Athletes Wanna be Rappers, Rappers Wanna be Athletes

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Music and sports are two things that go hand in hand, even in more in American culture, where hearing Hip-Hop music during training sessions and before games is a staple for basketball players, from High School to the NBA.

Lil Wayne talked about this during an interview with ESPN in 2015, while talking about his much-anticipated album “Tha Carter V” (which actually dropped a few years later in 2018), when he said that “Athletes wanna be rappers, rappers want to be athletes,” while also saying that even if this is the thoughts between is colleagues, he “Wanna be what I am.”

He also added that "Sports and music are connected by youth. Music is youth, sports is youth, and to the younger players, music is their motivating force," while also saying that "Also I believe athletes want you to know who they are -- not just how they play. Music is an outlet for that."

This excellent interview perfectly explains the relationship between these two worlds, which, even if at first glance, can look far apart, share many similarities, even more than the ones considered by Wayne.

Before starting the conversation about the style and cultural similarities and differences between athletes and rappers, there is also an important point to make.

Hip-Hop was born in New York and grew in the inner cities of the US in Black, Latinos, and marginalized communities, where young people didn’t have a lot of hopes for their future.

So Hip-Hop became a way to talk about your experiences and struggles and escape from that situation and make it a job that could provide generational wealth. Similar to this is sport, which, worldwide, represent the only way of improving their condition and making a living for many kids. We could say that both Hip-Hop and sports represent an important chance of improving your life in people in these marginalized communities.

With this taken into consideration, let’s take a look at some of the most relevant moments where Hip-Hop and sports met and analyze people that have been active in both of these worlds.

Hip-Hop “unofficially” was created in 1973. Still, it slowly grew more and more for the first decades, at first just in the cities of the American east coast, and then, slowly but surely, reaching the West Coast and becoming a nationwide and global phenomenon.

It’s the 90s when Hip-Hop actually reached the mainstream, thanks to artists like Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. reaching popularities never even imaginable for rappers in the 70s and 80s.

In this decade, a cliche developed, where every rapper wanted to be a basketball player, and every basketball player wanted to be a rapper.

With a few actually being able to have quite successful careers in both worlds, an example is Shaq, considered a top 10 greatest basketball player of all time; he pick up the mic in the mid-90s at first just freestyling with friends and during nights out in clubs, but soon after he started releasing actual commercial projects, starting with his debut project “ Shaq Diesel” in 1993 (just two years after entering the league), which peaked at 25 on the US Billboard 200 charts and was certified platinum by the RIAA.

This success paved the way for many basketball players releasing music and rappers trying to have a professional basketball career, from Shaq’s teammate Kobe Bryant to players like Damien Lillard and Miles Bridges more recently.

Soon after Shaq, we have two of the main protagonists that grew even more, the relationship between Hip-Hop and the basketball world, Allen Iverson and Master P.

Well, Allen Iverson doesn’t need any introduction, one of the best and most entertaining and loved players of all time; he completely changed the aesthetic of the NBA in the early 2000s, thanks to his style. Becoming a cultural icon that inspired many kids into becoming basketball players (recently, for example, Giannis Antetokounmpo congratulated the retired basketball legend by saying that it’s thanks to him that he decided to become a basketball player).

This style revolution wasn’t really appreciated by the NBA, which attacked Allen Iverson’s style in any way possible, first by condemning it publicly, and after by actually implementing the so-called “Iverson Rule,” which forced players to show up to games in suits and without jewelry, headphones and other accessories that were considered “too Hip-Hop” for the family-friendly audience of the NBA, but even with all of these restrictions thanks to Allen Iverson, NBA’s fashion started getting closer and closer to the Hip-Hop community, not only in fashion but also in the lifestyle.

For example, Antoine Walker, the three-times NBA All-Star, said that he went broke and spent all of his NBA earnings (+ 100$ million) by spending too much money on things such as clothing, jewelry, and cars, after seeing rappers like Jay Z and Diddy flexing their wealth.

While Allen Iverson was a basketball player who got the NBA closer to the Hip-Hop community, Master P is a Hip-Hop mogul, founder of the iconic label No Limit Records, which, at the of the 90s, tried to enter the NBA, first with the Charlotte Hornets and then with the Toronto Raptors. With the latter, he was actually able to play in a pre-season game and score 8 points, even though he got dropped before the start of the season. Anyway, this gave the confidence for other rappers to try and get into the NBA or at least try to have a career in professional basketball.

An example of this is J. Cole, who played basketball in college and, as recently as 2021, played three games in the Basketball African League for the Rwanda-based Patriots Basketball Club.

In 2022 this relationship is as strong as ever; thanks to Celebrities All-Star Game, we have even more chance of seeing rappers and celebrities hoop, with some great rapper-player, like Quavo, 2 Chainz, and Jack Harlow, and some less good performances by artists like Lil Baby.

At the same time, rap music has entered even more the arenas of the NBA recently a video of the Phoenix Suns dancing and hyping themselves up before a game listening to NBA YoungBoy made the song an instant hit, and fans were eager to turn up listening to the same song as their favorite athletes.

Videos and images like these become an instant hit thanks to social media, where fans are always looking for more content about their favorite players and rappers, just thinks about the viral friendship between James Harden and Lil Baby, from Harden gifting him cash and expensive watches for the trapper’s birthday, to the two being front row at Paris Fashion Week.

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