There’s a real checkered past when it comes to NBA players trying to make music. On “(I Know I Got) Skills,” Shaquille O’Neal went as far as dropping a line about punching the Statue of Liberty in her stomach, but still made sure he didn’t have to put the Parental Advisory sticker on his album by ending that brutal imagery with an “I don’t give a heck.” It felt more like something the big bad bully in a kids movie would say than a rapper.
Shaq isn’t the only basketball star to have an ill-fated music side project, however. We can’t forget about Kobe’s days as a “Thug Poet,” or the time when Dwight Howard covered Smashmouth’s “All Star.” This is why whenever fans hear about another NBA player taking a crack at music, we proceed with caution and apprehension.
For all of those reasons, it took me a long time to give Damian Lillard aka Dame D.O.L.L.A. a chance. He’s been one of my favorite players to watch ever since he got drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, and if he turned out to be a terrible rapper, it would have dulled his luster. But when he went on Sway’s radio show to drop a previously written freestyle like so many other rappers do on a regular basis, even Sway was surprised at how adeptly he was able to rhyme over the iconic “Dead Presidents” beat.
Lillard’s perseverance through adversity is a message that lives in each one of his songs, and it’s something he expects out of anyone listening to do as well. It’s as though his only goal in the studio is to make sure that he’s inspired literally everyone on the planet. Because of that, songs like “Bigger Than Us“ and “Isley“ may be critiqued for being a little too preachy, but for Lillard, he seriously does not know any other way. This isn’t a case of a dumb person trying to sound smart with big words they don’t really know. It’s not a facade for Lillard, promoting positive vibes with strong conviction is what comes most natural to him.
And such fervor to be a voice for the people is what lead to the creation of his #4BarFriday campaign in the first place. Lillard created the hashtag on Instagram for users to post their best mini-freestyles on Instagram to be chosen as a weekly winner. It’s been a wild success, and something that no other NBA rapper could have pulled off. Lillard’s passion for making music and reaching out to his fans seems truly genuine. If Kobe ever decided to get really serious about rapping and did this, he’d wind up getting into lengthy #4BarFriday beefs with random users until he quit and admit that Lillard is infinitely better than them at rapping.
So, is Damian Lillard the best rapper to ever play in the NBA? Well, if we disqualify Master P, Velvet Hoop and everyone who appeared in this absolutely perfect Converse Weapon commercial, then definitely. Lillard’s smooth flow and rhymed brimming with passion is what sets him apart from other past basketball rappers. The strongest argument I can make for Lillard is this: a rapper never truly arrives until a song of theirs is used to soundtrack an athlete’s highlight reel on YouTube. In Lillard’s case, he’s his own soundtrack.
Check out his Soundcloud for more of his songs: