When Stars Align: Comparing NBA Greats with the Hottest in Hip-Hop
Ever since Ice Cube had the brew and his girl had the Chronic, and the Lakers beat the Supersonics, rap and the NBA have been inextricably intertwined. In fact, before NBA Players dressed like rappers, rappers dressed like NBA players; often donning their favorite player's authentic or throwback in music videos.
Rap and the NBA have had a long-standing love affair: NBA players getting pumped up by rap music, and rap musicians reveling in the many joys of NBA court-side patronage.
So, it's only natural that some of the NBA's brightest stars could be compared to some of hip-hop's superstars. I'm going to try to refrain from making convoluted career comparisons, and stick to my guns while comparing some of my favorite M.C.'s to my favorite NBA players.
1. Michael Jordan and Jay-Z
Hip-hop purists are probably typing away furiously in response to the No. 1 next to Jay-Z. It's not my intention to crown Jay-Z as the greatest of all time. It's inaccurate to say someone in a non-competitive, artistic field such as music is better than everyone else at something. Art is a field of opinion, where the only numbers one can compare is Grammies and record sales, both of which aren't always guarantees of technical skill or artistic brilliance.
As far as success, however, you really can't match Jay-Z's longevity in hip-hop or his ability to stay relevant as long as Jordan has. No one speaks in terms of "better than Jay-Z" in a similar way that no one speaks in terms of "better than Michael Jordan."
You can only be "the Michael Jordan of _____." And Jay-Z is the Michael Jordan of rap; he has been around and enjoyed more success than any other rapper, dead or alive.
Forget that Jay-Z's music-related financial ventures are comparable to Jordan's basketball-related ventures. Take for instance, Nike's Air Jordan brand and compare it to Jay-Z developing Rihanna, and giving Kanye West his first real break in the industry.
Consider, however how Jigga-man went out on a high note (The Black Album) before his brief sabbatical. I consider Kingdom Come, that awful R. Kelly "Best of Both Worlds" Album, and that low-profile hijacking of Memphis Bleek's "Dear Summer" to be part of this sabbatical. Jay-Z straight-up stated in "Encore" that he would "come back like Jordan, wearing the 4-5."
The similarities don't end at the fact that they both sit court-side at basketball games of franchises they own a stake in (although Jordan owns a considerably larger portion of the Bobcats than Hova does for the Nets).
When it comes to comparing ball players to rappers, Jay-Z and Michael Jordan were made for each other.
2. Kobe Bryant and Lil' Wayne
"Kobe and Weezy" sounds like a potentially awful guest-starring episode of The Jeffersons, but the Lakers' veteran superstar and hip-hop's craziest little man were both movin' on up in 2008.
The comparisons begin with one thing they have in common: a psychotic work ethic.
In 2006 and 2007, Kobe carried a bunch of scrubs who probably couldn't even spell the word "Playoffs" to, well, the NBA Playoffs.
At the same time, Lil Wayne put out enough free music via mix-tapes to take up a considerable amount of my friend's iPod (his iPod nano has basically the entire Lil Wayne catalog and half of Sublime's self-titled third album. And that's it.). Not only that, he hijacked a bunch of half-assed rappers' beats and basically owned those songs (Mike Jones' Mr. Jones comes to mind).
Finally, in 2008, Kobe's Lakers led the Western Conference, Lil Wayne released "Tha Carter III", and both men showed the world what happens when hard work and talent come together: it pays off. Kobe won the MVP that regular season (and would win the Finals for two years after), while Lil Wayne won a Best Rap Album Grammy and "Lollipop" topped the Billboard Hot 100.
Another underrated aspect of Lil' Wayne's career has been his competitiveness-something Kobe has in boatloads. Say what you will about his lack of "beefs" (I personally believe it's a savvy decision to ignore rappers who attempt to capitalize on his name), but if you've heard a track where Lil' Wayne is on an ensemble of featured rappers, you know what I'm talking about.
Wayne wants to be the most intense-sounding rapper on the track, bar none. To prove my point, listen to D.J. Khaled's "We Takin' Over". Sparing T.I., Weezy heartlessly exposes every other feature on the track as a forgettable, unskilled M.C.-wannabe.
Are these similarities between Kobe and Wayne a coincidence? Possibly, but as much as you don't want your kids to be as insane as Lil' Wayne or as petulant as Kobe was earlier in his career; you most certainly would be lucky to have a kid who works as hard as either, and dare I say, be as truly great at their professions as these two are.
3. LeBron James and Drake
LeBron had his eye on the Jay-Z spot-until he signed with Miami. I think LeBron's move to Miami to play with his friends exposed some unspoken, interesting truths about the NBA, the same way the first week success of Drake's "Thank Me Later" exposed some unspoken, interesting truths about the current state of hip-hop.
LeBron was protected by froo-froo media interviews, bobbed-and-weaved through fame-related legal troubles (jeopardizing his amateur eligibility at the age of seventeen), and was basically told the same thing every day: he was the best basketball player alive, could be better than Jordan, and no one had the athletic gifts that he had.
Mix that up in a blender, add a dash of everyone wringing his hand to play for their team, and you know what kind of narcissistic disaster that spells.
Drake was a teen-actor turned hip-hop phenom, who grew up in a wealthy suburb with his mother. In contrast to the battle-hardened, unfortunately-circumstanced superstars of hip-hop past, you can see why Drake has so few fans that identify and empathize with his "struggles."
Those of you who follow hip-hop, remember the first time you heard Drake on one of his mix-tapes? I know what you were thinking, because I was probably thinking the same thing.
"This guy is going to change the game. He is going to turn rap upside down with his singing and those ridiculous punch-lines, puns, and metaphors."
Drake's signing to a major label was heavily-hyped, heralded in the music-industry microcosm as much as LeBron's arrival was in the NBA.
Then LeBron basically tickled the [redacted] of Cleveland fans for seven years while failing to deliver them an NBA Championship, and then took off for Miami. You saw this, Michael saw this, and thought to yourself what Michael said out loud:
"There's no way I would have called up Larry, called up Magic, and said, 'Hey look. Let's get together and play on one team... I was trying to beat those guys."
The same goes for Drake; instead of killing people on his tracks like his mentor Lil' Wayne, Drake wants a feature to sing background vocals on an Alicia Keys track. My forehead will become flat if I discuss all the whining about being famous Drake did on "Thank Me Later", so let's leave that where it is.
All of this hating wouldn't be complete without a proper appraisal of their skills: the nail isn't on the coffin, just yet. LeBron is still, athletically, the most supremely gifted player the NBA has ever seen. Drake's lyrical ability and uncanny wit are still a huge asset to hip-hop. It's what both of them do with it in the coming years, however, that will judge their legacy.
4. Kevin Durant and J.Cole
A strange comparison, I'll admit, but I'll be damned if Kevin Durant is anything but Young Simba. Neither of these guys can wait to be king, and king I believe they will be, one day.
As huge a fan of Cole's music as I may be, I feel like both Cole and KD have what it takes, and have been through enough difficulty thus far to understand the character it requires to win an NBA Championship. Both have been compared to greats in their professions: Durant has been compared to George Gervin, and Cole has drawn comparisons to Nas.
The upside on both their games is it's awe-inspiring. After seeing KD put up gaudy scoring numbers following the (not very serious, but still somewhat serious) MVP-talk, and listening to Cole's earlier tracks, it's an indication of things to come.
If anyone's got me excited about the future of hip-hop, it's J.Cole, and if anyone's got me excited about the future of the NBA, it's Kevin Durant. Both might take a little bit of time, but both, to me, have what it takes to be the king of their respective leagues.
So What's Your Take?
I know for a fact that some of you have thought about some of these comparisons before. I'd like it if you guys gave me some input or some of your own ideas. I wish I could have made some funny ones but really, I think you guys would have more fun making the Antoine Walker-M.C. Hammer jokes.