Although Shaq’s debut album, Shaq Diesel, went platinum, NBA players venturing into hip-hop has largely been frowned upon by fans of basketball, hip-hop and the league alike. Consider the failed rap careers of Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. The latter was so storied (and fucking horrendous) that it warranted a Grantland feature that chronicled Bryant’s foray into rap, but still made this disaster impossible to forget.
Earlier this week, Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson freestyled over Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga,” and it’s actually listenable. To be honest, it’s pretty hard not to listen to it multiple times. Thanks to the Internet (and boredom), Stephenson isn’t the lone NBA player to rap and not be laughably bad at it.
Though they should all focus on basketball first, the following are the best rappers in the NBA today.
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Many forget that Kevin Durant doesn’t just beef with rappers and make humble and make unassuming appearances on mixtape interludes, he actually does it himself. KD raps with the same effortless aesthetic that allows him to score 40 within the flow of the game, but lacks the charisma to pull off a semi-legitimate rap career. Even when his trademark monotone cracks, he still sounds too chill. It’s not that there’s no room for laid-back rappers (Curren$y, anyone?), it’s just that Durant’s calm demeanor translates better onto the court than it does in the booth.2 of 6
The Charlotte Hornets’ new addition had been relatively quiet since departing the Indiana Pacers earlier this summer, but that changed this week. Inspired by Bobby Shmurda’s infectious sleeper hit of the summer, “Hot Nigga,” Stephenson Shmoney Danced all over his own freestyle which will prompt you to hurl your hat into a back hole, just as the original does. He’s right at home over the Jahlil Beats production, and, since hyper-lyrical New York City rap is on the respirator, he really isn’t a downgrade from young Shmurda.
Just as he does on the court, he shows off that signature Brooklyn flair and aggression. For example: “Two chains, now I’m stuntin’ on ‘em/See a center in the lane, now I’m dunkin’ on him.” The repeated use of the n-word might be startling to some, but it’s no “40 Bars.” Speaking of Allen Iverson, Stephenson drops a timely A.I. reference: “I been ballin’ hard since like the 5th grade/Watchin’ A.I. gettin’ 40 with the French braids.”
It’s obvious that Stephenson was trying so hard here, but that’s fine. Be honest: Who would’ve thought that Lance Stephenson would have one of the week’s most discussed moments in hip-hop? His reign as one of the league’s most entertaining players—on and off the court—continues. The funny thing is, this wasn’t even Lance’s first foray into rap.3 of 6
Stephen Jackson, or “Stak5” as he’s known within the hip-hop community, has been one of the most street-certified players in the NBA for years. He’s rarely tested because, on a scale of 1 to 10, his G-level is about a 12. Perhaps the UGK affiliation has something to do with it, and bet his actions play a pretty big role. Anyway, earlier this month, he unleashed “America Da Beautiful,” a tirade against former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the madness that’s taken place in Ferguson, Mo. following the shooting of Michael Brown, and racism in general.
What Jackson lacks lyrically, he makes up for in passion and intensity. He also gets credit for speaking up on topics that a lot of rappers were silent on. Plus, he has the respect of other rappers: the aforementioned UGK, as well as Scarface, who lent a verse to “America Da Beautiful.”
Jackson won’t win any awards as a rapper, but he’ll always be respected. Plus, how many rappers in the league today have a Vevo page?4 of 6
Just as Iman Shumpert was good enough to be a first-round draft pick in 2011, he’s a surprisingly serviceable rapper. His “Knicks Anthem,” which borrows G.O.O.D. Music’s “Clique” beat, isn’t that much worse than the throwaway verses that full-time rappers deliver. Plus, it’ll remind Knicks fans of that brief moment a few years back when they were a playoff team.
The release of his “Versace” freestyle was overshadowed by Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse last year which dropped at the same time, but, to this day, more people have probably heard Shump’s freestyle than Big Sean’s verse on “Control.”
His mixtape, Th3 #Post90s, has a Chrisette Michelle feature and contains the track “Anarchy Episode ll,” which isn’t horrible. The production is solid, and Shumpert sounds like any born-into-the-90s rapper trying to get on. The only thing is, he might take this rap shit too seriously. He put out a 21-track mixtape, and has a rap alias: 2wo 1one.
Freddie Gibbs shouted Shumpert out on Piñata’s “Knicks,” and it’s kind of unclear if it was due to his work on the court or on the mic, but that’s something to keep an eye on in the future.5 of 6
In just two years, Damian Lillard has emerged as one of the league’s top point guards. He’s also revealed an off-court passion: rap. Like many aspiring artists, he used social media to promote his talent, which was a bit easier considering his notoriety, i.e. large following. This spawned the advent of #4BarFridays, where he spit—drumroll—four bars, challenging his Instagram followers to match. Other players, including LeBron James and Paul George, rose to the occasion.
Lillard, believe it or not, is a capable rapper whose content is honest (“I never been a thug, but I still gotta thank the streets/’Cause it showed me things that made me say ‘Man, this just ain’t for me’”), something you don’t always find with actual rappers. He also proved to be respected among his peers as a rapper, as he got other players to follow the trend.
Though it remains to be seen what he’d sound like in a studio, Lillard is willing to trade verses with anyone. Literally, anyone.6 of 6