*Certain songs may contain explicit lyrics*
NBA references are littered throughout rap music since the two became culturally connected long ago. Jay Z used to be a minority owner of the Nets, Drake is the unofficial face of the Toronto Raptors, Snoop Dogg is one of the biggest LA Lakers fans, while Gucci Mane can be routinely seen sitting courtside rooting on his hometown Atlanta Hawks. Rap and basketball (specifically the NBA) will always be linked, and it seems only fitting to make the link only stronger with this thought experiment.
Kendrick Lamar: Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers
Why not start at the top? Fultz, the clear-cut best prospect in the 2017 draft, glides around the court with ease, weaving through defenders while already being to create his own shot. Fultz is the best prospect to come out of college in a few years, and is joining a 76ers team that has promise down the road. If all goes according to plan and Fultz reaches his ceiling, Philadelphia will have a promising young core that will be able to compete for years to come. Fultz will be the jewel at the center of that core.
Kendrick Lamar has joined a selective group of rappers that can be referred to with only their first name, and everyone knows exactly who he is. Think, Tupac, Biggie, Rakim, Jay/Hov, Nas, Eminem, Dre, etc. Kendrick Lamar’s debut album was Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, a classic that still plays well years after its initial release. GKMC details the story of one boy in Compton, CA, dealing with life and his interactions with the many temptations he is presented with each day. Lamar followed up his fantastic debut with the critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that is simultaneously introspective and thought provoking. Kendrick’s most recent album DAMN, is radically different that his previous two albums. However, that does not make the album any worse. DAMN is nothing short of excellent, with messages that affirm certain aspects of society while condemning others. Kendrick, like Fultz, are on a level of their own right now. Only time will tell if someone is unable to dethrone them from the top.
Listen: Now or Never (feat. Mary J. Blige) – Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
Watch: Markelle Fultz at Washington
Chance The Rapper: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
The Celtics shocked teams throughout the league by trading their first overall pick to Philadelphia. In that trade, they received the Sixers number three overall pick. There was plenty of fanfare and questioning over what Boston would do with their pick, leading to numerous quotes from the ultimate smokescreen of a General Manager, Danny Ainge. Ainge and the Celtics elected to choose Tatum, a combo forward with a great offensive feel for the game. Jayson Tatum burst onto the scene as a freshman at Duke, acting as the second leading scorer on the team, played a great two man game with Luke Kennard, leading Duke to the second seed in the NCAA Tournament. Tatum also excels in isolation, one area that will directly translate to the NBA, especially with several other offensive weapons surrounding him.
Chance The Rapper, similar to Tatum, had some fanfare heading into his freshman album. Chance amassed some underground fans with the release of his debut mixtape, 10 Day, and then exploded with the release of Acid Rap. Chance has never put out a bad project, as his debut album, Coloring Book, was well received by critics and music fans alike. Both Chance and Tatum have a promising future ahead of them, one where both have an incredibly high floor and practically limitless upside.
Listen: Blessings (Reprise) – Coloring Book
Watch: Jayson Tatum at Duke
Lil Yachty: Jonathon Isaac, Orlando Magic
Isaac, a freshman out of Florida State, is a long, lanky prospect that will make defense his calling care in the NBA. His upside is capped on just how good he can develop offensively. If he continues to improve, similar to how he did at Florida State, he could reach All-star status, becoming the centerpiece of a currently young and struggling Magic team. However, Isaac was also given one of the highest bust potentials by ESPN, signaling that if these improvements are not made, Isaac could flame out of the league within a matter of years.
Lil Yachty, the freshman rapper who is known for his red dreadlocks and “bubblegum trap” rap, has found his way into the public eye after his debut mixtape, Lil Boat. Yachty, who recently released his debut album, Teenage Emotions (Yachty is only 19) to mixed reviews, is an incredibly raw talent who could one day become as well known and respected as artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper. However, if Yachty (real name: Miles Patrick McCollum) coasts off of the early success that he has accumulated and does not try to tap into the talent that he has, he could find himself in the rearview mirror of the rap world.
Listen: Minnesota (Remix) [feat. Quavo, Skippa Da Flippa, & Young Thug] – Lil Boat
Travis Scott: De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Fox, the lengthy point guard from Kentucky, started out the season slow, eventually becoming a two-way terror that shredded Lonzo Ball twice in one season. Fox is a tenacious defender that has the foot speed and physical ability to fight through screens, while also being quick enough to stay in front of even the shiftiest of guards. Fox grew into Kentucky’s system as the season went on, validating his selection within the top five. Questions remain about his ability to shoot from long range, but with the work ethic that Fox has illustrated throughout his playing career, this is an issue that can be improved upon.
Travis Scott, who gained a large following after dropping his debut album, Rodeo, is one of the hottest commodities in rap at this very moment. Following the release of his sophomore project, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, Scott has been collaborating with Migos front man Quavo, with a joint project allegedly in the works and nearing completion. Scott has a distinct voice and rapping style, with most of music being categorized as a unique mix of trap and rap. Ever since Rodeo was released, he has stepped up his lyricism as well, all while collaborating with new more and more artists to expand his brand and influence. Scott, similar to Fox, is a hot commodity, someone who plans on being not just relevant, but one of the premier figureheads in rap for years to come.
Listen: Night Call (feat. Swae Lee & Chief Keef) – Rodeo
Watch: De’Aaron Fox at Kentucky
Meek Mill: Harry Giles, Portland Trail Blazers
Meek Mill was once one of the most prominent and up and coming rappers of his time. Meek Mill has had a few solid albums and mixtapes (Dreamchasers). Many of his mixtapes were critically acclaimed, with many critics claiming Meek Mill would be one of the next great rappers. His most recent album, Dreams Worth More Than Money had a few notable tracks on it, but there was one in particular that eventually led to his downfall. The song R.I.C.O., a quality song, featured Drake leading off the song. After his verse was recorded and the album released, Meek Mill accused Drake of not writing his own lyrics, citing R.I.C.O. as a prime example. Drake responded with two different diss tracks, the second, titled Back to Back, a song that showed Drake as the superior rapper, crippling Meek Mill and his credibility, a “Major Key” in the game of rap. Meek Mill has built back some credibility and has upside down the road, but there are concerns he may never truly capture what he is ultimately capable of.
Giles at one point in his career was projected to go number one in the 2017 draft. In his senior year of high school though, Giles tore his ACL. Giles would require another knee surgery before his freshman year at Duke, forcing him to miss valuable time to honing his craft. As a result, his minutes were restricted, some of his athleticism sapped, not looking like the same player that he was before the knee injuries. If Giles is able to recapture some of the athleticism that he played with in high school, Portland would have one of the biggest steals in the draft. Whether he is able to do this is a tall task, even for someone as skilled and talented as Harry Giles.
Listen: Dreams and Nightmares (Intro) – Dreams and Nightmares
Watch: Harry Giles in High School
DMX: Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, Miami Heat
Bam Adebayo is a raw prospect, but if there is one thing the NBA is certain of, it’s that Adebayo will be able to rebound and body with anyone in the NBA. Merely looking at Bam shows that he is already a mountain of a man, with biceps frighteningly reminiscent of peak Orlando Magic Dwight Howard. Questions remain around Adebayo and his defensive instincts and outside shooting ability, but his physical tools will keep him around the league, filling in wherever needed.
DMX, although not as prevalent today as he was perhaps a decade ago, raps with a sense of tenacity and terror. When DMX lays down a rap, he does so with reckless abandon. DMX, a troubled man and rapper, has no problem rapping about any controversial topic under the sun. His tone is rife with anger, his lyrics full of rage. DMX raps like Adebayo will play in the NBA: physical, with a plenty of anger and the occasional touch of finesse.
*Obligatory reminder that DMX once had a concert so large it looked like he sold out an entire country*
Listen: Where the Hood At? – Grand Champ
Drake: Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
The debut album from Drake, Thank Me Later, is one that is often an afterthought when people think of Drake’s discography. The album was concerned average by most critics, with Over, perhaps being the most notable song on the tape.
Since then, Drake has dominated much of the sphere of rap, producing Grammy nominated albums and mixtapes. Drake boasts a vocal range unmatched by other rappers, while he also is able to seamlessly transition from rapping about his everyday life to something much more meaningful – perhaps passionate. Drake has proven, time and time again, that he can rap with the likes of the best, while simultaneously being able to write and perform a song merely one track later on his album that changes tempo and content completely, leaving the listener in awe.
When one thinks of Lonzo Ball, one might not think of someone is humble, capable of being reserved, similar to that of some of the music from Drake. For a quick thought experiment, imagine Lonzo Ball. Ball and only Ball. When you focus on just Lonzo, you forget about his brothers, following in his footsteps and playing at UCLA after their high school careers. Most importantly, you forget about his shamelessly brazen father LaVar, someone who will say practically anything to stay in the spotlight. Subtract the distractions from Lonzo, and you have a relatively humble kid, one who has the drive to be the next great Lakers point guard. Ball also possesses the rare ability to score in droves while also drop enough assists to make Steve Nash blush. Ball led the NCAA in assists during his lone year at UCLA, while also acting as the third leading scorer on the team. Both Ball and Drake have long, promising careers ahead of them. Assuming their outside distractions (Meek Mill/Nicki Minaj/LaVar Ball) do not get the best of them, you might be hearing about both individuals listed among some of the greats.
Listen: Uptown (feat. Bun B & Lil Wayne) – So Far Gone
Listen (Bonus): Houstatlantavegas – So Far Gone
Watch: Lonzo Ball at UCLA