A History of Basketball Players as Rappers
“I swear sports and music are so synonymous. Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.”
When Drake rapped this in 2010, there was already a long-standing history of basketball players who had attempted music careers. Now, with the release of his debut album The Letter O, Damian Lillard is yet another athlete who has made the jump.
Before we get to Lillard, however, it is important to understand who it is that came before him and how they shaped what it is Lillard can do.
The best and one of the earliest to make the jump was Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal in 1993 was signed to Jive Records and then proceeded to release his debut album Shaq Diesel. Shaq Diesel is certified platinum and was a top 10 R&B/Hip-Hop album on the Billboard charts.
O’Neal’s second album Shaq Fu: Da Return went certified gold and peaked at 19 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts. For his music career, O’Neal released four studio albums and two compilation albums. It is also a well-known fact that O’Neal was a very good friend of the late Notorious B.I.G. With friends like that, it was no wonder Shaq was able to put together such a successful career off of the court in music.
There was one athlete, however, whose very short lived music career forever changed the way athletes release music, and his name is Allen Iverson.
Under the rap name Jewelz, Iverson released the single “40 Bars” and was preparing to release his album titled Non Fiction. But after releasing “40 Bars”, the backlash was severe and the then NBA commissioner David Stern made his stance clear: he did not like it.
“The lyrics that have been attributed to Allen Iverson’s soon-to-be-released rap CD are coarse, offensive, and anti-social,” Stern said after hearing the lyrics and added that discipline could be brought against Iverson for such speech.
When the average rap fan listens to what Allen Iverson rapped, there is nothing out of the ordinary there. The lyrics contain profanity, have references to gun violence and other staples in the rap world. If you are who Allen Iverson was to his community though, it was hard to justify an album that contained all of this, which lead to Iverson scrapping the entire project.
Despite the backlash sparked by Iverson, athletes such as Lou Williams have dabbled with freestyles, even if unsuccessfully and with no label support. All of the past lessons bring the story to where the world is today with Damian Lillard and his album release.
Lillard seems to play it safer than most, knowing that he is a role model to certain people and refrains from profanity as well as staying away from topics that promote violence.
The Trailblazers guard does not ignore the issues though, using this album to address what it was like to grow up in Oakland. The project even has support from some legitimate stars, with a feature on “Loyal to the Soil” coming from Lil Wayne. For rap fans, the project has a very Lecrae feel to it, which is saying a lot.
In terms of rap albums from athletes, this is one of the better ones. Lillard will likely not go platinum like Shaq did, but this is a legitimate music effort that fans of hip-hop should take some time to listen to.
David Arroyo is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Senior / Broadcast Journalism