The symbiotic relationship between Hip Hop and athletics has formed an inseparable bond, beginning with the induction of Hip Hop into America’s musical milieu in the early-1970s. Perhaps, it is fitting for the two to be so closely associated, seeing how they both impact communities in similar ways. A hit single has the same uniting power as a championship game—we see this in all environments, ranging from barbershop banter to gymnasium jargon—and it is with this power that music and athletics assume a shared position among the most cherished outlets in our society. Rapper Drake candidly vocalized the relationship between athletes and MCs in his single Thank Me Now, saying, “Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous; ‘cause we want to be them, and they want be us.” The tendency of athletes and Hip Hop-ers to emulate and borrow from one another has given rise to some beautiful things. Athletes, for example, have used Hip Hop to revolutionize and reenergize the highlight reel; the sports jersey has become a staple of Hip Hop fashion; the term “ballin’” serves as one of the more commonly used remarks in Hip Hop vocabulary; and, perhaps, on a comedic note, yet no less indicative of the connect between Hip Hop and sports culture, athletes have even been known to lend their own voices to the Hip Hop world through song. One of the more overlooked similarities between Hip Hop and sport, however, is that which pertains to the business of both. The NBA, quite possibly the association most entwined with Hip Hop culture, is undergoing a trend which flaunts its mimicry of Hip Hop in ways never before seen. Upon closer examination, it seems the people who control the R.O.C and the people who control the “rock” are beginning to implement similar business strategies.
Hip Hop is a genre rooted in combativeness and competitiveness. Perhaps, more so than any other genre, the essence of hip hop music is engrained in virtue. At the onset of hip hop’s conception, to speak on behalf of your neighborhood—and on a greater scale, your culture—was a great honor and responsibility, and this ideology gave rise to the rap battle, as well as the underlying theme of all hip hop music: The belief that you, as an MC, are better suited than the next MC—better equipped with skill, in better command of flow, and a better purveyor of ideas—to speak on behalf of the entire genre. This competitive nature is identical to that which we see between the baselines of America’s innumerable basketball courts, in all communities—rural and urban, wealthy and poor. One-on-one basketball, as well as the pick-up game, provides the same opportunity for the unequivocal besting of your opponent and exertion of bravado as the rap battle. The swish, just as the witty punch line, marks superiority. With such deep-seated similarities in the mentalities of both MCs and ball players, the possibility of their respective industries emulating one another in other fashions became all the more real.
The 1990s was a decade which harbored the revolution of Hip Hop from an individualized art form to something much more collaborative. Conglomerates of talent became the insignia for Hip Hop music during the 1990s, in an era which birthed Bad Boy Records, The Wu Tang Clan, Roc-a-fella Records, and Death Row Records. This culture was visible from Philadelphia’s Lower Marion High School in 1992, where a freshman Kobe Bryant could have witnessed the collective monstrosity that was the Wu Tang Clan and the release of its debut album Enter the Wu, a sophomore Bryant may have witnessed Death Row Records’ release of Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle in 1993, and a junior Bryant could have witnessed the signing of Tupac Shakur to Death Row Records in 1995; This culture was visible from the streets of Akron and Ohio’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, where an adolescent LeBron James could have chronicled the rise of Bad Boy Records from its release of Craig Mack’s Project: Funk Da World in 1994, to the subsequent release of Notorious B.I.G.’s multi-platinum album, Ready to Die, that same year, to the label’s posthumous B.I.G. hits, as well as Faith Evans, Mase, and 112 hits rounding out the decade; This culture was visible from Harold L. Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Illinois, when, in his senior year, a budding star by the name of Dwyane Wade could have witnessed the ascent of Roc-A-Fella records by way of Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, and DJ Clue, along with the rise of Cam’ron and a slew of artists later to be recognized as the “Diplomats”.
Bryant, James, and Wade each grew into manhood during a time when Hip Hop music was becoming increasingly collaborative. They, along with many similar to them, each grew up playing a sport which had already emulated Hip Hop in mentality, and they grew up playing this sport in urban environments which were greatly invested in both Hip Hop and sports culture. It is not farfetched, then, to draw connections between the Hip Hop culture that influenced the sport these men played and the sport they continue to play today. Over the past five years, in particular, the NBA has borne witness to the conglomeration of some of its best talent to single teams: Boston’s Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce; Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh; The New York Knicks’ pseudo-conglomerate of Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Chauncey Billups; The Los Angeles Lakers’ newly-formed squad boasting Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash. The National Basketball Association has seen recent changes that look to impact the game of basketball for years to come, and for that, it may owe thanks to The Wu, Death Row, Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella, and other Hip Hop conglomerates of the sort.