Rapsody is a major fan of Duke Basketball. At 8-years old, the Snow Hill, North Carolina-native watched coach Mike Krsyzewski’s squad upset then powerhouse UNLV in the semifinals before defeating Kansas University in the 1991 NCAA title game, clinching the first National Championship in school history. To paraphrase Eminem, when it comes to college basketball, Duke is the most hated-on out of all of those who say they get hated-on, but Rapsody instantly became a fanatic for one primary reason: Grant Hill.
“Grant Hill was my favorite basketball player coming up,” she tells HipHopDX in this exclusive conversation. “When I started playing basketball at age 8, that was my idol.”
Rapsody and her 9th Wonder-led imprint, Jamla are staples in the Durham community. The Grammy Award-winning producer teaches at the prestigious university and Rap was selected to narrate the Duke Basketball team’s player introduction this season. But as she details in this interview, one of her career highlights came this year when Grant Hill asked her to ghostwrite a rhyme for him. Eight bars for her 8-year old idol, Rapsody’s love for the polarizing program has, in a sense, come full circle. She got game, indeed.
HipHopDX: I hear you ghostwrote for Grant Hill. How did that come about?
Rapsody: He contacted me about two or three weeks ago. Damien Lillard had this thing called a 4Bar challenge on NBATV and he spit four bars. At the end of what he spit, he was like, “Now I challenge Grant Hill [and Kristen Ledlow]…” It was something that was fun to do. Music and Sports kind of go hand-in-hand. Grant Hill hit me up and was like, “You know my rapping skills aren’t that good so, I want to ask you if you would write me four bars for this 4Bar challenge.” I was like, “Of course!” Grant Hill was my favorite basketball player coming up. I’m a big Duke fan. When I started playing ball at age 8, that was my idol.
He texted me out the blue and I’m reading the text and just dropped the phone. He was like, “I’m gonna go a little bit longer. Give me eight [bars].” I wrote it. I did a voice memo so he could hear it and that was it.
DX: Personally, I’m a diehard Duke Basketball fan. For me, it started with the 1991 NCAA Championship and Grant Hill was the coolest dude on that team. I know it must’ve been surreal to ghostwrite for Grant Hill.
Rapsody: That’ll be one of my favorite moments ever. Just being able to talk to him about basketball and life in general, that is a big thing for me because he was such a big part of my childhood growing up. I also got to do the Duke player intro this year. I was stupid crazy excited about that.
DX: How do you feel about this year’s team?
Rapsody: I’m excited. I feel like we have a great team. We’ve got young, very athletic players. Jabari Parker is phenomenal. For me, he’s the number one player without a doubt. He’s so well rounded as a player. To be that young and a freshman and 18 or 19 years old and shooting and moving the way he does is phenomenal to watch. Quinn Cook is a Junior this year. He’s the leader and really holding down the point guard position. Then we have the [four] other recruits coming next year [Jahlil Okafor, Tyrus Jones, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen]. Man, look, I’m happy. UNC is gonna have some problems this year.
DX: How did you end up going to NC State when you’re a Duke fan?
Rapsody: It’s crazy. I was just talking to my dad about this the other day when we were watching the game. He was like, “Man, what is it about Duke? Why do you like Duke?” I was like, “Grant Hill. I started playing ball and that’s what it is.” He said, “Well, why did you go to State?” I said, “I wanted to apply to Duke but I didn’t because I thought it was too expensive. I went to NC State because I went for accounting. They had a good accounting program and that’s what it is.” He was like, “Well, we would’ve found a way to pay for it somehow.” I was like, “Well…oh well.” [Laughs]
NC State had a good accounting program and I wasn’t close to home but I wasn’t that far away either. My dad is a really big NC State fan so I went to State.
DX: Do you remember when Jay Williams’ career was cut short by the motorcycle accident?
Rapsody: I remember that. That was tragic. I remember that vividly. He only played, what, three months in the NBA?
DX: He made it through his rookie season.
Rapsody: That’s right. He was another favorite Duke Basketball player to watch when I was coming up. I wasn’t a huge Chicago Bulls fan. I’m a Lakers fan. But to be hurt and not be hurt on the court, to be on a motorcycle and be in a accident that could have been avoided…I’m not getting on a motorcycle until I’m retired. It’s unfortunate. I guess he made the best of the situation. He’s commentating.
DX: He’s doing College Basketball commentating on ESPN. Williams’ accident reminded me a lot of when Bobby Hurley was in a car accident following his first season in the league.
Rapsody: Yeah, I almost cried when that happened. Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill were the three for me. That one hurt a lot. I’m glad he survived. That is the bright side.
DX: There was always a stigma that Duke Basketball players fail in the NBA. What do you think about that?
Rapsody: I think that’s a bunch of UNC fans. [Laughs] That’s who I always hear it from. That’s UNC fans hating. Grant Hill got hurt, but he was as good as expected before the injury. Shane Battier is a killer. You don’t want to see him at the 3-point line. Elton Brand. Kyrie Irving…come on! Duke players do well in the NBA. I think that’s UNC fans hating, especially with this new class coming in. Jabari Parker, that’s another player [who will be great in the NBA]. I hear UNC fans saying that he can’t shoot. I’m like, “Are we watching the same person?” That thought just comes from people that are so much into their team and can’t separate being an overly thinking crazy fan just talking about basketball. We’ve got players. Carolina definitely has their players too, but come on now. That’s what it all boils down to: Duke versus Carolina basketball players in the NBA. It’s a very even playing field right now in the NBA when it comes to that.
DX: Have you kept in touch with Grant Hill?
Rapsody: The last time I talked to him was last week. He came down to Durham for the Michigan State game. I didn’t go to that game. 9th Wonder went, though. After the game, I texted him like, “The boys were looking good tonight.” He was like, “I’m still trying to sign to Jamla though,” jokingly. [Laughs] But I never try to abuse the privilege of having his contact information. When he comes down to North Carolina, he’ll come by the studio and we’ll all get together and talk about music and sports—the same thing with Jeff Capel. He is a crazy Hip Hop fan. He’ll swing by the studio sometimes and we’ll kick it and talk about music. It’s just great to be a part of the Duke family.
DX: Have you met Coach [Mike Kryzewski]?
Rapsody: I have not met Coach K, yet. Me and 9th call him “The Elohim” of all the coaches. [Laughs] His nickname is The Elohim. I have not had the opportunity to meet The Elohim. The last game that I went to, they were playing VCU, and we were standing up during the National Anthem. He looked over at 9th and they made eye contact and [Coach K] gave him the nod and I was so jealous! [Laughs] It’s definitely dope. I hope to meet him sometime this year. Maybe I’ll get to sit in on a practice. I’m good just watching the floor at the very least. And when Coach K gets mad and cusses out the refs, it’s hilarious! It’s great to watch him work.
DX: Have you met [Steve Wojciechowski]?
Rapsody: I have not. The only staff or players I’ve met are Capel, of course, and Jabari Parker. He’s a big Hip Hop fan. I want to say his favorite album is Midnight Marauders [by A Tribe Called Quest].
DX: That’s wild because he’s 18 years old.
Rapsody: He was telling us that he has an older brother that turned him on to so much music. His music IQ is pretty high. He grew up on that classic Hip Hop and old soul music.
DX: Bill Simmons once hypothesized that if Grant Hill signs with Nike instead of Fila when he first entered the league, then he likely would have never had the ankle problems that derailed his career because Nike’s technology was so much better then and now. What do you think about that?
Rapsody: Wow. I’ve never thought about that. But I don’t think that’s a reach at all. There could be some truth to that because when it comes to basketball shoes, Nike is the leader. Just watching what they’ve done with the new Kobe9 Elite, they’re always at the forefront of technology. There could be some truth to that, but you never know how things will play out.
DX: When you think of Duke Basketball, what is the visual picture that first comes to mind?
Rapsody: There are two. Of course, one of the greatest college sports moments ever was when Grant Hill made the pass to Laettner and Laettner turned and hit the shot against Kentucky in the NCAA Regional Finals. The other is when Bobby Hurley hit a long 3-point shot against UNLV in the Final Four to seal the game. Me, my sister, my dad and my brother were all watching the game. We all thought they were going to lose. Then Bobby Hurley made the shot and I started running all around the house like I was nuts. As a kid watching that, jumping up and down, [it was great]. I was young and just getting into basketball. I had my team. I was excited.
DX: Do you remember the championship game against Arkansas when Grant Hill was going for his third championship and first without Laettner and Hurley?
Rapsody: I don’t think so.
DX: Arkansas’ Scotty Thurmond hit a ridiculously high arcing three-point shot just over [Antonio Lang] that sealed the title for the Razorbacks. It was one of the most heartbreaking losses in Duke history.
Rapsody: [Laughs] Maybe that’s why I don’t remember that game: Because they lost! [Laughs]
DX: ESPN recently released a “30 for 30” on Michigan and The Fab 5. Jalen Rose made some controversial comments about Duke Basketball players and his resentment towards Grant Hill. What was your reaction when the documentary first aired?
Rapsody: Grant Hill already responded to the comments he made. But watching, I thought it was really out of the pocket to say that and have those feelings for another man that you don’t know. I hear that a lot about Duke, that the type of players that they get are rich or uppity or want to be White. I don’t ever think that’s the case. I don’t think you should ever downplay another man—especially another Black man—because no matter where we come from, we all kind of go through the same hardships in the world and how we’re viewed. Me and 9th talk about that all the time. Duke has the stigma that they’re a super White and everyone acts super White. That’s actually not the case. They are very diverse in color. There might not be a whole bunch of Black students, but there are a whole lot of different colors—way more than some other schools that you think would be the opposite. That’s just the stigma and people not really educating themselves and I think, at times, making ignorant comments. But you grow and learn to think differently and broader.
DX: What are the odds that Duke wins the NCAA National Championship this year?
Rapsody: As a super fan, I want to say that they’re the one. But just watching the game, there are a lot of great teams. I think we have a solid big men and if you look at what [Marshall Plumlee] does, he steps up. We should have all positions filled especially with Jabari and [Rodney Hood] leading the way. I would say we’re Top 5 without a doubt. I think we have a great chance of winning it all. But we’re still learning and getting the better on defense. We’re gonna try to improve our rebounding. It will come. I think we got it this year. They’ll see come January what it is.
DX: Who’s the better player: Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins?
Rapsody: Jabari Parker. That’s just not me coming as a Duke fan. Coming as a basketball fan and watching players, Wiggins is very athletic and explosive. He gets open in the lane. But watching him play, I see a lot of things that he can grow on, especially his shooting. Jabari can score anyway he wants. He can post up. No one can really stop him when he gets in the post. He can shoot threes and pull up jumpers. He looks like an NBA player. His basketball IQ is so high. Just watch him on fast breaks, as soon as he gets the ball he’s going to the basket regardless of who may be defending him. Jabari Parker is the most well rounded college basketball player without a doubt.