Behind Rap’s Sports References

Whether it’s MCing or suiting up for the gridiron, Hip-Hop artists and star athletes know a thing or two about going to battle. The overlap of both is common, both in rap lyrics and in stadiums. So it makes sense that there are many rap sports references. 

When it’s time for Cody Bellinger to step up to the plate, “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar blasts on the stadium speakers. Meanwhile, LeBron James made headlines in 2016 when he rapped an entire verse with Kendrick Lamar as he performed at the Sports Illustrated Award Gala. 

Beyond Kendrick’s success, rappers have also relied on the US’s most elite athletes to convey confidence and strength. But which leagues have had the most success in the world of hip hop, and has that changed over time? Keep reading to see which sports rappers draw from most.

 

NBA Leads in Mentions

Of Esquire’s 15 best sports references from rappers in 2018, 11 came from the NBA. There was the LeBron namedrop from the Champagne Papi in “Nonstop”, Moneybagg Yo’s reminder to all zero’s via Russell Westbrook, to Kanye West’s masterful diss with his jab at Tristan Thompson.

With its quick and gritty style of play, there’s no surprise basketball and rap fit together. Even retired players like Tim Hardaway and Scottie Pippen who made their names on the court in the 90s still feature in rap lyrics today, from Kanye West’s “Heard ‘Em Say” and The Weeknd’s “The Morning”, respectively. Despite the NFL’s ample airtime and the number of fans in the US, it’s the NBA that draws on a more passionate fanbase.

The NBA’s season tickets are some of the cheapest in the major leagues, which means stadiums fill up often. Many locations, like the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, are also shifting to offer 5G cell service for fans looking to bet on NBA games via mobile options on the spot. 

In short, the NBA likes to stay accessible to the public, either thanks for bookmakers offering quick access to the latest stats and NBA odds or updated with the latest tech advancements. However, one of the most iconic ways that the NBA interacts with fans is through the immortalization of heroes like Hardaway and Pippen through lyrical shoutouts in songs from The Weeknd and Kanye West.

 

…But Boxing Isn’t Far Behind

 Unlike the NBA, there are fewer athletes who are willing and able to make their name by stepping in the ring. The world of Hip-Hop also enjoys a similarly small pool of true talent. 

For this reason, some of the artform’s top rappers have long drawn inspiration from top boxers. Snoop Dogg wasn’t a stranger to dropping big names in his lyrics, but his shoutout to Evander Holyfield on “Nuthin But A G Thang remains one of his most memorable verses.

Still, even the sport’s smaller names see big mentions, like Riddick Bowe in Lupe Fiasco’s “Joaquin Phoenix” and Al Haymon from Drake’s “Nonstop”. In the case of Haymon, he’s not even a boxer. He’s a mentor and advisor for athletes like Floyd Mayweather and Deontay Wilder.

Rap Sports References

NFL

While the sports of soccer, wrestling, and hockey all have ample rap sports references, only the NFL follows the NBA and boxing in terms of frequency. However, some of the names may be recognizable only to avid sports fans.

In addition to new collaboration projects, Drake always makes time to incorporate sports into his lyrics—even if it’s mentioning little-known names from the NFL like Johnny Manziel on “Thank Me Now”.

Deeper cuts include Nelly’s pop-crossover hit “Heart of a Champion”, where the Saint Louis rapper mentions Baltimore Raven’s player Ray Lewis alongside Peyton Manning. Inspectah Deck (Wu-Tang Clan) also uses Lawrence Taylor’s legacy of sacking quarterbacks to compare his lyrical power. 

Atlanta native Andre 3000 chose to call on Brett Favre on “The Art of Storytellin’ Part 4″. It seems most NFL mentions focus on quarterbacks—except for Inspectah Deck’s shoutout to LT.

 


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Team Parle

The collective team of Parlé Magazine. Twitter: @parlemag

Team Parle has 1299 posts and counting. See all posts by Team Parle


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