Forget coaching, Kobe Bryant: The rap game needs you

Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant raps at the House of Blues in 2000.

Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant raps at the House of Blues in 2000.

(Clarence Williams / Los Angeles Times)

Once he steps off the court, Kobe needs to put in some time on the mic.

Kobe is a renaissance man. He speaks Italian and Spanish, he's pretty good on a soccer pitch, and a few experts are suggesting that he might make a good team owner, if not a coach. I’m sure he’ll do fine at either. But I’m not worried about Kobe’s basketball legacy – I’m worried about his musical legacy.

I'm worried that if Kobe Bryant doesn’t step back in the booth soon, he’ll be remembered as the worst basketball rapper, ever.

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In case you haven’t heard it yet, here’s his debut (and only) single: “K.O.B.E.,” featuring Tyra Banks:

It’s embarrassing. That cheap-sounding beat, the uninspired hook, the awkward chorus – this is more off-target than those three airballs he threw in 1997 against the Utah Jazz.

The sad thing is that by all accounts, Bryant is better than this. A 2013 article on Grantland is full of people saying that Bryant was a skilled freestyler and that he looked up to Canibus as inspiration. But with his first track, it seems that Bryant dumbed down his lyrics in hopes of doubling his dollars.

The Lakers star miscalculated. Bryant was signed to Sony, but once that K.O.B.E. track dropped, Sony dropped him.

Despite some misgivings among Bryant's friends, a video shoot for K.O.B.E., directed by the famed Hype Williams, went ahead as scheduled. Personally, the video shoot was a great thing for Kobe – he met his wife, Vanessa, on the set – but the reactions to the project were so bad that the video was scrapped, and to this day, it's never been made public.

But given Bryant’s rap pedigree – coming from the scrappy Philly rap scene, gaining enough respect to join a rap group called CHEIZAW – it makes you wonder what could have happened if he hadn’t tried to go commercial too soon.

In fact, there’s even precedent for good hip-hop coming out of the intersection of basketball and Philadelphia. Six years before Bryant’s debut, then-76er point guard Dana Barros put together a pretty convincing distillation of Fu-Schnickens and Black Sheep-style boom-bap in “Check It,” one of the only good entries on that often-maligned “B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret” compilation:

Bryant even appeared briefly on a Shaquille O’Neal song called “3 X’s Dope.” His verse was uncredited, but it wasn’t bad.

In general, however, O’Neal towers over his former teammate-turned-rival in terms of mic accolades. In 1993, “Shaq Diesel” released “I’m Outstanding,” a kid-friendly rap about his childhood, over a slowed-down Gap Band sample:

Shaq flexed his star power, too: he had a track with Biggie Smalls called “Can’t Stop the Reign,” a cut with Jay-Z called “No Love Lost,” and features with a host of other hip-hop notables. The big man eventually fell out of favor, though.

It seems strange that Bryant would let O’Neal best him – but he’s probably just been focusing on basketball, which I completely understand. What I don’t understand is why instead of staying completely away from the music altogether, he’s only tarnished his MC reputation in recent years.

In 2011, he appeared on a track with Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou. The weirdest part is that Bryant never raps, he just asks questions and laughs endearingly – which means that Jay Chou is left to handle the mic duties. This is unfortunate because Jay Chou isn’t a very interesting rapper, and the chorus is mostly just him repeating his name and Bryant’s over and over again. The video is only passable if you think of it as a Sprite commercial (which it is):

I believe a Kobe Bryant rap comeback could happen. I believe he is too competitive to finish last, even if it’s in something completely unrelated to basketball. Even if he’s not good enough to top Allen Iverson’s suprisingly competent “40 Bars,” he’s smart enough to not alienate his fanbase with the homophobic slurs and violent lyrics that landed The Answer in hot water with then-NBA commissioner David Stern.

The planets are aligned. Bryant’s going to have a lot of free time on his hands and plenty of frustration that can’t be taken out on the court. Plus, that East Coast underground boom-bap sound that Bryant seems to like is back in style in some circles, thanks to the success of people like Joey Bada$$.

Or alternatively, Bryant could probably do the pop-rap thing if he wants to. This quick 8-bar guest spot he did on Brian McKnight’s 1998 “Hold Me” isn’t half bad:

Actually, since O’Neal has gotten into the DJ booth as “DJ Diesel,” maybe there’s potential for something even greater.

Yeah, Shaq’s mixes are about as ugly as his free-throws. But maybe the two could team up again. Maybe he just needs somebody to feed off of his energy. Maybe, with O’Neal on the decks, and Bryant on the mic, we’ll get another taste of that chemistry that made the Lakers so unbeatable, and so irresistible, in the early aughts.

You laugh now, but admit it: You would pay good money to go see Shaq and Kobe do a two-man in-store show at Amoeba.

You know, so that you could say you saw them while they were still underground.

Follow @dexdigi for more on the intersection of culture and the Internet


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