Ballers and beats: Ranking NBA players' mixtapes

Though it may be blasphemous to say, especially during March Madness, I am a much bigger fan of the NBA than college basketball. The NBA has exciting basketball at the highest level and larger-than-life players who are exciting to follow both on and off the court. Many of these players express their interests outside of basketball, often branding themselves as connoisseurs in fashion. A select few players, however, create music for their fans to enjoy. So, instead of filling out a bracket, I decided to rank some famous ballers’ recent music drops. While this list is by no means exhaustive, I limited myself to my five favorite projects released by NBA players.

JJ Redick (Duke alum!)

JJ Redick, T’06, gets a special shoutout. Not because he released good music, or even because he’s released music at all. Rather, because he told people he was going to release an album and never did, as far as I can find. I’m disappointed because I was actually really excited to listen to it.

Lonzo Ball

Many things can be said about Lonzo Ball. He’s one-third of the Ball Brothers currently making headlines in the NBA, and the son of one of the most notorious sports fathers in our current media landscape. After being drafted at number two by the LA Lakers in the 2017 NBA draft, Ball later found his footing as an emerging star on the Chicago Bulls. While he’s fun to watch on the court, off the court, he’s known to have dabbled in music, releasing the single “Zo2” in 2017. It’s a fun song, but it didn’t particularly impress me, just because it felt like an imitation of Migos or Future’s sound.

Lonzo has, however, recently released a collaboration album with his brother LiAngelo (under the pseudonym G Honcho), titled “Ball-Star Pack.” Has Lonzo found a greater sense of identity in terms of his rap performance on this record? Yes, he’s definitely improved. However, I have to admit that LiAngelo upstaged Lonzo on many of the songs on this album, with his great rapid-fire flow and effortless glide over the beat. Similar to his balling, however, Lonzo does seem to be on an upward trajectory in terms of his music, so there’s definitely music to look forward to in the future from him.

Miles Bridges

Now is the time when I have to lay out my biases — Miles Bridges is perhaps among my favorite players currently playing in the NBA. He plays for my adoptive hometown team, the Charlotte Hornets, and he’s from Flint, Michigan, around which I grew up. Additionally, his dunks are some of the best in the league. Needless to say, I was very excited to listen to his most recent mixtape, dropped under his pseudonym RTB MB, titled “MB VANDROSS.”

I genuinely thought it was a pretty unique listen. Something that can definitely be said about Bridges is that he has a knack for selecting good beats, of which he’s able to rap effortlessly over. My favorite song off the mixtape was “100 Hoes,” merely because the beat is so vibrant and bouncy. On the flip side, I have to admit to myself, I very likely wouldn’t be as impressed with this mixtape as I currently am if it wasn’t created by one of my favorite ballers in the league at the moment. Bridges doesn’t have much to say outside of contemplations of fame and luxury. However, coming in at only 6 tracks, “MB VANDROSS” avoids overstaying its welcome. 

Iman Shumpert

The only NBA champion on the list, Iman Shumpert is currently a free agent who last played for the Brooklyn Nets. Off the court, he’s married to singer-songwriter Teyana Taylor and creates rap music himself.

I listened to his 2019 project “Piece de la Foutu Pie” and really liked what I found. He has a unique musical identity and sounds well-versed over the mic. The project has beats of different tones and moods over which Shumpert shines. I really had no major problems with this project, and it stands as a really solid effort.

Marvin Bagley III (Duke alum!)

Since we didn’t get to enjoy JJ Redick’s rap venture, we now turn to another Duke alum, Marvin Bagley III. Unlike Redick, the Detroit Pistons star actually released an album. He raps under the name MB3FIVE and consistently drops projects, the latest of which, “Marv Vs. Marv II” released in 2021.

Bagley’s biggest strengths are his lyricism and storytelling. At the end of the first song off the album, he splices in a voicemail recording, presumably from his father, guiding him that professional basketball is a different world from college basketball and to dedicate himself towards improving his craft. This is immediately followed by blaring celebratory horns with the track “Run it Up,” essentially conveying his upward trajectory in the NBA. Little moments like that do a good job of communicating his story as a basketball player and made for an impressive listen. I’m genuinely eager to listen to what albums he releases next.

Damian Lillard

Without a doubt, the best rapper in the league is Damian Lillard. I knew that before I even began writing this article. Lillard, known by his rap pseudonym Dame D.O.L.L.A., is famous for his off-court activities in the recording booth. He was even featured on the soundtrack of Space Jam 2. In 2021, Lillard dropped his album “Different on Levels the Lord Allowed,” catching me by surprise with insane features from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Q-Tip, Blxst and Mozzy, among others. The production value for this album was impressive without a doubt, and after listening to the entire body of work, it was actually really cohesive.

Part of the appeal of Lillard’s work is the fact that it’s a competent album created by someone recognized by the NBA as one of the league's greatest players of all time. However, when you look past that, you get a project with a variety of sounds and flows from the laundry list of guest appearances, as well as songs with substance, such as “Kobe,” that see Lillard, Snoop Dogg, and Derrick Milano pay tribute to the legacy of Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Overall, Lillard tops the competition in terms of music produced by an NBA star. 


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