As I’ve discussed often in the introductory posts on this blog, basketball and hip-hop go together like peanut butter and jelly. Rappers have been referencing the sport and the athletes who play it best for as long as the genre of music has been alive, which has created a number of memorable lines, rhymes and even entire songs.
So today I’ll take you through my favorite four references of basketball in rap, each coming from a different artist, in no particular order.
Let’s dive right into it:
Ice Cube, Today Was a Good Day
Best lines: “Called up the homies and I’m askin’ y’all / Which park are y’all playin basketball?
Get me on the court and I’m trouble/Last week fucked around and got a triple double
Freaking niggas every way like MJ/I can’t believe today was a good day”
Ice Cube is a legend in the rap game.
An instrumental part of N.W.A — perhaps the most influential rap group in the genre’s history — the MC would go on to have a fruitful career as a solo artist before moving on to a career as an actor.
His biggest hit by far was Today Was a Good Day, which featured one of the first of many references to Michael Jordan in rap. Ice Cube may be one of the only ones who compared himself to MJ on the basketball court instead of in the rap game or other arenas, however.
Kanye West, New God Flow
Best line: “Went from most hated to the champion, God flow / I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know”
Kanye was by far the hardest rapper to add to this list when it came to choosing which lyric I wanted to pick. He’s had countless classics over the course of his illustrious career, so narrowing down the list was incredibly difficult.
In the end, though, this lyric was the most powerful one I could choose. The single dropped in July of 2012 — less than two months after LeBron James won his first NBA title with the Miami Heat) — so it was impactful for those who followed both scenes.
It was historically accurate in the sense Kanye shared a similar experience. He received a lot of criticism for his fourth album “808’s & Heartbreaks,” a project which had critics and fans alike saying Kanye was past his prime, falling off his game and losing clout in the hip-hop community.
It came at a tumultuous period in Kanye’s life. The rapper lost his mother in 2007, which inspired much of the album that would come out a year later. Months later, at the Video Music Awards, Kanye famously interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for the ‘Best Music Video’ award, furthering the disdain for him felt by the public.
It set up for a grand redemption in 2010 when he dropped “My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy,” a critically acclaimed album often revered as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
There he felt a feeling few people could relate to, including him and LeBron.
I’ll include the other Kanye lyrics that I almost chose but ultimately didn’t go with as a bonus.
“I’m relaxin’ my feet is up/I’m leavin’ you haters
Like when Shaq left the Lakers just to Heat it up
I state the stats to stunt/I don’t need to front
There black history e’ry day/I don’t need a month
The survey says/by the streets according
Kanye’s just important as Michael Jordan
Was to the NBA when he was scorin’
Ralph Lauren was borin’ before I wore him”
“In two years Dwayne Wayne became Dwyane Wade / and ‘ay / Please don’t start me / I’m like Gnarls Barkley meets Charles Barkley”
Drake, Thank Me Now
Best line: “And that’s around the time that your idols become your rivals / you make friends with Mike, but gotta A.I. him for your survival”
Drake teaches a lesson in needing to defeat those you admire if you want to keep moving up in the totem pole of your craft using a basketball analogy — figures.
Allen Iverson went through high school and college watching Michael Jordan build into the biggest sports star of the century as he took the Bulls to three straight titles from 1992-94, so naturally, he put him on a pedastal.
Here’s what he had to say about Michael Jordan’s impact on him growing up in a speech during his induction into the NBA Hall of Fame:
“There would be no Hall-of-Fame Allen Iverson, I promise you. He gave me the vision. … I wanted to be like Mike.”
Iverson would get a shot to play against his hero in his rookie season in the NBA and he did not disappoint.
Drake was the same way with hip-hop. A notable actor as a teenager on Degrassi, Drake idolized Kanye West and Jay-Z. As his career blew up, he did songs with both of them, and at least according to sales numbers, exceeded their popularity.
Lil Wayne, Kobe Bryant
Best line: “Two-four so nice, my flow so mean / catch me at the game sitting next to Goldstein, Kobe Bryant Nikes, purple gold strings / Kobe in the game dunkin’ on the whole team.”
Like Kanye, Lil Wayne has had many sports references sprinkled throughout his massive discography. But this one, frankly, was a no-brainer as Weezy wrote an entire song dedicated to Kobe Bryant. Written for one of the most successful athletes in the history of the sport, it lives up to his name.