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When it comes to sports and music, there is no stronger parallel than hip hop’s continued entanglement with some of the world’s top athletes. Crossovers are taking place on and off the court as we continue to see an influx of athletes wanting to be rappers and vice versa. In the words of sports enthusiast and Grammy-award winning rapper Drake, “Sports and music are so synonymous because we want to be them, and they want to be us.” While not limited to the hardwood, we’ve seen more NBA players jump into the booth than any other sport. Also, throw in a couple of ball-handling rappers showcasing their skills in celebrity basketball games, and it appears the marriage between sports and hip hop is here to stay.
When Percy Miller, more widely known as Master P, named his New Orleans-based record label “No Limit,” he wasn’t referring solely to music. There isn’t a lot the 54-year old mogul has not done. In the late 90s, Miller was signed to two NBA teams during the preseason: the Charlotte Hornets and the Toronto Raptors. Although he did not play in any regular season games, he continued his professional basketball career in the Continental Basketball Association, also known as the CBA, and the International Basketball League. He currently owns his own league, Global Mixed Gender Basketball, or GMGB. One could argue that Miller has come the closest to being a dual threat, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying. Shaquille O’Neal, another Louisiana product by way of LSU, is widely regarded as one of the best centers in the history of the NBA and a sprinkle of that success spilled over to the music charts.
He first dipped his toe into the river of rap back in 1993 when his debut album, Shaq Diesel, and received a platinum distinction from the Recording Industry Association of America. O’Neal even appeared on a track with the legendary Michael Jackson and allegedly received ghostwriting services from the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., JAY-Z, and DJ Quik. The four-time NBA champion went on to release five albums and one compilation album. These days, he only gets into the booth for diss records.
Although they made up and mended the relationship, one of Shaq Diesel’s more memorable diss tracks was aimed at his former Laker teammate, the late great Kobe Bryant. O’Neal’s more recent targets include LaVar Ball, the father of NBA guards Lonzo and LaMelo Ball; and Portland Trailblazer guard Damian Lillard. Lillard found himself on the receiving end of a diss after he went at the Laker legend’s previous rap career by suggesting it was the center’s basketball prowess and not his lyrical skills that garnered him success.
Lillard goes by the rap name Dame D.O.L.L.A. and his back and forth with O’Neal isn’t his only experience in the game. He went beyond the booth and established his own record label, Front Page Music. The Blazers guard has released three commercial records and makes a case as the best athlete turned rapper. His latest album, Big D.O.L.L.A., featured cameos from Lil Wayne, Jeremih, and Mozzy. D.O.L.L.A. stands for “Different on Levels the Lord Allows” – a testament to his success on and off the court. With his investment, monetarily and figuratively, into his music career, it’s clear the 4-time All-Star isn’t just treating rap as a hobby. Other basketball players who have tried their hand at Billboard success include Cedric Ceballos, Chris Webber, Allen Iverson, Metta World Peace, Tony Parker, Troy Hudson, Joe Smith, Louis Williams, Delonte West, Steve Francis, Kevin Durant, Iman Shumpert, Stephen Jackson, and, of course, Bryant.
With his “mamba mentality,” it comes as a bit of a surprise that he couldn’t cross over into hip hop. Bryant was done with the pursuit after two forgettable songs, “Thug Poet” and “K.O.B.E.” featuring supermodel Tyra Banks. His Visions album was unreleased and he was back to breaking ankles instead of breaking musical records.
On the other side of the coin, it is a bit more difficult for rappers to hop onto the hardwood. For instance, one can not simply “dabble” into professional basketball with the ease of an athlete dropping by the studio to lay down tracks. Therefore, a couple times a year, we get to see some of our favorite lyricists dribble in celebrity basketball exhibition games and wonder how they would fare against NBA players. One such rapper that comes to mind is J. Cole. The Grammy-winning North Carolina native has made it no secret that he loves to hoop and he got the chance to do it professionally. In May, the rapper competed in the Basketball Africa League for the Rwanda Patriots BBC. Cole was originally supposed to play in three to six games, but left Rwanda after three games for a family obligation. While some applauded him for chasing his dream, some players felt his involvement wasn’t OK. Morocco AS Sale guard Terrell Stoglin told ESPN that Cole’s stint in the league was “disrespectful to the ones who sacrificed their whole lives for this.”
Other rappers like Quavo and 2 Chainz are content with showcasing their skills every once in a while. Other notable sports figures who put down the cleats and picked up the mic for a second include two-sport star Deion Sanders, Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley, and free agent running back Le’Veon Bell – all three of which have varying levels of approval. The most surprising of this trio has to be Beasley. The slot receiver released two singles, “Sometimes” and “Ghosts,” this past January and got rave reviews. Dallas producer Victor Clark told ESPN years ago that he feels Beasley will be “the first NFL guy to really successfully cross over into the music world and really be big – like Shaquille O’Neal was back in the day.” He also has his now label, ColdNation Records.
On the business side of things, the marriage between hip hop and sports has moved into front offices. JAY-Z, one of the most successful rappers of all time, was part owner of his hometown Brooklyn Nets from 2003-2013. That same year, he launched Roc Nation Sports. The talent agency now represents over 100 athletes spanning baseball, basketball, American football, international football, rugby, and e-Sports. It also has a growing broadcaster division. The Marcy Projects product has also been certified as an agent by both the MLB and the NBA. Hov also was tapped by the NFL to assist in the league’s “Inspire Change Initiative,” a collaboration between the league and the Players Coalition, a group of NFL players fighting for social and racial equality. The move was met by backlash from Colin Kaepernick supporters, but JAY-Z’s hip hop approval ratings didn’t take much of a dip.
New Orlean’s rapper Lil Wayne has also thrown his hat into the sports industry with his agency, Young Money APAA Sports. With ties going beyond the booth and playing fields, hip hop’s relationship with professional sports will not be reduced to name-dropping in a couple of bars or celebrity basketball games. It’s here to stay.