On – 17 Jul, 2017 By Ryan Maxwell
Damian Lillard is best known as the point guard for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. But his passion for hip-hop has been documented since he first entered professional sports, and in the last year or two it’s become pretty definitive: he’s the best rapper the NBA has ever had.
That’s not saying much, frankly. A lot of NBA athletes have tried hip-hop, and while some have been better than others there’s not much star power in the league’s history. Lillard is different, and some of the biggest stars in the genre have started to take notice. Most notably, Lil Wayne offered praise for Lillard after collaborating on his 2016 album. He basically explained that a lot of the time when athletes try to rap they attempt to take on the persona of a stereotypical rapper, whereas Lillard is just being himself.
In a way, that same album, “The Letter O,” may have been Lillard’s crowning achievement of the last year, despite playing for a solid NBA team and performing at an All-Star level. At the beginning of the season, the Trail Blazers were tabbed among the favorites for the Northwest Division, which would have made them one of the stronger teams in the league. But they wound up falling short of expectations, squeaking into the playoffs only to be thrashed by the Golden State Warriors.
That’s no indictment of Lillard’s play or even the team’s potential. But it was by some standards a disappointing outcome, whereas Lillard had unprecedented success (for an NBA player) on the hip-hop circuit. “The Letter O,” for which he went by the name “Dame D.O.L.L.A,” got good to great reviews across the board, and generated a lot of attention on social media—not to mention among Lillard’s NBA brethren.
And now, several months after the album’s release and the initial reception, Lillard is getting even more love as an amateur rapper. The NBA star had actually compared Kendrick Lamar to Tupac, and as Lamar was doing publicity for his own new album “DAMN,” he was asked about the comparison. He not only accepted it (while acknowledging that status as “the next Pac” is out of his control), but specifically noted that he appreciates Damian Lillard as a student of hip-hop. That’s not the kind of recognition athletes delving into music typically get.
Altogether, this is getting kind of exciting for Lillard and his fans. Naturally he has a pretty significant advantage over other talented amateurs, because he has a big name and the ability to get his music out there with ease. But that doesn’t mean his music isn’t great. Lillard is somehow finding the time to carry a part-time hip-hop career even as he maintains his status as one of the NBA’s better point guards, and he’s just getting started. If he keeps it up, and if he keeps getting love from the elite figures in the industry, he could actually be going places in music.