The Most Infamous Rap Tracks By NBA Players In History
The NBA and hip-hop have been married for decades now—there’s the name-checks (throwing way back to 1991 when Tupac shouted out MJ), armchair ballers like Drake causing havoc on sidelines, and, of course, the guys who think they can cross over from sports to rap stardom. There have been some successes—starting with the little-known retro gem B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret, which features surprisingly decent flow from guys like Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, and Shaq. But not everyone’s Dame D.O.L.L.A, so this niche genre has had its fair share of cringe-y moments. In honor of the opening week of the new NBA season, we’ve rounded them up here.
Keep in mind: This isn’t a list of the greatest rap moments in basketball history, or else the legendary tale of how Aaron Carter beat Shaq would be number one by far.
“It Ain’t Easy” — LeBron James ft. Kevin Durant
This one’s here for the story: Back in 2011 during the NBA lockout, KD and Bronnie would hang out at Spider Studios in Canton, Ohio, dropping bars and such to kill the time. One day, Durant and James ended up at the same recording session—and “It Ain’t Easy” was born. Before the track’s unceremonious release on Soundcloud (does that mean we can call KD a Soundcloud rapper?), it had a career of its own, because people wanted to hear it so badly that TMZ even offered a ton of money for the song. Plus, it almost appeared on NBA 2K19, and Rich Paul even got involved leading up to the song's release. Makes sense that ’Bron would have a laid-back, Rakim-esque flow, right?
“Swerve” — Lonzo Ball ft. Lance Stephenson
Ah, “Swerve.” Aside from using "swerve" as a metaphor for some other things, (hint: It's not swerving a car!) ’Zo raps in the song, “Teamed up with my boy Lance, now we got all kinda hits.” And that small bro shoutout is probably the greatest act of teamsmanship we saw from the dysfunctional 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers. That said, I would pay real money if there was a TDE-esque arena tour ft. the Ball family with Lance as the hype man.
“Hold Me” — Brian McKnight feat. Kobe Bryant
Here’s the closest you’ll get to injecting the ’90s straight into your veins: The music video for “Hold Me.” It features which features Brian McKnight ballin' on some extras, people in baggy button-downs and McKnight shuffling poolside. And the kicker: An early-career, afroed Kobe Bryant rapping and not knowing what to do with his hands. He’s actually not that bad! You know, in that ’90s rap bridge kind of way.
The Entirety of TP — Tony Parker
A little-known Popovich-era, San Antonio Spurs fun fact: Tony Parker had a rap phase, debuting a French-language hip-hop album in 2007. Well… not exactly hip-hop. It’s kind of hard to pin down: It’s like if you mashed up Pitbull, Missy Elliot, and Eurobeat into one odd, unnerving package. Bienvenue dans le Texas!
“Knicks Anthem” — Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert’s greatest hip-hop moment may have come in Kanye West’s 2016 music video for “Fade,” but his most notorious bit? An ode to the team he played for at the time—“Knicks Anthem,” a reimagining of Yeezy’s “Clique.” Yeah. It starts: “Ain’t nobody messin’ with my Knicks, Knicks, Knicks // Yeah I’m talkin’ Melo”—stop rapping. Stop. No.
“40 Bars” — Allen Iverson
AI gets props for fighting back against an NBA that was suppressing hip-hop culture in the 1990s and early 2000s—even imposing a dress code (Iverson’s A6 commercial with Jadakiss was a big moment for this). But Iverson stepped a little too far when he tried to fire up his own rap career in the aughts—dropping the misogynistic “40 Bars” in 2005, which was part of an unreleased album he later called “embarrassing.”
Before Twitter was an NBA star’s primary vehicle for beefing, there was the nightclub stage. In 2008, Shaq—who was in a longstanding feud with former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant—was at a Phoenix nightclub. Not exactly known for being a shy dude, Shaq jumped on stage and delivered an impromptu Kobe diss freestyle. Back when sports stories lasted longer than a day, everyone talked about the video for what felt like forever. Thank god that Kobe never responded to the tell-me-how-my-ass-taste refrain.
"Gangsta, Gangsta" — Chris Webber ft. Kurupt
As the ’90s wrapped up, Chris Webber, who was still playing for the Sacramento Kings at the time teamed up with Kurupt for “Gangsta, Gangsta.” Webber—who did dorkiest thing on the planet when he called the timeout heard round the world—should've at least sat out the music video. Here, he accidentally invents a couple new dance moves, and also seems to have the Kobe what-do-I-do-with-my-hands curse, choosing to … air-DJ?
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.