There have been some significant changes within the St. John’s athletics department since the start of my two years as the Torch’s sports editor.
We’ve witnessed Big East championships, national rankings and the dramatic overhaul of the school’s men’s basketball program.
But one thing happened over the course of my tenure as sports editor that I have wanted since even before I got to St. John’s. I wanted a fight song.
I have always thought that an original, well-composed fight song gave an athletics program an intimidating swagger and personal identity. Certainly, it’s not a necessary aspect of a successful athletics program, but it was something students could enjoy and support and former athletes could take pride in after their playing days subsided, something concrete linking them to the players of yesteryear.
And until this past basketball season, St. John’s didn’t have one — but it does now.
In November 2010, as the basketball season got underway, rapper and St. John’s alum Will Smooth gave the school an anthem, an adaptation of the Wiz Khalifa hit “Black and Yellow,” which Smooth fittingly dubbed “White and Red.”
“White and Red” was one of the many spinoffs of “Black and Yellow,” a song of tribute to Khalifa’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa. The “White and Red” video, which depicts Smooth and his pals enjoying the Red Storm’s Dec. 1 win over Wagner, became a permanent fixture at basketball games and on student Facebook pages.
It doesn’t have quite the classical elements of Michigan’s “Hail to the Victors” or Notre Dame’s “Victory March.” Within a few years,”White and Red,” will become more than just a feel-good hit. The song will rally future Red Storm teams to victory.
While “Hail to the Victors” and “Notre Dame Victory March” were both composed for a marching band to play and a large crowd to sing, “White and Red” was written for the sports fan in 2011. Smooth wrote a hip hop song for a largely hip hop audience, providing a refreshing take on a classic and fundamental element to the college athletics experience.
Is this where modern fight songs are headed, composed to fit popular music styles of the present day? Most college pep bands play cover versions of popular songs as it is — including the St. John’s band. It only made sense that the Red Storm’s rallying cry for the 2010-11 season come as an extension of (what has become) a Top 40 hit.
Part of what makes fight songs so important is their ability to brazenly inspire a team and its fan base while being brief enough so that the song doesn’t distract you from the game itself. “White and Red” does just that. The song’s lyrics don’t offer much for critical analysis, the hook is catchy and can stay in your head hours after you hear it.
You hear the names Steve Lavin and Malik Boothe without having to think too hard about what they really mean to the basketball program.
The song is even lighthearted enough to, at times, seem comical. Of course Smooth and his listeners don’t want to be in class. That would take away from their enjoyment of the basketball team.
Due to its contemporary nature, “White and Red” might appear gimmicky, its popularity the result of the utilization by the athletic department’s marketing team for continued support of the Red Storm. However, the only role marketing really served in the linking of Smooth’s song to St. John’s basketball is its frequency at games.
The song probably would not have been so successful had Smooth not had a reason to continue his support for the basketball team. As the team kept winning, amassing its first 20-win season since 2002-03, it was only right that “White and Red” remain in the St. John’s stratosphere. And who better to write that song than a former student and fan of the St. John’s program itself?
St. John’s now has a cool song it can be proud of, which shows off a former student’s pride for his school. By maintaining its relevance, you show off the pride you have for yours.