A couple of weeks ago we took a look at our favorite Basketball themed rap songs and made a quick mention as to how several NBA players have tried to bless the mic with their lyrical ability, to varying degrees of success of course. Shaquille O’Neal, whose first two albums ‘Shaq Diesel’ and ‘Shaq Fu: Da Return’ went platinum and gold respectively, is the best example and most successful example of an NBA player crossing over into the Rap music industry. Though his third album, 1996’s ‘You Can’t Stop The Reign’ failed to chart, its stellar title track featured the late, great Notorious B.I.G. at the height of his success. If a platinum and gold album don’t legitimized your Rap career, having Biggie as a feature on one of your tracks certainly does, at least in our humble opinion. That said, we’re not trying to pull anyone’s card here; Shaq is the exception to the rule. Simply put, every other NBA player who’s attempted to channel their inner emcee has failed miserably, if not humorously. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of our favorite bad NBA emcee wannabes with accompanying examples of their Hip Hop futility. Enjoy.
Kobe Bryant — ‘K.O.B.E’
Air Ball Lyric — “Think you’re eyeing me? Well all along, I’m eyeing you. The hunter becomes the hunted, girl I’m preying on you.”
The good folks at Grantland published a piece last year that details Kobe’s Rap career. It’s worth a read, but to quickly summarize some of the main points, a teenage Kobe was writing and rhyming with a group of friends from Philadelphia, a young NBA Kobe linked up with then Sony record executive Steve Stoute to start crafting an album, Steve Stoute left Sony for Interscope before the project was finished, and the label decided to release ‘K.O.B.E.’, featuring the soulful, sultry voice of noted songstress Tyra Banks on the hook as the album’s first single. And so went his Rap career. While the article reveals that Kobe’s writing style and delivery deliberately complex and underground, akin to (gasp!) Canibus and (QUINTUPLE GASP!) Nas, truth be told, that’s like saying an ’84 Hyundai Excel is reminiscent of a 2015 BMW 5 Series. Sure, they’re both cars, but that’s about it.
Don’t get me wrong, if one were to ONLY read Kobe’s lyrics, they wouldn’t be half bad. He clearly has written his fair share of raps and has good control of meter, rhyme patterns, and metaphors. He just sounds bad. His background adlibs are a painful listen as they add nothing to the track, as if the engineer said “Kobe, we need an adlib track”, pressed record, and Kobe just rambled randomly over his primary vocal. His voice is stale and monotonous (though frankly, he sounds better than Tyra), his delivery is underwhelming (and that’s mildly put), and overall he’s lacking in perhaps the most important criteria for any emcees, authenticity. That’s not to say that his boasting on ‘K.O.B.E.’ is unwarranted, it’s just that he doesn’t sound believable as an emcee. If you souped the aforementioned ’84 Hyundai Excel with a BMW’s exterior, it would still drive like fecal matter. And that pretty much sums up Kobe’s attempt at emceeing; souped up fecal matter. To his credit, he quit rapping while he wasn’t too far behind and went on to become a five time champion and one of the 10 best players to ever dribble a basketball. That warrants a mic drop of a different accord.
Chris Webber — ‘Gangsta Gangsta’
Air Ball Lyric — “Down to sacrifice, and pay the price. Since I been young I been nice on the dice.”
Incorporating a sample from Laid Back’s timeless classic, ‘White Horse‘, 1999’s ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ pairs Chris Webber with Tha Dogg Pound’s Kurupt in what can best be described as an atrocity to gangsta rap, to no fault of Kurupt’s of course. The fact that this track borrows its name from the N.W.A. classic is bad enough, but aside from Kurupt himself, there’s a noticeable absence of ‘gangsta’ on this song. The beat is more Hip-Pop than gangsta rap, the hook features a Busta Rhymes vocal sample from ‘Put Your Eyes Where My Eyes Can See’ (“hit my people off with the flow that be marvelous!”), and with apologies to Chris Webber and his fans, he’s not hardcore at all. Much like Kobe, he’s just not believable on the mic. On the track C-Webb raps are more womanizing than anything involving street edge, with the exception of perhaps a reference to playing dice as captured in our Air Ball Lyric. Chris Webber certainly did a lot for Hip Hop culture as part of the Michigan University’s fabled Fab Five Freshmen class of the early 90s, popularizing the baggy basketball shorts and black ankle socks look and bringing an undeniably nihilistic, Hip Hop influenced approach to the game. As far as his emcee skills go however, we’re going to have to call a time out on that one. Assuming we have any of course…
Allen Iverson aka Jewelz — ’40 Bars’
Air Ball Lyric — “Dying for zero digits. I’m a giant, ya’ll midgets. I know killers that kill for a fee that’ll kill your ass for free.”
In 2000, the NBA’s resident Hip Hop icon, Allen Iverson, decided he’d give rapping a try. Thankfully, the project never saw the light of day, likely in large part because then commissioner David Stern was adamantly against AI’s coarse language and violent, inappropriate subject matter. Stern at the time opined, “the lyrics that have been attributed to Allen Iverson’s soon-to-be-released rap CD are coarse, offensive, and anti-social. Whatever constitutional rights of free speech an individual may have, there is no constitutional right to participate in the NBA and I have the power to disqualify players who engage in offensive conduct — including inappropriate speech.” When the boss starts making threats like that, especially given the mass amounts of money NBA players make and stand to lose, it’s probably best to put the mic down and head to practice…
That said, even without Stern’s influence, chances are AI’s rap career would’ve been short-lived because he’s just not very good at rapping. On the ’40 Bars’ track, his gangsta rhymes fall short not necessarily because they’re not believable (as AI’s Virginia street-cred has been well-publicized over his career), but because his delivery doesn’t pack much punch. He definitely comes across more gangsta than C-Webb (which isn’t saying too much), but overall his voice and flow sound forced, and when you force hardcore, you just come across flatly. It didn’t help that on this track he purposely rhymed for 40 measures (i.e. ’40 Bars’) with no bridges and/or choruses. This no chorus gimmick has been done before, but those other instances have been pulled off by actual rappers such as The Game and therefore worked. In AI’s case, given all the gun, murder, homophobia talk, a catchy chorus might have upgraded the track from unquestioned throwaway to awful. Sadly, AI went the no hooks route and botched it.
Kevin Durant — ‘Wired (Paid In Full)’
Air Ball Lyric — “I keep it chill. Yeah, I keep it chill man. I’m looking like a prince while I’m thinking I’m Uncle Phil.”
The NBA’s reigning MVP, Kevin Durant gave rapping a try a couple of years ago and the results were far from most valuable. Of all the NBA players discussed in this piece, KD has by far the worst overall technique, lyrics, and voice. Whereas Shaq, Kobe, C-Webb, and AI at least come across like writing rhymes was a hobby for them, in KD’s case I wouldn’t be surprised if he started (ahem!) “developing” his craft right in the studio before laying down the track. This particular track is nothing more than KD boasting about his riches, far from an off-topic theme in Hip Hop, but whereas the Jay Zs and Puffys of the game pull this off very well, KD falls a few dimes short of a dollar. His rhyme patterns are very simple and his delivery is a tough listen, as he’s trying to come across hardcore on a track that doesn’t really merit it. It’s just terrible, unless of course you’ve had a few shots and/or other mind altering substances, in which case it becomes hilarious.
Tony Parker – ‘Balance Toi’
Air Ball Lyric — “Balance balance balance balance balance toi!”
Though more a dance track than a pure rap song (though he uses rap form for his vocals), this track is another prime example of an NBA player who should have stuck to basketball. The track is in Tony’s native French, which makes it difficult to pin point a choice lyric, but the hook works just as well. In what I can only imagine is a track about playing it suave at the club, Tony reminds over and over to ‘balance toi’, that is, balance yourself (i.e. keeping one’s cool). This guy was once married to Eva Longoria, so we know he’s got game both on and off the court, but this isn’t a very cool track, despite its unintentional comedic value. I mean c’mon, Tony Parker of the notoriously boring San Antonio Spurs on a dance track?!? Much like Tony Parker to a wide open Tim Duncan on the post, I’ll pass.