Drake explained the legacy of hip-hop and basketball, and the popular crossover between the two, on his track “Thank Me Now,” stating, “I swear sports and music are so synonymous / Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.” And with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Gary Payton and many others all dabbling with dribbling in the genre, while Dreezy, Jay Z, Lil Wayne and others root them on court side, there’s too much proof to argue this point.
Throughout the canon of NBA rappers, the majority of releases are pretty mediocre at best (some are downright awful), but that makes the standouts all the more glorious. In honor of the NBA Finals (congratulations, Warriors!), we pay homage to the best hip-hop tracks released by NBA rappers, choosing one song per position to form a Dream Team-esque starting five lineup.
Point Guard: Cedric Ceballos ft. Warren G – “Flow On”
Cedric Ceballos might be best known for NBA for the 1992 dunk contest where he dropped a blind-folded slamski, but off the court he came together with hip-hop crooner Warren G for a pretty decent jam off the NBA rap compilation album B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret. The video is an especially great mix of a White Men Can’t Jump homage and classic house party video that perfectly represents the era.
Shooting Guard: Iman Shumpert – “The Offs”
While Iman Shumpert’s in the midst of proving himself with the Cleveland Cavs in the NBA Finals, he’s at least already set the precedent for best rapper currently in the game. Fellow wordsmiths Damian Lillard, Lance Stephenson and Kevin Durant might contest that claim but after checking out tracks like “Anarchy”, “Progress” and “Supaphly”, you’ll that his signature flat top is reigning over the NBA rap game. No better time than now to dive into his 2015 Cavs playoff anthem “The Offs” (below) with choice lines, like, “Coach got that look in his eyes ’cause it’s playoffs and Kevin Love is open.”
Small Forward: Ron Artest – “Champions”
Ron Artest, who’s now known as Metta World Peace, is the type of guy who believes he can do anything. For better or worse, that attitude kept him rapping throughout his NBA career, even getting him benched in 2004 (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=1920455) after requesting time off to promote his debut album, My World. That can-do attitude is also the driving theme of his best track, “Champions,” which came out immediately following the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2010 championship, as he compares himself and his squad to famous winners across all sports, from Cassius Clay to Michael Phelps.
Power Forward: Chris Webber ft. Kurupt – Gangsta, Gangsta
Chris Webber’s most impressive musical accomplishments were probably the two tracks he produced for Nas, but the power forward also showed his strength on the top ten rap single “Gangsta, Gangsta (How U Do It)” that features Kurupt. The track includes samples from Laid Back’s funky synth pop favorite “White Horse” as well as Busta Rhymes’ popular “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” while the video shows him towering over a house party with cameos from Redman and Ghostface Killah, as well as backup dancers who were clearly told the dress code was business casual.
Center: Shaquille O’Neal – “(I Know I Got) Skillz”
No NBA rapper has experienced the crossover success that Shaq did through the ’90s, and it all started with “(I Know I Got) Skillz” — the first single and opening track from 1993’s Shaq Diesel album. On it, O’Neal tackles the sort of classic sounding beat that would have made Tupac feel at home. Then early into his career, playing for the Orlando Magic, the big man was announcing his arrival with a load of style. Choice lyric: “People walk around like, Yo, they got charged! / But I’m big like Gorilla, 6’7″ ain’t large!”