Hip-Hop 50: ESPN celebrates five decades of hip-hop music


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In honor of hip-hop turning 50, ESPN tapped the culture’s top voices to write about their favorite athlete name-drops in hip-hop history. Below is a collection of essays.

Kendrick Lamar on former NBA coach Phil Jackson

by Jayson Buford

Big Sean’s “Control” (2013), which features Kendrick Lamar, raises the stakes of rap competition to the point of him sounding like a lecturer and has a lyric that made Phil Jackson publicly comment on rap, perhaps for the first time ever. Lamar, in the middle of his three-minute verse, name-drops the coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers dynasties: “If Phil Jackson came back, still no coaching me.”

When Kendrick Lamar told Phil Jackson he was beyond coaching

Common’s Serena Williams name-drop demanded respect for the GOAT

by Katie Barnes

Serena Williams is an icon, the GOAT, a tennis legend and probably the most name-dropped woman athlete in hip-hop, yet her acknowledgment in pop culture was often varied.

How Common spoke the truth about Serena Williams’ true value

How Ghostface Killah made Yankees great Graig Nettles cool again

by Alphonse Pierre

For a young baseball player who longed to play second base but ended up at third, a Ghostface Killah freestyle helped him embrace his new position.

How Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah made Yankees legend Graig Nettles cool again

The soul-stirring power of Jordan, J.Cole and ‘The Lion King’

by Jada Gomez

Motivated by the career of Michael Jordan and an iconic Disney character, J.Cole dropped one of the most moving songs of his career.

Powered by Michael Jordan, J. Cole reached a new level on “Return of Simba”

Why Will Smith’s comic jab at Mike Tyson never hit its mark

by Sean Malcolm

In 1989, it was inconceivable to think any sane human being could beat Michael Gerard Tyson in any kind of fight (cough, cough…Mitch Green), let alone a professional boxing match. Yet, in the delusional mind of Will Smith — better known then as hip-hop wunderkind, The Fresh Prince — he thought he could shoot a fair one with the best fighter on the plane.

How The Fresh Prince folded under the heat of Iron Mike

Jadakiss reflects on NBA legend Sam Cassell

by Eric Rosenthal and Jeff Rosenthal

Hip-hop Hall of Famer Jadakiss on how NBA legend and Celtics assistant coach Sam Cassell made it into one of the rapper’s most memorable lyrics.

A lyrical name-drop is earned, and NBA legend Sam Cassell got it honest

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