Welcome to Part 2 of our list of favorite sports references in Hip Hop songs! If you missed Part 1, check it out here. Let’s get right down to it! Hot and fresh out the kitchen (shoutout to R. Kelly), here are numbers six through ten on our list.
6. “Stronger” (2007) – Kanye West
You know how long I been on ya/
Since Prince was on Apollonia/
Since O.J. had Isotoners/
Don’t act like I never told ya
“Stronger,” one of Kanye’s most popular hits to date, showcases the rapper’s mastery of the production aspect of music. He takes Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and spins it to create an up-tempo, high-energy Hip Hop track (though the electronic elements are certainly still present). “Stronger” is the quintessential workout and pre-game song.
Yeezy spits powerful lyrics, grounding his track in the message “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” ‘Ye also makes sure to express his greatness, telling his peers and fans to bow down. He even takes a shot at Bucknell University.
According to rap genius, students booed Kanye for showing up late to his performance at the school. The Chi Town rapper responds by saying “You should be honored by my lateness / that I would even show up to this fake shit.” Presumably, the “fake shit” refers to Bucknell’s predominately white student body, faculty, and alumni. As a pioneer of the rap game, ‘Ye believes he deserves much more respect from the unappreciative college students.
Kanye delivers a striking sports reference in the outro of “Stronger.” He claims he’s been “attracted” to a girl since 1) “Prince was on Apollonia” (the name of Prince’s love interest in the film Purple Rain, 1984) and since 2) “O.J. had Isotoners.”
People remember black gloves to be one of the key pieces of evidence in the O.J. Simpson murder case (1995). They were the gloves that didn’t fit. More importantly for the song’s purpose, the brand name of the gloves (that O.J. refused were his) was called Isotoners. Kanye’s knowledge of the case reflects just how much people in America cared about what happened following the white Ford Bronco highway chase. Everyone knew about O.J. and his Isotoners.
Kanye cleverly uses the Isotoners to put a time frame on how long he’s been in love with this mystery girl—since O.J. was on trial (two decades ago). Was it Kim he was talking about? God, or should I say Yeezus, only knows with Kanye.
7. “O to 100/The Catch-Up” (2014) – Drake
This shit a mothafuckin’ lay-up/
I been Steph Curry with the shot/
Been cookin’ with the sauce, chef, curry with the pot boy
Drake appears on our list for the second time with his hit “0 to 100/The Catch-Up.” This was one of those songs that came out of left field. It was released totally unexpectedly. It’s not off an album—his or anyone else’s. Part of it was leaked, and then Drizzy shared the entire product with the world.
The track is like a book. It has distinct chapters, with Drake displaying his versatility and growth in each. In the 0 to 100 part of the song, Drizzy spits absolute venom over a killer beat. Much of the content focuses on how far the rapper has come and his dominance of the game. He is truly moving at a faster speed than everyone else (both musically and lifestyle-wise), accelerating whenever he wants to.
The Catch-Up slows things down, showing that Drake is also able to take time to reflect. He considers his success and thinks critically about how his Hip Hop peers stack up to him. He wonders why so many people try to diss him, but ultimately concludes it’s because he’s at the top.
The pair of shoes that is the rap game is not one-size fits all, as Drizzy claims. He has to “squeeze in them” and the “seams are splittin.” In other words, Drake’s skills on the mic are surpassing everyone around him. It is not Drake who has to “catch up,” but it is the other artists who must catch up to him.
Drake’s confidence is exemplified in the lines above, as he says rapping has essentially become a lay-up (i.e. the easiest shot in basketball). He compares himself to Steph Curry, who gets buckets for a living—three-point buckets, that is. Drake puts out hits like Curry hits the three-ball (frequently and with ease).
Not to mention, Drizzy’s pairing of Steph with “chef” makes for an awesome play on words. Steph Curry becomes Chef Curry, as if the MVP point guard is cooking up a magical sauce that gives him unreal handles and “snipe-ability” (an invented term for supreme shooting ability—coined and minted). When Steph Curry emerged as one of the premier players in the league, the Chef Curry line caught more fire than Katniss Everdeen.
Drake compares himself to a chef as well, perhaps in light of the incredible dishes (songs) he serves. He feeds us lyrics, flow, and beats, creating the perfect meal that satisfies all of our ear buds.
8. “Niggas In Paris” (2011) – Jay-Z and Kanye West
Psycho: I’m liable to go Michael, take ya pick/
Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6
Jay-Z has got a thing for Michael Jordan. I don’t know if it’s because they both have J’s in their initials or they ball so hard muthafuckas wanna fine them. I’d say it’s related to the ladder. Hov frequently (and rightfully) draws comparisons between himself and MJ in his songs, mostly because they are the best at what they do.
Jordan dominated the court when he played for the Bulls, just like Jay-Z has dominated the rap game for the past decade-and-a-half. The two dynamos are so smooth—they make what they do look effortless.
Jay-Z has referenced Michael Jordan numerous times (like in “Hola Hovito”, and his “Pump It Up" freestyle), but Young Hov takes his shoutout a step further in “Niggas in Paris.” Not only is he like Michael Jordan, but he’s like other incredible Michael’s as well—namely, Mike Tyson and Michael Jackson. The three Mikes are arguably the greatest in their given fields, which is how Jay views himself.
Jay is unique because he can get into that unbeatable mode, like a Jordan or Tyson, where nothing his opponents do can stop him. He flips a switch and pierces a dagger into the hearts of his fellow rappers, just like Jordan did against the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
What makes the lines above top all the other Jay-Z sports references is that he doesn’t exaggerate in his assertion. Jay truly is the equivalent to the three greats, and he has the resume to back it up. Not to mention, the up-tempo, club banger track fits Hov’s lyrics and flow perfectly. Jay-Z proves why he’s at the top of his sport.
Other Jay songs containing dope sports references:
“The Return (Remix)” (2004) – R. Kelly, Jay-Z, Slick Rick, and Doug E. Fresh
Losers lose, so when we does what we do, we win/
And win again, like Déjà vu/
Then we win again, like M.J. do/
Three-peat, then we retreat to waters’ that’s blue
“Hola Hovito” (2001) – Jay-Z
I ball for real: y’all niggas is Sam Bowie/
And with the third pick, I made the earth sick/
M.J. him Jay, fade-away, perfect
9. “Scenario” (1991) – A Tribe Called Quest
Heyo, Bo knows this, (What?) and Bo knows that (What?)/
But Bo don’t know jack, cause Bo can’t rap
The Tribe gets right down to business on their track “Scenario.” The group calls out one of the hottest sports commodities at that time (the early 90’s) in the first two lines of the song. Bo Jackson had been showcasing his inhuman athletic ability, playing both football and baseball during one calendar year—and excelling at both.
Bo’s success in both sports earned him many endorsement deals, including Nike. The company used BoJack Horseman (new nickname) to promote its new cross-training shoe. Nike released awesome “Bo Knows” commercials, one of which included top professional athletes (i.e. Michael Jordan, Kirk Gibson John McEnroe) claiming that Bo “knew” their respective sports.
Wayne Gretzky refuses to admit that Bo knows hockey, but we get the point. Bo can do it all on multiple playing fields. He was a unique specimen, to say the least.
The Tribe seems to pay respect to Bo’s greatness, agreeing that he does know “this” and “that.” However, there is one thing that Bo doesn’t know—rap. Bo can’t rap. The line is worth examining because it’s difficult to know whether to interpret it as a playful barb or a flat out insult.
The line contains some slick word play (“Bo don’t know jack”, as in he doesn’t know anything), followed by “cause Bo can’t rap”—certainly forceful lyrics. The Tribe attempts to defend its territory. They acknowledge Bo is dominant on the playing field, but that he should stick to what he truly knows. The Tribe is protecting their sport, the game they’ve mastered (rap). Though Bo is certainly versatile, he should leave rapping to the professionals.
10. “The Eyes Of The Tiger” (2010) – Wale
Now they comin out the woodworks snitchin’ on me/
Once Mr. Woods was all good, now a nigga only/
You see now that nigga lonely/
And losin all his money
The final spot on our list belongs to Wale and his track “The Eyes Of The Tiger.” Wale alters the famous title “Eye of the Tiger” and creates a track that is rapped from the perspective of an unfaithful Tiger Woods. He even samples Tiger’s voicemail messages to a mistress, as well as the first post-scandal press conference Tiger held.
What exactly was going through the mind of the best golfer in the world prior to, during, and after that infamous 2009 Thanksgiving night? The entire world was obsessed with the cheating story and Tiger’s fall from grace.
Wale taps into peoples’ curiosities with “The Eyes Of The Tiger.” As Tiger, he contemplates his adulterous behavior. He believes he should have considered his actions more carefully, thinking with his head rather than his… erm, well, his dick. His children and his wife are incredibly important to him. Was all of that sex really worth the divorce and millions of dollars lost?
As Wale shifts to the second verse, the reflections shift to those of embarrassment and perception. Not only has Tiger betrayed the trust of his family, but also he went from media angel to fallen angel. Now that all of the women are coming forth and “snitching” on Tiger, the once respectable Mr. Woods turns into “nigga.”
“Once Mr. Woods was all good, now a nigga only” is a powerful line. Tiger Woods was (and is) such a exceptional athlete because he broke a particular mold. Before his time, golf was predominately a white sport. And even during his time, golf still is a predominately white sport.
Prior to the incident, Tiger’s “blackness” helped symbolize his greatness, and many adopted it as an unspoken explanation for why he dominated the golf course: he had the advantage over everyone else—the extra strength, perhaps—because he was part black.
Tiger became a god. He was untouchable because of his unmatched ability, his affinity to talk down to the media, and his racial “otherness.” People revered and praised him. It was almost as if they were lauding his “ascension” into the upper echelons of white culture—a despicable thought.
Then, the incident occurred and Tiger was reborn. This “new Tiger” is exactly who Wale explores in his track. Tiger’s humanity was revealed, as he demonstrated clear difficulty with adhering to the unwritten social rules of American society (i.e. don’t cheat on your wife). As a mere mortal, and a disgraced mortal at that, Tiger lost his respectability. He was no longer regarded as the dignified Mr. Woods, but rather as a “nigga.”
Wale is careful with his word choice here. Instead of saying “now a dude only,” he raps “now a nigga only.” The rapper believes that the media (i.e. white people) portrayed Tiger as a brute who craved sex with white women. They turned him into a lower form of the black man. He became a modern reincarnation of a common stereotype that white directors have latched onto black characters since the inception of cinema—the buck (i.e. a barbaric and violent black man who lusts after white women and tries to “steal” their whiteness, according to film historian Donald Bogle).
Wale believes the media criticized Tiger more harshly than they would have a white man. Tiger’s blackness made his transgressions that much worse. Thus, Wale indicates that an incredibly racist stereotype still exists. The rapper realizes he would be perceived similarly if he ever got caught up in a cheating scandal.
That does it for our list! Any songs we missed? Feel free to tell us in our new comments section!