50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop: These are the Most Iconic Basketball References of All-Time
SLAM wouldn’t be what it is without hip-hop. In honor of its 50th anniversary, we made a list of the most iconic basketball references of all time. From Ice Cube to Tribe to Chuck D, here are our top 50 lyrics.
And yes, they’re ranked.
Last week messed around and got a triple double/Freakin’ brothers every way like MJ/I can’t believe, today was a good day
— “It Was a Good Day,” Ice Cube
When Cube performs the song now, he switches MJ to Kobe, but this still remains a classic line that everyone knows no matter what age, race or nationality. Who doesn’t love a good day?
Real sick, brawl nights, I perform like Mike/Anyone—Tyson, Jordan, Jackson/Action, pack guns, ridiculous
— “Victory,” The Notorious B.I.G.
Simple and plain, give me the lane/I’ll throw it down your throat like Barkley
— “Rebel Without a Pause,” Public Enemy
Chuck D shouts out one of his favorite 1990’s NBA players on one of the hardest songs of that era.
Just like I’m the king on the microphone, so is Dr. J and Moses Malone
— “Basketball,” Kurtis Blow
No list of this kind would be complete without the inclusion of the OG hoop hip-hop song.
It’s Hovi baby you Kobe, maybe Tracy McGrady/Matter fact, you a Harold Miner, JR Rider, washed up on marijuana/Even worse you a Pervis Ellis, you worthless fella
— “Pump It Up (remix),” Jay-Z
Jay washed Joe Budden on his own beat with a couple bars that only true hoop heads will understand.
Top baller in every state/In Chi I’m Mike/Boston I’m Kenny/In Miami I’m Timmy and Phoenix I’m Penny
— “What Means the World to You,” Cam’Ron
Two shooters by the door and they grippin’ the thirty/That’s why they both got fifty pointers like Mitchell and Murray
— “Nothin Less,” Conway the Machine
I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo/He was the one to follow/He was the only leader foreseeing a brighter tomorrow
— “Black Boy Fly,” Kendrick Lamar
This bar is just the tip of the iceberg for Kendrick, speaking about his friend turned NBA player from Compton. The song shows a level of vulnerability that is not often seen in hip-hop.
I got a chopper and a trimmer/Shooting like Jimmer
— “Sure Thing,” Lil Wayne
Hip-hop scholars since being knee-high to a duck/The height of Muggsy Bogues, complexion of a hockey puck
— “Steve Biko (Stir it Up),” A Tribe Called Quest (Phife Dawg)
Hold up, I ain’t trying to stunt, man/But these Yeezys jumped over the Jumpman/Went from most hated to the champion God flow/I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know
— “New God Flow,” Kanye West
The epitome of talking yo sh$% and backing it up. It was a good run while it lasted.
New York is the town and the team is the Knicks
— “One Two Sh**,” A Tribe Called Quest
Phife may be the hip-hop king of sports-related bars. RIP to the 5-foot assassin.
Real G’s move in silence like Giannis
— “Giannis,” Freddie Gibbs
If I ain’t in Japan, I’m in the Valley (Valley, ooh)/Or maybe next door in Gary Payton bowling alley (Ooh)
— “Hope I Don’t Go Back,” E-40
A flex isn’t truly a flex if it isn’t true. The Vallejo rapper was actually neighbors with The Glove when he dropped this single.
Kobe ’bout to lose a hundred fifty M’s / Kobe my n***a I hate it had to be him / B**ch you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym / (B**ch you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym)
— “Stay Schemin,” Drake
She got me back livin’ sweeter, fresh Caesar/Guess, David Robinsons, Wally moccasins
— “Street Dreams,” Nas
I was popping blue devils, Coach K ain’t recruit me
— “No Hook,” Dave East
This isn’t just a creative drug reference. East actually played AAU ball with Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley and received a DI scholarship, so this line is actually dope and believable.
See I used to pay Kobe, but now I pay LeBron
— “24-23,” Young Jeezy
My team in the cut, packing metal things/I’ve got more foreign shooters than the Sacramento Kings
— “Follow Me Gangster,” Lloyd Banks
In 2003, when Banks dropped this song, Peja Stojakovic was the only foreign shooter on the Kings squad. But it’s still a super slick line.
Kobe doin’ work / 2-4 on my shirt / He the greatest on the court / And I’m the greatest on the verse / Going for the fourth ring like it was his first / Gotta get the bling
— “Kobe Bryant,” Lil Wayne
As a huge sports fan, it’s only right that Wayne dedicated an entire song full of clever bars to Bean.
Country n**** never seen a passport/‘Til I popped off and got a bag for it/Now I’m at the Garden sittin’ half court/Watchin Jr. catch it off the backboard
— “Amari,” J.Cole
Dreamville boss Cole shouts out his fellow Fayettteville, NC, native Dennis Smith Jr.
Imma make you see L.A. like Ed O’Bannon
— “Sonset,” Ras Kass
But I’m limitless mentally, I’m lyrically ZMT/LeBron shit, I was in that 6 after 23
— “Ambition,” Wale
See the shots that I took (ayy), wet like I’m Book (ayy)/Wet like I’m Lizzie
— “SICKO MODE,” Drake
I crossover like Steph Curry, crossover like CP/But I will not crossover so n***** can buy the CD
— “Just Another Day,” The Game
Now who’s the first pick? Me. Word is born’in/Not a Christian Laettner not Alonzo Mourning
— “Can We Rock (What’s Up Doc),” Shaquille O’Neal aka Shaq-Fu
The beginning of Shaq’s career as a rapper started with this feature on a Fu-Schnickens song. Compared to later disses of fellow players, Zo and Laettner got off easy with this kinder and gentler version of Shaq.
- I’m Killa, you Andre Miller, got a basic game/I told your b**ch to hurry up, we don’t wait for trains
— “Cookin Up,” Cam’Ron
And my shot kinda rusty but the fade clean/And me and Steph Curry on the same team
— “Cruising,” Lecrae
I’m Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf/I don’t pledge allegiance I raise the roof
— “Life Gets Brutal,” Heems
I was raised to live, Lord I pray you forgive/If not, I just handle it like Jason Kidd
— “You’re Only a Customer,” Jay-Z
Life is a journey before I went the rap route/I served ni**** off the bench like Stackhouse
— “Journey,” Cormega
I’m slamming n***** like Shaquille, s**t is real /When it’s time to eat a meal, I rob and steal
— “Gimme The Loot,” Notorious B.I.G.
From the past to the present, shouting out to the greats/Still love Phi Slama Jama, repping U of H
— “Houston Is,” K-Rino
IYKYK, Rino is a rap legend in the state of Texas. His reminiscent bars shouting out the early 80’s college squad that included Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler show genuine love to his city.
And on top it’s lonely so keep your homies right by your side/And if life is short then we’ll be the shorts of the Fab Five
— “The Intro About Nothing,” Wale
We back to back, back to back like the Comets
— “Getchya Hands Up,” ESG
Not only is this track a bonafide Texas classic, it is also one of the very few times that a WNBA team has gotten a shout out on a dope record. That’s the kind of love a four-peat championship team should receive!
Like Kareem I got the hook up
— “Sum Sh** I Wrote,” Common
Motor city technically Rasheed Wallace /Then moved to Chicago for dollars like Ben Wallace
— “Jingling,” Cool Kids
I’m from a place where junkheads and zombies dwell/And n***** keep the heat blazin’ like Bonzi Wells
— “Biscuits,” Trife
Courtside seats, this the big bag/Hit a Ja Morant shot, get ’em big mad
— “Big League,” Yo Gotti
With my hair slicked back, I look like Rick Pitino
— “Nana,” Action Bronson
The fact that Bronson has very little hair on his head and bears little to no resemblance to the legendary coach makes this line equally ridiculous and dope.
Big ass shotgun look like Lauri Markkkanen
— “Bloxk Party,” Sada Baby
Well before he had a career year with the Jazz, Detroit rapper Sada Baby shouted out the All-Star forward on his 2018 underground hit.
I got a crime record longer than Manute Bol
— “M.V.P.,” Big L
Kevin Garnett earrings look like Fiji water
— “Stealing,” Gucci Mane
I got game, but not the hoop court/And plus, basketball’s never really been my sport/I probably woulda made it to the NFL/But I had grams for 50 in my possession to sell
— “Know What I’m Talkin Bout,” Keak Da Sneak
B**ch you ugly like yo daddy Reggie Miller
— “I’m Good,” YG
Guaranteed, make ’em jump like Rod Strickland
— “Triumph,” Raekwon
Either that or quit it, throw in the chair like you Bobby Knight
— “NBA,” Joe Budden
Even if you have braids like Latrell/I got more numbers in my system than Pacific Bell/Pass the basketball around and go tell/Smoother than Rick Fox puttin’ on his hair gel
— “NBA,” Kool Keith
I get my hair cut correct like Anthony Mason/Then I ride the IRT right up to Penn Station
— “B-Boys Makin with the Freak Freak,” Beastie Boys
Not the most technical bars, but anything that shows love to A. Mase is all love.
We ballin’ like the March Madness
— “March Madness,” Future
Although he isn’t an elite lyricist, it’s hard to front on a song that’s this good and that name checks the biggest college hoops tourney in the world.
Photos via Getty Images, Portrait by Atiba Jefferson.