More important than rings, points or any on-court achievement between LeBron James and Michael Jordan is their ongoing chase for most times a basketball player has been referenced in rap lines.
Hip-hop has changed immensely since Jay Z packed Jordan’s retirement, return “wearing the 4-5” and refusal to “play games with you,” but rather “aim at you” into four bars on his legendary hit Encore. Trap influence has taken over since, there’s more room than ever for vulnerability, and various complementary sounds have fused into beats. That said, no stylistic shifts will ever tear the inseparable bond between basketball and hip-hop.
Whether it’s Migos throwing the kibosh on James with “three rings, that’s ‘Bron ‘Bron,” a line yet to be outdated, Kendrick Lamar warning you’re “‘bout to meet Westbrook,” or the late Phife Dawg bragging his “status Chris Paul and John Wall in the league” from beyond the grave in 2016, you’ll rarely listen through a whole rap album without a NBA reference. Phife popularized rappers wearing basketball jerseys, but even the Sugerhill Gang had a color tv to watch the Knicks play.
That made me wonder how as we routinely mention Jayson Tatum’s dunk on LeBron, no rapper has done the same this summer. The thought crossed my mind when Big Sean’s Moves blasted through my car on shuffle. It’s way too explicit to link to, but fortunately the bars I’m referencing here are not.
We making moves like Tarantino, like J.J. Abrams. Moving like Channing Tatum. Moving like Jason Statham.
When you hear the rhyme scheme, or even read it aloud, it’s impossible to not think “Jayson Tatum” is coming up next in the roulette of two-syllable last names. Then I remembered that song came out in January, 2017 when Tatum was barely two months into his freshman season at Duke.
That didn’t stop La4ss from releasing Jayson Tatum, which made waves in St. Louis before Tatum committed to Duke, but unfortunately that track didn’t lend any precedence on how to rhyme “Tatum” with anything other than Tatum.
Fabolous finally made good on the opportunity that Big Sean missed on Dave East’s 2018 Levelin’ Up.
New levels bring new devils, never let it turn you devil. Call them plays so the team win, Coach K to my Blue Devils. They was transporters like Jason Statham. Now they ball like Jayson Tatum, my Grant Hills’ gettin’ hand deals. My J.J. Redick’s got flooded Pateks. Chasing millions in my Jason Williams. My Jabari Parker is a ‘rari parker. Late looks from my Kyries, my play book’s like a diary.
It won’t be easy to beat the cleverness and complexity of those bars. But we’re talking quantity, not quality here. Nobody does quantity better than Gucci Mane (72 mixtapes, 12 albums and 7 EPs), so it could be on him to boost Tatum in the rankings.
We don’t need any more Kobe Bryant, James, Jordan, and even Tracy McGrady references. They get plenty of love on the mic. Among active players we also know at least Manu Ginobili (Drake), James Harden (Post Malone), Blake Griffin (Childish Gambino), Dirk Nowitzki (Chief Keef), Steph Curry (Drake), Carmelo Anthony (Frank Ocean), DeMarcus Cousins (Drake), Derrick Rose (Chance the Rapper), Kevin Durant (Gucci Mane), Kevin Love (Wasiu), Demar DeRozan (Kyle), Leonard (Wale), Paul/Wall (Phife), Paul George (Royce Da 5’9”), Dwyane Wade (Kanye), Kyrie Irving (Kap G) and everybody in that Fabolous verse have secured shoutouts.
Genius went a step further and calculated that LeBron (400+), Curry (300+), Durant (100+), Paul (100+) and Anthony (100+) clock in as the most referenced. It’ll be hard for anybody to beat Jordan all time, with his combination of influence in basketball and shoes, but nobody will do it better than when Ice Cube was “freaking (the competition) every way like MJ” on his good day. We don’t need to hear you try.
It’ll be far more impressive to hear more rappers say Tatum in rhythm. Who will be next?
Gucci Mane of Atlanta apparently abandoned the Hawks to back ATL native Jaylen Brown’s Celtics, but the hip-hop connection has been less seamless for Tatum. Complex brutally compared Tatum to Lil Pump—paired with an image you won’t unsee—which I can’t agree with unless you think Tatum’s only hit will be his LeBron dunk, he dyes his hair the color of assorted candies and begins a feud with Kawhi Leonard.
Gucci saw what Tatum was made of when he dropped 23 points per game in front of him against the 76ers in the playoffs. We probably won’t hear the reference from Lakers fan Snoop Dogg and definitely not from Nets fan and former partial owner Jay Z, especially given their age and other ventures.
There is the worry that Drake does it, but his next NBA reference and jersey purchase probably figures to be Leonard as he tries to savor the Raptors’ run as contenders. Plus, he was team Kentucky at one point.
I’ll go outside the box and pick Cousin Stizz to be next. The Dorchester native may not have been disappointed in Boston missing out on Durant, but he gained the opportunity to start the next wave of Tatum references.
If we count the Rainin’ J’s intro by Millyz that brings Tatum to three references as opposed to at least 423 from LeBron since 2010. He has some work to do to catch him on the court and on the mic, but the dunk could go a long way.