We aren’t saying that hip hop and sports are a more iconic duo than peanut butter and jelly, but it’s up there. The two lanes have continued to feed off one another for decades, and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. While we have yet to see anyone completely swap professions for good, some of your favorite athletes have chosen to get into the booth when they weren’t on the court, field, or even the ring. Check out some of the top ones below!
1. Shaquille O’Neal
No list of this sort is complete without Shaq. While he seems to have his hand in just about anything these days, it is still impressive that he was able to release five studio albums – four of them while he was still playing in the league. As he racked up four world championships during a Hall of Fame career, “Shaq Diesel” was getting better and better in the booth. His 1993 debut album, Shaq Diesel, went platinum and he was even featured as a guest rapper on Michael Jackson’s “2 Bad” track off the King of Pop’s 1995 album, HIStory. He also contributed three songs to the soundtrack of his movie, Kazaam.
O’Neal worked with some of the best in the business with Erick Sermon producing several tracks on Shaq Diesel. He went on to work with Warren G, Redman, RZA, DJ Quik, and others. These days, he traded in the mic for the turntables as DJ Diesel. He debuted an EDM album, Gorilla Warfare, this past August.
2. Damian Lillard
Staying on the basketball side of things, we have to give props to Damian Lillard, or “Dame D.O.L.L.A,” as he’s known in the rap world. The baller from the Bay Area has released four studio albums: The Letter O, Confirmed, Big D.O.L.L.A and Different On Levels The Lord Allowed. Working with stars like Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, G-Eazy, and 2 Chainz, Lillard’s colleagues are constantly praising his flow.
He now has his own label, Front Page Music, and his single “Kobe” is part of NBA 2K21’s soundtrack as a tribute to the late great Laker.
3. Roy Jones Jr.
At the height of his professional boxing career, Roy Jones Jr. decided to try his hand at music. In 2001, he delivered his debut, Round One: The Album. The first single released was “Y’all Must’ve Forgot.” Three years later, the multi-weight class world champion formed a group, Body Head Bangerz, and gave us another album. Body Head Bangerz: Volume One dropped in 2004 – during a time when Southern hip hop reigned supreme. The album featured the likes of Cash Money’s B.G. and Juvenile, along with Texas rappers Bun B, Mike Jones, and Lil’ Flip. Jones Jr.’s last single, “Battle of the Superpowers,” was released in 2009.
4. Deion Sanders
The new generation knows him as Coach Prime, but before that, Deion Sanders was the epitome of his nickname: Prime Time. Growing up in Fort Myers, Florida and starring in two sports – sometimes three sports – for the Florida State Seminoles, Sanders has always been larger than life. So, it should come as no surprise that the man who always has a way with words and the catchiest of catchphrases tried his hand at rap. In 1994, he released his debut album, Prime Time, through MC Hammer’s Bust It Records by way of Capitol Records.
Although the only single dropped, “Must Be the Money,” was a cult classic that some can still recite word for word, it failed to chart. Sanders performed the song the next year while hosting “Saturday Night Live.” At least no one could accuse Sanders of not living what he rapped. Shortly after the release, the Dallas Cowboys made him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL at that time with a seven-year $35 million contract.
5. Le’Veon Bell
At the height of his NFL career, running back Le’Veon Bell was a star for the Pittsburg Steelers, making three Pro Bowl teams in four seasons. He also gained more than 1,850 scrimmage yards in each of his four years with the team. Bell even dabbled in rap music with the stage name Juice. His first official album was released in 2017 and contained 16 tracks.
He often spoke of his football career through his music, releasing “Target,” which chronicled his contract issues with the Steelers. When he went through a second contract holdout, he dropped a four-song project titled My Side of Things sharing his prospective. Bell’s most widely known song was a diss track called “Shrimp Bayless” aimed at sports commentator/agitator Skip Bayless.
6. Antonio Brown
Staying with the Steelers, former wide receiver Antonio Brown also falls on this list. Like Bell, he had a less than pleasant exit from his team. After short stints with the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, Brown, also known as AB, won a Super Bowl in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Following his abrupt exit from the Bucs the next season, we never knew what was next with AB.
Then, he popped out with an album. He dropped a number of songs while still in the NFL, but appeared to be fully leaning in since his football career is likely now over. Days after skipping off the field during his team’s game against the New York Jets, AB released “Pit Not the Palace.” He went on to drop Paradigm, a full-length rap album. He found viral success with “Put That Sh*t On” with several athletes doing the signature dance as celebrations. He also performed at the esteemed Rolling Loud festival.
7. Melvin Ingram
While being named to three consecutive Pro Bowl teams and recording 57 sacks over a 10-year NFL career, Melvin Ingram has also been laying down tracks. The North Carolina native goes by King Mel and dropped his debut album, King Talk, in 2018. Prior to that, the outside linebacker had put out a few mixtapes. His most recent work, a 6-track EP called In the Moment, came out earlier this year.
8. Kobe Bryant
And now we’re at No. 8 with the most iconic man to wear the number: Kobe Bryant. Many know the late legend – also known as Bean, the Black Mamba, and one of the best to ever bounce a basketball – from his insanely successful NBA career. Some of us do remember his foray into music. In 2001, the Los Angeles Laker legend recorded a gangsta rap album titled Visions. Despite contributions from heavy-hitters including Nas, 50 Cent, Beanie Sigel, Black Thought, and Destiny’s Child, Columbia Records quietly nixed the album without its full release.
The debut single, “K.O.B.E.” featuring Tyra Banks, apparently fell short of the label’s expectations despite some strategic timing by Bryant. He dropped it during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend and even performed the track at the game. Deciding to keep his hoop dreams a priority, music took a backseat but the late Hall of Famer continued to release projects every so often.
9. Metta World Peace
Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, enjoyed a 19-year NBA career marked with intense, hard-nosed basketball and a world championship. In 2006, while with the Sacramento Kings, he released his first album, My Way, which was graced by the presence of Diddy himself. Later, in 2017, he released another LP, this time as Metta World Peace. Where We At featured 12 songs – many of which referenced his playing days.
10. Master P
Depending on how you look at it, Master P can be viewed as a rapper who balled or a hooper who rapped. Either way, the feats he accomplished in both avenues are quite impressive. The mogul and mastermind behind No Limit Records enjoyed a brief stint in the NBA, so he certainly belongs on this list.
With 14 studio albums under his belt, not to mention features on several more tracks, Master P’s rap career has spanned decades. His hip hop talented has garnered him several accolades including an induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. He is the also first hip hop artist with that distinction.
11. Tony Parker
The year was 2007 and Tony Parker was in the middle of a basketball season that would conclude with the guard winning his third NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs when he dropped a rap album. That’s right – a French rap album. The self-titled project was his first and only release, and featured 11 tracks.
12. Delonte West
At one point in time, Delonte West was poised for NBA stardom. The D.C. native played for four teams during his eight-year career. During his second stint with the Boston Celtics, the guard released his mixtape, Lockout. Feedback on the first track released, “Livin Life Fast,” was largely negative, so his foray into music pretty much stalled out.
13. Chris Webber
Most recently, former “Fab Five” member and five-time NBA All-Star Chris Webber has been on the sidelines analyzing the game for NBA TV and TNT. However, when he got free time back in the day, he stepped in the booth. His 1999 project, 2 Much Drama featured the single, “Gangsta, Gangsta (How U Do It).” In addition to this, the power forward also co-wrote and produced two Nas tracks: “Burnt Ashes” and “Surviving the Times.” He continued to have a behind-the-scenes hand in several other projects and often worked to elevate artists from his hometown Detroit.
Several other athletes dipped their toes in rap without releasing individual LPs. In 1994, a compilation album, B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret, dropped and featured several of the NBA’s biggest stars. Shaq, Dennis Scott, Brian Shaw, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, JR Rider, Dana Barros, Cedric Ceballos, Chris Mills and Malik Sealy all appeared on the project alongside some big names in hip hop. DJ S&S, Bobbito, Sway and Tech, Ant Banks, Warren G, DJ Slip, DJ Clark Kent and QDIII all contributed to it.
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