Campus Corner

KU Chalkboard: The story of Frank Mason and the rap song he inspired

His name is Derek Minigan Jr. He is 21 years old. He grew up in Hopewell, Va., a tiny little speck of a town in Prince George County.

He is also responsible for creating the greatest rap track in history about a starting point guard from Kansas, which is why Minigan spent a large chunk of his Thursday afternoon answering emails and refreshing his Twitter while the song he wrote became a momentary Thing in one very small pocket of the Internet.

The internet is weird in this way. Consider this story: Last March, after working on a new track, Minigan logged onto YouTube and uploaded a new song with a basic title that pretty much got to the point. It was called: Frank Mason. The track, which we should mention is incredibly not suitable for work, was an ode to a childhood acquaintance (Mason) who was now playing basketball at the University of Kansas. For Minigan — who raps under the moniker “RedHead” — it was a way to pay tribute.

“My respect for him is off of the Richter scale,” Minigan told The Star in an email.

Minigan and Mason were not great friends growing up. But Mason grew up in nearby Petersburg, and the community is small enough that pretty much everybody knows everybody. So when Mason signed to play basketball at Kansas, Minigan promised Mason that he would create a track in his honor. The track hit the internet last spring, six days after No. 2 seed Kansas fell to No. 10 seed Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. So, yes, the timing was off, but that wasn’t the only thing the song had going against it. Minigan had crafted a catchy track with a decent hook, but he had also written a song about a freshman backup point guard who played 16 minutes per game, averaged 5.5 points and shot 32.7 percent from the free throw line.

As one might expect, the song’s hook — “(Expletive), I’m Frank Mason” — felt a little lofty. So that was about it. The song amassed a couple thousand views on YouTube. A few Kansas fans took notice. And Minigan, who has been rapping since he was 12, figured he’d move on to the next project.

But, of course, this is not the end of the story. Seven months later, Kansas began another basketball season, and Mason was no longer a freshman backup. He was suddenly very, very awesome at basketball. After 14 games, Mason is averaging 12.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds while playing 33.4 minutes per game — the unquestioned MVP of a Kansas team that has straddled the line between very good and very awful. It’s not just the numbers, either. Mason is listed at 5 feet 11, which might be generous, and he is athletic enough to do like seven back-flips in a row (he did this last summer). So based on pure aesthetics, Mason is a joy to watch. But he also plays the game with a sort of recklessly cold intensity; bouncing across the floor with a flourish, but doing it mostly with a cool stoicism.

“He's been incredible this whole year,” teammate Kelly Oubre says, “our heartbeat.”

Mason’s development, presumably, piqued interest in the ultra-fun point guard from Petersburg, and this week, Grantland writer Mark Titus discovered and tweeted out the original YouTube version of Frank Mason. The internet, of course, has the strange ability to turn a thing into a Thing in a matter of minutes, and by early Thursday afternoon, Frank Mason had become a Thing.

There are things about the song that are genuinely great. In the opening lines, RedHead rhymes Kansas with Kansas — "Yeah, I'm down in Kansas, ballin’ like I play for Kansas." Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden all get name-checked. And then there’s the incredible (and again, NSFW) hook, which we must allow Minigan to explain.

“The hook came about from me just thinking of something that would be catchy and that would make people want to figure out, ‘Why is he saying he's Frank Mason when he's not?’ ” Minigan said. “It's a play on words just basically stating that I'm living great, and I used balling out with money as a reference to actual basketball and Frank's career.”

OK. We’re not exactly sure what that means, but either way, it’s a fantastic song, and considering Mason is just a sophomore, it might have a decent shelf life. Minigan (RedHead) was also nice enough to answer some questions about the track via email. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Star: So first, how did this song come about?

RedHead: “The song came about from just watching how long Frank has been grinding and I’ve always respected his skill level in basketball, so when he made that big commit to Kansas, I told him ahead of time that I would create a song titled Frank Mason.”

The Star: How do you know Frank? Are you from Petersburg?

RedHead: “I know Frank through mutual friends we have [and] where we are from it's so small it's really kind of hard to not know someone. I am from Hopewell, Virginia which is directly next to Petersburg; in sports we are rivals, but that doesn't conflict with friendships being established between the two cities.”

The Star: Big question, then: Why write a song about Frank Mason?

RedHead: “Why Frank? Because he really has always been about basketball [and] never let his city trap him in the poverty and negativity that constantly surfaced … I can relate to where he's coming from.”

So how long have you been rapping? Other than this song, has anything gained traction?

RedHead: “I’ve been rapping since I was 12 years old and I just turned 21 Christmas Eve of 2014, so nine years. And yes, I have a new hit single out now titled "West Coast" for Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Eric Bellinger that has almost 20,000 plays on SoundCloud; we shot most of the music video in LA and plan to finish up in March, so stay tuned for that.”

The Star: What was Frank's reaction to the song?

Redhead: “Frank loved the song. As soon as I sent him the email, he texted me back with amazing feedback and said his friends were starting to play it as well.”

The Star: So Frank has pretty much been doing it all season. Did you think his play might put the song back in the spotlight? Were you surprised when it blew up Twitter on Thursday?

RedHead: “I knew his play would get it more attention, but I never thought it would blow up the way it did. It really caught me off guard and it looks like it will be heard all over Kansas; I hope it will. Maybe ESPN could do a report on it as well, that would be a dream come true.

“Most definitely I would want to shout out Frank for all of his accomplishments and I really want to give a major shout out to my bro Tony Jones (TonyJones_Beats) for making such a dope instrumental for me to create a great song with. Also I want to give thanks to my engineer DJ Phinisey for recording and mixing my song with such great quality. This is a blessing and I want to give all thanks to God and to the whole entire Kansas. I definitely would encourage you guys to check out more of my music.”

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @rustindodd.

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