Ode to the Owl

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We first met more than a decade ago. I was at our friends’ house, and the husband’s brother in law was hanging around. “I’m Aaron,” he said.

We shook hands, and began speaking hip-hop. He loved Tribe and PE and Jay-Z and Eminem and all the greats. He knew lyrics, back stories, sagas. Then he said something funny. “I was once in a video that played a lot on MTV.”

“Yeah,” I said. “OK.”

“Um, you wanna see it?”

So, sheepishly, Aaron Handelman showed my the video for “Let’s Begin,” a song from an early-2000s rap group named Bad Ronald. And he was, well, sorta embarrassed. “That’s not who I am as a rapper,” he told me. “It was something I did.”

From that point on, seeing Aaron was always an absolute joy. We struck up a friendship based largely upon songs and geography. I found his musical background fascinating, and his skills ridiculously impressive. Every now and then he’d e-mail me a track from something he toyed with. The talent was clear. So, half a decade ago, I asked—with expectations of rejection—whether he’d consider doing a promotional rap for my upcoming Walter Payton bio. “Yeah, man,” he replied. “Absolutely.”

The resulting song, “Sweetness,” kicks ass. It’s just a wonderful tune, one I’ve listened to, oh, 700 times. Here’s a sampling. Two years later, Aaron did it again—this time for Showtime. If possible, the jam is even better.

I’m sorta babbling here. Aaron goes by the hip-hop moniker “MC White Owl.” He once told me doing the song for “Sweetness” helped nudge him back into hip-hop. Perhaps he was just being nice, but since then he’s released two CDs—the second of which, titled “Beatz Rhymez Drugz,” dropped earlier this month. I would love Aaron’s story even were we not pals. It’s the narrative of a guy who had a record deal when he was young, never felt good about the product his group was releasing, lost the deal (Bad Ronald’s album was released 9.11.01), drifted into obscurity, rediscovered his love and returned 1,000 times better than before.

I’m not merely saying this because we’re friends and hip-hop/literary partners: Aaron is absolutely brilliant, and the new music kicks ass. I‘ve now played one song, “The Dead Poet,” about 35 times, and it’s a compact piece of pure MC magic.


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