For example, filmmaker Mike Stoklasa once made the compelling argument that the only reason Lucasfilm cast Samuel L. Jackson in the role of Mace Windu for the Star Wars prequels was to get people who would never be caught dead seeing a Star Wars movies to pay for tickets. It’s one market accessing another.
Basketball players releasing a hip hop album is different, since it’s often the same market. The sport and the music have been associated together for decades. Hip hop fans and basketball fans have a lot of crossover.
It must seem like a sure thing to combine the two; it gives basketball fans another way to experience and celebrate their heroes, and it allows talented ballers to express themselves musically.
Sometimes it works but most of the time it doesn’t.
Hip hop is one of the best balancing acts there is. You have to know rhythm, and you have to know your way around street poetry. People melt before the tracks of Jay-Z and Common because of their killer wordplay.
But the other factor is energy. Energy has rescued songs, making them feel vital and alive. Two of my favourite tracks are M.O.P’s “Ante Up” and Ghostface Killah’s “Run”, and neither of them will win any prizes for Tom Waits-esque poetry in their lyrics.
Instead, M.O.P belts out the song so viciously and Ghostface Killah and guests Comp and Jadakiss invest “Run” with so much urgency that you’re caught up into their respective narratives.
Kobe Bryant is one of the best players in the NBA, but his energy on the court doesn’t carry over to this curiosity from 2000.
K.O.B.E. is a valiant effort but a homogynous mess, with a mumbling, sleepy delivery from Bryant and lyrics like “If you say murder that means I’m a Thug Poet/If you say my mind kills that means I’m a Thug Poet”. Not even a guest list with the likes of Tyra Banks, 50 Cent and other major players can save it.
It remains a cool piece of merchandise for diehard Bryant fans, but not much more than that.
It’s hard to believe that his most recent album, Shaquille O’Neal Presents His Superfriends Volume 1 is now ten years old. Despite its age, it’s a good example of Shaq’s strengths and weaknesses in the world of rap.
To quote music critic Jt Griffith, “His fifth album is as close to relevant to the mainstream pop world as any Shaq album may get.”
Over the course of his 93 to 01 music career, Shaq has gone from being an okay rapper to a pretty all right rapper, and Superfriends manages to showcase his talents.
Songs like “Connected” seems to have hogged all the energy Kobe Bryant’s album lacked, with Shaq hammering out some nice rhymes with guests WC and Nate Dogg.
The best track is likely “In the Sun”, featuring a characteristically silky delivery by guest Common and a radio-ready production.
Shaq will likely never join the roster of mainstream rappers or even be remembered as an essential 90s novelty act like Biz Markie, but he still remains the high mark of basketball players taking a dip of the river of rap, and he should be remembered for that.
Years from now, Ron Artest will probably not be remembered for his music.
He will go down in history as one of the best defensive players in the NBA and a staunch supporter of mental health organizations, but his effort My World will likely be a blip in the Artest historical records.
That may not be entirely fair, because the 2006 album delivers some adequate stuff, from the slickly produced dance track “Fever” to the guest-heavy “Cash Money”.
It may not be going on any list of essential hip hop records any time soon, but it’s by no means an embarrassing addition to an Artest fan’s collection. As it stands, My World adds just another facet to one of the NBA’s most interesting players.