After only three games this young season, CBS Sports wrote about Damian Lillard’s MVP campaign following a 37 point, 7 assist, 5 rebound overtime effort against the Denver Nuggets. Less than 24 hours later, Lillard revealed photos of his third signature shoe, the D Lillard 3. Following the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio, the point guard almost singlehandedly willed the Portland Trail Blazers to the second round of the playoffs last season, putting up a solid fight against the historically great Golden State Warriors. The 26-year-old was named Rookie of the Year in 2013, an All Star in 2014 and 2015 (and one of the biggest snubs in the history of the game in 2016), and has quickly cemented himself as one of the most exciting players in basketball.
And if it seems like there’s nothing Lillard can’t do, well, that’s actually pretty accurate. While rapping has long been the Achilles’ heel of NBA players, Number 0 is proving otherwise. On October 21, just four days before the new season started, Lillard dropped his debut record under the moniker Dame D.O.L.L.A. Full of woozy synths, slick production, and guest spots from Lil Wayne, Jamie Foxx, Juvenile, Raphael Saadiq and more, the album immediately puts Lillard in the upper echelon of NBA rappers (although it’s not as if he’s had that much competition). However, that’s not to say he doesn’t have his fair share of critics: When Lillard was shooting free throws against the Bucks recently, fans began chanting, “Soundcloud rapper!” It didn’t do much; he still went a perfect 9/9 from the stripe.
In honor of the Oakland-native’s recently released West Coast-influenced debut, here is a list of the best, the worst, and the most meh NBA player-rappers.
1. Shaquille O’Neal
It’s obvious, but it needs to be repeated: Shaquille O’Neal is the best NBA rapper of all time. In the early ‘90s, Shaq was possibly the most marketable athlete in sports history. Sure, Michael Jordan had Space Jam (which turned 20 last month!), but Shaq had Kazaam and Steel and later guested on one of the best episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and hosted SNL, the latter of which included a sketch that involved a spanking from Tracy Morgan.
But his rap career is legendary, as well. His debut album, Shaq Diesel, went platinum with a feature from Phife Dawg, hitting No. 25 on the charts. Over the course of his next three albums, his collaborators included Method Man, RZA, Redman, Warren G, The Notorious B.I.G., Mobb Deep, Jay Z, Rakim, DJ Quik, and more, pulling from the best of hip-hop’s golden era. This wasn’t a gimmick. Shaq’s flow could hang with the best of them; his verse on “No Hook” is fire.
2. Damian Lillard
It bears repeating how good The Letter O is in comparison to the rest of Lillard’s peers. Sure, some of his lyrics feature basketball clichés (“The Jazz up the road / I wanna play for Jerry Sloan” isn’t great), but his smooth flow and great production are more than worth noting. Not only does his music tell his story of growing up in East Oakland, he’s socially conscious as well; his early 2016 track “Bigger Than Us” addresses police brutality in America in a heartfelt non-Macklemorian way. Lillard will never reach Shaq’s cultural significance, but he can hold his own in the studio.
3. Cedric Ceballos
In November 1994, Epic Records put out B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret, a hip-hop compilation of NBA players, pairing many of them with professional rappers. More on that later…
The highlight of that album is “Flow On” by Cedric Ceballos, a small forward for the Lakers who would be selected to his first and only All Star game later that year. The track features Warren G, hot off his No.2 charting classic “Regulate,” which had dropped just seven months prior. From the pick up game in what looks like Santa Monica to the fashion at Ceballos’ house party to the smooth g-funk beat, everything about the video screams, “1994!” in the best possible way, acting as a historical document of sorts. Ceballos is possibly the most underrated and overlooked NBA rapper of all time.
4. Iman Shumpert
While Cavs shooting guard Iman Shumpert was fully introduced to the hip-hop world when he got naked with his wife Teyana Taylor in the shower following her workout dance and just before her inexplicable transformation into a cat at the end of Kanye West’s “Fade” music video, he’s been putting out music for the past four years. Sure he dropped a pretty horrible Knicks-themed “Clique” remix in 2012, but his Th3 #Post90s mixtape from that year is surprisingly great. Plus, his Grand Theft Autothemed “Build Em” music video is one of the more creative videos in recent memory. With a sub.400 career field goal percentage, Shumpert may have a brighter future in music than as a role player.
1. Gary Payton
Also from that 1994 compilation, Seattle Supersonics (RIP) star point guard Gary Payton tried his hand at g-funk, but The Glove just isn’t as smooth as the aforementioned Cedric Ceballos. It’s possible he’s trying to forget that any of it happened. Payton’s Wikipedia page is well over 6,000 words, but this song—presumably the only one in his back catalogue—is never mentioned. As Vice Sports pointed out last year, this track represents Payton trying to rap like his hometown hero Too $hort. It’s not horrible by any stretch, but it’s also not memorable whatsoever, which puts it straight in the Meh category.
However, his cameo in Draymond Green’s Beats by Dre “Tell Me When to Go” commercial is incredible; if you’ve ever wanted to see Gary Payton say “shake dem dreads,” this is the video for you.
2. Allen Iverson
Almost a decade before Gilbert Arenas showed up to the Verizon Center with his gun collection, Allen Iverson rapped about his. Easily the hardest player in NBA history—he was sentenced to 15 years in prison back in 1993—his infamous “40 Bars” track reflects that. Incredibly controversial upon its release, his debut under the moniker Jewelz drew harsh criticism from then-commissioner David Stern: “The lyrics that have been attributed to Allen Iverson’s soon-to-be-released rap CD are coarse, offensive and antisocial. Whatever constitutional rights of free speech an individual may have, there is no constitutional right to participate in the NBA and I have the power…to disqualify players who engage in offensive conduct—including inappropriate speech. Allen Iverson has done a disservice to himself, the Philadelphia 76ers, his teammates, and perhaps all of the NBA.”
With lyrics like “I know killers that kill for a fee” and “Come to me with f****t tendencies / You’ll be sleeping where the maggots be,” it’s no surprise that the NBA wasn’t too happy and his debut album, Non Fiction, was never released.
All of that being said, AI may have made fun of Drake a decade early with this lyric: “You went platinum with a ghost writer / So in the game you won you cheated.”
3. Chris Webber
Five years after he screwed over the Warriors and bolted to D.C., Chris Webber released his first and last album, 2 Much Drama, in 1999. Under the name C. Webb, his Kurupt-featuring single “Gangsta, Gangsta (How U Do)” hit No. 10 on the rap singles chart. Over a slightly annoying beat with too many record scratches, Webber isn’t horrible here, showing why Nas trusted him to produce twosongs. If anything, 2 Much Drama spawned this hilarious and brutal 2005 shitpost by Jason Whitlock for ESPN in which he wrote: “Chris Webber is better than C-Webb.” Since Webber is a decent NBA commentator, he probably shouldn’t leave his day job anytime soon.
4. Ron Artest/Metta World Peace
Though not his biggest single (that would be his “2006 track “Champion”) Metta World Peace/Ron Artest’s song “Go Loco” is one of the most over-the-top songs ever produced by anyone, let alone by a basketball player. Cue up your Stefon voice because this video has everything: it’s got George Lopez rapping the hook, an Oompa Loompa hopping through a secret bookshelf club entrance, a man in a full body chicken suit, Lopez again in a top hat, Artest counting to four in Spanish (something that Bono could never do), B-Real referencing “Insane in the Membrane,” a man in a full body panda suit, and lots and lots of champagne. We once thought that this song marked the end of Fat Joe’s career, but boy were we wrong.
We would love it if Metta World Peace was remembered primarily for this music video, but that honor will always go to the “Malice in the Palace.”
1. Steph Curry
Yes, Steph Curry is my favorite basketball player. Yes, I’m a lifelong Warriors fan. Yes, I still get nightmares about Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. And yes, I’m convinced Steph Curry is the worst rapper of all time.
Sure, his play inspired namedrops in songs from Drake, Fat Joe, E-40, Kehlani, and yes, even Dame D.O.L.L.A. But before he was the record smashing, three-time All Star, NBA champion Splash Brother, he was an undersized, possibly nerdy kid named Wardell who played college ball at Davidson in North Carolina and thought, “Hey, I should be in an Asher Roth parody about my dining commons!”
Although 22-year-old Steph may have thought that he was just involved in a cute rap parody, but when you’re the best player in the league, things like this don’t just get to fade away inter the internet abyss.
2. Dwight Howard
Unlike Steph Curry who honed his rap skills throughout his three years of college, Dwight Howard went straight to the NBA after he graduated high school, eventually becoming the No. 1 pick of the 2004 draft. So before the rigors of a packed NBA schedule kicked in, let’s rewind the clock to 2003, when Howard was a prospect with a lot more time on his hands…
In case you were wondering what the song was called, Howard goes out of his way to tell you on the first line of the track: “Dumb girls / This song is called ‘Dumb Girls.’” But don’t worry; it only goes downhill from there. Over a beat that samples the Inspector Gadget theme, he raps, “Dumb girls they get on my nerves / They play with my head they make me sick / I’m gonna punch them in the face with my…aye!”
Howard has no real ear for rhythm and can only rhyme sparingly. But the true highlight here comes about halfway through when Dwight whispers his way through an entire verse. Since it sounds so much like The Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song),” it’s actually pretty amazing that Howard wrote this song two years before that song was released.
At the time of writing, this video has only 2,435 views, about a hundred of which come from us. Howard is most likely a future Hall of Famer, so let’s make sure more people know about his failed rap career.
3. Jason Kidd
“What the Kidd Did,” a song so bad that The New York Times published a 1,000-word article marking its 20th birthday, is one of the main reasons why a rookie basketball player should think twice before hitting the studio.
Also from the previously mentioned 1994 B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret album, the track should have been the best one on the compilation. It’s got a very solid mid-90’s hip-hop beat, chock-full of smooth synths and g-funk guitars. It has lyrics from Digital Underground member Money-B.
To say Jason Kidd has no presence behind the mic is an understatement; he legitimately sounds like he’s falling asleep. Money-B may have been one of the most popular MCs in the Bay Area at the time, but he’s not helping out much here either. “Who the hell said being a kid was easayyyyyy?” and “Ain’t no party like a J Kidd party ‘cos a J Kidd party don’t stop” were both cliché even in 1994.
Still, in a delicious act fate, When Kidd played for the Mavericks in 2008, Mark Cuban discovered the song and played it during warm ups as a joke. Bravo Mark Cuban, bravo!
4. Kobe Bryant
Back in the beginning of 2000, Kobe Bryant was on top of the world. He was in the midst of his first championship season. He had just started dating Vanessa Laine and the two would get engaged that May. He had just been selected to his first All Star game. Everything seemed to be going his way, that is, until he dropped his debut single “K.O.B.E.” in January. Supermodel Tyra Banks sang the hook over a Latin-influenced beat.
The lyrics are corny. The accent he uses to rap the word “Italy” is cringe worthy. His performance of the song at the 2000 All Star Game in February is horrendous, featuring an almost-definitely lip-synching Tyra Banks.
It is no wonder why Sony dropped him after the performance, though Hype Williams directed a music video that we’ll most likely never get to see. Kobe then went on to co-found a label called Heads High Entertainment, which didn’t last more than a year.
Kobe may have retired on top this past May as a five-time champion, a successful businessman, and one of the biggest celebrities in America, but he’ll never be a rapper.
While Steven Edelstone is a writer based in New York, he’s a diehard Warriors fan originally from the East Bay. Do not call him a bandwagon fan. He finally gave in and got a Twitter; follow him here.