Whether it is a professional, college, or high school basketball game, walk into any gym during the warm-ups and you will undoubtedly hear hip-hop music. The relationship between hip-hop and sports has been present for years. From the days of NWA sporting Raiders gear on their rise to fame to Allen Iverson having Jadakiss appear in his Reebok commercial, the relationship between hip-hop and sports keeps getting stronger and is unlikely to disappear.
The ever-present relationship between sports and hip-hop was demonstrated once again on March 1, 2019. On that day, Rapper 2 Chainz released his fifth studio album, Rap or Go to the League with Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James as the album’s A&R. James became the first athlete to ever take on such a role. The unprecedented duo has proved to be a force. This album is regarded by many as 2 Chainz’s best album to date. From it’s title to the combination of 2 Chainz and King James, Rap or Go to the League is the embodiment of the unavoidable relationship between hip-hop and sports. How did this unavoidable budding romance between hip-hop and sports come to be?
Hip-Hop and NBA – Two Sides of the Same Coin
The relationship between sports and hip-hop has been evident for years and is unavoidable for many reasons.
1. Hip-Hop and NBA are Deeply Rooted in the African-American Community as two of the Most Viable Options for Success
The relationship between hip-hop and sports is deeply rooted in the African American community as both career options are symonous with success and acquiring wealth. For example, in J. Cole’s song, Immortal on his 2016 album 4 Your Eyez Only he states:
“They tell a n***a sell dope, rap, or go to the NBA…In that order.”
As can be seen from these lyrics, the mantra of rap or go to the league is in some ways embedded in the African American community as the most viable career options for tremendous success. This is not true, as there are a variety of ways to become successful. However, those ways are not as readily apparent especially to low income minorities. Before Barack Obama was elected President many of the ultra-successful African-Americans that were showcased in the mainstream were athletes or entertainers.
Naturally, that is what much of the youth aspired to and still aspire to be. Hence, the title of 2 Chainz’s album Rap of Go to the Leauge is the personification of those two options. 2 Chainz’s album tells the story of many who like him used sports and hip-hop to become successful. The album is a direct representation of the marriage between hip-hop and sports.
2. The NBA has Realized the Profitability of the Relationship
The NBA has not always embraced its unavoidable marriage with hip-hop culture. However, the league is definitely all in on it now. For the last two years, hip-hop music has been the backdrop of the NBA Playoff promo commercials. In 2017, it was hit singles off of Kendrick Lamar’s DNA album. Similarly, in 2018 it was hit singles off of J. Cole’s KOD album. The NBA has none other than Allen Iverson to thank for its budding relationship with hip-hop.
Iverson, who to the dismay of the NBA released a song and recorded an album while playing, forced the NBA to acknowledge the influence of hip-hop culture amongst its’ players. He ultimately led the NBA to accept hip-hop and the kinship many of its players feel for it. Initially, the league fought the marriage of hip-hop and the NBA by enacting a dress code that many argued was implemented to downplay the effects of hip-hop culture in the league. Eventually, the NBA got on board with hip-hop’s increasing influence in the league. Other NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Damien Lillard have recorded rap songs. Even Lonzo Ball released a mixtape. The NBA has realized that the relationship is an opportunity for the league to grow in popularity.
For this reason, the NBA asked hip-hop artist Drake to host the inaugural NBA awards. Drake is also the global ambassador for the Toronto Raptors, showing that both owners and the league see the benefits of hip-hop’s influence in the NBA. With all of these shifts in the NBA’s relationship with hip-hop, it is perfectly fine for the face of the league to serve as A&R on an album that personifies the mantra that is presented to so many young African-American men.
3. Hip-Hop Moguls are Starting Successful Basketball Leagues
Hip-hop mogul Ice Cube co-founded a professional three-on-three basketball league known as the Big 3.Ice Cube, of the Raiders gear sporting group NWA, hired former Raiders executive Amy Trask to be the league’s CEO. With his influence, Ice Cube was able to pull former NBA stars out of retirement to play and coach in a start-up league. The creation of the Big3 is an example of the desired success of “rapping or going to the league.”
Hip-Hop’s and Sports’ Marriage is not Dissovling anytime Soon
Ice Cube’s ability to turn his music career into an opportunity to create a basketball league is analogous to LeBron James’ ability to turn his basketball career into an opportunity to be an A&R. Ice Cube’s and King James’ career paths are the embodiment of the marriage between sports and hip-hop. The mutually beneficial relationship does not appear to be dissolving anytime soon.