It’s just about impossible to know when it started. Instagram’s story feature is a self-destructing time bomb on a 24-hour limit, so whenever LeBron James decided that was the place he’d broadcast to the world what he was listening to on a random day is anybody’s guess. The fact remains those brief glimpses into his daily life and the soundtrack to his day have become news. Suddenly, LeBron is offering critiques of new music, revealing what old-school hip-hop he’s jamming on any random day and, apparently, breaking new songs.
This is all a part of LeBron continuing to pull back the curtain — whether contrived or not — and revealing more and more of the “real” him. His manicured Nike image is being swept aside ever so slightly so he can listen to hardcore gangster rap like Sacramento legend Brotha Lynch Hung, and rap his words about shooting guns at his enemies.
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So what is a LeBron Instagram post worth to a rapper? Well, to figure that out it might be best to start at the top with LeBron’s friend Beyonce. Recently D’Marie Analytics conducted a survey that concluded that Beyonce’s Instagram posts are worth $1,000,000. Bey touts over 99 million followers, more than three times the amount as LeBron, so even if his social media value isn’t as high as her, it still must be staggering.
Artists are clearly starting to notice, as Bron was passed exclusives from Meek Mill and Nipsey Hussle this week. Maybe he doesn’t care about how the artists feel about him playing unreleased music for all of Instagram to hear, but what’s most likely is he was given permission — or even urged to play the records — and judging by his knowledge of the lyrics, he’s had them for some time. In fact, Nipsey went so far as to tweet the video himself, saying LeBron was debuting the new track “Blue Laces 2.”
In some sense, this is no different than his covert reveal that he had Drake’s More Life a few months early on Twitter, but instead of lyrics that nobody is aware of, James is giving away actual snippets of records. James was also involved in the promotion of Kendrick Lamar’s last release, untitled unmastered, and whether this stunt was real or not, the perception from all parties involved was that the album was only released after LeBron flexed his might and influenced the decision. Clearly artists — even artists as massive as Kendrick and Drake — are noticing and deciding that the LeBron seal of approval is worth their time.
The LeBron James jam sessions may have started back in April 2016, when LeBron took to Instagram to show some support for Columbus Ohio MC Jerreau in a video that’s similar to his now familiar Instagram story videos of the same ilk.
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Headed to get that work in on our day off bumping the homie @jerreau new LP "Never How You Plan". What's a day off though!?!? Let's go people. Don't let nothing stop u from having fun, working hard and smiling! #StartingHoopingForTheNikeCheck #StriveForGreatness #RWTW #NIT
James’ ties to Jerreau go back years before that post, as he was tweeting out shout outs to the rapper as far back as 2012.
And in 2013 when he curated the NBA 2K14 soundtrack, a track from Jerreau’s group Fly Union titled “Long Run” was featured on the soundtrack amongst songs from the likes of Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas, Kendrick, Drake, Coldplay, The Gorillaz, Eminem and more. When it was time to reveal the game to the world in a new commercial, it wasn’t a song from all of those big names chosen for the spot, it was Fly Union and Jerreau’s “Long Run.”
Surely James — who calls Warren Buffet a friend and regularly receives investment advice from the business magnate — understands the value of his name and brand, so it can be assumed there is at least some quid pro quo in these arrangements. In the case of Jerreau, Beats By Dre is featured prominently in the “Really Got It” video, which makes sense, as James was revealed to have equity in the company when it was sold to Apple back in 2014, and he continues to endorse their products. Last year when LeBron won his third NBA championship, Beats released a new commercial featuring James and “Really Got It” was the song that blared throughout the 30-second spot.
Clearly, he understands and has interests in promoting artists both big and small. The returns on whatever arrangements he’s made with Nipsey and Meek might never be revealed publicly, and it might have been as simple as Bron getting the music early. Or it could be deeper and more lucrative, and we may never be privy to those details. What is clear is these posts to his Instagram story now have weight, and artists are getting involved somehow, looking to reap the benefits of LeBron’s nod of approval.
By nature of his dealings with Beats By Dre, Drake is essentially a LeBron business partner via Apple, and their Nike ties continue that working relationships given LeBron is one of the faces of the company and Drake is an endorser of the Jordan Brand. Jerreau isn’t listed as signed to any record label, but his contact information on all his social media platforms points towards Willam Morris, the same agency that represents LeBron in all his entertainment dealings. The connections with the other artists aren’t as clear, but even if the records James is promoting through his social media channels do jive with his personal tastes, they probably also jive with his business dealings as well.
That’s not to say it’s a one-sided arrangement, just that in a world where Lil Wayne once said he wouldn’t do a song with his sister for less than $50,000, it makes sense to capitalize on your value. For the artists the benefits are simple: LeBron’s 30 million followers on Instagram trump Nipsey’s 1.1 million or even Meek’s 11.2, and though they’re close in range to Drake’s 35.6 million, they’re definitely not the same 30 million people. If Beyonce’s posts are worth a cool million, James’ posts must be worth somewhere in the six figure range, and because the audience is so streamlined they’re probably more valuable than a typical television commercial or magazine spread.
Certainly, James’ posts could be altruistic, it could be just a dude utilizing social media like everybody else does. Everybody has posted a video of what they’re listening to in the car. Calvin Harris is using the same trick to promote his new tracks as he rolls them out. Either way though, James is giving new and old music a huge platform and audience to be absorbed and consumed. Whether that results in hard sales or streaming increases remains to be seen, but in a world where social currency is even more crucial than all of that, James’ posts have become an invaluable resource for artists looking to be seen and heard. And as the quality of his day-to-day music remains as potent as ever, the hat tip now has weight and you can rest assured LeBron — who is the premier athlete of the social media branding era — understands that, and intends to use that power responsibility. So sit back and wait to see what LeBron is playing next as the rap world’s new, foremost tastemaker, because he just might give us the soundtrack to the summer. Maybe even before the artist on the song does.