In volume two of our "Beats, Bars, & Basketball" series the soundtrack for Lebron's 2009 documentary, "More Than a Game" clocked in at number four and I briefly got to pay homage to Lebron's unapologetic bond with Hip-Hop. In that same article, "Space Jam" claimed the top spot. Coincidentally, today Lebron's long awaited sequel, "Space Jam: A New Legacy" drops in theaters and premium streaming services. We'll see if this movie and the subsequent soundtrack can add to his entertainment legend. Understand that this man is clearly for "The Culture" every single day of his life, but we're gonna semi-chronologically go through some of the bigger storylines and highlights of Bron's journey in the world of Hip-Hop told mainly through his 3 best rapper friends.
Hummers & Throwbacks From the Go-Back
Other than the iconic "The Chosen One" 2002 Sports Illustrated Cover, the ESPN broadcasts of his games, and just a general buzz about his amazing talent, one of the first things you really heard on a national level about Lebron was the Ohio High School Athletic Association investigating him for impermissible benefits just in time for Saint Vincent Saint Mary's playoff run. Initially, they tried to pin him on his recently acquired Hummer H2, but it was ultimately allowed because it was actually purchased by his mother (on a loan granted with Lebron's NBA future all but secured.) Once the big fish was off the hook, the OHSAA had to resort to punishing him for accepting two throwbacks (at the time worth a ridiculous $845) from a local clothing store. Missing only two games, he was able to beat the rap and lead the Irish to their third state title in four years.
In 2002, a Hummer on rims was a showstopper and (extremely oversized) Mitchell & Ness throwback jerseys were the standard issue for anyone making big splashes in the Hip-Hop world. As an 18 year old kid, to not only have these things, but buck the system in a way to continue to have them let us know dude wasn't gonna be pushed around--- and that's always been Hip-Hop. In an ultimate flex, Lebron recently became a spokesman for the return of the Hummer. The bag has come full circle.
Michael Jordan as a personality was always associated with Hip-Hop vaguely and subliminally at best. While I don't agree that his "Republicans buy sneakers too" comment should define his entire relationship with The Culture, I think its quite fair to say that the shoes and the abstract motivation of his performance and branding is what really tied Mike to Hip-Hop.
When Kobe Bryant became the first real "Air" apparent out of high-school... Surprisingly, for the eclectic vino he turned out to be in his later years; he really embraced Hip-Hop culture and fashion in the beginning. He donned popular streetwear and throwbacks, and even pursued a brief rap career as highlighted in Volume One of our series. No disrespect to the god, but even Shaq implies in his autobiography that Kobe's embracing of Hip-Hop, while genuine, often felt a tad like overcompensation for his southpaw upbringing in Italy. He wasn't necessarily comfortable in Hip-Hop.
Lebron immediately looked, sounded, and felt like he was in complete control of his Hip-Hop image and ready to take it along with him on his incredible rise to the top.
Here is the freshly drafted #1 overall Lebron riding in his notorious Hummer, bumping Hova. Its quite clear he isn't just trying to look cool; he's in lock step with Jay-Z's motivational message. The energetic link between Bron's ascension from damn near being homeless in Akron, Ohio and Jay-Z's rise from Marcy Projects in Brooklyn to both becoming billionaires (Bron will eclipse that any day-- fact check me) has been strong from the start. It was always clear they would cross paths and undoubtedly make major moves.
Which brings us to our next obvious chapter...
King James & President Carter
Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z-- is a man that even by 2003, had Speed-Sticked a lot of BIG personalities. I mean, he wears the pants in relationships with Dame Dash and Kanye West. That should tell you a lot. Here though, is Hova-- already a legend-- seemingly just as happy to be hanging out with a 19 year old NBA rookie as Bron is to be with him. In this interview with Sway, Lebron and Jay both mention that Lebron is "a part of the Roc." Almost 20 years later and almost 10 years after Jay-Z planted his Roc Nation flag into the world of sports agency representing some of the biggest athletes across all sports--- this doesn't sound weird at all. But at the time, even for people like me who were excited about it--- there was still a "How can a basketball player that doesn't rap be part of the hottest rap label around?" element to it. It wasn't a question for long, because somehow it just worked. Turns out it was Jay-Z planting the seeds for his involvement in pro sports and Lebron was planting his in the entertainment industry. Boy, did those seeds grow.
One of the most memorable and fun chapters in the history of Hova-Bron was during Lebron's first stint in Cleveland, when right before the first round of the 2008 playoffs, the Washington Wizards' (who were eliminated by Bron's Cavs the 2 years prior) Deshawn Stevenson said Lebron was overrated. When asked to respond, Lebron basically stated that Stevenson wasn't worthy of a response and likened it to Soulja Boy calling Jay-Z overrated. The exchange was pretty randomly disrespectful towards Soulja, but it led to a fun "beef" between the foursome. When the series came to Washington, the Wizards made sure Soulja Boy was on hand in a Deshawn Stevenson jersey crankin' it all over the front row. As the Cavaliers were in the process of eliminating the Wiz in the first round for the third year in a row, Jay-Z threw his hat in the ring, coming to Lebron's defense on the Too $hort "Blow the Whistle" instrumental throwing jabs at Stevenson and Soulja. We knew they were tight but Jay actually went to wax with it!
Shawn and Bron definitely have both used each others images to boost their own all along, but there's a genuine, mutual admiration that always bleeds through. Their friendship felt so strong that if you were following Lebron's free agency saga in 2010, you probably at one point convinced yourself that Lebron would go from Cleveland to New Jersey (still 2 years from the Brooklyn move and god awful) just off the strength of Jay owning like 1% of the team. Thats a bond.
Also, no disrespect, but it takes a strong friendship to be comfortable with your homie's wife looking at you like this all the time...
But man, picking the right OG for the entertainment/entrepreneurship game is important and Lebron really knocked it out of the park because it seems that a lot of his Hip-Hop moves really stem from that Roc Tree including...
Kanye and Lebron presumably met each other as both simultaneously took their "positions" with the Roc in the 2003-04 range. But in 2009-10 after they became entertainment's public enemy #1 and #2 following the VMA hijacking of Taylor Swift's moment and Lebron's "Decision," their bond seemed to strengthen and the two could be seen a lot more frequently together. For instance...
This is a photograph of Bronye AT The Boy's and Girl's Club of Akron, Ohio on the infamous night of "The Decision." OF COURSE Kanye would be at the most inflammatory sports publicity stunt to ever occur up to that point.
By the way, WTF were people so mad at either of them for? Especially Lebron. I mean, Kanye was a little rude to Taylor Swift--- sure. But how many times have huge moments for black folks been whitewashed by some cookie-cutter bullshit? Nobody would even know Taylor Swift won a 2009 VMA for best video if it wasn't for that rant. Its entertainment. That was entertaining. And so was "The Decision." People somehow forgot that even though Lebron is from Ohio he didn't BELONG to the Cavaliers. He put in his required 4 years on his rookie deal, signed an extension for 3 more, and very understandably decided to move from Ohio to Miami because he EARNED that choice. And once again, it was the more entertaining, memorable move. Both moments were awkward AF, but they were momumental.
Kanye had some experience with backlash following his numerous award show rants and his hijacking of NBC's Hurricane Katrina telethon to express that "George Bush doesn't care about Black people," --that ruffled a lotta feathers, but the T-Swift thing REALLY was the last straw with people. Lebron had been America's sweetheart up to that point. Im not sure why he only got one strike... but he had to learn how to embrace wearing the black hat and do it fast. Why not learn alongside Kanye?
Long story short...Kanye went black (hat) and never went back--- ironically, pissing off most black people in the process with his Trump support and countless other instances of wild rhetoric/behavior in the years to come. But Lebron was visibly very uncomfortable with the villain role. It seemed to literally impede him on the court in the 2011 NBA finals where the world rejoiced his, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh's defeat at the hands of the Dirk-led Dallas Mavericks. The King's temporary heel-turn wasn't completely fruitless though.
Lebron's relationship with Kanye, like Jay-Z, served to broaden his scope and goals but primarily, it gave Lebron some perspective on being true to himself. Even though he wasn't comfortable being the bad guy like Kanye, Lebron has never shied away from telling his truths. Both men at the peak of their friendship from 2009-12 became arguably the best versions of their professional selfs with Lebron finally becoming an NBA champion in 2012 and Kanye releasing "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy;" probably his most complete work.
"Hood phenomenon, the Lebron of rhyme. Hard to be humble when you stuntin' on a Jumbotron."
-Yeezy on "Devil in a New Dress"
Sadly though, this friendship seems to be locked for the time being in a state of disarray or at least uncertainty. Lebron has become one of the de-facto leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement and a true culture king. As Kanye tied himself more and more with entities seemingly on the other side of that (and leaving Nike for Adidas), Lebron had to distance himself. It didn't help that Kanye was also falling farther and farther out of favor with old friend Jay-Z and his newest and current Hip-Hop bestie, Mr. Aubrey Graham.
Strive For Drakeness
One would guess that Drake and Lebron began their friendship sometime around 2009, as Drizzy exploded onto the scene and he was included on Lebron's "More Than a Game" soundtrack on the monster single "Forever" featuring Kanye West, Lil' Wayne, and Eminem. This was the first instance of a fully seasoned Bron, no longer the "kid" in his industry, putting the "Next Big Thing" under his wing. Much like when Jay-Z crossed industries and took Lebron as a protege of sorts, Drake was equally in awe and comfortable as an eventual peer for Lebron's greatness. The "sonning" didn't last long. They clearly became "brothers" (as they put it) quite quickly and have never really looked back.
When Lebron took his talents top South Beach, Drake seemed to join him; celebrating Heat championships just as enthusiastically as he would celebrate his future employer the Toronto Raptors' 2019 chip. They constantly shout out one another and appear at each other's events and participate in each others' projects.
When Drake and Kanye had a fallout in 2018 it was clear to me who Bron was rolling with. I'm no body language expert, but you can judge for yourself...
Most recently, Drake has intentionally or unintentionally flexed his closeness with Bron by showing up for his son Bronny's high school games. Aside from their clearly strong personal relationship, their ties make sense when you compare their respective strengths. They're both unbelievably adaptive and versatile. While both being hugely talented, they are also somehow relatable to the everyman. They both have experienced the type of success that leaves only ghosts and themselves as true competition-- and they both share a drive to gain the respect they seem to secretly feel robbed of.
Like his relationship with Jay-Z, Lebron and Drake have managed to become synonymous with each others brands. When you think of one, you think of the other-- and it keeps them both relevant and gives them a lot of credibility in both worlds.
In true mogul fashion Lebron has leveraged that credibility into executive ownership of Hip-Hop property such as...
"Rap or Go to the League," is the 5th studio album by rapper (and hooper in his own right ) 2Chainz and Lebron's first executive production credit. Its not entirely clear what Lebron's nuts and bolts role was in this project other than funding it, but the album was a commercial and critical success. It showed once again, that Lebron doesn't just have a passing interest in rap--- he's a true citizen.
As the end of Lebron's playing days grow closer and closer and his media empire grows larger and larger with Spring Hill Entertainment and Klutch management, it seems likely that his influence in Hip-Hop will only increase.
Like most of our favorite rappers, and his favorite rapper-- Jay-Z; Lebron represents an underdog turned larger-than-life entrepreneur. He's brought all of his day-ones with him along the way and keeps reinventing himself. Whats more Hip-Hop than that?
Long live the King.
Stay tuned for more basketball themed content in the future from The MSQ Shop and our Beats, Bars, and Basketball series.
by: Zach Kirby