There’s something about sports and Hip Hop: they just go together, like Stockton and Malone or Guru and DJ Premier. Rappers often compare themselves to professional athletes to convey their prowess on the mic. Dominating the rap game is like dominating on the court. But perhaps those comparisons represent something more than just braggadocio.
On “Thank Me Now,” the final song of his freshman album, Drake says “I swear music and sports are so synonymous / cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.”
A unique brotherhood exists between the athlete and the rapper. Both often don’t come from a lot of money and aspire to provide a better lifestyle for themselves and their families. Dribbling a basketball or spitting bars is the means of escape and achieving success.
Drake also alludes to the unfulfilled fantasy of many rappers to literally dunk like MJ or have the athletic talents of Bo Jackson. Master P tried to make that dream a reality. He had brief (and unsuccessful) stints with the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets. Now he’s in really bizarre commercials with his son, Lil Romeo promoting ICDC College.
True to Drake’s claim, athletes are unable to resist hitting up the recording studio. Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, Iman Shumpert, and Metta World Peace have all released multiple Hip Hop songs. Shaq’s first album (brace yourselves, there were four), Shaq Diesel, was actually certified platinum! That being said, Shaq will be remembered for what he did best—steam-rolling his opposition on the court.
If you’re looking for a highlight of these crossovers, which is like trying to find a Twinkie in Zombieland, check out Shump’s track “Anarchy” (for a lowlight, and there are many, listen to Metta World Peace’s “96 Minutes”). Bottom line: athletes and rappers should stick to their given professions.
In honor of the unbreakable relationship between sports and music, we have assembled our ten favorite sports references in Hip Hop songs. The list is in no particular order, and no, unfortunately The Lonely Island’s “We Like Sportz” doesn’t make the cut. Here is Part 1 (numbers one through five).
1.“Now You’re Mine” (1994) – Gang Starr
I’ll fake you left and go right, straight down the lane/
Here’s one in your eye; you’ll feel pain/
You strain – to put together some strategy/
But you’re raggedy, and I’ll be glad to see/
The frown on your grill when I drill and thrill/
Set up my offense, commence to kill
Gang Starr grabs the first spot on our list with “Now You’re Mine.” The track is an attack to anyone who thinks they can challenge the lyrical ability of Guru. Sounds like a typical rap song, right?
But we’re immediately taken to the local blacktop b-ball court. There, Guru unleashes basketball phrases and terms from his offensive arsenal that so clearly and calmly explain how he will destroy his opponents. Oh, and he’ll do it with ease. His assassin’s mentality is reminiscent of an MJ or Kobe.
Forceful internal rhymes (i.e. “raggedy, and I’ll be glad to see”, as well as “your grill when I drill and kill”) and basketball savvy, coupled with Guru’s monotone voice make "Now You’re Mine" the perfect sports and music crossover song. It takes the best of both worlds, and wraps it up into three minutes of awesome bars. DJ Premier supplies the jazzy beat, with the presence of military-esque trumpets serving to enhance Guru’s verbal assault.
Interestingly (though perhaps not so difficult to believe), Guru directed his antagonistic verses toward DJ Premier. According to rap genius and a DJ Premier interview with XXL Magazine, the two had apparently engaged in a fistfight that left Guru bruised and battered. Guru came back the next day with the lyrics for “Now You’re Mine.” While the reasons behind the brawl are left to speculation, Gang Starr certainly made one thing clear: their musical offense was built to kill.
Other awesome lines from the song:
360 dunk in your face/
You can’t compete, you’re just a basket case
And after I pound ya, you’re gonna wanna make friends/
And make amends for the silly, trash you were talking/
Take a walk and your shots I’m swatting/
With ease, and the ladies are swooning
2. “It Was A Good Day” (1992) – Ice Cube
Get me on the court and I’m trouble/
Last week fucked around and got a triple double/
Freakin’ niggaz every way like M.J./
I can’t believe, today was a good day
“It Was A Good Day” is one of those rare songs that fits every occasion—it’s a party anthem, it’s cruising music, and it’s the perfect nightcap after a long day.
The timeless hit reminds us that 1) Ice Cube’s a pimp (according to the Goodyear Blimp), 2) The Supersonics were once a basketball team, and 3) We cannot take for granted all of the little things in life that make us happy.
Of course, a good day isn’t complete without playing ball with some friends. Cube apparently made easy work of his opponents, as he tallied a triple-double (a.k.a. a Russell Westbrook) without putting forth much effort. He even compares his playing ability to Michael Jordan—a trend we’ll see among rappers throughout this list—alerting us of his superior skill.
I also always find it funny that a guy with such a menacing face and intimidating presence produced such an uplifting track. Does the smile-less Ice Cube actually smile when he performs the song? I can’t help but wonder.
By the way, Ice Cube’s name did flash on the Goodyear Blimp in 2014 as part of a campaign that raised $25,000 for an after school program in South Central Los Angeles. Clearly, “It Was A Good Day” has a lasting and powerful impact on people old and young alike.
Other dope lines from the track:
Left my nigga’s house paid/
Picked up a girl been tryna fuck since the 12th grade/
It’s ironic, I had the brew she had the chronic/
The Lakers beat the Supersonics
3. “James Harden” (2012) – CyHi The Prynce
Don’t stop the tape, let the cam run/
I run with shooters with guns as long as Durant’s arms/
Any nigga in front of my goal is getting slammed on/
93 Shawn Kemp NBA jammed on
“James Harden” was certainly representative of the time it was released and the artist it was released by.
CyHi the Prynce, an up-and-coming rapper from Georgia, felt unnoticed and underappreciated amid G.O.O.D. Music’s stacked squad. He believed he had the flow of a headliner, ala Kanye or Common. He was like James Harden in that regard—a guy who had some serious game, but played third fiddle to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
That was back in 2012. Fast-forward to 2015.
James Harden is now considered one of the best players in the world. He was the NBA MVP runner-up (ahead of his former Thunder teammates), posting the best season of his career in 2015, and leading the Houston Rockets to the Western Conference Finals.
Meanwhile, things haven’t really changed for CyHi. His standing in the rap game is pretty much the same. For one, CyHi has put out as many albums as I have since releasing “James Harden.” That being said, he did release an intriguing mixtape (Black Hystori Project 2: NAACP) in February of 2015 that seeks not necessarily to achieve mainstream appeal, but to address important questions of race and race relations in the U.S.
In “James Harden”, CyHi’s demonstrates his strong, can’t miss lyrical ability. The dude can spit bars, plain and simple. He also shows his encyclopedic knowledge of basketball, with references to Josh Smith’s vertical ability, Pete Maravich’s “pistol play,” and even Antawn Jameson.
His coolest lines involve his shout out to Shawn Kemp and NBA Jam. If you grew up in the 90s, NBA Jam was probably the first basketball video game you ever played. It was 2-on-2 full court hoops with a majority of scoring coming via the monster dunk—like jumping ten feet over the rim, monster dunk. Shawn Kemp was surely the most awesome NBA Jam player with his incredible high-flying escapades.
CyHi the Prynce, like James Harden and (1990s) Shawn Kemp, is worth keeping an eye on.
Other sick lines from the song:
I illustrate how them killers ate/
I call em Pete Maravich cause they was all about that pistol play
4. “Over My Dead Body” (2011) – Drake
Are these people really discussing my career again?/
Asking if I’ll be going platinum in a year again?/
Don’t I got the shit the world wanna hear again?/
Don’t Michael Jordan still got his hoop earring in?
“Over My Dead Body” is the perfect interlude between two stages of Drake’s career. He burst onto the scene as a yougn’ with his highly acclaimed mixtapes Room For Improvement, Comback Season, and So Far Gone (which later became an EP). Then he released his first official studio album in 2010, Thank Me Later. Though the album showed signs of Drake’s talent and versatility, it didn’t establish him as one of the best in the game.
Take Care propelled Drizzy to the top, as his songs were filled with stories of deep personal struggle and triumph, all on the road to achieving superstardom. “Over My Dead Body” set the tone for the Canadian rapper’s sophomore album—dark and honest, yet enjoying the ride. He was truly coming into his own as an artist.
Drake knows people are talking about his second album, looking to see if he’s for real. Does he belong in the same conversation as Jay, Kanye, and Slim? Drake slyly addresses the critics’ questions with his own rhetorical questions. Are people discussing his career? Yes. Are they asking if he’ll go platinum in a year? Yes. Does Drake have the music people want to hear? Yes.
And here’s a line that shows Drizzy has taken that step forward. “Does Michael Jordan still got his hoop earring in?” Yes. In the past, Canada’s greatest export would have probably said something like, “I still got my hoop earring in; MJ.” But now he’s asking it (sans semi-colon) in a way that confidently answers his own inquiry.
Drake is here, he’s relevant, and he’s one of the best. Michael Jordan still wears that famous hoop earring, just like Drake still brings his dominance to the rap game. Oh, and any coincidence Drake calls refers to MJ’s earring as “hoop”? It symbolizes that MJ is a serious baller even to this day—same goes for Drizzy.
5. “Don’t Fuck With Me” (2011) – Pusha T
Cool J-ing on you bitches but I’m dark skinned/
We walked in, seats courtside, dap Diddy, Will Ferrell on my walk by/
At the U.S. Open, there’s much more to Queens/
Versace blu-blockers, row behind Oracene
Another G.O.O.D. Music artist makes our list. Pusha T throws out some cool references in his dark, hazy, out-of-mind track “Don’t Fuck With Me” (a freestyle over Drake’s “Dreams Money Can Buy”).
Push addresses the haters who are throwing barbs his way because of their jealousy. He’s signed to one of the most respected labels around, and proves why he’s such a hot commodity with his smooth flow and rich bars.
The Virginia rapper also reflects on “making it”, sitting in the celebrity section of the U.S. Open. Like Cool J, Push confidently daps Diddy and passes by Will Ferrell as he takes his courtside seats. He realizes he’s sitting right behind Oracene, Serena and Venus Williams’ mom. There is indeed much more fame and fortune in Queens than one may imagine—all in this little corner of Ashe Stadium.
Don’t overlook Pusha T. He’s a rapper primed for big things, and he has the lyrics and flow to back it up. I certainly wouldn’t fuck with him.
Check out Part 2 of our list tomorrow! There will be some Jay, more Drizzy, and maybe a few surprises along the way…