In honour of what has possibly been one of the most anticipated singles of the decade finally dropping (yes, that 2011 collab between LeBron James and Kevin Durant) this article will focus on one half of the duo behind this exciting new release. LeBron James is not just an MVP on the basketball court, the iconic mainstream sporting legend is a veritable MVP in the US Urban scene, too.
Friends at the top
Future, Drake, Lil’ Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem…a list of names you’ll find in any urban fan’s record collection, right? In LeBron James’ world, these number 1 artists are just a few of the crew that make up his huge following within hip hop and rap music circles. He’s practically best friends with Jay Z, even going on tour with the legendary producer and artist back in 2003 within just one month of being drafted to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron & Jay‑Z on the tour bus in ‘03
Holding two Olympic Gold medals, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, three NBA Championships, three NBA Finals MVP Awards and countless other titles and accolades to his name, LeBron James’ impact on urban music and culture is just as monumental as his sporting career. There’s a reason why he’s been referenced in over 50 rap and hip hop songs — a feat which he modestly refers to as “humbling” — and that’s the deep connection between the leading lights of the urban music scene and star NBA players.
It’s a cultural thing….
It doesn’t take a music theologist to figure out that male competition, particularly amongst black males, is at the heart of rap, hip hop and urban music. The same can be said for major sporting leagues like the NBA, with the majority of players hailing from those same towns and cities that spawn crafty wordsmiths and slick lyricists.
Drake himself has even commented on this unusual connection in the 2010 song “Thank Me Now” — “sports and music are so synonymous. Cause we wanna be them and they wanna be us”. But what makes James stand out in a roster of similarly talented and culturally appreciative athletes?
No doubt that friendship with Jay Z has gone some way towards his integration into urban music, but LeBron James has been putting a stamp on hip hop and rap culture since the early 2000s. He isn’t just dropping his own singles, or being mentioned in tracks like Jay‑Z and Kanye West’s “Gotta Have It”, Big Sean’s “Deserve It”, “LeBron James” by Yo Gotti and Travis Barker’s “Can a Drummer Get Some?”, he’s also been the subject of a couple of music videos and even showcases the hottest artists and releases via his social media profiles.
One of the many NBA players and athletes with a deep connection to the discipline of poker, legendary footage of James perfecting his online game appeared in Drake’s “Forever” and “Best I Ever Had Videos”. Standing apart from his friendship with Jay‑Z, James’ bond with Drake is perhaps the most talked about. Ever since the Canadian artist emerged into public consciousness back in 2009, the pair have continually been compared to each other in terms of both talent and success. With Drake now possessing a net worth of $100 million and only being topped by The Beatles in terms of the number of singles named on the Billboard Hot 100, both men have clearly reached the stratosphere in terms of their respective careers.
Sporting stars will always have cross-over appeal in the world of entertainment, but there’s a clear sense of mutual appreciation between LeBron James and the artists who form his unofficial crew. It goes without saying that the admiration for the NBA legend felt by artists like Drake and Jay‑Z is evident, however that admiration and appreciation is equally felt and shown by James himself.
Whether it’s rapping along on-court to songs like Jay‑Z & Kanye’s “Niggas in Paris” before nailing half-court shots (October 2011), streaming hilarious unofficial ‘listening parties’ of releases like Future’s “Mask Off” (which he memorably did last year, along with a cape and a bottle of Rosé), or taking to social media to show his support for rising stars (Kendrick Lamar, 2016) the mutual appreciation that flows between these urban titans and the king of the basketball court shows no sign of slowing down.