Basketball and Rap music go together like peanut butter and jelly, Biggie and Tupac, Allen Iverson and Hip Hop (see what I did there?). While music and sports in general share a kindred connection, with athletes using music to either pump themselves up for a contest or to unwind afterwards, and musicians often utilizing sports references in their music, basketball and Rap in particular seem to be a perfect fit. Consider that the Magic and Bird era catapulting the NBA to new heights in the 1980s coincided with the rise of Rap music. Add to that the fact that many of the NBA’s athletes in that timeframe were products of the urban cultural fusions which birthed Hip Hop. It’s then no surprise that the two entities are tightly bonded.
Examples of Hip Hop meeting basketball and vice versa are plentiful. Jay-Z’s involvement with the Brooklyn Nets speaks for itself. Michigan’s famed Fab Five Freshmen were undeniably Hip Hop. No Limit Records mogul Master P is such a basketball enthusiast that he not only used his platform to try out for NBA teams, he actually scored 8 points in an NBA preseason game back in the late 90s. Movies such as ‘Above The Rim’ and ‘Love And Basketball’ are prime examples of Hip Hop culture crossing into basketball culture’s lane. Players such as Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, and Chris Webber have all (laughably) given Rap music a try. Regardless of how bad their attempts may have turned out however, what resonates most is the strong link between basketball and Hip Hop. With that in mind, here’s a hoops playlist consisting of six Rap songs about basketball that we at JP Lime Productions enjoy thoroughly because not only do we love this music, we love this game.
Honorable Mention: Boston Celtics Pop Bottles Remix – Akrobatik
Slam Dunk Lyric: Somebody do me a favor, this is important / Tell Kobe Bryant that he’s not Michael Jordan.
Borrowing its beat from Birdman and Lil’ Wayne’s ‘Pop Bottles‘, this 2008 track by Boston’s own Akrobatik celebrates the Boston Celtics’ 17th Championship, a title they won by defeating their arch rival and Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers. I’m not even trying to hide it people, I’m a homer, so you know I had to show my Celtics some love on this post. After a 23 year title drought for the NBA’s most storied franchise, on the strength of KG, Pierce, Allen, & Rondo the Celtics finally exorcised those Laker demons of ’85 and ’87 and returned to Glory. Big ups to Akro for capturing that moment in time masterfully on this track.
#5) Basketball – Lil’ Bow Wow, Fabolous, & Jermaine Dupri
Slam Dunk Lyric: See my game consists of a whole lotta’ / moves you would think I learned from the Harlem Globetrotters.
A 2002 record from the ‘Like Mike’ soundtrack, this song is actually a remake of our #1 track (spoiler alert) of the same name. Featuring a young Lil’ Bow Wow and his So So Def mentor, Jermaine Dupri, the true gem on this track as far as I’m concerned is Fabolous. Dupri’s vocals and rhymes are always solid, but his strengths are behind the boards producing tracks and as a label owner / businessman of course (So So Def has withstood the test of time to become one of the most successful Hip Hop labels ever spawned). Lil’ Bow Wow isn’t bad on the track, but again we’re talking about young Lil’ Bow Wow so his voice is a bit too high pitched / kiddish for my liking. Both Bow Wow and Jermaine pay homage to the original track’s lyrics in their verses, borrowing from Kurtis Blow and updating the player names referenced to fit the times. Ultimately however, it’s Fabolous who brings the heat on this song and as such, it’s no surprise we chose one of his bars for our standout lyric. All in all, despite Bow Wow’s pre-pubescent voice I do enjoy this track very much. It’s not as good as its predecessor, but it does do it justice and whereas the original make me want to lace up my kicks and take some jumpers, this version at the very least keeps my head knocking.
#4) Kobe Bryant – Lil’ Wayne
Slam Dunk Lyric: Crossover good, or turnaround jumper / or just drive the lane and dunk on dunkers.
This 2009 track by Lil’ Wayne is exactly what the title suggests, an homage to Kobe Bryant. It’s a good one though. The beat is catchy, the drums are upbeat, and Weezy delivers on the verses, creatively bigging up his boy Kobe throughout with references to his moves, notorious killer instinct, and accomplishments on the courts. Now I know I’m going to take some heat for admittedly being a Celtics homer and choosing an anti-Kobe slam dunk lyric in one paragraph and then going on to choose a track that praises Kobe in the next. The criticism is fair, sure, and I really have no retort other than to say that from a pure basketball standpoint, the only thing I DON’T like about Kobe is that he’s a Laker. Put him on any other team and save for the days they play my Celtics, I’m rooting for the guy. I genuinely enjoy his game. He’s the closest thing we’re ever going to see to Michael Jordan, and stop right there with the Lebron love. Lebron is fantastic and on pace to outperform Kobe in a lot of career accomplishments, but King James is more of a Magic Johnson / Oscar Robertson hybrid than Jordanesque. Kobe on the other hand is Jordanesque, stylistically on the court and as far as his accomplishments. That’s not to say he’s better than Jordan. I don’t think we’ll see someone better than Jordan in my lifetime (though I hope I’m wrong), but again, the closest we’ve seen since. So yes, despite the fact that his Laker loyalties conflict with my Celtics loyalties to the point where I can never actually root for him, I’m a fan of Kobe Bryant, the ballplayer. Now Kobe Bryant the man is the same guy that got caught cheating and unprompted, with no hesitation decided to throw Shaq under the bus…That I can’t support.
#3) (I Know I Got) Skillz – Shaquille O’Neal
Slam Dunk Lyric: My Ford Explorer boomin’ with the clunk of funk / All you jealous punks can’t stop my dunks.
The first single off Shaq’s 1993 debut album, ‘Shaq Diesel’ is actually a pretty damn good track. Featuring production from Def Jef and Meech Wells, both of whom have worked with Snoop Dogg among others, the track’s deep bassline and worm whistle were staples of the West Coast sound which was very popular at the time. As noted above, several basketball players have tried making Rap music with not so varying results (i.e. they’ve all been pretty bad). Shaq however is the exception to the rule. No, he’s not Rakim on the mic, but the guy can pen a solid rhyme and his deep, bass-heavy voice works well on this track. His delivery and rhyme patterns aren’t otherworldly, but they certainly don’t suck. When combined with Shaq pretty much bragging about how unstoppable he is throughout (and let’s face, from ’92 – ’04, who could stop Shaq?), the end result is a mellow, smoothed out, & funky track that’s good enough to earn the number 3 spot on our list.
Quick side note: Though not specifically a basketball track, it’s hard for me to mention Shaq’s rap career without mentioning the 1996 title track off his third album, ‘You Can’t Stop the Reign‘, which featured The Notorious B.I.G. This song is largely forgotten these days but it’s simply fantastic. If you haven’t heard it out, do yourself a favor and check it out. Your ears will thank you.
#2) Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars’ Anthem) – B-Real, Coolio, Method Man, Busta Rhymes, & LL Cool J
Slam Dunk Lyric: You and your team just need to back off! / Get off my block, give me the ball. I said it’s my rock!
Our #2 hoops tracks comes from the ‘Space Jam’ soundtrack, a 1996 NBA / cartoon crossover film that starred the likes of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing alongside their animated counterparts Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd, among others. I love this song. Of all the tracks on this list, this one works the best as far as putting it on a warm-up tape for an actual basketball team. I actually did so back in ’98 when I was the manager of my high school’s Varsity team. Sadly, I was never good enough to make the squad, but I found other ways to contribute and took great pride in making that warm-up tape. Putting ‘Hit ‘Em High’ on it was a no-brainer. Its uptempo, high energy beat is matched by each emcee’s lyrics and delivery. Truly an all-star cast of rappers, when your weakest link is Coolio you know you’re in for a lyrical treat. That said, we went with Busta for our slam dunk lyric because of the ferocity with which he spits it. It matches the song’s intent best. For my money however, give me a remix with 5 Method Man verses. No knock on Busta, B-Real, Coolio, or LL, but Method Man’s flow and delivery on this track is a thing of sonic beauty. Who’s verse do you enjoy the most? Tweet us at @JPLime or me directly at @Scholar_JPL and share your thoughts.
#1) Basketball – Kurtis Blow
Slam Dunk Lyric: I like slam dunks and taking it to the hoop / My favorite play is the alley-oop / I like the pick-and-roll, I like the give-and-go / ‘Cause it’s basketball by Mr. Kurtis Blow!
The quintessential hoops track, 1984’s ‘Basketball’ by Kurtis Blow is truly the gold standard when it comes to Rap songs about any sport. It’s driven by its hypnotic chorus where the word “basketball” is syncopated and drawn out on both ends of the couplet (“They’re playing baaaaas-keeeeet-ballll! “We love that baaaaas-keeeeet-ballll!”), making it fun and easy to follow along. Kurtis expertly laces the track with so many basketball references that it makes you want to you lace up your kicks and shoot some jumpers if you’re a hoops guy like I am. Variations in the beat for bridges and breaks along with Kurtis Blow’s animated adlibs (to the hoop ya’ll! swish!) round ‘Basketball’ out nicely, truly making it one of the most memorable 80s Rap track as well as the genre’s first big sports anthem. Given that I’m a homer as we’ve established ad nauseum by now, it was hard not to choose “when the Celtics won titles back-to-back and didn’t give nobody, no kind of slack!” as our choice lyric, but the lines we did go with might be among the most recognizable and well known in Rap, at least among the older Hip Hop crowd. From a personal standpoint, anyone who’s read my blog or knows me well understands that Hip Hop and Basketball are two of my favorite things in the entire world, and that marriage came together for me because of this track. Even at the young, impressionable ages of 4/5 I felt the connection between the sport and the music. I choose this as our #1 hoops track not only because it was flawlessly executed and carries great historical significance, but also because I just love the song. I can’t skip it or change the radio station when it comes on. My DNA won’t allow it. Kurtis Blow hit a series clinching three with this one.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our playlist, whether nostalgically, in an exploratory fashion, or both. Now pass me the rock and let’s shoot some hoops!