smellin’ like acetone and meth/I’m like the Larry Holmes of text/Every bar I script hittin’ hard as shit/See the scars on these fists/It ain’t happen from jabbing sparring mitts/Y’all dish it off when you in a jam – John Starks assist/This Rémy XO rap, and ya shit a bottle of Arbor Mist…

“Enterprise” (track No. 4):

(the chorus) “Picture someone saying Vega was begging, looking for help/Learned that if you want ya steak perfect, it’s best to cook it ya self/Don’t ask me why I fight y’all n—-s but never put up the belt/Take a look at me, then take a look at ya self.

“Look, I could understand if y’all tempted to quit it/cause rappers y’all worship and envy for lyrics/Talk shit like sensitive bitches – (stay livid)/This when Evander had got his revenge with Riddick/They gon’ try to discredit my win if the fight get sent to decision/it’s gonna be a lot of broken bones if y’all don’t surrender to submission/Bet you I run outta contenders in this division/That’s a given…

“Stone Fish Venom” (track No. 6):

“Banned from the league/at heavyweight for having bantam hand speed/Split the heavy bag at the canvas seam/… I drink a gallon of mead from a Viking horn/Titan Tron/I’m in Ivan form/after he battled Creed/I’m ten toes Simone Biles’ routine/on a balance beam…

“M-65 Jackets” (track No. 12)

“You took a dart and lunged/I partially spun/and let the momentum from ya own blade get the carving done/Ya eyes in horror, stunned/Blood from ya artery run/Ya body get numb/Like it was Bacardi Rum/Rubbed on a toddler’s gums/Fuck I look like trying to haggle and bargain with bums/Word to Hagler the marvelous one/Y’all better doggie paddle when that water comes…

Naoya Inoue

The only remaining question I was left with respect to Vega7 after spending a month with Sleep is, will he have a GOAT-worthy multiple decades spanning campaign post-mask reveal on par with Wu Tang’s Ghostface Killah? I mean, overnight, we have moved to comparing Crawford to legends like “Sugar” Ray Leonard and “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather.

Crawford vs Inoue for Boxing’s P4P No. 1

Boxing fans never sleep on a good debate. They do invariably sleep on random fighters or fights. Both Crawford and Inoue entered into their recent career-defining fights with a great degree of question looming over them and their legitimacy – as either division or P4P champions.

A significant number of fans scoffed at Crawford’s undisputed status as a Junior Welterweight. The Omaha, Neb. native achieved that feat with a third-round stoppage of then undefeated IBF/WBA champion Julius Indongo in August 2017. He again received marginal credit for capturing the WBO Welterweight title by knocking out Manny Pacquiao conqueror, Australian Jeff Horn, when he made his debut in the division in June 2018.

The oddsmakers, as well as several notable boxing pundits, viewed Crawford as a favorite, if only slightly, against Spence. And ultimately Spence became the eighth consecutive Welterweight stopped inside the distance by the soon to be 36-year-old two-division undisputed champion – boxing’s first and only male.

Unfortunately, Inoue’s problem is that the average (U.S.) boxing fan isn’t always that well-informed about the boxers that spend their careers toiling in the smaller weight divisions. Some fans begin to doze off once the subject dips below Lightweight or the 135-pound max. Inoue raised the Ali Trophy with his brilliant run through the World Boxing Super Series’ Bantamweight 8-man tournament in 2018-2019. The 30-year-old 11-year veteran eventually validated his WBSS finale victory over future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire with a stellar second round knockout in their June 2022 rematch. Due to Nonaire’s age, and 40-5 record, some chose to sleep on The Monster’s gritty performance in The Ring’s 2019 Fight of the Year. The rematch three years later did little to move the needle in any appreciable way.

Even Inoue’s detractors’ interest piqued in early 2023 when the Japanese phenom vacated his four Bantamweight titles, moved up a division and undefeated WBC/WBO champion Fulton was announced as the opponent for his 122-pound debut. His destruction of Fulton, an eighth-round technical knockout preceded by seven rounds of masterful execution by the three-division champion, raised the bar mightily for the Spence/Crawford winner to clear some 96 hours later at a sold-out Las Vegas T-Mobile Arena.

Naoya Inoue

In the end, fans questioned the weight cut for the 33-year-old long-reigning champion Spence. Some countered Crawford’s nine-round dominance with the belief the Texan sustained irreparable damage from his 2019 single-car accident. In Fulton’s case, well, he made the mistake of traveling over to Japan to cede his homefield advantage. Or his camp’s last-ditch public grievance about the legality of Inoue’s hand wrapping technique signaled, all along, he went into the fight focused on all the wrong things.

Boxing is combat, and while much of this all-too-common post-fight palaver is relevant, it all sounds like matters of the living.

I will agree that Spence looked like a lesser version of himself two Saturdays ago. But I’d also written and vlogged about timeliness being paramount in getting Spence-Crawford done by Premier Boxing Champions and broadcast partner Showtime. More importantly, I raised questions about the drawn-out process of finalizing the fight possibly causing Spence to be too inactive for a fighter of Crawford’s caliber. Spence fans mainly wanted to criticize Crawford for his unpopular decision to move forward with a December 2022 defense against David Avanesyan. The average Spence supporter had grown impatient, and only saw the voluntary defense as a way to delay the inevitable coronation of their fighter.

Terence Crawford

In another sports-related non-boxing reference where Vega is clearly on the front foot flummoxing opponents, he hints at his admiration for the preparedness of renowned gym rats on Body Count when he raps “…I am Giannis in the post/I’m Black Mamba with the ‘fro/Can’t have an incompetent coach/and look for Popovich results…”

That bar isn’t to be confused as being an attack on Derrick James, WBA and WBC Trainer of the Year in 2020, with respect to his performance as Spence’s chief second. But the sentiment is being used to underscore my view that the businesspeople in Spence’s camp seemingly failed to best serve the long-term interests of their talented charge – the most valuable asset on the PBC roster.

Sleep… is the cousin.

Now that YouTube Boxing and all the podcasters have parsed the rounds of the two historical bouts, and thoroughly weighed the merits of the authors of the all-time performances, what’s the final word? I’ll leave you to it.

I was captivated as Inoue outboxed the versatile Fulton and left the Philly native without any real estate to work from in hopes of gaining some semblance of control over the smaller fighter. Once Inoue got into the higher gears and vanquished Fulton, I moved him to No. 1 P4P. Glad I wrote that in pencil.

With Crawford embarrassing Spence from the second frame on, and dropping the 2012 Olympian in Round Two, the switch-hitting puncher dropped Inoue to No. 2. But I’ll go along with both performances being akin to the feats of the ’72 Dolphins.

All Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford photos courtesy of Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

All Stephen Fulton vs Naoya Inoue photos courtesy of Naoki Fukuda

All song lyrics are from the Vega7 the Ronin & Superior album entitled Sleep is the Cousin

RL Woodson

I'm all over the place, literally. Click on something and I'll explain it all. A Tribe Called Quest fan, Good Will Hunting, HTTR and Michigan athletics... #DLTCYO

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