Once he steps off the court, Kobe Bryant needs to put in some time on the mic.
Bryant is a renaissance man. He speaks Italian and Spanish, is pretty good on a soccer pitch, and a few experts are suggesting that he might make a good coach. But I'm not worried about his basketball legacy -- I'm worried about his musical legacy.
If Bryant doesn't step back in the booth soon, he'll be remembered as the worst basketball rapper, ever. In case you haven't heard it yet, his debut (and only) single, "K.O.B.E.," featuring Tyra Banks, is embarrassing. The year 2000 was an awkward one, but that cheap-sounding beat, the uninspired hook -- this is more off-target than those three airballs he threw in 1997 against the Utah Jazz.
The sad thing is that, by all accounts, Bryant is better than this. A 2013 article on Grantland is full of people saying that the athlete was a skilled freestyler and that he looked up to Canibus as inspiration. But with his first track, it seems that Bryant dumbed down his lyrics in hopes of doubling his dollars. The Lakers star miscalculated. He was signed to Sony, but once that "K.O.B.E." track dropped, Sony dropped him.
But given his rap pedigree -- coming from the scrappy Philly rap scene, gaining enough respect to join a rap group called CHEIZAW -- it makes you wonder what could have happened if he hadn't tried to go commercial too soon. In fact, there's even precedent for good hip-hop coming out of basketball and Philadelphia. Six years before Bryant's debut, then-76er point guard Dana Barros put together a pretty convincing distillation of Fu-Schnickens and Black Sheep-style boom-bap in "Check It," one of the only good entries on that often-maligned B-Ball's Best Kept Secret compilation.
Bryant even appeared briefly on a Shaquille O'Neal song called "3 X's Dope." His verse was uncredited, possibly because of contractual agreements, but it wasn't bad. In general, though, O'Neal towers over his former teammate-turned-rival in terms of mic accolades. In 1993, Shaq Diesel released "I'm Outstanding," a kid-friendly rap about his childhood, over a slowed-down Gap Band sample. Shaq flexed his star power too: He had a track with Biggie called "Can't Stop the Reign" and a cut with Jay-Z called "No Love Lost."
It seems strange that Bryant would let O'Neal best him -- but he's probably just been focusing on basketball, which I completely understand. What I don't understand is why instead of staying completely away from the music altogether, he's only tarnished his MC reputation in recent years.
In 2011, he appeared in a video with Taiwanese rapper Jay Chou. The weirdest part is that Bryant never raps, he just asks questions and laughs endearingly. The video is only passable if you think of it as a soft drink commercial (which it is).
I believe a Kobe Bryant rap comeback could happen. I believe that he is too competitive to finish last, even if it's in something completely unrelated to basketball. The planets are aligned. He's going to have a lot of free time on his hands and plenty of frustration that can't be taken out on the court.
Actually, since O'Neal has gotten into the DJ booth as "DJ Diesel," maybe there's potential for something even greater. Yeah, Shaq's mixes are about as ugly as his free-throws. But maybe the two could team up again. Maybe, with Shaq on the decks, and Kobe on the mic, we'll get another taste of that chemistry that made the Lakers so unbeatable, and so irresistible, in the early aughts.
You laugh now, but admit it: You would pay good money to go see the two legends do a two-man in-store show. You know, so that you could say you saw them while they were still underground.