When I found out a few months ago that Percy Miller, Jr., perhaps better known to you as Lil' Romeo, received a full scholarship to play basketball at Southern Cal, it got me thinking about other rappers who tried to play ball and established ballers who released music.
Naturally, I came up with rankings in an attempt to discover the best of both worlds. Each rapper/baller received a rating, 1-100, for both his skills in the studio and on the court. If he's an NBA player, he can't get lower than an 75 for his basketball rating, no matter how bad you think he is.
Athletes have statistics, which obviously makes it easier to quantify their performance than artists. So for the rappers, you'll just have to respect my judgment and realize that of course it's subjective (check out dropmagazine.com if you want to read some of my hip hop album reviews).
So without further ado, the rankings:
8. Troy Hudson
After averaging more than 20 ppg at Southern Illinois University, Hudson went undrafted in 1997. However, he worked his way into the NBA, earning a spot on the Utah Jazz roster. Hudson proved his game was good enough for the NBA, and he's floated around the league ever since, playing for the Clippers, Magic, Timberwolves, and most recently, the Warriors.
The 6'1" point guard averaged 14 points and five assists in the 2002-03 season with Minnesota, and played well in the playoffs. But injuries have plagued Hudson since that career-best season and he is currently without a contract.
Recording under the name "T-Hud," Hudson released an album, Undrafted, last May. The 18-track album featured established artists such as Ray J, Three 6 Mafia, and UGK. Despite the big-name guests, Undrafted sold a measly 78 copies in its first week. 78! The samples I listened to weren't entirely laughable, but his rap skills are worse than his jumpshot, and this is a career 40 percent shooter we're talking about.
Lyric Sample: "Come take a ride with me away see how these gangstas like to play / Benz, big body, bring your friends good lawdy" ("Tru Luv")
Total Rating: 125
7. Lil Bow Wow
In the 2002 film, Like Mike, Bow Wow discovers a pair of magical basketball sneakers that give him the talent of an NBA superstar. Oh, but let me assure you, in this case, art does not resemble reality in any way.
In a 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game, Bow Wow shot 4-12 from the field, chucking up threes at every possible opportunity. I know he's short, but he was 20 years old at the time of the game, so the fact that he could barely reach the basket from 23 feet is pathetic.
Oh yeah, and I can't forget Bow Wow getting swatted by R&B singer Chris Brown. Still, the fact that he keeps getting invited back to play in these games shows he must have some level of competency.
Five albums, four platinum plaques, six No. 1 singles. The numbers don't lie. Bow Wow's music career has been a huge success. When his voice deepened, he dropped the "Lil" from his name and showed maturity on records like "Let Me Hold You."
Bow Wow's demonstrated a longevity not often seen in the rap industry. At the end of the day though, his target audience is 10-15 year old girls and I'm forced to dock him points for that.
Lyric Sample: "I might cross you up and fake one way / Turn around and hit you with the MJ fadeaway" ("Basketball")
Total Rating: 130
6. Ron Artest
With career averages of 16 ppg and five rpg, his stats don't look much better than Hudson's at first glance. But Artest is a far better player, earning a spot on the 2004 All Star Team, the same year he won the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
A complete nut-job, Artest will best be remembered for his involvement in the Pacers-Pistons brawl in '04. Still, when he wants to be, the 1999 first-round pick is one of the best defenders in the league.
Many of Artest's critics claim the baller is more focused on his music career than basketball. My World, his 2006 debut, is similar to T-Hud's in that it featured established guests (Diddy, Juvenile) but produced pitifully low sales, although the number (343 in its opening week) would make T-Hud jealous.
There's no doubt Artest is dedicated to music, having started his own record label (Tru Warier) and constantly updating his My Space page with new songs. Hailing from the same Queensbridge projects that produced Nas and Mobb Deep, Artest has the background to be a successful rapper, but his delivery is off and his rhymes aren't particularly clever.
Lyric Sample: "Guns bustin', and leave you in the toaster oven, / You're roast like chicken, or maybe lunch or somethin'" ("Its Artest")
Total Rating: 138
5. Lil' Romeo
Romeo is the rare exception to the rule that "Rappers shouldn't ball and ballers shouldn't rap." It appears he is actually a better at basketball player than he is rapper. I've watched his highlight videos and he is a legitimate player. Although he's not quite six feet, he has tremendous quickness and impressive range on his jumper.
Two summer ago he made the All Star team at the prestigious ABCD basketball camp. Next fall, he'll be attending the University of Southern California on a full athletic scholarship. Some say Remeo was only offered the scholarship to lure his good friend and top prospect Demar DeRozan to USC. While DeRozan did commit to the Trojans, it's safe to say Romeo has potential to be a quality college player.
Lil' Romeo had a platinum album by the age of 11, thanks to the success of "My Girl," a song which sampled the Jackson 5's "ABC." His next album went double platinum, and his success naturally caused a rivalry between him and Lil' Bow Wow. Although Romeo's latest projects haven't sold particularly well, perhaps it's because he's been focusing on his basketball career. So we'll cut him a little slack.
Lyric Sample: "To my basketball coach and my basketball team / One love for helping me fulfill my dream" ("Too Long")
Total Rating: 140
4. Kobe Bryant
The 6'6" shooting guard is the closest thing to Jordan since Jordan. 10 All Star selections, three Championship rings, and most recently, an MVP award. He's a two-time scoring champ, a perennial All-Defensive Team member, and the holder of countless league records. He also once scored 81 in a game. And he's not yet 30 years old. Let's take 3 points off for not scoring 90.
Kobe's been featured on songs with Destiny's Child and Beanie Sigel—but unlike Shaq, Kobe doesn't have the same presence in street clothes as he does wearing a basketball jersey. His voice is not listener-friendly, his maneuvers on stage are laughable, and remember, he spent several of his early years in Italy.
Thankfully, Kobe was wise enough (or not brave enough) to release an album. For this he earns points, but it's not enough to put him on the top of the list.
Lyric Sample: "Brains snap, craniums crack, rhymes collapse / You run it I'll cap your back face flat" ("Philly's Finest")
Total Rating: 147
3. Tony Parker
The San Antonio Spurs' point guard has played a crucial role in the team's three NBA titles, earning the Finals MVP last year. He's a two-time All Star who has become a great scorer and distributer. Not bad for a guy from France who wasn't even expected to be drafted until the Spurs wisely selected him 28th overall in 2001. He's only 25, so Parker should get even better in the next few years.
He raps in French, so I can't understand a word he's saying on his debut album, TP. The first single, "Top of the Game," does feature Fabolous though, and the tracks I've heard have up-tempo, danceable beats.
The greatest part about Parker rapping, however, is that he made a couple music videos. The video for "Top of the Game" is a must-see, only because it includes cameos by Spurs teammates Brent Barry and Tim Duncan. Check out the end of the video, when Barry, wearing a skull cap, and Duncan, sporting an oversized white tee, are standing behind Parker in their most thug poses. If you don't laugh I'll give you 10 bucks.
I have to deduct points for Parker not including his wife, Eva Longoria, in his second video for more than seven seconds.
Lyric Sample: "C'est Tony sans Montana à la conquête du monde et si la presse est sceptique qu'elle m'écoute quelques secondes" which apparently translates to "This is Tony without Montana I'm conquering the world and if journalists don't believe me they can hear me for a few seconds" ("Top of the Game")
Total Rating: 150
Nelly is probably one of the most athletic rappers of all time. Before venturing into hip hop, Nelly flirted with a professional baseball career. As far as hoops, he has dominated the various celebrity games in which he's participated.
He's quick with a good jumper and tremendous jumping ability. He's no taller than 5'8", but there's online footage of him dunking. In 2006, he was MVP of ESPN's Celebrity Game and won the Slam Dunk Contest. InsideHoops.com called Nelly's play in a recent NBA All-Star Weekend celebrity game as "the best performance ever in this event."
His debut album went 9x platinum. His follow-up didn't fare as well: only 7x platinum. He's the rapper behind hits like "E.I.," "Ride Wit Me," and "Hot in Herre." The St. Louis native has a charisma on the mic matched by few other artists. He's won three Grammys, and has been featured on many other artists' hits. Nobody else on this list can match him as far as mainstream music success.
Lyric Sample: "You can catch me in the back like Shaq...posted up / Or at the bar with some broad...toasted up" ("Ballers up in Here"
Total Rating: 163
1. Shaquille O'Neal
Standing more than seven feet and weighing more than 300 pounds, Shaq is one of the most dominant physical forces in sports history. He's a 14-time All Star, four-time NBA Champion, and three-time Finals MVP whose averaged over 25 points and 11 rebounds per game over his long career. He was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1992 and made the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list.
He did, however, shockingly lose to pop singer Aaron Carter in a game of one-on-one, 120-119. With an incredible size advantage, it's a embarrassment that Shaq gave up so many points. For that, I deduct three points from what would've been a perfect rating.
Say what you want about his songs, the fact is Shaq has released eight albums, including two soundtracks and a Greatest Hits compilation. His work has earned him three gold plaques and one platinum. No other baller-turned-rapper comes even close to those sales numbers. They even let him star in a movie, Kazaam, in which he plays a rapping genie. Then he made a soundtrack for it.
Shaq's presence on the mic is undeniable. Watching him tower over others in his music videos is not enjoyable. It's downright scary. He uses phrases like "I don't give a heck" and never raps about guns or drugs. He doesn't have to. He's the only rapper who could rhyme about crushing you in his bare hands and actually mean it.
Lyric Sample: "The ill beat seeker, I mystify minds like I'm a preacher / When I meet ya start convulsing like a seizure" ("Best to Worst")
Total Rating: 172
So there you have it. Shaq tops the list, with Nelly being the best basketball-playing rapper. Others that could've been on this list but I omitted included Romeo's dad, Master P, who supposedly had some NBA tryouts, but I didn't include because he is not currently rapping; Chris Webber, who released an overwhelmingly bad album; and many others who just weren't significant enough for me to write about.
Who do you think should be No. 1?