There’s an old cliche that all basketball players want to be rappers, and vice versa. Although many have tried, very few have actually made the crossover successfully. The resultant attempts have gifted the world with several hilariously cringe-worthy efforts from hapless hip-hop wannabes like Allen Iverson, Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, and more.
Bryant’s arch-nemesis Shaquille O’Neal, however, was one of the few who was actually both pretty good and wildly more successful at it than he had any business being. He released four studio albums during the mid-to-late ’90s and worked with a veritable who’s-who of hip hop’s golden era.
In a great new interview with Peter Walsh of SLAM for the publication’s first-ever music issue, Shaq Diesel sounded off on his brief but illustrious rap career and what it was like to go into the studio with some of the industry’s biggest names at the time:
Biggie came to my house, we had something to eat, had a conversation and then me, him and Lil’ Cease went to the studio in the back of my house. I played my verse for him and he was like, That’s tight big fella, that’s tight! And he just let it ride. He said, Play that again. And then he was like, Aight, I’m ready. And he went in there and laid a monster verse but was a little too X-rated. I was like, Biggie, no disrespect but… and he was like, Oh, that’s right, it’s for the kids! It’s for the kids! And that’s when he laid the verse he did.
Jay Z was the same way—no pen, no pad. And Nas was the same way, too. And I was like, Oh my god, this is why these guys are the best ever. Me, I gotta listen to the beat and put it in my walkman, go to sleep with it, think about concepts, think about lines, think about what I can and can’t say and them boys came in and just murdered the track. One take.
It’s hard to imagine any of today’s players replicating Shaq’s success, although Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard Damian Lillard, aka Dame D.O.L.L.A., is garnering some pretty high praise recently from some of contemporary rap’s most prominent figures.