It’s impossible to separate Damian Lillard, NBA star, from Dame D.O.L.L.A. the rapper. That’s part of his identity and what makes him great.
Lillard faces his doubters and non-believers with his debut rap album The Letter O. While many didn’t expect much from the basketball player, he’s made it clear that this is not a side project.
After listening to the project, it’s obvious that he takes his music seriously and it’s not a gimmick for him. Is it time that we do the same?
On his album, we hear Lillard rapping about his life — including his old home in Oakland, Calif., and his new one in Portland, Oregon.
He finds interesting ways to weave the two together, too, rapping about his desire to bring a championship to Portland.
Lillard also raps about getting snubbed from the NBA All-Star game in February as well as his interest in playing for the Utah Jazz when he was in college.
He doesn’t try to hide the identity that makes him special. He’s a rapper. He’s a basketball star. So what?
It’s not common for basketball players to rap. In the song “Thank Me Now,” Drake points out the similarities between rappers and basketball stars.
“Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous
Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.”
But Lillard isn’t your typical basketball player trying to rap. We’ve known that for awhile — since he started the #4BarFriday series for basketball fans and NBA colleagues on Instagram.
Lillard has always had a smoother flow than other basketball players. Sonically, he is leagues better than Shaquille O’Neal. Yet the latter’s debut album Shaq Diesel was certified platinum in 1994.
Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd and even Kobe Bryant all had rap careers, albeit brief. Iman Shumpert and Chris Webber have legitimate talent, but Tony Parker and Steve Francis weren’t as impressive.
Meanwhile, Lillard sounds a bit like J. Cole — he told Bleacher Report he has been a fan of the North Carolina hip-hop superstar since 2008. Lillard and Cole rap about similar topics and have a similar message in their music.
On the song “Bill Walton,” for example, the Trailblazers guard said his mom encouraged him to make the honor roll. Cole was on scholarship at St. John’s University before he became the rap sensation we hear on the radio.
Lillard also landed a feature from rap icon Lil Wayne for the album, which adds credibility. Other rappers who have features from Weezy include Eminem, Chance The Rapper, DJ Khaled, Nicki Minaj and Drake.
On the song “Roll Call” later on the album, I detected a sample of “Bonfire” from Childish Gambino — the infamous rap moniker of entertainer Donald Glover.
It seems Glover, and not other basketball players, is a better comparison for Lillard as a rapper. In addition to his hip-hop career, Glover was a writer for 30 Rock, an actor on Community and he’s now the creator of Atlanta on FX.
He was also nominated for two Grammy Awards, including one for best rap album. In 2013, Glover’s second studio release Because The Internet peaked as the No. 1 rap album in the U.S.
While those are unfair expectations for Lillard considering his first album dropped less than 24 hours ago, it seems right that we finally pay respect to his rap career.