With the world still reeling from the sudden deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, many have begun reflecting on their favorite Mamba memories. Though many stemmed from his dominance on the court, some looked to Kobe’s short-lived but nevertheless badass stint as a rapper. As covered in our extensive “Rap Or Go To The League” editorial, exploring the history of ballers-turned-emcees, during the early nineties Kobe “was in the studio for hours at a time, writing and rewriting songs with tireless perfectionism.” While he never quite found the hip-hop success seen by his fellow Laker Shaquille O’Neal, it’s clear that Kobe possessed a solid ear for constructing flow.
In honor of Kobe’s memory, it seems fitting to share a homage from his time chasing hip-hop ambitions. In 1998, Kobe linked up with Shaquille O’Neal for a guest verse on Respect, Shaq’s fourth studio album. Over an old-school beat from Clark Kent, Kobe kicks things off with some intellectual multisyllabic bars; his flow and subject matter is reminiscent of Canibus, particularly in the opening lines. “I reach destinations with split-second acceleration, it caps enough time to witness your bone evaporation,” raps The Mamba. “I kidnap planes for atmospherical advantage, my lyrical damage the rise for mental mechanics.”
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As art imitates life, Kobe’s dexterity is contrasted by Shaq Diesel’s sturdy flow. Evocative of the Notorious B.I.G, it’s almost surreal to revisit Shaq’s admittedly solid hip-hop career. Yet it’s Kobe’s verse that ultimately left the biggest impression. Even on collaborator Sonja Blade, who spoke about “3X’s Dope” during a Grantland interview. “When he laid that down, the whole studio erupted because it was like, ‘This guy is not playing.’ This was not A-B-C stuff,” she reflected. “You know what’s funny? He sounds dope,” she says afterward. “Compared to the rappers today, he’s dope. He sounds like an underground backpack rapper.”
Granted, Kobe would ultimately forsake his hip-hop dreams before anything substantial could manifest. But it’s still nice to remember another side of the legendary NBA superstar. Rest in peace Kobe Bryant — revisit some of his bars below.