1994: When Basketball Met Rap
Today is 2016 NBA Hall of Fame inductee Allen Iverson’s birthday. Some debate whether he’s really 6 feet tall, but being height-challenged only adds to the allure of the man that played with a heart the size of Yao Ming. Not only was Iverson one of the league’s best scorers, but one of it’s most pivotal figures off the court. The prodigal son of Newport News embodied the inner cities of America to a tee. Iverson’s reckless disregard for standards of dress led the NBA to implement a dress code. While he was changing the game on the court as well as off of it, he found time to get in the studio. Although the rapper known as Jewels never saw his 2000 debut album released, he collaborated with hip-hop legends like Ma$e and Jadakiss. Rap and basketball are as cohesive as milk and cookies, and stars of both fields have attempted to crossover into the other realm. Shaq dropped several successful albums, Master P played a few preseason games for the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets in between dropping albums. Shit, Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” is arguably his biggest hit. In 1994, Epic Records attempted to cash in on the two, pairing hip-hop’s hottest artists with the NBA’s best players in the studio.
1994 was a bad year for the NBA. After winning his third-consecutive NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1993, Michael Jordan announced his retirement. Sure, at 30 years old, Jordan had plenty left in the tank, which he chose to use to take his talents to the baseball diamond. While the NBA was scrambling to find another face of the league, Epic Records was giving some of the league’s stars a shot to pick up the mic. It’s no secret that the NBA is a black man’s league, and in the ’90’s it was no different. A good majority of it’s players come from inner cities, using their athletic abilities to escape the concrete jungle.
The Notorious B.I.G. once said ” Either you’re slinging crack rock, or you got a wicked jump shot.”
Well Epic took that and ran with it, enlisting hoopers like Oakland’s Gary Payton and Jason Kidd. Coming off his platinum debut “Shaq Diesel”, Shaq even made a guest appearance. The idea stemmed from James Andrews and Hutson Miller, who convinced Immortal Records to do the album. Immortal and Epic came together to pay the artists, hand-picked by the NBA guys.
Lakers star forward Cedric Ceballos paired up with Warren G for “Flow On”, whose debut album Regulate…G Funk Era would go triple platinum in ’94. Shaq combined with Brooklyn duo Ill Al Skratch for “Mic Check 1-2”. Some players opted for solo tracks, like Malik Sealy on “Lost In The Sauce”.
Production was no slack, with top beatmakers like the aforementioned Warren G, Diamond D, Ant Banks and DJ Clark Kent. The beats were a perfect combination of the laid-back G-funk sound of the West and trunk-rattling boom bap of the East.
Unfortunately, the raps weren’t up to par with the beats for the most part. For instance, Gary Payton’s bubbly personality didn’t translate to his dull “Living Legal and Large” feature.
Nevertheless, the album sold decent, falling just short of Gold status. Maybe it was the name’s of the rappers included, possibly curiosity killed the cat. Overall, it was pretty bad.
Over the 23 years since the album’s release, there’s been more bad attempts at rapping by ballers than good ones. Some notable failed attempts include Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace. But there have been some solid ones, like Stephen Jackson and Damian Lillard. Sacramento Kings legend Chris Webber gave rap a try, but he’s respected in the rap game for his work on the beats. Webber has produced for artists like Big Slep Rock and Nas.
As long as hip-hop and basketball are apart of black culture, the fusion will continue. Let’s just hope it’s not as bad as this album.