The NBA and rap are inherently interconnected. Superstar rappers Drake and Joey Bada$$ are both well-known supporters of their respective hometown NBA squads: the Raptors and the Nets. Additionally, rappers constantly reference NBA stars or the simple ability to “ball,” which entails both financial success as well as physically playing basketball.
Take for example Drake’s 2015 hit “Back to Back,” initially written as a diss track at Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, which contains a famous reference to Michael Jordan: “Back to back, like I’m Jordan ‘96, ‘97.” More recently, Ohio rapper Trippie Redd said, “Balling like Victor Oladipo” in “Negative Energy,” a track on his 2018 album A Love Letter to You 3.
But NBA fans frequently see the roles reversed, even sometimes with basketball players exchanging diss tracks. As some put it, “Hoopers can be rappers too.”
New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball promoted his line of Big Baller Brand sneakers with the track “ZO2” in 2017, but long before that, NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal made names for themselves in the rap game.
So, without further ado, here are the top nine rappers in NBA history.
Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo has a beautiful voice. This is especially apparent on tracks like his melodic opener “Song for You” on his 2017 album Songs for You. There are many avid television enthusiasts who suspect Oladipo is a current contestant on Fox’s singing competition The Masked Singer, which conceals contestants’ identities until the end of the season.
Regardless, Oladipo is an R&B artist, so he does not figure into the ranking below, which focuses on rap. His discography is still well worth a listen.
9. Lou Williams (Lou Will)
Los Angeles Clippers sixth-man Lou Williams might find himself toward the bottom of this list for his own rapping abilities, but I will give him special recognition.
Drake’s 2015 “6 Man,” in reference to Williams (who played for the Raptors at the time), is undoubtedly one of the best rap shoutouts of all time, as the music icon repeatedly works “6 man like Lou Will” into his flow to begin the song.
As for Williams own prowess, it is certainly there. His remix of Meek Mill and Rick Ross’s “Ima Boss” is full of bars: “Thank God, all these games I done played in/ 60k a game all this money I been makin.” He was featured in Meek Mill’s 2011 “I Want it All,” but his performance is a bit more awkward.
The real reason Williams is at our last spot on the list is that his September single, “Rebound,” which hooks “scoop shawty up like a loose rebound” — and it just ain’t it in any way. Its poppy overtones make it sound like a choppy combination of BEBE by 6ix9ine and Madiba Riddim by Drake. Oof.
Regardless, his discography earns him a sure spot on the top 10, though his semi-awkward flow (which sometimes sounds like he’s reading his lyrics) could use work, and his newest song, though ambitious, did not hit the mark.
8. Kobe Bryant
Bryant’s feature in Brian McKnight’s 1997 “Hold Me” is top-notch. It’s one of the hottest verses by any rapper on this list, and Bryant sounds a whole lot like Will Smith. But his 1999 self-titled single, “Kobe,” though still resemblant of Smith, is not as good.
The beat is choppy and doesn’t compliment a mumbling Bryant well, and Tyra Banks’ chorus “K-O-B-E, I L-O-V-E you/ I believe you are very fine” is laughable. Bryant’s rap career is brief, and he never released an album. Good thing he had an illustrious career on the court to back up his brief success behind the mic.
7. Metta World Peace
Retired Lakers forward Metta World Peace, formerly Ron Artest, is responsible for the anthem “Champions” that was popularized through its feature in NBA 2K11. If you are an avid 2K gamer or supporter, you know this song. It’s a seminal piece.
Beyond “Champions,” Metta released the 2011 track “Go Loco,” which has nearly a million views on YouTube today. He hooks, “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro/ I was in the club with all my vatos.” This song is pretty funny and feels like it’s from 2011. Other tracks such as “Haterz” (2007) focus more on basketball but feel forced in terms of content.
Maybe it’s the delivery, maybe it’s the lyrics themselves. Regardless, there is something corny about Metta World Peace’s raps for the most part. At the end of the day, however, we must not forget he is responsible for a line of superior respect and honor: “Moment of silence for the champions.”
6. Andre Drummond (Dre Drumm, Drummxnd)
Pistons baller Andre Drummond doesn’t have much in the way of official rap appearances. In fact, two brief snippets from 2018 are all we’ve heard of Drummond behind the mic. Nonetheless, his briefly exposed talent is enough to land Drummond, or Dre Drumm or Drummxnd as he is known, at number eight.
The first song Dre Drumm appeared on was Nate Nixen’s “First 59 PT. 27-27.5.” It’s fair to say Drummond out-rapped Nixen in this short track, with support from my personal favorite line: “A real life f—-in’ filter, Drummond be dogging,” which refers to Snapchat’s famous dog filter.
Drummond resurfaced under the guise of Drummxnd for a “Taste” by Tyga remix in June 2018, and again he outshone those who featured with him. Confidence and attention-grabbing vocal flair give Drummond the spotlight in his features, and for that, he deserves a spot in the top six in this ranking.
5. Iman Shumpert (Iman)
Nets guard Iman Shumpert has the most unique style variation of anyone on this list. If you’ve ever heard Blueface, he sounds like that at times. If you haven’t, what I mean is his voice inflects high, almost as if it’s cracking. This is most clear in his 2016 single “His Story,” which is a well-done track with good flow variety and a smooth beat.
But newer songs expose an entirely different style. Take his 2018 track “Pull Up” or February’s “HaNdel Bars” for example. Both songs feature solid verses but notably more aggressive vocal inflections in their refrains: “Pull uhhh” and “I got bars, handlebars, switch the cars.” Iman can sound like anyone from Ludacris to ScHoolboy Q to Blueface, and I appreciate his lack of stagnancy.
His line “I got jugging in my blood, you can’t finesse finessers” sets the tone for a hard track, as the first verse of “HaNdel Bars” begins and showcases Iman’s morphing persona.
Props to Iman for his various styles and a willingness to adapt with the changing times in music.
4. Lonzo Ball (Zo)
Amid controversy surrounding his father LaVar Ball’s presence, then-Laker Lonzo Ball turned to the mic to promote his new shoes with his song “ZO2” in 2017. I laughed at this song when it first came out, but the hook is catchy, and I now know more lines of this track than I wish to admit. “What you rockin’? ZO2s/ I’m blowin’ past in ZO2s/ You know I got it, ZO2” is not the most inventive refrain, but it kept me listening.
This single preceded Zo’s 17-track album Born 2 Ball (2018), which featured Milwaukee rapper DC the Don on two songs.
Zo teamed up with then-Lakers teammate Lance Stephenson for the Valentine’s Day single “Swerve” this year, in which Zo echoes a wordy, yet cool chorus: “Asking all them questions, why you pressing with aggression?/ I ain’t stressing who you texting, stop flexing, I’m swervin’.” Stephenson’s verse on this synth-heavy banger is also solid, but Stephenson has done little aside from this performance and a Bobby Shmurda remix to warrant a spot on this ranking.
Ultimately, while many of Zo’s lyrics are generic, his confidence and smooth flow behind the mic place him at number four.
3. Marvin Bagley III (MB3FIVE)
Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III is just 20 years old, but he has already asserted his name in the NBA rap game. Known as MB3FIVE, Bagley released a single titled “Look at me Now” in November 2018 accompanied by a music video promoted by Bleacher Report. The track is honest, and the hook is well done, as is the video.
Another track, “Juice,” premiered at the end of 2018, contains the refrain “Look at the way I get down/ I’m so sick now, I got drip now,” which drives a hard piano-driven beat.
MB3FIVE released a well-produced album titled Big Jreams in 2019 as well as a three-song EP, but his rap came into headlines more notably for his diss directed at fellow NBA rapper, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard. He called out Lillard to Max Kellerman on ESPN’s First Take for his supposed rap crown and released a diss track at the Blazers guard shortly thereafter titled “No Debate,” with a cover depicting Bagley standing triumphant next to a defeated Lillard.
In the end, Bagley’s face-to-face success against Lillard is questionable — the replies to the tweet which dropped MB3FIVE’s diss track are largely in Lillard’s favor. Nonetheless, Bagley is a bright light of youth in the NBA rap game, and he will likely continue to make waves on the mic.
2. Shaquille O’Neal
Former NBA powerhouse and current advertising legend Shaquille O’Neal has the largest discography of any member of this list. His first two studio albums, Shaq Diesel (1993) and Shaq Fu: Da Return (1994) were certified platinum and gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. A couple of more studio albums and compilation albums alongside a load of singles later, Shaq still finds himself in the NBA rap conversation today.
Shaq, whose style emulates that of ‘90s rappers, such as LL Cool J or Ice Cube, called out Lillard after he claimed that he was a better rapper than Shaq on Joe Budden’s podcast in June 2016. Shaq released a diss track in response to Lillard’s claim, titled “Freestyle,” which contains attacks such as “MVP candidates, you are not one/ Platinum plaques on my wall, go and get you some/ Lyrically, I’m three times Finals MVP.”
I’ll let my No. 1 ranking tell you who won that rap battle — but just know, Shaq can spit. Tracks like “(I Know I Got) Skillz” and “Strait Playin’ ” are fine examples of his talent, though his platinum plaque speaks for itself (and he’s quick to remind you of that).
1. Damian Lillard (DAME D.O.L.L.A.)
When you’re the king, you have to fend off others trying to take the crown. And boy, elite Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard did that well against Shaq and MB3FIVE, as he defended his NBA rap crown in 2019.
Dame D.O.L.L.A., as Lillard’s rap persona is known, dropped three diss tracks this year: One for MB3FIVE, and two directed at Shaq — the latter of which came in October.
These featured some personal shots: “You ain’t established in the league, for one/ You got potential, but this rapping is a breeze at lunch” directed at MB3FIVE, and “Shooting need work like your free throws. … And Kobe won you them rings though” sent to Shaq. The internet seemed to agree that Lillard won the confrontations.
If Dame’s extensive four-year discography of down-to-earth bars isn’t enough to convince you that he’s the best NBA rapper of all time, then check out his freestyle on “Sway in the Morning,” which put him in the rap game in the first place.
Ultimately, what makes Lillard the best rapper in the NBA rap game is not his perceived clout but his authenticity. His lyrics feel like poetry, akin to the likes of Tupac and Joey Bada$$, and he raps about what he knows, not what he purports to know. “Call me what you want, but you can never call me fake,” he says in “Full Stomach.” Here’s what I call him: a rap star even without his previous basketball fame. Just listen to tracks like “Full Stomach” and try to tell me otherwise.
Ethan Waters covers men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected].