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Beats, Bars, and Basketball: Vol. 1 - "The Rapper Hoopers Vs. The Hooper Rappers"

WARNING: I’m about to be all in up in my feels on the beautiful relationship between Basketball and Hip-Hop and I’m gonna nerd tf out creating these “Rapper Hooper” and “Hooper Rapper”rosters. If you just want see the list of the best crossovers between the two, go ahead and skip to the vids, but for those who wanna really dive in…

Basketball and Hip-Hop have always shared a heartbeat. True fans of both can’t help but blend the imagery and mythos of the two. The rhythm necessary for greatness in both crafts binds them on a molecular level. College courses could be constructed on the symbiotic nature of their adjacent cultures and all of its societal implications. They share a Mecca in NYC. Hip-Hop was born there (conceived hundreds and thousands of years ago in the Motherland ofc) and Basketball; while officially born in Massachusetts, came of age stylistically and commercially both on the streets and in the Garden of the Big Apple. Coincidentally, these two things happened at about the same time in the late 70’s. Both of their respective rises in pop culture and commercialization for the next 4 decades almost mirror one another. Their own respective styles and fashion as well as their impact on the fashion world and style at large are enormous and intricately intertwined. Both grew from somewhat obscure niches to become ubiquitous worldwide influence and money machines.

Basketball and Hip-Hop are each other’s greatest inspirations, but they often experience the same lows. When Nipsey Hussle passed in 2019, it visibly rocked the NBA world. And when Kobe Bryant passed less than a year later, it devastated the Hip-Hop scene. At the highest level, they have shared similar public perception issues and questions around race, gender, sexuality, consumerism, politics, labor issues and so much more. Hip-Hop and Basketball have at one time or another been either blamed for or tasked with finding the solution (or at least a distraction) for all of the world’s ills. Major labels and the major leagues of Basketball have (for whatever credit they deserve) provided limited opportunities for many black and other marginalized men (and some women) to make generational wealth. False hope, bad breaks, and a misunderstanding of what it takes to reach the top, and what it means to sustain it --have gotten many striving for these summits in hoop and rap into a lot of trouble. But for millions of dreamers—even those rapping for fun or balling in rec leagues— Hip-Hop and Basketball have kept them focused and active in positive circles and give them hope. Hope that maybe, right around the corner, they can hit the buzzer beater or smash the cypher, go viral and shine for a moment. There's high stakes everywhere in both industries. Financially and societally-- billions of dollars and emotions that are strong enough to have people crying tears of joy or brawling over are invested in EVERY major release/NBA game. Its hard to even fathom the pressure of stepping to thee free throw line in an NBA Finals or headlining Coachella and shit. These guys are built different. They're superheroes. And as we've learned from the 25 Avenger movies and however many re-does they’ve done of the Justice League joint— superheroes love to link up to compare powers and solve problems on each others turf.

I mentioned “what it takes to reach the top” in rap/basketball… Well, what does it take? Talent. Competitive drive. Hard work. Confidence. You’re not gonna tell Allen Iverson or Master P they can’t do something. Before Kobe got his first ring, I’m sure it dominated his entire being. But it’s not like once he got the first one he was content with having mastered the profession— he kept going; Mamba Mentality. But while Kobe became notoriously tunnel visioned on basketball, some greats like Shaq are wired where once they master one craft, they move onto new challenges—Renaissance men if you will. So It stands to reason that in two cultures so woven together, people who have these peak traits would naturally be inclined to apply them to their beloved entertainment counterpart. Sometimes with the Rapper Hoopers and the Hooper Rappers it’s hard to tell which one is which in terms of first love or even priority. The list below consists of some brothers who REALLY blur that line.

Before we continue, its probably worth mentioning that aside from all this lofty language I’m using and deep connections I’m trying to make its also as simple as this…

NBA dudes and rappers both love to stunt.

And sometimes as a basketball player, the best way to flex your prowess is to put on a gang of jewelry and go in on a beat. And for rappers, often the dopest way to flex that you’re the hottest in the game is to join the layup line for the hottest team in the game (just make sure you hit rim).

These two lists aren’t necessarily rankings, they’re put together like actual rosters vaguely true to position and play-style. However, we do consider this to be the best 5 (6) in some order for both. The criteria we're using is measurable success in sanctioned basketball for the rappers, and the cultural and/or commecial impact for released songs and albums by the hoopers— but of course, talent, personality, and star power will factor in a bit. In the end, we will judge our two rosters against each other this way…

In their respective primes, would our Rapper Hooper team be better in a lower level professional league or would our Hooper Rapper team deliver a better compilation album?

Lets start with our starting 5 and 6th man roster of rappers that have made real waves in Basketball aka...


1. Cameron “Cam’Ron” Giles- PG- 6’1” Manhattan Center For Science and Mathematics

As documented in his semi-autobiographical DIY movie, “Killa Season,” Cam was a great high school basketball player on a great team. Alongside fellow guard and later Bad Boy mega-star Mason "Murda Ma$e" Betha, Manhattan Center defeated Stephon Marbury’s Lincoln High (Jesus Shuttlesworth wasn’t there yet) to reach the NYC Class A Championship losing on a last second shot from Killa. Allegedly he was recruited by NCAA powerhouses like Syracuse and Georgetown but his thirst for fast money kept him from ever reaching campus.

He makes the list because of his cosigns and the NYC gloss that gets put over his basketball legend. LoL, there's no highlights of this man on Youtube really-- I had to make the video you see above myself ( that's me on the bars ;D ). But you sure can find plenty of videos of OG's speaking in heavy Harlem tones about Cam's basketball acumen. Its just way too dope that his basketball story is all tied up with God Shamgodd, Ma$e, Stephon Marbury, etc.--all with parts in their fades, and shmedium shorts, with the black Nike bricks and slouch socks on-feet. Damn! Its just too cool not to be on here.

2. Percy “Master P” Miller- SG - 6’4” from New Orleans, LA - Charlotte Hornets/Toronto Raptors

Like I said, this list isn’t necessarily ranked, but there’s no debate Master P is the GOAT in this category. No other Rapper Hooper got actual buckets in NBA games. Initially somewhat of a publicity stunt by the Charlotte Hornets to regain fan interest following a labor stoppage in 1998, Percy Miller was added to the preseason roster. He showed enough promise in his lone game for the Hornets (scoring 6 points) to garner a second look from Toronto the following offseason. In his Raptors debut he scored 8 points and as you can see in the highlights, looked extremely competent as a shooter/crafty scorer. Unfortunately at 32 years old, the team brass felt he lacked the athleticism to make the final roster. P is still salty about this and he may be right! Regardless, his fearless stab at it lives in both rap and NBA lore forever.

3. David “Dave East” Brewster, Jr. - SF- 6’4” University of Richmond/ Towson University/ New York Nets (ABA)

Famously the Harlemite was AAU teammates with KD and other NBA’ers like Ty Lawson, Michael Beasley, Grievis Vasquez, Nolan Smith and even former 49er’s linebacker Navarro Bowman. After leading Springbrook HS (MD) in scoring with 19.5 ppg, Brewster committed to the University of Richmond. After failing to keep up in school, he took a hiatus and eventually ended up at Towson University balling alongside KD’s brother, Tony Durant. While a Towson Tiger, Dave East had multiple games scoring 20+ points but began to see his burgeoning rap career as a more viable option. After leaving Towson, he became disenchanted with basketball until he returned for an exhibition season with the ABA’s New York Nets. He’s now just someone who will embarrass you in a pickup game.

4. Jermaine “J. Cole” Cole - PF- 6’2” Terry Sanford High School/ Rawanda Patriots (Basketball Africa League)

I told y’all I’m trying to flesh these rosters out to actually play a game together and even though J. Cole is listed as 6 foot 2 inches, my own height leans towards 6’3,” and I’ve stood next to the brother and felt short. So between that and his above-the-rim capabilities, I’m listing him as a power forward here. His basketball prowess as a Sanford Bulldog was the stuff of anecdotal legend, propped up by his consistently basketball themed albums (“Friday Night Lights”, “The Warm Up,” “Sideline Story,” “The Offseason”) until he showed up at the 2012 NBA All-Star Celebrity game and showed out catching a beautiful oop from Kevin Hart. Since then the legend only grew with videos leaking of him working on his game, scoring a signature basketball sneaker line with Puma, rumors of interest from the Detroit Pistons, and of course his eventual 3 game stint in 2021 with the Basketball Africa League’s Rawanda Patriots where he scored a total of 5 points, 3 assists, and 5 rebounds in 45 minutes of action. Not exactly all-star numbers, but his basketball journey has meant a great deal to both respective cultures.

5. Tauheed “Tity Boi/2 Chainz” Epps- C- 6’5” North Clayton High School/ Alabama State University

Once again, we have someone technically listed out of position as 2 Chainz was actually more of a playmaking guard but since we already have a bunch of score -irst guards and he seems much taller than 6’5,” we’re gonna let 2 Chainz run point-center for our rapper hooper team. Following a stellar high school career at North Clayton in College Park (GA) which included a AA State Championship title, Epps was given serious consideration by the Memphis Tigers as a replacement for the recently drafted Penny Hardaway but eventually landed at Alabama State. In one year of action for Alabama State, including matchups against Georgetown, Ohio State, and Final Four bound Minnesota, Epps played in 24 of 29 games and averaged 11 minutes per game. In the 96-97 season finale against Alcorn State he notched an impressive 14 points and 7 boards in just 10 minutes.

6th Man - Jayceon “The Game” Taylor- PF- 6’4” Dominguez (Compton) High School/

Washington State (?)

We know The Game played a role on an incredible high school team at Dominguez that included NBA greats such as Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, Tayshaun Prince, and Gilbert Arenas. Whats not as clear is the claim he has made through the years that he got a scholarship from Washington State but got in trouble dealing drugs before he could even participate with the program. There’s no record of this, but that’s kinda part of the story, right? Its believable when you see him play. He is a consistent participant in LA’s NBA-littered Drew League; one of the most respected pro-ams in the world— he holds his own. So don’t pull his card on the Washington State thing unless you’re prepared to get owned on the court.

Others Receiving Votes:

Common His dad, Lonnie Lynn, played in the NBA and Common has a silky old-man game that you’d love to have on your team at the local run. He’s been a consistent standout in multiple NBA All-Star Celebrity Games, but he just doesn’t have enough on the sanctioned basketball resume to make the cut.

Quavo Speaking of NBA All-Star Celebrity Game standouts, none come to mind more prevalently than Quavo. He scored 27 points in the 2019 game and even though he didn’t claim MVP honors he turned a lot of heads. Between that showing and a steady flow of clips leaking of him working on his skills and getting run, many of you will consider him a glaring omission from the squad. SORRY GUYS, but he just doesn’t have enough sanctioned basketball under his belt. The former Berkmar High School star quarterback would be a shoe-in on a football list though.

And now…


1. Damian “Dame D.O.L.L.A” Lillard - PG- Studio Albums: “The Letter O”/“Confirmed”/“Big D.O.L.L.A”

Once again, this list is not necessarily ranked. But Dame Lillard is likely the most respected Hooper Rapper of all time. The rap game has changed a lot since Shaq’s commercial success as a rapper in the early 90’s. Dame’s numbers don’t compare to his, but his reputation as an MC is taken much more seriously. After dropping live freestyles on classic beats like “Dead Presidents 2,” a new kind of buzz was generated for the superstar point guard that wasn’t built on the novelty of a pro athlete rapping, but rather pure merit and skill. With a laid back monotone voice and an emphasis on internal and multi-syllabic rhymes combined with typically conscious subject matter; he’s not exactly a prime candidate for the top 40 charts. He has however made some big waves on the commercial side as well, headlining 2020’s All-Star Saturday Night’s halftime show along with frequent collaborator Lil’ Wayne and not only serving as the cover athlete for “NBA 2K21,” but also curating the soundtrack heavily featuring his own music. Ironically, arguably his most entertaining and transcendent Hip-Hop moment so far has been the “beef” with Shaquille O’Neal.

After being asked on the “Joe Budden Podcast” to compare their respective careers, Dame basically said what we’ve already stated here— Shaq’s success was more reliant on his star power than his skill and Dame feels he is the tactically superior MC. Shaq responded with a homemade video starring a Shaq muppet spitting some light jabs at Dame, while simultaneously advertising a boombox company. Classic Shaq—The lyrics and flow were actually pretty hard and the jokes and points were hitting, but with Shaq everything always ends up kinda "fun". But Dame wasn’t playing. He brought an atomic bomb to a fist fight in the form of his response track “Reign Reign Go Away.” Not since Drake’s dismantling of Meek Mill has there been such an unanimous victory in a rap beef been declared in the media. There was a pretty solid round 2 in this battle as well but the result was already in. W in the D.O.L.L.A column. In the true spirit of Hip-Hop though, both legends embraced the competition that was and turned it into a friendship. Leave it to these two to turn it into a bag too, with recent news of a Reebok “Shaqnosis”/ Adidas “Dame 7” hybrid model of both of their signature shoes.

Dame Lillard is in the prime of his basketball hall of fame career and he has the ears of millions of Hip-Hop listeners that he gained from actual skill. We've seen him win numerous battles (more on Marvin Bagley later), seen him drop solid albums with big features. In the league we've seen him put up 60 and hit in big moments often looking like the most mentally tough player in thr league. But on both fronts, he's still looking for his first ring and his first classic album. The quintessential Dame D.O.L.L.A album might have to wait, as Lillard is set to lead Team USA into Tokyo to take gold this summer and his name is ringing in NBA rumor circles speculating he may be looking to position himself in an organization more likely to win a title. The rest of this story remains unwritten, and there’s no ceiling on what he can do in either arena.

2. Allen “Jewelz” Iverson - SG- Studio Albums: “Misunderstood” (“40 Barz”)

Even if you’re a true NBA/Rap head you probably only know one song by Jewelz. That song is “40 Barz.” The track is what it sounds like— 40 bars of typical early 00’s tough-guy talk and flossing. Its not bad. Its not great. Jewelz has one huge thing going for him though. He's fuckin Allen Iverson! A.I. makes this list for this cult classic, but mores what he represents to the Hip-Hop community. There may never be an athlete more in line with the attitude and spirit of Hip-Hop than Iverson. The braids and tats, the durags and tall tees at press conferences, the fearlessness on and off the court and so much more of who he was and is as a public figure represents the feelings and aspirations of a segment of the NBA fanbase that was being largely neglected before his arrival. The commissioner of the NBA at the time, David Stern -- much like the FCC and figures like Delores Tucker attempted to silence Hip-Hop-- looked to censor the brashness of Allen Iverson. Stern instituted a dress code for players in 2005 that was a thinly veiled shot at the fashion movement A.I. was spearheading. And before that, in the year 2000, he shut down “40 Barz” and the planned album to accompany the single. Citing offensive lyrics detrimental to the league, Stern threatened suspension for Iverson at the peak of his prime and the album was shelved. It was eventually released in 2010 after his playing days under the title “Misunderstood.” 10 years after the initial buzz; of course this album didn’t perform very well, but his controversial music had long ago added to his mystique. His influence in Hip-Hop is impossible to overstate and because his bars aren’t terrible, he’s an easy addition to the roster.

3. Ron “Metta World Peace” “The Panda’s Friend” Artest -SF- Studio Albums: “My World”

Surprisingly, his rap name is actually just Ron Artest, but we had to include his infamous aliases because… well, just because. The Queens native and St. Johns alum known for being a livewire, was always NYC to the core and it surprised no one that he had rap aspirations. The timing of his announcement of these rap plans was a bit surprising, however. Following his season-long suspension for this involvement in the notorious Malace at the Palace (YouTube it if you don’t know), Artest revealed he would be using his time off to promote his rap career. This drew the ire of many conservative sports fans and added fuel to their fire labeling him a liability. Amongst the rap faithful, he always had a comedic appeal, due to his off the cuff remarks and behavior but we didn’t know how to take him seriously as an MC. “My Life” flopped. But in 2010 he bucked the criticisms from sports and rap fans alike becoming a champion with the Lakers as a key contributor alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and longtime friend Lamar Odom. He used his moment in the sun to shed light on mental health in his postgame interview and later released an actual banger in “Champions,” a single that features T-Pain that was released through NBA 2K11. For one shining moment, Ron Artest was THE man. Imagine when Gronk goes on his Talk Show World Tour after seemingly every Super Bowl he actually had a dope song to perform instead of chugging beers and shit. Anyway -- From being public enemy number one to beloved by the masses, and from being punchline to becoming a "Champion," in sports and in music--- Ron Artest (or whatever you wanna call him) is an awesome example of redemption.

4. Marvin “BG3FIVE” Bagley - PF- Studio Albums: “Big Jreams”/“On The Way"/“Behind it All”

Marvin Bagley is our first Hooper Rapper that actually may be a better rapper than he is an NBA player. Going into his fourth year in the league with Sacramento Kings, its been a struggle on-court for the former 2nd overall pick. The streaming numbers on his three albums aren’t doing much better, but his skills are undeniable. Bagley has a penchant for making seemingly radio-friendly records while maintaining a sharp lyrical emphasis. He sounds like a mixture of J. Cole and Dame Lillard. Ironically, Bagley exchanged jabs with the latter. The beef was largely dismissed as another victory for Lillard and his two submissions, "MARVINNNNNN???" and "End of Summer 19". Admittedly, It’s hard to ignore the disparity between the two players on the court when you're trying to judge a winner in their lyrical exchanges, but if you can put that to the side, the bars BG3FIVE delivered on “Checkmate” and "No Debate" were more than formidable. Basketball players or not--this was one of the more lyrical battles in recent memory. Time will tell if he can work the kinks out with Marvin Bagley's faltering NBA career, but his upside is still enormous as an MC.

5. Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal - C - Studio Albums: “Shaq Diesel” /“Shaq-Fu: Da Return”/"You Can't Stop The Reign"/"Respect"

It’s pretty shocking that the king of nicknames goes by his government on his studio albums. Regardless, another nickname we will bestow upon the Big Aristotle is the Big Blueprint because he is the definitive OG of the Hooper Rappers. Crossover between music and sports had definitely been made prior to the release of 1993’s “Shaq Diesel” with goofy forays like the Chicago Bears “Super Bowl Shuffle.” But never had someone so commercially appealing entered so brazenly into the realm of Hip-Hop which hadn’t quite become accepted yet in the corporate world. In his words, Shaq set out in music only to have fun and fulfill his dreams to work with his rap heroes, “Shaq Diesel” went platinum and “Shaq-Fu: Da Return” went gold making him the only Hooper Rapper to reach these heights in music. HIs most enduring song has been "You Can't Stop the Reign" featuring The Notorious B.I.G from Shaq's 3rd studio album of the same name. Of course Frank White leads the way on the track, but the Diesel holds his own and they even go bar for bar at certain points. Must have been a dream come true for Shaq, and he's reminisced on the experience fondly quite often.

Largely panned in perpetuity as a gimmick and accused of borrowing artistic credibility from his featured guests, (See Dame Lillard’s “Reign Reign Go Away”), Shaq has slowly earned his stripes over the years after his overnight rap success in the early 90s. A longstanding lyrical feud with Richmond’s Mad Skillz, an infamous freestyle where he requests that Kobe Bryant taste-test his backside, and trading jabs with current Hooper Rapper captain Dame Lillard have kept Shaq relevant for most of our lifetime in Hip-Hop even without continuing to release studio albums. In his older age, he has become one of the most successful performance DJs in the world. Rap-wise he specializes in off-the-top fun stuff. If you’re unfamiliar with his most serious work, I'll put it like this... if his "Best-Of" album (yes, he has one) was all just from one project, it would be in that 4 Mic/XL rated ballpark. He's a pretty good MC. But he's a titan in the culture.

6th Man - Kobe Bryant - SG - Studio Albums: “K.O.B.E.”

This inclusion is mainly out of respect for the late great hoop God and the fact that even though his rap career was brief, it was full of plenty of fireworks. His single, “K.O.B.E.” from the album of the same name featuring Tyra Banks, debuted and performed at NBA All-Star Weekend 2000 is notoriously horrible but the ambition in the attempt is admirable. He was featured on a remix to Destiny’s Child’s “No, No, No” and Brian McKnight’s “Hold Me” and is even rumored to have an unreleased track with frenemy, Shaq. Sometimes, its a great skill to know when its time to give something up and we never heard much from the Mamba in rap after his busy turn of the millennium, but the grand scale he was working on would foreshadow not only his future greatness as a 5-time NBA champion, but also his Academy Award winning work as a content creator post-retirement. No matter how you slice it, Kobe’s pursuit of perfection is permanently emblazoned into Hip-Hop forever. Rest in Victory, Kobe.

Others Receiving Votes:

Iman Shumpert Dude can really rap and he’s easy to root for on and off court (the man delivered he and Teyana Taylor’s baby on their bathroom floor—Legend.) He gets props for being the type of MC that’s always ready to hop in the cipher too. The only reason he didn’t make the roster is there’s just not enough studio work to overcome his lack of star power.

Lou Williams The Atlanta native has a smooth Southern slow flow and it was complimented great by the Meek Mill-ish type beats he was blessing in his most prolific rap run during his time in Philadelphia. He’s not included on the roster because he never gave us a studio album. Check out 2011’s “I Want It All” featuring Meek Mill— its a banger for an old joint.

So which team would do better in their swapped profession for a full season/compilation album? 10 years ago this was an easy win for the Rapper Hoopers because their starting 5 was about the same as it is today and the respect was always there because you can't hide being wack at ball the way you can fluff up and produce the hell out of a wack rapper. And NBA-rap had a pretty wack reputation. It carried a much cornier, gimmicky vibe. The younger millennials and Gen Z are to thank for the sudden improvement for Team Hooper Rapper. Out of the 8 players mentioned for the Hooper Rapper roster, 4 of them emerged in the last decade. I think its because the guys had more access to more platforms with social media and are used to constant branding and putting yourself out there much the same way as a rapper already. There's just a lot more hoopers these days willing to include rapping as part of their brand. If we just listed every current NBA player thats put out some form of a rap project, single, or even just a freestyle-- this article would kill my hard drive. But because the talent pool got larger, there's logically more decent MC's to choose from (we didn't even talk about Lonzo Ball, Myles Bridges, Aaron Gordon etc) and through that filtering, you end up with real spitters like Dame, who have real credibility and potential in the rap game. No Rapper-Hoopers right now (or ever with the exception of Master P) are ACTUAL threats to being in the NBA-- that's why for this exercise we had to say "how would they perform in really good pro-am" cuz OF COURSE they can't do real damage in the NBA. But some of these new Hooper Rappers and Dame specifically-- are an ACTUAL threat to the top of the rapper food-chain. Put a W next to the Hooper Rappers on this one.

Let us know in the comments or hit us on social if you feel we left anybody off or gave anybody too much of a pass. And let us know if you think the Rapper Hoopers are a better basketball team or if the Hooper Rappers would make a better album together. Stay tuned for more basketball themed content in the future from The MSQ Shop and our Beats, Bars, and Basketball series.

by: Zach Kirby

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