In the first edition of "Beats, Bars & Basketball: Spittin' Image" I gave you the argument on why Chris Paul is the Jadakiss of basketball.
Not gonna lie, this one is kiiiiinda similar in the fact that Robert Rihmeek "Meek Mills" Williams nor Russell "Brodie" Westbrook III have a classic album or a championship (I mean ironically, Meek has an album called "Championships" but when's the last time you listened to that?) to their respective resumes. Anyways, hear me out...
Both of these guys only know one way: GO HARD. They've been some of the heaviest names in the game for 10+ years because of their distinctive styles. Both have delivered MVP moments. But unfortunately, the same thing that makes them great is their downfall. In some of the biggest moments, when finesse and composure is needed, they're prone to... well...fuck it up. Even though they're seasoned vets at this point, they still remain dangerous and are linked with the type of teams that they can still deliver on the promise of their talent and the ferocity of their approach.
They share an almost concurrent rise with Russ coming out of UCLA and Meek from the cypher/battle scene in Philadelphia in the late 00's. They are roughly the same age. They are both from high profile places known for putting out talent in their respective professions. But they're not like you're typical blue-chippers from those programs. While Meek would later get the coveted Jay-Z co-sign, Beanie Sigel and State Property didn't introduce us to Meek Mill. He didn't quite fit that mold. And he definitely didn't quite fit The Roots crew criteria either. Much in the same way, Russ hails from Los Angeles -- the left coast capital of basketball-- but he was not a coveted high school prospect, only receiving a last minute scholarship from UCLA after Jordan Farmar (remember him?) decided to declare for the NBA draft. UCLA is a legendary basketball entity, but they haven't exactly been dominant in the 21st century. In Westbrook's one year on campus they did revive the program (momentarily) by reaching the Final Four in March 2008, but Russ was pretty much an afterthought, playing a bench role behind future NBA hoopers Darren Collison, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, and fellow freshman Kevin Love. Much like Meek (with the braids) rising to notoriety on the newly christened medium of Youtube with his raw high-strung street wisdom, Russ built his buzz on his own too -- rapidly rising on NBA draft boards for his raw athleticism and will.
They say it only takes one team to believe in you, and both found their opportunities in the big leagues -- Meek signing to red-hot-at-the-time T.I.'s Grand Hustle Entertainment and Russ being drafted fourth overall (in what many considered to be a reach at the time) by the Oklahoma City Thunder freshly imported from Seattle and excited about what rising second year star Kevin Durant could bring to their franchise. In what almost equates to a draft day trade, Meek was transferred to an expansion franchise in its own right: Maybach Music Group, headed by a newly certified boss in Rick Ross and paired with DMV underground legend, Wale. After a stellar rookie season from Westbrook, OKC drafted another future superstar in James Harden and the foundation was set for a young big 3 to reign for years to come much like MMG. Both squads came out of the gate strong with OKC reaching the finals ahead of schedule (losing in 5 games to Lebron and company's Heat) in 2012 and Meek having standout moments on huge singles like Wale's "Ambition" and MMG compilation albums "Self Made" Volumes 1 and 2. It seemed like both squads were certain to reign for years to come.
Theres no certainties in major-label rap and NBA basketball, though. For financial reasons, the Thunder elected to ship James Harden out to Houston after a lackluster performance in their finals loss. It was questionable at the time, but man it ended up being even more of a head scratcher than anyone could have imagined with Harden turning into an eventual MVP. Its not like OKC fell off -- with Russ's potency constantly rising and Kevin Durant playing at a consistent MVP level (claiming the trophy in 2014) they remained a threat to claim the title. With a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Western Conference Finals over the reigning champion, Golden State Warriors, and what appeared to be an inferior opponent on the other side of the bracket in the Cleveland Cavaliers-- you could envision Russ and KD seizing their place in basketball history and making a run at being one of the best duos of all time. But that didn't happen. Y'all know what really went down. And instead of the Westbrook-Durant story being a facsimile of Jordan-Pippen, it ended up more like a Shaq and Penny situation-- with much harder feelings. Speaking of beef between the post and the point, Wale and Meek just couldn't seem to get along either experiencing tension over their prioritization with the label and leaving Ricky Rozay in a pretty awkward spot and really handicapping MMG's collective impact.
Our two protagonists overcame the loss of their sidekicks though, and delivered their "MVP" moments. Russ literally wore the belt in 2017, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 to average a triple double for the season and later eclipsing his record for career triple doubles in 2021 solidifying his place in NBA history. Meek Mill delivered what will probably always remain the most classic intro of all time on the single "Dreams and Nightmares" from the near-classic album of the same name. There have definitely been moments where Meek was the hottest rapper in the game. But in a friend-turned-enemy 180 akin to KD and Russ's fallout, Meek caught a snag when he popped off on Twitter and caught the ire of frequent collaborator, Drake. Beginning with Drake's "Charged Up" and quickly followed by the beef-classic "Back 2 Back," the feud went from what many assumed would be a great battle, into a second round knockout. Meek released some Drake diss tracks, but unless you're a Meek stan, you don't even know what they're called, much less quote any of them. In a similar fashion, the Brodie and KD rivalry never really materialized, because the OVO affiliate KD made it pretty one sided appearing in 3 straight championships and winning two finals MVP's in the process. Although both have rebounded and had some moments in the sun since their high-profile losses, for the most part their stocks have both steadily declined.
On the court and on the track, as I mentioned in the intro -- they are both flawed players for the same reason they are great. As his career went on and his star rose, the same intense, almost yelled bars that brought Meek Mill his fame seemed to largely begin grating on Hip-Hop fans as stale. Its not a great style for the kind of top 40 hits that he would need to graduate to the next level. In the same way, Russ's bullish mentality and reckless drives to the hoop began to be perceived as something you couldn't win with on a high level as your number one option. Too many bad shots, too many bricked jumpers, too many turnovers. About 13 years into their "professional" careers, the two powerhouses inspire more doubt than confidence that they'll ever be top dog again.
There's new hope for these two pillars in the game as this week it was announced that the MMG crew should be dropping again soon and maybe this can reinvigorate Meek artistically to deliver a true championship. Meanwhile, Russ was dealt from the Wizards (after consecutive one year stays in Washington and Houston) to form a new big 3 with Anthony Davis and Lebron James to go on a classic ring-run. Even if they never reach their highest summits, its amazing that these two have remained in position to do so this long into the game. They both have a legendary amount of energy and it won't give out quite yet. We shall see.
Hit us up on social @themsqshop (that's the Twitter too!) and let us know how you feel or if you have a better comparison. Stay tuned for more Basketball and Hip-Hop related material on "Beats, Bars, & Basketball" only at The MSQ Shop.
by: Zach Kirby