Ball and Beats


Music and the NBA have no Shortage of History Together

The NBA’s recent announcement that rapper Travis Scott will perform at the 2018 NBA Awards show is just the latest development in the long-running relationship between the worlds of music and basketball. Here is a look at some ways in which this link has manifested itself:

Early Days

There is perhaps no rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” more iconic in sports history than Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the American national anthem at the 1983 All-Star Game.

In addition to paving the way for superstar musical performances at NBA events, the presence of the Motown singer functioned as recognition of the common ground between many musical stars and the league’s largely African-American roster, many of whom had grown up in the inner cities that Gaye sang about.

“His music was our music,” said Isiah Thomas, a participant in the game. “He really hit how we were feeling … in poverty, and our desperate cry for just recognition, and understanding.”

Gaye was more than just an R&B legend. “Marvin Gaye was absolutely on the forefront of (artists tackling societal issues). He was an important guy, artistically, at that time,” said Kareem Abdul Jabbar. “He talked about issues that resonated in the black community in a very meaningful way.”

Around the same time that Gaye was belting out the national anthem, hip-hop was sweeping the aforementioned inner cities. Given that basketball was often the sport of choice in these same areas, rap music and ball made for natural partners.

Kurtis Blow’s hit “Basketball” referenced a who’s-who of basketball stars circa 1984. With lyrics like: “Just like I’m the king on the microphone, so is Dr. J and Moses Malone,” the song established itself as a landmark in the relationship between its namesake and hip-hop.

It was far from the last.

Ballers Want to be Rappers, and Vice-Versa

While Blow rapped about his favourite basketball players, many NBA stars would later venture into the rap realm, with varying results.

Shaquille O’Neal, who has collaborated with rappers like Phife Dawg from the legendary A Tribe Called Quest, may still be the most well-known baller-rapper (for better or worse), even releasing a platinum album of his own.

However, players ranging from Kobe Bryant to Allen Iverson to Ron Artest/Metta World Peace have tried their hand in the recording booth.

On the other side, rappers have made countless lyrical references to basketball over the years, from Jay-Z comparing himself to Michael Jordan, to the Beastie Boys shouting out NYC favourites like Anthony Mason and John Starks.

During the first decade of the 21st century, rappers even started to dress like their hardwood counterparts, with the throwback jersey craze sweeping hip-hop.

Slam Magazine

Founded in 1994, Slam Magazine was (at the time) unique in the publishing world with its combination of basketball and hip hop culture.

With covers and articles referencing rap hits, as well as an overall modern style, Slam acknowledged and fortified the link between ball and rhymes. In 2016, they released their first-ever “Music Issue,”  focusing on the aforementioned intersection.

Trailblazers star Damian Lillard, an acclaimed rapper in his own right, was placed on the cover of the issue.

Credit: Slam Magazine

“He’s skillful with his flow,” said radio personality Charlamagne Tha God of Lillard. “He’s not just doing it because he don’t got nothing better to do with his time.”

Bonus: Prince- Shirts vs. Blouses

As a final nod to the love affair between hoops and music, we had to mention the Purple One.

Anyone who used to watch Chappelle’s Show remembers the classic True Hollywood Stories sketch involving Prince (played by Dave Chappelle) and Charlie Murphy.

What some may not know is that Prince could ball for real.

“Everything in that skit is true,” said Prince’s friend Micki Free. “I played in that game. And Prince was Steph Curry all [expletive] night!”


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