Hip-Hop & Basketball: A Love Story
By Tonte Spiff
As Drake once said in his song Thank Me Now: “I swear music and sports are so synonymous.” There’s a reason as to why, which Drake goes on to explain: “Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.” It’s something that Drake isn’t wrong about, as the connection between musicians and athletes is understandable since they’re both entertainers in their own right.
The strongest and most well-known relationship between a sport and a genre of music is that of basketball and hip-hop. This relationship goes beyond the shared admiration that basketball players and hip-hop artists have for one another. What makes this such a unique relationship is due in large part to the fact that both basketball and hip-hop are viewed as a means to an end for many underprivileged members of the Black community.
If you were to attend an NBA game or watch a primetime NBA broadcast on ESPN, you’ll notice that almost all the music featured is by famous hip-hop artists from Kendrick Lamar to Travis Scott, among others. What many people might not know is that this was not always the case.
Statistics from the 2015-2016 season showed that the racial makeup of the NBA was 74.3% Black which makes it seem hard to imagine the league’s initial reactions to the raw, unapologetic hip-hop culture wasn’t much different than that of mainstream American society.
It was during the mid-to-late 1990’s when the commercial success of hip-hop music began to spike. At the time, All-Star NBA players began appearing in music videos with increased regularity, started record labels, and even attempted to produce music of their own. Some of the most well-known NBA players such as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have released albums.
“The crown is a shout-out to Biggie as one of my inspirations in music,” the two-time All-Star said. “The prayers hands is a nod to ‘Pac, my favorite rapper of all time. And the gold rope and Rolex is a nod to Nas, another all-time great who I’m a big fan of and have great respect for.”
Damian Lillard is one of the most highly regarded and well-respected NBA players when it comes to his musical prowess with three studio albums under his belt. Using the alias Dame D.O.L.L.A., Lillard used his second album’s cover as an ode to three of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time in the late Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. as well as the living legend Nas.
The relationship between hip-hop and basketball is here in Canada as much as it is in America, as shown by Drake’s role as the Global Ambassador of the Toronto Raptors. But it doesn’t stop there for Drake, as part of his yearly OVO Fest weekend he hosts a basketball tournament called OVO Bounce. As stated by Toronto-based director and photographer Lesean Harris: “OVO represents basketball culture in Toronto with the annual OVO Basketball Summer League that sees all walks of life coming to enjoy a basketball showcase featuring local Toronto legends to NBA All-Stars.”
While sports and music are generally synonymous, this particular situation is unique because basketball more closely resembles rap than anything else. The sport and the genre are as intertwined as the threads of the shirt you’re wearing now, and they mix as well as a couple that has been married for 30 years.
The close relationship between basketball and hip-hop doesn’t appear to be going anywhere because NBA and the hip-hop world have been synonymous for decades, whether it’s the fashion choices, the parties, the backgrounds of the characters involved, or simply just the color of their skin.