Hip-hop and basketball have had a long-lasting love affair, dating back to the earliest incarnations of the culture. Over the past few decades, countless basketball players have become favorite sons within hip-hop; their name, swagger and athletic flair has become synonymous with the cool that has played a big part in making hip-hop into the force that it is today. While past greats like Dr. J, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant serve as a few of the more notable ballers to have influenced the culture, LeBron James is this generation's NBA star to become an ambassador of hip-hop.
Even prior to playing a single game in the NBA, the electrifying kid from Akron, Ohio with preternatural skills that had scouts referring to him as the chosen one was already making an impact within the borders of hip-hop. A household name and a lock to be a future No. 1 NBA draft pick by the time he was a junior in high school, LeBron's skills attracted some of hip-hop's elite to take notice, most famously the player's favorite rapper Jay Z, who was in attendance to watch the King win MVP honors at the 2003 McDonald's All-American Game.
As he entered the league and gradually grew into the King many had predicted he would be, LeBron always stayed true to his cultural roots, celebrating hip-hop at every turn he could, whether on the court or in his downtime. And hip-hop would embrace LeBron as well, with an innumerable amount of rappers dropping his names in raps (Lil Wayne), inviting him to join them in their videos (Jay Z) or even gifting him with their unreleased music (Kendrick Lamar).
In celebration of his illustrious history with the culture, XXL highlights LeBron James' most memorable hip-hop-related moments.
LeBron James Lands on XXL Magazine Cover With Jay Z, Kanye West and Foxy Brown
LeBron showed up on the cover of XXL alongside Jay Z, Kanye West and Foxy Brown in 2005. While 'Bron and Hov's relationship dates back to the baller's high school years, this moment remains an iconic one and is a testament to his career being intertwined with hip-hop.
LeBron Appears With Lil Wayne in Nike Commercial
In December of 2008, Nike released a commercial featuring LeBron James and Lil Wayne in promotion of the basketball player's Nike Zoom LeBron VI sneaker. Dubbed the "Chalk" commercial, the spot paired two of the more popular faces in urban culture at the peak of their popularity.
Jay Z Records "Blow the Whistle" Freestyle in Defense of LeBron
When LeBron James and former Washington Wizards forward DeShawn Stevenson got into a back-and-forth during the 2008 NBA playoffs series, Jay Z, who has been a longtime supporter of the King from Akron, took it upon himself to record a freestyle subliminally dissing Stevenson and paying homage to LeBron. Rhyming over Too $hort's "Blow the Whistle" beat, Jay Z would turn in what is one of his more popular freestyles to date, and further solidify LeBron's legacy within hip-hop.
LeBron Attends Drake's So Far Gone Release Party
Prior to becoming arguably the biggest name in all of rap, Drake was an upstart with a buzz strong enough to put the music industry on notice. A phenom in his own right, Drizzy earned major bragging rights and kudos when LeBron James appeared at the release party for his So Far Gone mixtape in 2009. This would be the beginning of what has turned out to be one of LeBron's closest relationships to a rapper and marks a moment in time for both stars.
LeBron Appears in "Forever" Video
In February of 2009, Drake premiered the music video to "Forever," his collaborative track with Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West. The visual was already a blockbuster on its own due ti the stars involved, but having LeBron James, who sits in the back of a luxury car while playing online poker, be the first person you see in the video served as a pleasant surprise and was another example of the NBA player's reach beyond the hardwood.
LeBron Shows Up in Jay Z's "DOA" Video
When Jay Z debuted the video for his "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," track in 2009, it was an event in itself. Recruiting a few A-List stars to appear in the video, aside from actor Harvey Keitel, LeBron James was also included in the clip, as he faced off with Jigga for a friendly game of one-on-one, one of King James' more prominent cameos in a music video to date.
LeBron Raps With Drake During NBA All-Star Weekend
Seven years ago, during the 2010 NBA All-Star Weekend, Drake, who was tapped to perform "Forever," his collaboration with Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem, at the NBA Jam Mission, invited LeBron James onto the court to help perform the song with him. Being that "Forever" was the lead single from the soundtrack to LeBron's More Than a Game documentary, which chronicles his from phenom to king, the gesture was an appropriate one that remains memorable years later.
LeBron Sings Along to Kanye West and Jay Z's "Niggas in Paris"
Upon its release, Kanye West and Jay Z's hit "Niggas in Paris" was one of the more popular songs in rap, with everyone and their mama reciting the lyrics. In October of 2011, LeBron James caught himself rapping along to the song while waiting for Dwanye Wade to finish shooting his free throws during an Olympic scrimmage. But immediately after rapping the lyrics, LeBron hit a shot from half court, a basket that can in part be attributed to the musical stylings of Yeezy and Hov.
LeBron Joins 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne on Stage
On Nov. 29, 2012, LeBron joined 2 Chainz on stage during the Atlanta native's B.O.A.T.S. Tour stop in Miami. Also bringing out Lil Wayne to complete the cypher, the trio performed the remix to Tity Boi's song "Bandz," a LeBron appearance that ranks high on his list of rap cameos.
LeBron Appears on ESPN The Magazine Cover With Dr. Dre.
Magazine covers are nothing new to LeBron, but it's a little more special when he appears on the cover of ESPN The Magazine alongside legendary producer Dr. Dre. The moment served as his second magazine cover with a high-profile figure in hip-hop. Connected through the NBA player's investment in Beats by Dre, as well as his well-documented love for hip-hop, this collision of two icons in their respective game's was big business, both figuratively and literally.
LeBron Freestyles Over Jay Z's "FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt" Beat
On April 1, 2014, audio of LeBron James kicking a freestyle over the beat to Jay Z's "FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt" surfaced, which was many fans' first time hearing the hoops star drop bars of his own. Recorded during a studio session with his former high school teammate Sian Cotton, LeBron displays a decent flow and presence on the mic, making this one of his stronger rap-related moments.
LeBron Pokes Fun at His Own Hairline While Rapping Along to Tory Lanez's Verse
LeBron James may seem to have it all, but one shortcoming his haters have poked fun at over the years is his hairline—or lack thereof. While he rarely addresses such critiques, LeBron took a subtle jab at his hecklers in late 2016. The ball player was listening to Meek Mill's "Litty" featuring Tory Lanez, when during the latter's verse (Tory also has a receding hairline), where he claps back at the social media comedians joking on him, LeBron seems to cosign his bars, making for one of his more recent rap moments that stand among his best.
LeBron Attends Kanye West's Saint Pablo Tour
While he's usually one to keep his composure on the court, elsewhere, LeBron tends to loosen up a bit, as he did while attending Kanye West's Saint Pablo Tour last year. During the tour's stop in Cleveland, LeBron and a few of his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates showed up to catch Yeezy in person, even going as far as partaking in the famous mosh pit that is a staple at the rapper's shows. Showing his unbridled fandom, LeBron raging with the fans is a sight to see and never gets old.
LeBron Gets Kendrick Lamar to Drop New Album
Following Kendrick Lamar's performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards, LeBron James sent a tweet out to TDE founder Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith requesting that he liberate a collection of unreleased Kendrick songs he apparently had access to. Less than two weeks later, Top Dawg and Kendrick Lamar obliged the King's request, unleashing the untitled unmastered. project, a decision which was largely due in part to LeBron's initial tweet.
LeBron Stars in Sprite Commercial With Lil Yachty
As an endorser of Sprite, LeBron has appeared in multiple commercials for the brand, but in October of 2016, the new spot he starred in came with a twist in the form of Lil Yachty. The rising rapper, who had started to become a household name, played opposite of the NBA star in the commercial, with his hit "Minnesota" serving as the background music. This moment proved LeBron's not opposed to a little mumble rap every now and then.
Chance The Rapper Blesses LeBron James
On June 8, 2016, during the NBA Finals where LeBron and his Cleveland Cavaliers squad were down by two games against the Golden State Warriors, 'Bron did what any wise person would do in his predicament: follow Chance the Rapper on Twitter during his downtime. Shortly after, Chance himself would reach out to LeBron James, thanking him for the follow, as well as asking the embattled star if he was ready for his "blessing." Those words would read as prophecy sooner than later, as LeBron and the Cavaliers would bounce back to win the chip, and solidify the exchange between him and Chance as one of his shining moments.
LeBron Raps Brotha Lynch Hung's "Rest in Piss"
Two months ago, LeBron James surprised fans by uploading a clip of himself rapping along to Brotha Lynch Hung's classic 1995 song "Rest in Piss," which is a bit ironic considering the rapper's tirade against the then-Miami Heat star in 2012.
LeBron Turns Up to Future's New Music
Earlier this year, LeBron shared a clip of himself sipping what appears to be wine while listening to Future's new songs in his downtime. Having previously turned up to Future's 2015 hit "March Madness" in public, it's not surprising that Hendrix would be part of LeBron's playlist, but his adlibs and his expression are what truly takes the cake.
LeBron Vibes Out to Kendrick Lamar's "The Heart Part 4"
When Kendrick Lamar released "The Heart Part 4," he caught the attention of rap fans worldwide who were waiting for the chance to hear a new song from the West Coast native. One of those eager to partake in the musings of Kung Fu Kenny was LeBron James, who decided to get into the zone for a game by giving the track a few spins and uploading his reaction to social media. Posting the clip with the caption "KDOT back at it again!!," LeBron's screwface told us all we needed to know about the amount of firepower "The Heart Part 4" packs.
LeBron Previews Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. Album
The rest of the world may have been waiting on Kendrick Lamar to unveil his new album, but just as he had with untitled unmastered., LeBron had the exclusive before anyone else. On April 13, a day before the album was slated to be released, LeBron hopped on Instagram to preview choice cuts from the album, and his reactions only increased the anticipation for DAMN.
LeBron Dances to Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia” During Practice
A day after sweeping the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern SemiConference Finals, LeBron James and his teammates were filmed dancing to Playboi Carti's "Magnolia" record during a Cleveland Cavaliers practice.
LeBron Previews Big Sean and Metro Boomin's Double or Nothing Album
As usual, The King got first dibs at fresh-baked music—this time, it's one of late 2017's most anticipated projects, Big Sean and Metro Boomin's collaborative LP Double or Nothing. One day before the album's release, Bron dropped snippets to a handful tracks via his Instagram story, including "Pull Up and Wreck" and "Savage Time." He once again proved that the future NBA Hall Of Famer has one of hip-hop's most trusted ears.
LeBron Jams to Drake's New Cut, "God's Plan"
On Jan. 19, Drake announced he would drop his two-track Scary Hours EP at midnight. The tracks are bangers in their own right, but "God's Plan" has already been viewed as more single-worthy. Naturally, being a fan and friend of Drizzy, LeBron took to social media and showed the 6 God some love while he played the new single, and it's clear which track he prefers more.
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