Tonight (April 13), Kobe Bryant will play the final game of his historic 20-year NBA career. This comes after winning five championship rings and tallying over 33,583 total points. Hip Hop loves a winner and the Lakers shooting guard represented to the fullest. Everyone from Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, The Game and Rapsody have given praise to one of the most talented athletes to walk the globe. Except when it comes to his short-lived rap career.
Once signed to Sony, Bryant’s foray never really forayed. Originally a member of a Philly based group CHEIZAW, of course, the Mamba eventually went solo. This led to a verse on Brian McKnight’s remix to “Hold Me” and even an uncredited guest spot on eventual teammate Shaquille O’Neal’s Respect album. Then his debut single “K.O.B.E.” featuring Tyra Banks dropped and flopped harder than a Duke Blue Devil taking a charge. Despite being one of the greatest ballers in hoop history, Bryant’s rap career never reached O’Neal’s or even Allen Iverson’s.
Before Kobe’s last game, HipHopDX Editor-In-Chief Justin Hunte, News Editor Soren Baker, Senior News Writer Victoria Hernandez and Senior Features Writer Ural Garrett all discuss #24’s crack at emceeing.
Shaq & Allen Iverson Were Better Rappers Than Kobe Bryant
Justin Hunte [Editor-In-Chief]: Kobe Bryant is retiring after being in the NBA since I had homework. I’m not a Kobe fan, but it’s an interesting confluence when you start looking at his career arch from the late 90s to now. He’s been the villain, the hero and one of the greatest scorers of all time. I question how Hip Hop he truly is in comparison to Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson, since we celebrated their induction into the Naismath Hall of Fame last week. Shaquille had a legitimate music career. Platinum (Shaq Diesel) and gold album (Shaq Fu: Da Return), “What’s Up Doc” success with The Fu-Schnickens. “Biological Didn’t Bother” was a necessary ode to fatherhood.
Soren Baker [News Editor]: He worked with Method Man and RZA on “No Hook.”
Justin: In Allen Iverson’s case, his rap career literally got him in trouble. David Stern threatened to sideline him. Shaq and AI actually went into the rap lane and made noise in a real way. Then there’s Kobe Bryant who most people might not remember grabbing the mic. He was working with Steve Stoute who wanted to make him the new Will Smith. Looking back at his song “K.O.B.E” featuring Tyra Banks. I’m personally glad, his rap career never transpired. What do you think about it Ural?
Ural Garrett [Senior Features Writer]: The difference between say Shaq’s career and Kobe’s career comes in who both were working with at the time. Shaq worked with highly respected artists within Hip Hop at the time. He was working with RZA, DJ Quik, Erick Sermon.
Soren: Even Peter Gunz.
Justin: But, Will Smith’s an actual MC, though.
Soren: He’s an actual rapper and that’s the critical difference with Shaq who was working with Method Man, RZA, Keith Murray, Warren G and the likes. Kobe Bryant aligns himself with Tyra Banks. That’s kind of the difference. Shaq was with the The Fu-Schnickens.
Ural: Could it possibly be because of Kobe’s clean cut image at the time?
Soren: I mean Shaq had somewhat of a clean image at that time. He was a commercial pitchman. If I can recall on Shaq Diesel and Shaq Fu: The Return, I don’t think he used much profanity, if any. I believe he made other artists he worked with tone it down as well. Redman and Method Man weren’t doing their more obscene stuff.
Justin: There’s a great Grantland piece that dove deep into Kobe’s brief rap attempt. Here’s a quote that describes Kobe in the late 90s and describes what his studio regiment was really like. “When he wasn’t playing ball, he was recording at the Hit Factory with late-’90s producers par excellence the Trackmasters and their stable of artists, which included Nas, Noreaga, Punch and Words, Nature, and a young scrapper named 50 Cent.” He was in the studio with all the talent in the world. There’s another line where Words says about Bryant, “You could tell he was influenced by Canibus. Kobe had a quality of lyrics. When he got into the cypher, you didn’t look at him as just Kobe. You looked at him as a dude that could rhyme and if you sleep on him, you could get embarrassed.”
Soren: I think the embarrassment came when Shaq freestyled and dissed him on stage. That was crazy.
Justin: I just don’t believe Kobe Bryant cares about anything but playing Basketball. I don’t believe him when he’s talking. I watched Kobe Bryant’s Muse which is the most disappointing ball-tickling piece of propaganda I’ve ever spent an hour-and-nine-minutes watching on Showtime. I didn’t believe him when he was quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. after he got caught up in Colorado off of self-inflicted messiness to say it lightly. And I definitely didn’t believe him when I watched him rap. I just checked this throwback video of him performing during the 2000 NBA All Star Game weekend. He was doing “K.O.B.E.” for the first time. It sounded like it was the first time he ever picked up the microphone. So when reading Grantland, I don’t see what Words was talking about. He doesn’t seem nice to me at all. Soren, you saw Kobe perform.
Soren: I went to see Kobe Bryant when he performed at the House Of Blues on Sunset in West Hollywood back in the day. I remember thinking like he looked out of place. Being Kobe Bryant, he had presence, but I think people were confused. Sports fans that were there liked it, but the rap fans that were there out of curiosity were not impressed. In a sense when Shaq debuted with The Fu-Schnickens, people were like “Wow, Shaq really held his own on this song.” He wasn’t doing the crazy Fu-Schnickens style, but a serviceable job. With Kobe, I don’t think that people held him in the same regard as they did with Shaq.
Justin: I just think that Kobe is wearing different outfits at times. I have no idea who this guy really is. I look at Shaq as genuine and authentic. I don’t think Shaq cares too much about what his PR suggests he say and not say. Allen Iverson is who he is. These guys were unabashedly Hip Hop. They were authentic to me. Even their playing styles were unique. There’s never been a player like Shaq and no-one had a crossover like Allen Iverson. Kobe is always seemed like he was trying to be like someone else, even in the thing that he’s best at. Michael Jordan fist pumped at a 90 degree angle, Kobe Bryant fist pumped at a 104 degree angle. His game is modeled after someone else’s. No shots or shade, when I think about Hip Hop, I think authenticity. Kobe’s never seemed authentic.
Soren: I think also to some degree, Kobe spent most of his formative years in Italy which made a big difference as opposed to Shaq being in the states. That sensibility is definitely lost. I’ve been to Europe several times. I’ve been there with artists and on vacation. The people there approach rap differently and have a different perspective because they’re not from the United States. I think Kobe has that outside looking in mentality as well.
Justin: This is something else interesting. I forgot completely about Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and Cedric Ceballos rapping. There was a novelty with rapping basketball players. I think Kobe helped kill it.
Ural: You think part of that kind-of started from Deion Sanders kicking it off with “Must Be The Money?”
Soren: Yeah man. He helped kick it off because he was down with MC Hammer way back in the day and that bridged the gap. During the Hammer era, he brought that flashy clothing and attitude that Hammer had with the pants and “U Can’t Touch This.” Deion being a flamboyant athlete worked well with that also.
Justin: You know, I just don’t like Kobe. There’s a part in me that doesn’t inherently want to be a hater. There’s another part of me that just doesn’t care.
Soren: How about this Justin? What in your opinion do you think Kobe was trying to do by getting into rap.
Justin: I think the competitive nature of rap appeals to him. It’s the way I feel that Eminem is simply an addict. Whether it’s drugs or running 19 miles a day or the wild intricate lyricism, Em can’t help but go super hard because he’s an addict. Kobe is just competitive. He’s going to be competitive in whatever he does. I think that’s the appeal.
Two, he is of the Hip Hop generation. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t freestyled in the car drivng down the road or rapped with their friends briefly or jokingly. I can see him trying it. He’s the hottest player in the league around that time so I’m sure he’s getting tons of offers. Athletes have been in movies since forever. Eddie Murphy was singing. People cross over all the time. Steve Stoute had a crazy run. He had major success with Nas, The Trackmasters and Will Smith. He’s one of the hottest industry guys in music at the point. You have a young, good looking kid from Philly. He had friends back in Philly who said he was a good rapper. Some said he rapped like Canibus. They felt like they could have turned him into a hit. I can see it. I just don’t believe it, just like I don’t believe anything else Kobe does off the basketball court.
Victoria Hernandez [News Editor]: I think that’s because he’s a basketball player. I don’t think he’s meant to be anything else besides that. He told Sports Illustrated: “I don’t think I’ll ever find a place for basketball.” Even if you read his retirement poem, it was like a love letter in which he was breaking up with his true love almost.
Justin Do you believe he was genuine when he posted that?
Victoria: I do. I think he loves basketball. I understand he’s not your typical Hip Hop artists probably growing up in an urban community that a lot of basketball players also come from. He gave a cool shout out to Phife Dawg when he passed away. I think the Hip Hop community respects him. Lil Wayne had a Kobe Bryant song.
Ural: Even Rapsody named one of her mixtapes The Black Mamba.
Victoria: Ty Dolla $ign says in one of his new songs “I’m going to ball like Kobe for a very very long time.” He doesn’t say Michael Jordan or Shaq, but Kobe.
Hip Hop Loves Kobe Bryant
Justin That’s the truth about Kobe. Rap respects Kobe. He comes to kill and is incredible at his job. Wrapping it up. Do you feel like he is Hip Hop? Obviously, if you had Shaq, Iverson and Kobe, I wouldn’t look at those three as the same. Do you feel as if Kobe represents Hip Hop?
Ural: I think he represents Hip Hop purely from a competitive standpoint. He represents being the best which is what every rapper wants to be. I think Shaq came off as a rap fan before the art came into play.
Soren: Yeah, I remember The Fu-Schnickens being big in rap, but not music. I remember when he came out with them. Not only did I think it was a great song in which Shaq held his own, I was like “Wow, he was rapping alongside The Fu-Schnickens. That’s a left field.”
Justin: And, he can break dance. He has a mean windmill. He is Hip Hop.
Soren: I remember back in his era, he wanted to be in rap magazines. He was on Rides and all the rap affiliated or unintentionally related magazines. He really repped for the culture and for those affiliated with the culture. It was important to him. I interviewed Shaq for the New York Times when he had his T.W.Is.M label about the importance of representing rap properly and taking being a music executive seriously. Out here in the West Coast, he got a lot of love for remaking Above The Law’s “Blaq Superman” for instance, plus he worked with Peter Gunz on one of his albums.
Ural: “Strait Playin’” still gets play out here on KDAY. Dare I say a West Coast classic?
Soren: And, it’s Shaq. I would argue, he gets a few more songs played a lot out here.
Justin: It’s the same thing with Allen Iverson. He is Hip Hop and represented. He is it. He’s one of the biggest trendsetters ever.
Victoria: They made NBA players wear suits because of the do-rag, chains and stuff.
Justin: Here’s what David Stern had to say about Allen Iverson’s rap career. This was when he released the track “40 Bars” as the rapper Jewelz. The moniker’s a little weird to me but, nevertheless, “The lyrics that have been attributed to Allen Iverson’s soon-to-be released rap CD are coarse, offensive and anti-social. Whatever constitutional rights and freedoms an individual may have, there is no constitutional right to participate in the NBA and I have the power to disqualify players who engage in offensive conduct including inappropriate speech. Allen Iverson has done a disservice to the Philadelphia 76ers, his teammates and perhaps the entire NBA.” That sounds like Tipper Gore to me. Outsider quotes like that are consistent throughout Hip Hop history. There were ministers rolling over rap CDs with Bulldozers. This is straight-up a Hip Hop moment. Then I see Kobe Bryant putting on a shiny rap outfit.
Ural: It’s because Kobe really dove into the commercial machine first as opposed to Iverson or Shaq took. It was almost as if Kobe needed help.
Justin: I think if you’re rocking with Steve Stoute in the 2000s, you don’t have a choice but to go as big and shiny as possible. It’s the near end of the Shiny Suit era. I don’t know how much of that was forced. I feel like he probably wanted to do that, too. Fortunately, that portion of his career ended very quickly.
Ural: Just like Tyra Banks’s music career. They both ended appropriately.
Justin: It was a match made in misery.
Soren: I think Kobe represents a segment of the Hip Hop community. I don’t get the sense that Hip Hop shaped his life. I think that basketball clearly did. I think Hip Hop and rap was something that he got into much later in his life. I never got the sense of reading interviews earlier on that he had much of rap culture seep into his being. I think like a lot of people, some people grow into rap or learn about it later. He did and I think the other elements of Hip Hop culture, I don’t see him being too influenced by it. I think he’s clearly been around it a lot.
Justin Either way, I think he’s had an incredible career and I think he did a great job in being The Second Best Michael Jordan Of All Time.
Victoria: Even today, Kanye West didn’t grow up in the streets of Chicago, but he’s one of the greatest rappers of our time. Even Hip Hop has changed to where Chance The Rapper, Childish Gambino or rappers we wouldn’t consider street can still live.
Soren: That’s the point I was making. It’s not necessarily about one being from the streets. It’s just if you’re authentic. Are you of the culture and did it mean anything to you coming up? That’s where I haven’t been able to tie or notice that about Kobe. In early interviews, I don’t remember him mentioning Hip Hop in that way.
Justin: Are you authentic? Hip Hop starts there. There’s Kanye West, there’s A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Will Smith. There have been a lot of rappers throughout the history of Hip Hop who aren’t “street” or “gangster” and still successful. Hip Hop is a big tent, but authenticity is still paramount. That comes with the culture. I’m just not sure that comes with Kobe Bryant.