ESPN Music: Rap

Action Bronson talks 'Blue Chips' mixtape

April, 24, 2014
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Action BronsonJoseph Okpako/Redferns/Getty ImagesAction Bronson is a "die-hard" Knicks fan.
The year is 1994. The MLB Players Association begins its season-long strike; O.J. Simpson takes a long ride in his buddy’s white Ford Bronco; and "Blue Chips," the film about college basketball and its broken recruitment system starring Nick Nolte and Shaquille O’Neal, hits theaters and leaves an indelible mark on one 11-year-old boy in Queens, N.Y.

Twenty years later, that boy is known to rap fans as Action Bronson, who over the course of the last two years has put out two mixtapes -- "Blue Chips" and "Blue Chips 2" -- inspired by the film. While recording his new album in Santa Monica (slated for a late summer release), Bronson talked about the impact basketball has had on his music.

“I love 'Blue Chips,'" says Bronson. "It was one of my favorite movies growing up, and it’s just one of my favorite movies period. It definitely influenced the projects, for sure -- nothing direct, just the whole feel. Nile Rodgers did the score, the guy from "The Exorcist" directed it -- I knew that "Chips" was going to be ahead of its time.”

Bronson’s mixtapes, produced by Party Supplies, have the crunchy swagger of "Blue Chips"-era New York rap, replete with vinyl pops, guitar tremors and shimmering ride cymbals. For Bronson, other similarities come to mind.

“I just feel like it’s similar to the rap game. They give you the bag of money and you go out there and you do what you do. I don’t know if there’s any point-shaving going on, but I’m all about making a quick buck on gambling -- dice games, horse racing, cockroach racing, chicken fights. That could sum up my entire being.”

A self-described die-hard Knicks fan with the word “Knickerbocker” tattooed on the back of his leg, Bronson hasn’t been taking the team’s recent woes well. “They disappoint me a lot. I don’t think we’ll win anything with Melo on that team. The man has never dunked the ball hard in his life! He doesn’t have the killer instinct.”

But even a true die-hard must be thrilled on the recent hiring of Phil Jackson. “The Knicks have made a lot of moves lately that are too little, too late," he says. "Why did we get Baron Davis at the end of his career? B-Diddy is one of my favorite players of all time. If we’d had him at a younger age, what could’ve been? It’s upsetting.”

Despite the emotional ringer the organization has put Bronson through, he still goes to games whenever he can. “Last time I went to a Knicks game was when Kevin Love hit me up and got me his tickets. So I sat right behind Spike Lee.” Love is apparently a fan of Bronson's music and, in the words of Bronson, “a great dude.” As any great fan would, Bronson has attempted to recruit Love to the Knicks in 2015. “You already know I did! I pretty much begged.” The result? “I can’t disclose that.”

You can catch Bronson at the home of one of his other favorite teams, the N.Y. Jets, when he hits MetLife Stadium for Hot 97’s Summer Jam on June 1.

Athletes who attempted rap careers

August, 9, 2013
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The view counter on the YouTube clip of Eli and Peyton Manning's "Football On Your Phone" clip for DirecTV was at 5.9 million as of about 10:15 a.m. ET Friday morning. That's a lot of "football on your phoooooone." And why not? It's the Manning brothers in wigs, running amok on the streets of New Orleans. It's laugh-out-loud funny. And it shows Eli has the same personality, sense of humor and willingness to not take himself seriously that has made older brother Peyton an advertising juggernaut.

That kind of success might lead Eli to rethink calling his rap career being "one and done." Now, it's not our place to persuade or dissuade athletes from their off-the-field interests, especially if the results are intentional or unintentional humor that's this good. But we'd be remiss if we didn't offer a cautionary tale or two.

Many athletes have attempted to cross over from sports to hip-hop. How many? Enough that we could ask SportsNation to consider 10 prime examples of athletes who tried, with carrying degrees of success.

And now it's your turn. To rate the relative musical merits of efforts by Shaquille O'Neal, Roy Jones Jr., Deion Sanders and the 1985 Chicago Bears, click here.

Canadian rapper Classified talks hockey

February, 26, 2013
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ClassifiedClinton Gilders/FilmMagicThe prolific Nova Scotian MC has put out 14 albums over the past 15 years.
Among all of the different music artists on the "Madden NFL 12" soundtrack, only one hails from Canada: Classified.

After more than 15 years in hip-hop, his "Madden" debut was the first time the 35-year-old rapper made waves in the U.S. -- but that's what can happen when you come from Enfield, a small city (population: 24,000) near Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It took 14 albums -- 14! -- for one of Canada's top hip-hop artists to finally cross the border when his song "That Ain't Classy" was featured in the most popular sports video game. In fact, EA Sports liked Classified so much that it included another one of his tracks, "Run With Me," in "NHL 13."

In the past year and a half, Classified has finally turned some heads in the U.S. with a career that began way back in 1995 with the release of his self-produced debut. The rapper's most recent album, "Classified," released last month, features the songs "Familiar," "Inner Ninja" and "Anything Goes."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Canadian MC is also a huge ice hockey fan who played competitively in high school before music took over. He even had the opportunity to play against one of his idols, Paul Coffey, in a celebrity game.

Speaking with ESPN Playbook recently, Classified talked about fellow Nova Scotian Sidney Crosby, his own sports background and the hip-hop scene in his hometown.

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Grammy winner Hit-Boy talks Kanye, Lakers

February, 22, 2013
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Hit BoyRick Diamond/Getty ImagesLakers die-hard Hit-Boy won a Grammy for his song on "Watch the Throne" with Jay-Z and Kanye West.
When rapper/producer extraordinaire Hit-Boy was in high school, he did the unthinkable.

During basketball practice one day, the Southern California native went up to his coach and literally told him, "I don't want to play anymore. I want to go home and make beats."

While his coach kept convincing him to come back, Hit-Boy didn't envision a future in hoops because he knew he was never going to grow tall. But what he had was a dream to produce tracks for a living.

That dream not only led to the 25-year-old's first big hit, "N----- in Paris," but also his first Grammy award for Best Rap Song, which he, Jay-Z and Kanye West were honored for last week in Los Angeles. Now, Hit-Boy, who also produced G.O.O.D. Music's chart-topper "Clique," is arguably the most sought-after producer in hip-hop. And his rapping career is taking off as well.

After releasing his debut album "HITstory" last summer, he's working on his first compilation disc, "All I've Ever Dreamed Of," as part of his major deal with Interscope Records. It's set to release in mid-2013.

Everything appears to be falling into place for Hit-Boy, but there's still at least one thing he doesn't have figured out: his beloved Lakers, who have been the biggest disappointment in the NBA this season. Speaking with ESPN Playbook recently, he talked about his favorite team, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, his rapping and producing through the years, and much more.

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J.J. Watt loves being in Houston rap scene

February, 20, 2013
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Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is from Wisconsin, a region of the country that’s produced about the same number of famous rappers as The Villages, Fla., the country's largest retirement community (no rappers, to be exact, although Justin Vernon of the band Bon Iver is a native of Eau Claire, Wis.,and has collaborated with Kanye West on several occasions).

So when Watt appeared in a rap video last year, he was a little out of his element.

The song, called “Houston” and performed by Houston-bred rappers Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Z-Ro, also included Watt’s teammates Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and T.J. Yates, who mostly stood in the background looking tough while the performers brag-rapped about their hometown and mean-mugged the camera.

Since arriving in Houston and appearing in that video, Watt has taken on a new appreciation for a brand of music he barely listened to growing up.

“The rap scene is much, much bigger down there in Houston, and it’s really cool,” Watt told ESPN Playbook. “It’s nice for me because rap isn’t something I necessarily knew a lot about before getting to Houston, but now I’ve gotten to meet guys like Bun-B, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire and all those guys.”

The hook to “Houston” goes, “Houston, Texas, home of the Texans,” as the song is essentially a love letter to the city’s NFL team.

“I think it’s cool Houston kind of comes together as one, as you see two different cultures, rap and football, coming together,” Watt said. “They support us and we support them.”

Common talks All-Star, MJ and D-Rose

February, 19, 2013
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Sprint Celebrity GameLayne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesCommon posted 10 points and eight rebounds in last Friday's celebrity game in Houston.
It's Sunday afternoon in downtown Houston, the host city of the 62nd NBA All-Star Game, and rapper and actor Common, along with his manager and some friends, walks into the makeshift green room on the top floor of the swanky Alden Hotel. He's there to meet with some VIPs associated with Under Armour and Hennessy for their "Kicks and Grits" event, before he takes the stage as MC in the rooftop lounge.

As Common makes his way around the room saying hello and posing for photos with people he doesn't know, there's a person he immediately recognizes: Indiana Pacers starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson, who endorses UA. Common approaches him with his trademark smile, and they have a short conversation about how they've been enjoying Houston.

While Common has never met Stephenson previously, he is crazy about the NBA.

"All-Star, in general, is one of the events I love to come to," the Chicago native said. "I'm just a big basketball fan."

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The 5 worst athlete songs of all time

February, 7, 2013
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Manny PacquiaoDavid Livingston/Getty ImagesWhen we saw Manny Pacquiao sing on "Jimmy Kimmel," we thought he was joking. He wasn't.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The following list proves this very point. Sure, most athletes have the money to finance the recording and production of an album -- but that definitely doesn’t make it a good idea.

While there are (sadly) hundreds of options for the worst-ever songs performed by athletes, we were somehow able to whittle down the list to five records -- records that we hope are one day broken, literally.

Here, then, are the worst of the worst.

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Coodie breaks down his music videos

January, 9, 2013
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Ozah-SimmonsMichael Loccisano/Getty ImagesCoodie Simmons (right) and partner Chike Ozah directed the ESPN 30 for 30 film ' Benji.'
Award-winning film directors Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah never wanted to work on what Coodie calls the "regular video with the pool, the girls and the cars."

They had a different drive early on in their video-directing career, but one which presented them with a major challenge trying to get their feet wet.

"What we did was write something super-creative that we thought would be progressive and on the next level, but we never got those videos," Coodie said. "So we struck out a lot. If we were in it for the money, we could've done what seemed like really fun videos. But we just wanted to make a statement and tell a story that was progressive in the hip-hop realm."

Fortunately for the pair -- who directed ESPN's acclaimed 30-for-30 documentary "Benji," about fallen high school basketball star Ben Wilson -- Coodie knew Kanye West, who shared the same storytelling vision. They had met years earlier in a popular barbershop in their hometown of Chicago, when West was still a no-name.

In 2003, the stars aligned for West and Coodie & Chike, as they go by in their credits, when they all worked together on the rapper's first hit, "Through The Wire."

These days, Coodie, 41, and Chike, 34, are both living in New York City and they're spending a majority of their time working on their own online TV network, Creative Control, making videos for up-and-coming rapper Joey Badas$$ and helping to rebrand Ecko Unltd. Reflecting on their past success, Coodie spoke to ESPN Playbook on his top five picks from his videography.

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Sam Bowie finally responds to Jay-Z

December, 27, 2012
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BowieBrian Drake/NBAE/Getty Images"I probably get more jokes from my kids than from the outside," says Bowie about his rap disses.
As you may have noticed earlier this month, former NBA center Sam Bowie made the media rounds to promote his new ESPNU documentary, “Going Big.”

Bowie, famously picked ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft, has not only been a frequent target of sports fans following his underwhelming 10-year career, but he's also a punch line for rappers.

Multiple leg injuries limited the 7-footer to just 511 games in the league and prevented him from living up to immense pre-draft hype. He stopped by ESPN Playbook to talk about his reputation and its place in hip-hop lore.

In the rap world, the name “Sam Bowie” has become synonymous with failure. Jadakiss, Joe Budden and, most notably, Jay-Z have all referred to the Kentucky alum in disparaging ways over the years.

Having grown used to the criticism, Bowie has learned to tune out most of the naysayers. However, it is difficult to ignore when rap’s biggest stars are calling you out.

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Macklemore on MJ, Pete Carroll & Seattle

December, 19, 2012
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MacklemoreESPNTBDThe Seattle rapper recently shot the new intro for College Gameday, which features his track "Can't Hold Us."
There's a reason why college students relate so well to Macklemore. He's like the best, most popular rapper on campus who keeps things on their level: realistic and entertaining.

For example, on the 29-year-old's biggest hit, "Thrift Shop," he cleverly and hilariously talks about rolling up to a club wearing discount clothes.

Now what college student hasn't done that?

Starting in January, kids at universities across the nation will be able to enjoy Macklemore's music whenever they tune in to "College GameDay." Macklemore's track "Can't Hold Us" from his debut album, "The Heist," is the brand-new theme song for ESPN's college basketball show. The rapper recently filmed a special video for the show intro, which will premiere next month.

As it turns out, Macklemore has previously dedicated two full songs to sports themes.

In "Wings," he discusses his childhood affinity for Air Jordans, while also addressing themes of materialism and commercialism.

Then, in "My Oh My," the Seattle native pays tribute to legendary Mariners sportscaster Dave Niehaus, who died in 2010.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was so moved by it that he tweeted, "Really loving 'My oh my' by @macklemore! What a cool song for Seattelites!"

Since then, the two have become good friends.

Most recently, Macklemore and his longtime producer, Ryan Lewis, headlined their nationwide "Heist World Tour," which just wrapped up this week.

After they unwind for the holidays, they'll continue making their campus rounds, and then travel to perform in Australia and New Zealand for the first time.

Before they get even busier, Macklemore spoke with ESPN Playbook to reminisce about Michael Jordan and reflect on his current endeavors in sports and music.

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Is Iman Shumpert the best athlete-rapper?

December, 18, 2012
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In 1993, a young Orlando Magic All-Star by the name of Shaquille O’Neal broke new ground when he dropped the first studio rap album by an active pro athlete. Driven by novelty, as well as Shaq’s star power and goofy personality, “Shaq Diesel” went Top 30 on the Billboard charts, eventually earning platinum certification.

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And it changed everything.

Before long, a slew of jock MCs, inspired by Shaq’s success, swapped the rock for a mic, among them: Deion Sanders, Chris Webber, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Troy Hudson and Tony Parker.

They, and darn near all of their one-and-done kind, stunk.

Even the most prolific of the sports world’s active MCs, Metta World Peace hasn’t quite cracked the code. According to one of Metta’s rhyme-spitting peers, the Lakers forward’s most recent offering, “Represented,” leaves plenty to be desired.

“Oh, he’s horrible. He is horrible,” says Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks.

“’Represented’ is brutal. Just brutal. I feel him on, ‘I’m not letting anybody tell me anything, I’m just going to do my music.’ More power to him. But it’s not my type of music.”

While it’s unusual for an athlete-rapper to dis another, Shumpert might’ve earned the right to talk some trash: On Dec. 21, the Knicks’ second-year guard, through his website ImanShumpert.com, will drop his first mixtape, “Th3 #post90s."

And get this: Shump has skills.

Rapping under the pseudonym “2wo 1ne” -- a play off of his jersey number -- the 22-year-old Oak Park, Ill. native and Georgia Tech product began laying down tracks in the offseason while recovering from the torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee that have kept him sidelined all season.

What emerged from recording sessions in Atlanta, Chicago and New York are twenty-one tracks -- some good, some not so hot. But taken as a whole, “Th3 #post90s” might very well herald the arrival of the sports world’s first good rapper.

In a phone chat with Blitz, Shumpert talked about his music, his inspirations and why he’s different from the guys who came before him.

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T.I. talks Vick, the Hawks & playing sports

October, 29, 2012
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Rapper TIChris McKay/Getty ImagesThe Atlanta rapper is bullish on the prospects of his hometown teams this season.
After 10 years in the game, T.I. will release his eighth LP on Dec. 18. T.I. says “Trouble Man” is his best body of work so far.

“It’s epic. And I’m not saying that because I made it,” he says. “I think it’s a perfect hybrid of old and new. I feel like, for everybody’s favorite T.I. song, I have something [on this record] that will definitely match it.”

An avid Atlanta sports fan, T.I. talked to ESPN Playbook about his friendship with Michael Vick, how the Hawks are a sleeper pick this season and what athlete he'd like to play in a movie.

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French Montana on 'Pop That,' AAU & Melo

October, 26, 2012
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French MontanaShareif ZiyadatTthe Moroccan-born and NYC-raised rapper once played against NBAers Luol Deng and Jarrett Jack.
French Montana used to play with and against some of the best basketball talent in New York City, when he was running with the popular Gauchos and Riverside AAU teams as a teen.

Now, the Moroccan-born and NYC-raised rapper is pumping up his former teammates and competitors -- some of them now in the NBA -- with his single "Pop That," one of the hottest songs in the country. Right now, the club-thumping track, which features Drake, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, can be heard from NFL stadiums to NBA arenas to the headphones of your favorite players.

Kanye West proclaimed Montana, 27, one of his favorite rappers; Drake tapped him to open up his Club Paradise Tour this year. French has also been in the studio with Nicki Minaj, The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey, and has Diddy and Rick Ross executive-producing his debut, "Excuse My French," which is slated for a winter release.

Last week at Diddy's NYC recording studio, Daddy's House, ESPN Playbook had a chance to sit down with Montana. After about a 45-minute wait -- "Traffic, man," he said -- Montana walked in with a small entourage, holding a Red Bull and wearing his trademark dark vintage Versace sunglasses.

When asked what he was up to in the city, he said: "I came into town to do this ESPN interview!"

After many years removed from competitive sports, he was excited to take a trip down memory lane.

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Athletes turn to Lecrae for rap inspiration

October, 19, 2012
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Lecrae and Jeremy LinReach RecordsLin has touted the Atlanta-based rapper Lecrae as his musical inspiration.
The date was Jan. 27, 2012, around 5:30 p.m., two hours before tipoff between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks. That's when Jeremy Lin met with the Heat's chaplain inside the bowels of American Airlines Arena. They prayed together that Lin would stay with the Knicks, who were considering releasing him in just a couple of days.

Well, we all know what happened next: Linsanity.

But what many people don't know is that Lin, who's a devout Christian, is still searching for answers -- nine months since his coming-out party -- because he hasn't yet adjusted to all of the global attention.

Lecrae, whom Lin calls his favorite rapper, found that out firsthand when the two of them met about three weeks ago after one of the rapper's shows in Houston, where the point guard is now living.

"What Jeremy talked to me about was just the reality of everyone kind of pulling at him, and a lot of people expecting him to make decisions that would please them," Lecrae told ESPN Playbook earlier this week. "He's kind of a reserved kid, a reserved young man, and it's not really his demeanor to be all in the mix like that, and to be pulled every which way.

"He was talking about that struggle and that wrestle, and I'm a firm believer in God. That's one of the things I was encouraging him, which I do with my music as well. I'm a firm believer that God has the answer, and God will provide the solution that you ultimately need. I just told him to stay connected to him in every which way. That's kind of what we talked about."

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Playbook Q: Lupe Fiasco on F1, MJ & Jay-Z

October, 10, 2012
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Lupe FiascoDonald Bowers/Getty ImagesThe Chicago native may be devoted to his hometown Bulls, but he grew idolizing a Brazilian soccer star, not MJ.
Jay-Z has touched the lives of a lucky few in the music industry -- those within whom he's seen some artistic gift. That select list includes the rapper Lupe Fiasco, who Jay once called a "genius writer." Seven years ago, the hip-hop mogul helped Fiasco ink a deal with Atlantic Records, and then executive-produced Fiasco's debut album, "Food & Liquor." Since then, Fiasco has gone on to release two Billboard-topping singles, "Superstar" and "The Show Goes On."

But even with Jay-Z's support, Fiasco doesn't see the need to rush over to the Barclays Center this season to watch the Brooklyn Nets. That's because the Chicago native is a huge Bulls fan -- and he's still cringing at the fact that his Cubs just can't win. But even with his hometown interests, you're much more likely to run into Fiasco at a Formula 1 race track, where he enjoys his No. 1 sports passion.

While in New York promoting "Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1" and the release of the Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone, Lupe Fiasco talked to Playbook about the Bulls, F1 and his childhood sports idol.

I know Jay-Z helped you sign with Atlantic Records back in 2005. What do you think about him taking Brooklyn by storm as minority owner of the Nets?

On the sports side, what you think the Nets are going to do? You think playoffs? Listen, I'm all about the Chicago Bulls. I'm not even going to get into my legacy left by that team. I was there when we were winning championships, literally up the street from where I was living on [West] Madison [Street], like six blocks away from Chicago Stadium.

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