The NBA Finals is one of the most thrilling times of the year for avid basketball fans, but it's even more crucial for those working behind-the-scenes and in front of the cameras. While most fans will be glued to their television screens tonight (June 9), watching the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors battle it out on the court for Game 4 of the series, NBA analyst Jalen Rose will be providing the commentary before the nail-biting game.

This NBA season, which has seen a lot of hip-hop influence, the former basketball star has continued to deliver stellar content for hoop loyalists on NBA Countdown with his co-hosts Chauncey Billups and Michelle Beadle.

The pregame show airs on both ESPN and ABC, giving Rose, 44, not only a double platform for his analyst skills, but also a chance to shine with his ear for music. The NBA veteran plays a crucial role with the show's team in choosing the music for NBA Countdown, and being an avid fan of rap and R&B, he's able to boost hip-hop culture in the sports world.

When he's not taking his seat in front of the cameras on the show, or mixing sports and pop culture with David Jacoby for their Jalen & Jacoby show, Rose is diving into his love for rap music, which starts with his upbringing in his home city of Detroit, and ends with giving Dr. Dre his dues, naming him the most influential artist and producer in the game.

XXL spoke with Jalen Rose about selecting music for NBA Countdown, the Kevin Durant and LeBron James rap record, his favorite albums and why Detroit deserves more credit for its contribution to hip-hop.

XXL: How has this season of NBA Countdown been overall in comparison to previous ones? There's been some recent changes to the team.

Jalen Rose: It’s hard to answer that question without paying homage to a lot of the people that I worked on the show with in the past. That includes Magic Johnson, Michael Wilbon, Bill Simmons, Sage Steele, Avery Johnson and Doris Burke. The show has continued to progress and I look to the left, and I look to the right, and I’m like, "Wait a minute! Chauncey [Billups] and [Michelle] Beadle are rookies!" Ain’t that something.

So, I think what has happened is that we’ve found a stride of quality content and the ability to break down the game, have fun doing it, trying to be informative while also being personable and enjoy our job. I just think that having a longtime friendship and kinship with Beadle and Chauncey really plays itself out on TV. The unique thing about working for ESPN is sometimes people underestimate that, and I knew a lot of times in the past, Countdown got compared to Inside the NBA.

As a matter of fact, I had lunch with [TNT's Inside the NBA hosts] Charles [Barkley] and Shaq [O'Neal] yesterday, who I both love, and obviously Kenny Smith as well, and Ernie Johnson is the best. I actually worked with them maybe 10 years ago before I worked full-time for ESPN. I understand intimately how what they do is different from what we do because they’re late-night television. Countdown is family television. Sometimes we come on at noon on ABC. You have kids watching and grandparents watching, so the content has to be a lot different. I think we’ve done a really good job of bottling all of what we try to accomplish over the last four years. Hopefully, now, this team can stick together for a really long time, and continue to entertain the fans.

I’ve heard that you help pick out most of the music for NBA Countdown as well. How do you go about selecting tracks?

[Laughs] I’m glad you went there. That’s evolved over the last few years as well. The unique thing about working on the NBA project is the dynamics of NFL and NBA players, and majority of Black sports, is it just so happens that all of the players, for the most part, like rap and R&B music. So, at ABC, we’re fortunate enough to have access to the jukebox. I think how it genuinely was able to play out organically on TV is really about who is able to make it happen.

Amina Hussein, who is the coordinating producer on our show... we’re the same age. So we go through the songs, and not only do we like the same music, but we understand that it’s important for the music that’s played on the show to reflect what you’re seeing. You know how back in the day, a soundtrack used to reflect what the movie was about? Now, most times, a soundtrack has nothing to do with the movie. When you’re watching, and we’re talking about [Golden State Warriors player] Draymond Green, it’s no accident that [D-Nice's] “Call Me D-Nice” may be playing.

If we’re talking about somebody being honest or upfront, we may play “Come Clean” by Jeru the Damaja. If Kobe Bryant shows up with his glasses while looking spiffy in his suit, we’ll play Jade’s “Smooth Operator.” A couple of years ago, we had Mobb Deep’s “Survival of the Fittest” because of the NBA Finals. This year, it’s Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA.” We’re really excited about being able to do that. That’s really a reflection of all of us working in concert to really make the visual that you see play out in the music that you hear.

There have been snippets coming out of Kevin Durant and LeBron James' rap collaboration track that they recorded together years ago. Have you heard the whole thing? As a music fan, what did you think of the snippets?

I have heard maybe half of it. We played [parts of it] on our show maybe three or four days ago. They weren’t spitting bars [laughs]. I don’t think Kendrick, J. Cole, Eminem, Royce da 5’9”, Big Sean or Drake have anything to worry about.

You're known to be an avid hip-hop fan. What’s been your favorite album so far this year?

Kendrick [Lamar's DAMN.]. There’s so many fire projects that have come out this year. I love what Royce dropped this year. I clearly love what Drake dropped this year. Those are the three that really stand out to me. I also loved Big Sean’s [I Decided.] album.

Do you have a favorite artist at the moment?

Well, first of all, I’m going to start with Detroit. I gotta mention Marshall [Mathers]. I gotta mention Royce. I gotta mention Sean Don. You just made me think of something. I wonder if those three artists that represent Detroit, and touch so many bases, not just like popularity and sales, but also bars; I don’t know what the criteria would be as far as the top things that people would judge this on, but I would venture to say that they’re probably as fire of a three that’s going right now that represent the same city at the same time as any place in the country. Now that I think about it. Wow. I mean, they’re selling records. They’re popular. They all have bars. They all have style. I mentioned Kendrick. I mentioned Drake. I love J. Cole and his album that came out this year.

While you were growing up, playing for both University of Michigan, and then moving into the NBA, what were your favorite songs to play before a game?

One of my hobbies is actually being a DJ. So I flat out love music. I grew up in one of those households where, growing up in Detroit, you gravitate towards music and cars because we were the capital for a long time. Especially during my childhood. We were the Motown sound. We were the Motor City. Being a child of the 1970s, I remember cleaning up on the weekends, we would listen to everything from Marvin Gaye to Frankie Beverly and Maze. The list goes on and on.

As that transpired, and I fell more in love with music, and especially rap music, my initial love was "The Message." [Raps] “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge…” I think I fell in love with rap with that song. I liked The Sugarhill Gang. It was cool, but I fell in love with rap music with "The Message." Then I saw the video and I was hooked. As that progressed through the 1980s, I went to Detroit Southwestern. Our crowd used to always chant, “Southwest! South, Southwest!” So we used to play “South Bronx” by KRS-One as we came out. That was our theme song in high school.

As I went to, that was crazy. I remember I used to have to put the tissue at the top of the tape to get it at the right spot. As the 1990s happened, I was fortunate to be able to go to KMEL’s Summer Jam for two straight years. That, to me, was really an explosion of music. So, we listened to everything when we were in college like N.W.A., EPMD, Tupac, Dr. Dre, Snoop, A Tribe Called Quest, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, everybody.

In going to Summer Jam, and meeting all of those artists, I remember going to the podium during the Final Four, and I had on a Naughty By Nature hoodie and an EPMD hat. They were looking at me like I was Ghostface Killah. They were looking at me like, “What is wrong with him?” [laughs] Those have been hand-in-glove for me the entire time with music and sports.

Can you name your top three albums of all time?

Whew! Wow, you’re going straight between the eyes. When you asked that question, there were two that just flat out came to my mind. [Jay Z's] Reasonable Doubt and [Nas'] Illmatic are the automatic two. Those straight came to my mind. Ice’s Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted is the third. Also, I have to say this. I’ve been saying this for 10 years and people didn’t start paying attention to him until he started having some billion dollar headphones. Dr. Dre is the most influential artist and producer in hip-hop history.

I’m old enough to remember Dr. Dre in the World Class Wreckin’ Cru when he wanted to be a DJ and he had a song called “Surgery.” This was like early 1980s. So he went from being a DJ to being an artist and having multiple classic albums with his Chronic albums. You know the laundry list of artists he’s influenced from Snoop, to Kendrick, to N.W.A, to The Game, Marshall and 50 [Cent]. These are moguls. I have to mention him too. It’s those projects and just Dr. Dre, period.

If you could bring a rapper as a guest on NBA Countdown to talk sports with you that you haven’t yet, who would it be?

The first thing I think about is the people that I see at the games. That’s how I’ll eliminate it right there. So, Jay [Z]. We gotta bring on Jay. I just saw Jay at the [Golden State Warriors] game and was able to dap him up while he was repping his guy KD [Kevin Durant]. We gotta get Jay on the set. I’d also love to see Drake on too.

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