ICONIC HIP-HOP AND SPORTS CROSSOVERS OF THE LAST DECADE
The relationship between sports and hip-hop dates back to the genre’s earliest days. This cross-over has developed into an integral part of the culture with each respective field impacting the other over the last 40 years.
People have traditionally sat down around their televisions or radios to watch or listen to four things: news, entertainment, music or sports. Looking at it like that, it was only a matter of time before the two crossed over in a dope way.
Seeing Drake court side fan-girling over NBA superstars is something we see fairly often nowadays, and hearing sports references woven into clever (or not so clever) lyrics has made for some of hip-hop’s most memorable moments.
Not only that, it’s becoming more and more common for an artist to have their own signature shoe with a sports brand. The list is a bible, including names like Travis Scott, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, DJ Khaled, Kanye West, MF Doom, Pharrell Williams, Skepta, Eminem, Tyler, The Creator, Wu-Tang Clan, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, and even Macklemore.
It may seem odd when you think about it. Why would a rapper have a signature shoe with a sports brand when they have little to no athletic talent, and aren’t even known for that? Well, it’s not hard to spot the striking similarities between hip-hop and sports, which is why you see athletes hanging out with rappers every other day on social media now. I mean, LeBron James is BFF with Drake, as is James Harden and Lil Baby. Even Jose Mourinho, one of the most decorated football managers of all time, had a large cameo in Stormzy‘s ‘Mel Made Me Do It’ on the back-end of last year. Nowadays, rappers want to be athletes, and athletes want to be rappers. There’s a celebrity basketball game at NBA All Star Weekend now, and how many athletes have we seen try to make music? Countless.
In its simplest form, rap is a competitive genre. Part of the historical culture within the genre has always been battling, thinking you’re the best, and showing why on the biggest stage. Think JAY-Z and Nas back in the day, or more recently Meek Mill and Drake. These feuds are equivalent to the Cavs vs Warriors era back in the late 2010s, or Argentina v France at the FIFA World Cup. Two sides, going head to head on the biggest stage, with one triumphant. That’s a big part as to why athletes and rappers seem to go hand in hand, because they share the same mindset.
From brand deals, music videos, athletes turned rappers and so much more, let’s take a look through the last decade for some of our favourite sports-rap crossovers in recent history:
2013: Despite being the GOAT, JAY-Z is a shrewd businessman, and once owned a stake in the Brooklyn Nets between 2003 and 2013, and played a part in bringing them back across the bridge from New Jersey, back to Brooklyn. He continued his role in sports, starting his own agency called Roc Nation Sports, a branch from the Roc Nation family. Notable signees are Romelu Lukaku, LaMelo Ball, Kyrie Irving, Saquon Barkley, Marcus Rashford, Victor Cruz, and many, many more. HOV DID!
2014: As one of the first brands to collaborate with artists (see RUN DMC), Adidas have long championed hip-hop. In 2014, they formed another iconic link-up with Pharrell who designed three new colourways for the Stan Smith sneakers. This would begin a long relationship of collaborations between Skateboard P and Adidas.
2015: One of the best athletes/musicians has to be Damian Lillard, who debuted as Dame D.O.L.L.A. with ‘Bigger Than Us’. He’s since dropped four full-length projects and collaborated with the likes of Lil Wayne, Blxst, Mozzy, Snoop Dogg, Q-Tip, and more.
2016: When Manchester United brought back Paul Pogba for a world record fee of £89 million, it sent shockwaves through the football universe. Pogba was a huge celebrity as well as a footballer, so it was only right that the video to announce the return was a video of Stormzy and Pogba dancing to ‘NIGO DUPPY’. It’s probably the best player unveiling ever, and allowed clubs to be more creative on social media going forward.
2017: Another player to jump from sports to rap: Memphis Depay was one of the most sought after players in world football before his move to Manchester United back in 2015. In between then and now, the star actually took up music in 2017. His biggest song, ‘No Love’, has over 11M plays on Spotify, and he released a 9-track album called Heavy Stepper back in 2020.
2017: The Migos and Mike Tyson linking up to discuss pigeons on a GQ episode might be one of the most underrated pieces of content in the history of mankind. Worth a watch. RIP Takeoff.
2018: On the second night of his Aubrey and the Three Migos tour, Drake brought Travis Scott and Lebron out at the Staples Center at the height of the ‘SICKO MODE’ hype.
2018: There’s a very fair argument for Chillinit‘s ‘Wish You Well Pt. 2 (It’s A Vibe)‘ to be one of Oz Rap’s most legendary track in recent years. Its music video gathers an iconic roster together for a game of cricket, with appearances from Huskii, Wombat, Triple One, Talakai, Adrian Eagle, and more.
2018: While Meek Mill was locked up for an unjust stipulation of his probation, the Philadelphia Eagles ran out to his song ‘Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)’ before winning the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. It all came full circle when he was able to walk out alongside them in 2022.
2019: LeBron could be on this list 20 times, but one of the most significant Bron music related moment was when he served as an A&R for 2Chainz‘s 2019 album, Rap Or Go To The League. The album featured names like Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug, Ariana Grande, Lil Wayne, and many more.
2019: Rapsody is one of the goats. Signed to JAY-Z’s Roc Nation, her 2019 track entitled ‘Serena’ pays an inspirational tribute to the 4X Olympic Gold Medalist and 27X Grand Slam winner and a handful of other athletes.
2020: The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down sports, music, and the rest of the world, but with everyone locked inside on their phones, Verzuz was born. Essentially a virtual DJ battle, the first iteration was on Instagram Live between Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, and it’s now evolved into its own TV show. Verzuz is the closest thing rappers have to settling their scores on the field.
2021: While there’s plenty ballers turned rappers, there’s not too many the other way around. In the same year he dropped his sixth studio album The Off Season, J. Cole played for the Rwanda Patriots of the Basketball Africa League.
2022: After his fourth title defence of the Featherweight belt, Illawarra’s own Alex Volkanovski made an unexpected but all the while welcome appearance in the music video for HP Boyz‘ ‘Watch The Wick‘. Despite currently being the most dominant champion in the UFC, he doesn’t get the local love he should so it’s dope to see the culture riding with him.
2022: Added pressure is probably not what you need when you’re heading into a Championship fight. But that’s exactly what happened when Drake publicly Face-Timed Nigerian-born New Zealander Israel Adesanya, the Middleweight champion at the time. Drake said he bet a “light million” on Izzy to be victorious against Jared Cannonier at UFC 276. While the Drake curse may have been evaded then, it caught up with them both at UFC 281 when he doubled his bet at on Izzy who lost to Alex Pereira, the current Middleweight champ.
2023: Rihanna‘s next album is one of the most highly-anticipated projects in recent times, and the demand for her ninth studio album only grew larger after her Super Bowl performance. While it’s hard to beat the previous years’ performance by West Coast legends like Dr. Dre, the larger-than-life artist delivered an iconic recap of all her best hits and also announced she was pregnant with her and A$AP Rocky‘s second child.