The NBA is back and the race for the Championship is under way. XXL has spoken to a number of basketball stars—starting with Jeff Teague and Nerlens Noel—about their love for hip-hop and some of their favorite albums for the league’s opening week. Portland Trailblazer point guard Damian Lillard, who started his own rap competition named 4 Bar Fridays—a weekly Instagram-based freestyle competition where every Friday contestants send in their best bars in 15 seconds or less, with the best four featured on 4barfriday.com. Now in his second season, the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year is the bright young face of the franchise. XXL got Damian on the phone to discuss how 4 Bar Fridays began, the hip-hop scene in the Bay area, what made him a hip-hop fan and whether or not he thinks he’s a top 10 point guard right now. —Emmanuel C.M. (@ECM_LP)
What was your first hip-hop moment?
I listened to a lot of Nas, Juvenile, Jay Z [growing up]; Nas was my favorite though. I remember I was younger I went to a Hot Boys concert and it was tight. They came to Oakland and Lil Wayne was young, he was like a little kid. That’s when I started to love Jjuvenile. Like 400 Degreez my favorite album. I heard 400 Degreez when I was in 4th grade. When I heard it, everybody in the neighborhood was listening to it at the time. And my cousin had the CD. Back then, I didn’t know what he was talking about on half the songs. But when I finally got up to speed, I started understanding it.
What type of music did they have in the Bay Area?
Growing up, it was not hyphy-hyphy; it wasn’t quite there yet when I was in high school. It was all local rap. Everything they were rapping about is what was going on in the city; it wasn’t any music where they talk about what they got. It was like Mistah F.A.B., Yukmouth, The Team, Clyde Carson. It wasn’t nobody who wasn’t really that dude. A couple of years ago I could tell you the difference [between LA and The Bay] like, “That’s something that is going to go in LA but ain’t going to go in Oakland.” Now it’s all kind of that same “ratchet”-type music. Tyga, YG, all their stuff is going to get play in Oakland because you got that ratchet circle to feed into.
What are you listening to now?
Right now I’m listening to a lot of J. Cole; Cole’s my favorite right now. Wale, Kendrick, and I listen to my cousin from Oakland; I think he’s going to be the next to blow. “Act Right” [by Yo Gotti, featuring Jeezy and YG] but a lot of the stuff I like. I like the Jay Z album, J. Cole album, Drake album. I listen to a lot of Drake too.
How did 4 Bar Fridays start?
Well, rapping is my main hobby outside of hoops. I just wanted to try and figure out something I can do with rap right now. I always wanted to post some videos up on Instagram, and once they make it 15 seconds, I figured that was the perfect amount of time for four bars. That sounded like a good idea to start a little trending topic and get the competition going. I started rapping in high school, like 9th grade, but it was like a hobby, something I enjoyed because I like wordplay and putting metaphors together. I just love spittin’.
How do you choose which 4 bars to use for 4 Bar Fridays?
I just like to really look at them, see who can spit, what people got to say. Some of them might be funny. But I just like to look through. Some people would get out of their comfort zone and post 4 bars up here and I might put them in the top 4 because they don’t rap and they just jump in to support. I go through them and check them all out.
Did you expect it to get this big?
When I thought of it I, thought it would be a pretty good hit. It still ain’t got to where I want it to be, and it’s early. Honestly, I didn’t expect people to jump on it this fast. I want to get some real rappers and then try to get some sponsor on it.
What’s your pre-game music?
Before games I listen to some J. Cole, and a lot of Juvenile, really. I like Sideline Story; a lot of people didn’t like it. I’m a real fan so I’ve been listening since way back. When I hear [J. Cole's] stuff, I feel him. I feel what he raps about, and he can put words together. He’s just my type of rapper. I like rappers who can tell a story and you can tell it’s genuine. I respect that, that’s why I prefer someone like J. Cole. And he seem like he’s cut from the same cloth as me.
Did you feel like you were undervalued with where you got drafted [6th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft]?
Yeah I did, but I’m happy I went to the right place.
How far do you think Portland can go this season?
I think we can go as far as we put our minds to. You are going to have experts and all their people with their opinion. Why we can’t do something and why we can. I don’t really care about all that stuff. We all got to buy into the same thing. My biggest concern is to just help my team win as many games as they can. Once we start winning games, that would take away an individual stuff.