The synergy between basketball and hip-hop has been there ever since Big Bank Hank of the Sugarhill Gang — the fat one with the weird hat — bragged about watching the Knicks playing basketball on his color TV in 1979. (Why it was so great watching the depressing late-’70s Knicks in standard def is beyond me, but this guy also thought it was a good idea to call Superman a fairy, so yeah.) Since then, every new month has brought with it a new spate of basketball references in rap lyrics, adding to the shared culture and history between the two mediums of artistic expression.

So in the first of what will hopefully be a recurring column on this site, I’m going to look at some of rap’s most high profile and/or noteworthy baller name-drops from the month of January 2012, break them down and grade them. And remember, when I shout out Jackson! Tyson! Jordan!,” it is your civic responsibility to holler back “GAME SIX!!”

TYGA, “RACK CITY”: “I need my money pronto / Get it in the morning like Alonzo / Rondo, green got cheese like a nacho.”

Technically a holdover from late 2011, “Rack City” really broke out in the first weeks of 2012, and thus gets inclusion here for one of its more perplexing lyrics. The “morning like Alonzo” part of it is easily understood (though thoroughly meaningless), but the next line is a little harder to decipher. Is the Young Money young’n saying that Rajon Rondo, while wearing his Boston green, has cheese like a nacho? (Rondo is making a cool $10 mil this year, though that still ranks him as just the team’s fourth highest-paid player.) Is it that Rondo and the rest of his Green brethren are super rich? (Hard to argue with, I suppose.) Or is the “green” in reference to Rondo’s teammate Jeff Green, whose salary was voided this year due to his medical exemption? (Tyga released the song on December 2nd and thus could not have known this ahead of time.)

Of course, none of these explanations would in any way tie in with Alonzo Mourning, or the pressing need to be paid before lunchtime, none of them really make sense, and all of them bring up the mental image of nacho cheese. “Rondo, green got cheese like a croque-monsieur” would’ve been a lot more appetizing.

Grade: D+ (But if you’ve never watched the video, holy hell you must)

LIL WAYNE ON TYGA’S “FADED”: “Mama, there go that monster / Abracadabra, Magic Johnson.”

Tyga continues the hoops references on latest single “Faded,” crudely boasting (threatening?) “I’m Ben Wallace, dunk up in your basket,” but the best hoops drop comes from guest rapper Lil Wayne, who begins his verse “Mama there go that monster,” a reference guaranteed to make NBA on ABC fans misty-eyed for the halcyon days of Mark Jackson broadcasts. Unfortunately, as much good will as he gets with that little nugget — and it’s an impressively deep one, without so much as a “Mark Jackson” hashtag to explain the reference — he loses most of it right back with the worthless “Abracadabra, Magic Johnson” follow-up. Yes, Magic was also a basketball player, and “abracadabra” puns off Magic’s on-court wizardry and first name, but it still comes off as lazy and underdeveloped, an unfortunately recurring theme for Weezy guest spots of late.

As long as Wayne was referencing Mark Jackson’s days as a broadcaster, not player, why not do the same for No. 32? “Can’t understand a word you saying / Magic Johnson” would’ve been a lot more satisfying, I think.

Grade: C

ACTION BRONSON, “CONTEMPORARY MAN”: “Just a white man excelling in a black sport / Like a Pistol Pete.”

Appropriately for Bronson’s “Contemporary Man” — which belies its title with its sampling of numerous ’80s pop smashes (Phil Collins’ “Sussudio,” Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane”) — Bronson does not go the obvious modern route when finding his kindred minority spirit in the NBA. It seems like these days, everyone and their mother is referencing Kevin Love, the first white superstar in 20 years (longer?) — Ludacris name-dropped him in “Furiously Dangerous,” Snoop rocked his jersey in Far*East Movement’s “If I Was You” video, Diddy even hung out with him at a Wolves shootaround — but Bronson reaches all the way back to Pete Maravich, the last white guy to win a scoring title (possibly for a long-ass time) back in 1977.

Appropriate for the rapper, appropriate for the song. An all-around good call.

Grade: B+

GAME ON SOULJA BOY’S “TOO FADED”: “I like my bitch authentic, no fake titties or ass / If she do, I Ricky Rubio that ho / I pass”

Grantland’s Amos Barshad already expressed his lack of surprise at (The) Game being the first rapper to name-drop Ricky Rubio, and his disappointment at the general banality of the reference. It’s hard to disagree with either point. No rapper in history has ever name-dropped more than Game (and few appear more diligent in their League Passing as Kobe and Kris Humphries also get shoutouts in the same guest verse alone), and as great a phrase as “I Ricky Rubio that ho” undoubtedly is, to just use the rookie sensation’s name as a synonym for the word “pass” does feel like kind of a wasted opportunity. Still, begrudging points to Jayceon for getting there first.

(Barshad also lists a number of phrases for future rappers to use that rhyme with Rubio, but his advice is unneeded. Just see the entire second half of Drake’s verse on Birdman’s “Money to Blow.”)

Grade: C+


No lyrics listed here, since none of Don Trip’s lyrics in “Allen Iverson” directly reference either A.I. or any other basketball figure, instead using vague lyrical sentiments that could be referring to life in the street, on the court or on the mic (“Show me a man that’s never suffered a scar / And I’ll show you a man that’s never given his all”). Rather, Iverson’s presence is felt through sampled clips of the man himself, first from his incredibly emotional “That’s not me” speech upon returning to the Sixers in 2010, and then from his “Who is you?” interview with Stephen A. Smith in 2005, played as breaks in between the song’s first two verses.

It’s an inspired use of the Iverson samples — though it’s unfortunate that you can still hear the sound of the NBA TV graphics appearing and disappearing during the “That’s not me” speech — and A.I.’s words positively drip with humanity over the song’s dramatic, almost “Rocky”-like Cool & Dre beat. It’s little bit disappointing, though, when Trip resorts to bringing back Iverson’s overplayed “We talkin’ ’bout practice” speech at the end, like a DJ thrilling a club with rare Jay-Z freestyles, then dropping “Izzo.” We know, we know.

Grade: B

DRAKE ON RICK ROSS’ “STAY SCHEMIN’”: “Kobe ’bout to lose 150 Ms / Kobe my nigga, I hate it had to be him / Bitch you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym”

Probably the basketball reference from the still-young 2012 that’s gotten the most attention, Drake takes a guest spot on Rick Ross’ Rich Forevermixtape to give his condolences to buddy Kobe Bryant about his impending divorce. The pity that Drake shows for Kobe is surprising, both because he seems to view Kobe as the obvious victim in this situation — not to dwell in the past, but ahem, 2003, Colorado — and because his sympathy is expressed purely for the monetary implications of the divorce, deeming Vanessa undeserving of her generous settlement (while Rick Ross apparently agrees enough to reiterate the sentiment immediately after).

Unsurprisingly, the lyric (especially the Rozay-repeated “Bitch you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym” line) has taken on a life of its own, so much so that Drizzy was asked about it in a recent interview. “That line came from a conversation about being this young and making this much money and the fear of losing it all,” Drake told Nah Right. “I just used his potential situation to address my own life. I never intended to offend Vanessa or anyone else. That line had everything to do with me and what goes on in my head as a 25 year old man with this much income flowing in. Kobe is and always will be a friend and an icon to me.”

No surprise that the guy who once claimed that “sports and music are so synonymous / Because we wanna be them, and they wanna be us” would relate to Kobe so deeply, and it’s certainly a perspective on the situation that not many are going to have, and a very memorable lyric to boot. Still, it’s hard not to see the lyric coming off as more than a little bit cold to the ex-Mrs. Bryant. She might not have been with him shooting in the gym, but she was with him through a lot of shit that 99 percent of spouses never have to go through. Maybe it merits her $150 million, maybe not — though reports have her “only” getting $75 mil anyway, along with some mansions — but it probably wouldn’t kill a female-friendly rapper such as Drake to show her a little understanding.

(By the way, should Drake really be so buddy-buddy with Kobe after what he did to Young Aubrey’s hometown Raptors six years ago? No loyalty among celebrities these days, honestly.)

Grade: B-