- Eddie Matz
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TRE MASON is about to make history. When he comes off the board in May, the junior running back from Auburn, a Heisman finalist whose father is Vincent "DJ Maseo" Mason of De La Soul, could become the first child of a hip-hop star to make it to the NFL. Looking ahead a few years, if the prep ranks are any indication, history will repeat itself.
Cordell Broadus, a 6-foot-2 junior wide receiver at Diamond Bar (Calif.) High, has already received offers from more than a dozen blue-chip programs, including LSU and USC. His father, Calvin Broadus, is more commonly known as Snoop Dogg. Cornerback and fellow Californian Naijiel Hale is an Arizona commit with 4.6 speed and the same DNA as late West Coast rapper Nate Dogg. Then there's Jabrill Peppers. Besides being the No. 2 recruit in the class of '14, the future Michigan cornerback is also the son of Terry Peppers, a break-dancer who was an unofficial member of the trio Naughty by Nature.
Given that the entertainment biz is bursting with kids who are following in their folks' footsteps, the fact that hip-hop's heirs are turning to the gridiron is a surprising trend. That is, if you can even call it a trend. According to Todd Boyd, a USC professor and hip-hop expert, the football feats of Mason, Broadus and their cohorts is purely coincidence, simply a byproduct of a once-fringe culture that's gained mass acceptance. "Hip-hop is no longer marginal. It's mainstream," Boyd says. "It's saturated our lives, and it manifests everywhere, from art to politics, fashion to sports." As for Snoop Dogg, he thinks there's more to it than that. "Athletes wanna be rappers, and rappers wanna be athletes. A lot of us rappers are athletically inclined," says the 15-time Grammy nominee and former youth league quarterback. "Our kids are athletic too, and sports is a great way for them to get out of their parents' shadow." What's surprising is that their track has taken them to the turf rather than to the hardwood. "Football is what the world is about right now," Snoop says. Ever since Kurtis Blow released the 1984 hit "Basketball," hip-hop and hoops have been joined at the hip. From Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" to Lil Wayne's "Kobe Bryant," rappers referencing roundball has always been the status quo. And if you crafted a list of jocks who tried their hand at rhyming, it'd be loaded with ballers -- All-Stars like Ron Artest, Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace. Nevertheless, it's football that's capturing the hearts of hip-hop's second generation, a sign of the changing times. "Back in the '80s, basketball was my favorite sport," says Blow, referencing the opening phrase from his anthem. "But football has taken the reins." It doesn't hurt football's chances that the average musician, and therefore the average musician's child, isn't gifted with baller height. The 6-4 Snoop Dogg is the exception -- a virtual giant in an industry that's replete with tiny talent. His son had the height to at least consider being a hoopster, just not the inclination. Says Snoop: "I tried to get Cordell to play basketball so he could be a better football player, but he was never into it."
Hale, 5-11, stands a better chance of making a living wearing a helmet than wearing high-tops. Not that he didn't dream of being a baller. "I was a basketball player first," Hale says. That is, until Snoop Dogg stepped in. A lifelong football fan who grew up idolizing Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett and Lester Hayes, the 42-year-old rapper lives and breathes football. In 2004 he used his own money to start the Snoop Youth Football League, which is aimed at giving inner-city kids the chance to play. (The program has grown to more than 3,000 participants in nine LA-area chapters and has expanded to Chicago.) Soon after, while visiting Nate Dogg in the recording studio, Snoop pitched the idea of Cordell and Naijiel, then 9, playing together. At first Hale's mother balked, fearing that her son would get hurt. But when Snoop pressed the issue, she relented. The rest is history. "Once I started playing football and understood it," Hale says, "I started liking it more."
In ESPN The Magazine's Music Issue, Eddie Matz writes about how Tre Mason could be the first child of a hip-hop star to make the NFL.