On Drake’s 2010 hit song “Thank Me Now,” the Canadian rapper and Toronto sports die-hard delivers one of his most memorable bars. After using the likes of Iverson and Jordan in the preceding lines, Drake raps, “I swear sports and music are so synonymous / Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.” Drake isn’t the first or only hip-hop artist to feel the connection between athletics and music.
For a multitude of reasons, hip-hop and sports have gone hand in hand for decades. Hip-hop artists have been wearing sports gear since the genre’s inception, and athletes have never been shy to blare these artists’ music. Let’s analyse the long-standing connection by analyzing the industries’ crossover.
We compiled a list of 300 iconic rap songs from artists like Melle Mel and Kanye West to fairly represent the genre over time. We decided a combination of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time” list, crowdsourced favorites from Ranker, and top hits over past decades from Billboard’s hip-hop archives would suffice for this analysis. We then got to the hard part: watching all 300 music videos and tracking any appearances of sports gear. When sports gear of any kind was identifiable, the league, team, and type of gear represented were all recorded. Dozens of hours of music video footage yielded unprecedented insights into hip-hop. Scroll on to see our results.
The Symbiosis of Song and Sport
The timeline depicts key overlap between hip-hop and sports, dating back more than 30 years. In 1985, N.W.A continued to cement its association with the Raiders by donning Oakland gear. While this team may seem like the wrong part of the state for the Compton rap group to represent, fans may be forgetting that the Oakland Raiders were the Los Angeles Raiders from 1982 to 1994.
In 1993 and 1996, the legendary Shaquille O’Neal released two incredibly successful albums, including his platinum debut Shaq Diesel. The first was O’Neal’s introduction to the rap industry, while the latter featured collaboration with the industry’s biggest stars. Even though the former Lakers star is now well over 40 years old, he loves to stay active in the rap community. His recent involvement is evidenced by a 2015 freestyle rap in honor of Kanye West’s birthday and a 2017 diss track aimed at LaVar Ball.
In addition to Shaq, many recent figures from sports and hip-hop have embodied Drizzy’s line from “Thank Me Later” by pursuing careers in each other’s specialty. For example, Portland superstar Damian Lillard released a studio rap album under his rap alias “Dame D.O.L.L.A.” On the ownership side of sports, Jay-Z once owned a stake in the Brooklyn Nets and now manages high-profile athletes, such as Kevin Durant and Robinson Cano. Some big-time artists have a history on the court, including Tauheed Epps, better known as 2 Chainz, who played a season of Division I college basketball at Alabama State.
Famed Canadian artist Drake isn’t shy about soaking up the NBA spotlight. In 2013, he accepted the role of “global ambassador” for the Toronto Raptors and has only increased his presence around the league since. His seven-year stint on Canadian TV show “Degrassi: The Next Generation” may have helped prepare him for hosting the ESPYs and inaugural NBA Awards, as the artist clearly has a knack for making athletes laugh.
While the NBA and NFL’s relationships with hip-hop are established, neither is the most represented league in rap videos. That title belongs to the MLB. More than half of all sports gear worn in the videos we watched belonged to a professional baseball franchise. Its closest competitor, the NBA, accounted for less than a quarter of all gear. The NFL clocked in third, and the NCAA narrowly edged out the NHL to be the fourth most represented league.
Reppin’ the Jersey
The MLB may reign king across all sports gear, but no league’s uniform can compete with the NBA’s jerseys. As you catch hip-hop videos here and there, don’t be surprised to find an abundance of Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls jerseys.
Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Magic Johnson are legends that have made the Lakers heavily repped in hip-hop. Viewers can spot 50 Cent in a Lakers jersey in the music video for his song “In Da Club,” and the gear can also be seen in Kanye West’s “Through the Wire” and Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” videos.
When discussing icons, it’d be disrespectful to forget about Michael Jordan. The Hall-of-Famer brought home six NBA titles and five MVPs during his reign to earn his spot in the debate of the G.O.A.T. He also is responsible for Jordan brand sneakers, which have had a profound influence on both basketball and hip-hop. It’s safe to say that red-and-black No. 23 jerseys will be on display for years to come.
Hats Off to the MLB
The NBA may take the win for jerseys, but no league can touch the classic MLB hat. Yankees hats have managed to stay in style for decades without even tweaking the team’s logo or colors. No other league maintains such a classic and simple feel to its headwear.
This also explains why the New York Yankees blow away the rest of the MLB in the 300 music videos we examined. Jay-Z and 50 Cent both heavily contribute to the abundance of Yankees hats in this sample. The Dodgers and Braves both performed admirably as well. The Dodgers’ representation was largely driven by West Coast rappers, such as Kendrick Lamar and N.W.A. For example, Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” features the Compton rapper rocking a blue Dodgers hat throughout the whole video. The Braves, on the other hand, draw fans from across the South, including Outkast and Usher. Atlanta fans looking for a Braves gear appearance should check out Outkast’s “B.O.B.” video.
Gallup’s 2017 poll shows that the MLB is well behind the NFL and NBA in terms of national popularity, but the league’s gear is elite. While Aaron Judge, Clayton Kershaw, and Freddie Freeman probably don’t mind seeing their teams’ logos in videos, much of the appeal of MLB hats stems from the aesthetic and tradition of the headwear. Early 2000s rappers’ fondness for New Era baseball caps helped launch the prominence of MLB headwear in rap. The tradition has been carried on today, while artists continue to popularize more customized and innovative designs.
The Soul of the City
To wrap up this tribute to hip-hop and sports, let’s take a look at which figures represented prominent sports cities over the years and which teams are loved the most throughout the history of hip-hop.
The Yankees reign supreme across all sports gear, but don’t be surprised to find your favorite rapper wearing a Knicks jersey or Mets hat either. The Yankees were carried to their #1 ranking among New York teams thanks to their iconic hat.
Although previously mentioned, no New York sports gear discussion is complete without acknowledging Jay-Z. There seemed to be a period of time where it was difficult to find the Brooklyn star not in a Yankees fitted cap. In fact, Jay can be found in his classic Yankees hat in his massive hit single, “Empire State of Mind.”
Legendary rapper Christopher Wallace, better known as Biggie Smalls or The Notorious B.I.G., hailed from Brooklyn, New York, and, despite his passing, remains a cultural icon for the borough. In the 2017 season, the Nets held an official “Biggie Night” to honor the Brooklyn hero.
Our final NYC representative is one of the major stars of the 2000s: 50 Cent. It’s difficult to find one of 50’s music videos that don’t rep his city, whether it’s through a Yankees hat or Mets jersey.
Thanks to its timeless, simple design, Dodger hats proved to be the most essential sports gear in Southern California. The Lakers are Los Angeles’ runner-up, largely thanks to the team’s gaudy purple and gold jerseys and historical success. The Raiders finish in third, which may be due to the team’s reputation for toughness.
Former N.W.A member Ice Cube can still be seen at Raiders games wearing the team’s gear. In a 2010 interview with ESPN, the rapper discussed his love for the franchise. Cube’s fandom stemmed from the franchise’s success in the early ’80s and exploded when the team moved to Los Angeles, bringing home a championship win in the process.
Shortly following N.W.A’s reign, Snoop Dogg became another rap star from Southern California. Snoop is a lifelong Lakers fan and can be heard weighing in on what he suggests the team does in 2018 free agency:
If “Coach Snoop” was leading the Los Angeles Lakers the first thing he’d do is get LeBron James “and then figure it out from there.” pic.twitter.com/wf1pZCsxyI
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) February 3, 2018
Once again, a major city is dominated by their MLB team’s gear, this being the Braves. The Braves’ “Atlanta Crown” is attributable to a slightly more daring staple: the team’s two tone navy and red hat. The Hawks edge out the Falcons for second place in the city, however the Hawks better watch their back in this bird battle. The Falcons may pass them by if the NFL squad continues to reach postseason play, as they have in the past couple seasons.
Atlanta may not have the sport’s history or number of franchises as New York or Los Angeles, but the city has an immeasurable amount of pride. 2 Chainz is one of many icons for the city, and can be seen at a number of Hawks games throughout each season. In 2016, 2 Chainz gave out thousands of copies of his album to Hawks fans on the same day that he performed.
T.I. and Outkast also hail from the Peach State and can be spotted in different Atlanta stadiums throughout the year. Don’t be surprised to find T.I. celebrating a Julio Jones touchdown or André 3000 cheering on the Braves.
Methodology and Limitations
To choose which hip-hop music to analyze, we compiled a list of the 300 all-time greatest rap songs. We determined using a combination of the following sources would provide a balanced sample:
- The Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time”
- The top hits over the past decade from Billboard’s hip-hop archives
- Ranker’s crowdsourced “Best Rap Songs of All Time” list
While there was overlap across the three lists, we counted each song only once. All R&B songs were excluded from Billboard’s archives, and we examined the top 300 hip-hop songs over the past 10 years. Next, we watched approximately 22 hours worth of rap and hip-hop music videos and recorded all instances of sports-related gear worn by the main rap artist or any extras in the video. The earliest recorded video dates back to 1982. We acknowledged all sports-related gear that was identifiable by team colors and player numbers. Additionally, artists represented in our city assets each had a song examined in our analysis. These artists also must have originated from the city or state depicted and have public photographs wearing team-related gear or supporting a team at a live sporting event.