Kendrick Lamar was born in Compton on June 17, 1987 – three days after the Showtime Lakers defeated the Celtics for their 10th NBA championship. So by the astrological and geographical circumstances of his birth, the Grammy-nominated rapper is bound to the purple and gold.
A self-professed “huge basketball fan,” Lamar's lyrics incorporate hoops culture as well as any rapper in recent memory. An early breakout song was named “Michael Jordan,” where he admits, “I used to want to be like Michael Jordan/Figure I would make the NBA and make me a fortune.”
“Black Boy Fly” details a teenage Lamar's mix of jealously and pride for his Compton Centennial classmate, future NBA star Arron Afflalo. It's basically the rap American Pastoral, only the Swede ends up averaging 16 points a game for the Orlando Magic instead of manufacturing women's gloves in Newark, N.J.
Lamar's most infamous intersection with basketball came on “Control,” where the artist took shots like Kobe Bryant surrounded by four Smush Parkers. A playful barb was directed at former Lakers sage-coach Phil Jackson: “if Phil Jackson came back, still no coaching me.” To which the Zen Grandmaster responded on Twitter: “it's okay to be cocky and sure, but we all need somebody to lean on. Let's just call it mentoring.”
See also: Kendrick Lamar's Mood Music
If you're keeping score, that means that Jackson has responded to more rap songs from Lamar than from Shaquille O' Neal, and the latter won him three championships and had DJ Quik production. Even Kobe gave a nod of approval, tweeting that “[Lamar] threw down the gauntlet. #challengesgiven #challengestaken #everythingscompetition.”
Over the last 18 months, Lamar has been on a streak so hot that he probably could resuscitate Kobe's rap career. When he's not in the studio or on tour, Lamar is a serious NBA fan. So last month, I asked him a few questions about his fandom, the connection between sports and music, and why they need to bring back the Rock N'
Roll Jock B-Ball Jam.
When Phil Jackson tweeted at you, did you sit back and think, 'I've finally arrived?”
The crazy part is, I didn't think it would go that far to where people were dissing me and Phil Jackson would respond. I caught wind of it late when I was overseas. I still need to tweet Phil Jackson back, though. Matter of fact, I'm going to try to remember to do that tonight.
What are your thoughts about this year's Lakers season?
Man, please don't talk about the Lakers [laughs]. I'm hurt. … We hurtin'.
But you still root for them?
Hell yeah. It's crazy because I just did a photo shoot with Chris Paul for ESPN, and they asked me, 'I know you and [Paul] are really close, but what are the debates? … Who you riding with? I always tell them, '[Paul] is my partner, but I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon because the Clippers is booming now. It just don't feel right.”
Of course, I'm going to support it because it's the Clippers and that's L.A. I'm always going to go to both teams' games. I'm just not going say that I was a day one Clippers fan, like back when they had Lamar Odom or Danny Manning.
What do you think of this Trading Places era of L.A. basketball?
It's just a shift in time. The only thing that I can be happy about is that at least the Clippers are really good and benefiting from the shift.
When you have a great player like Kobe, one of the best to ever play in my opinion, there comes a time when a new breed comes in. Not to say that Kobe won't be back, because that dude is a fire, and the way he leads his team to be the best – not just him – you can't count him out. It's just there's always a time when it's inevitable that a shift occurs.
Do you find a lot of connection between basketball and sports?
Oh yeah. Rappers grow up wanting to be ball players and ball players grow up wanting to be rappers. It just works like that. It's just the culture. It's always been that way. We always look up to the athletes. We respect it. It takes a whole lot of work on your body. Anybody who can be that dedicated in any field gets my respect, and they see how hard we work up in that studio, too.
Did Aaron Affalo ever hit you up after the song 'Black Boy Fly?'
Yup. He said, 'Appreciate it, man' and that he really respected it.
Was Kobe always your favorite player on the Lakers?
Definitely. My pops was from Chicago, so he was a huge Bulls fan. So growing up, I was always battling my pops, but I was always a big Bulls fan, too. I was a diehard. You follow your pops. You wanna be just like him, and so I rooted for the bulls. But at the same time, I was from L.A., so I had to like the Lakers. And then Kobe came and it was a wrap.
Did you ever go any games growing up?
Nah. It felt like we had to be rich to go to games. There was only one time that I got into a game. I was a little kid, around the time Kobe first came out with his shoes. My cousin and I were selling Tootsie Rolls outside of the Forum. One day, one of the ushers was generous enough to let us into the game with two minutes left in the fourth quarter – and so that was the first time I ever got to see Kobe play in first.
Did you ever play yourself?
I played recreation ball.
How were you as a player?
I was pretty cool. I'm still pretty decent. I don't know how I'd be if I got out there tomorrow, though. There's a lot of cats who can hoop. R Kelly. Chris Brown. Game. Brian McKnight. When I was a kid, I used to watch the old Rock N' Jock B-Ball Jam and think, 'Man, I can't wait until I can get up there and ball in that shit. '”