In light of the tragic passing of NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, it is only right to look back at his career as a Hip-Hop artist. Born and raised in Philly, another Hip-Hop capital, despite spending 8 years of his childhood in Italy, Kobe fell in love with the art of rap. It was not a secret either.
As early as 1992, Kobe was a member of a rap group called CHEIZAW. CHEIZAW was formed during Kobe’s days as a student at Lower Merian High School in Philadelphia where he joined a couple of high school buddies to form a megatron Wu-like rap collective. According to Grantland, when Kobe came back to the United States at the age of 14, he was recruited by a young gentleman named Anthony Bannister, who worked at the local community center who Kobe’s father, Joe Bryant, was the fitness director.
The group’s name, CHEIZAW, is an acronym inspired by the Chi Sah gang from the kung fu movie, The Kid With the Golden Arm. Featuring members Broady Boy, Tréoz, Russell Howards, Akia Stone, Jester, and Sai Bey, who were all for the most rap underground battle like rappers, Kobe, a varsity playing freshman was their lyrical poet who brought on the balance.
Words, from the duo Punch and Words, recalled his impression on the late Lakers icon with Grantland when he battled against CHEIZAW saying it was obvious he was inspired by Canibus.
” “You could tell he was influenced by Canibus,” said Words. “Kobe had a quality of lyrics. When he got into the cipher, you didn’t look at him as just Kobe. You looked at him as a dude that could rhyme and if you sleep on him, you could get embarrassed.”
In 1999, just 3 years after Kobe was drafted to the NBA, CHEIZAW was signed to Sony Entertainment by Steve Stoute and Trackmasters and the label actually pushed for Kobe’s solo career. In a recent interview with The Breakfast Club, Stoute talked about his role in burgeoning Kobe’s solo rap career.
“As a rookie, I met him and he wanted to put out an album. He was actually a part of a group and I signed the group over at Columbia. Trackmasters, we signed them. We were just coming off of LL Cool J and Will Smith. We thought we can make this thing work,” said Stoute.
With the Mamba mentality always in motion, Kobe wanted to master the craft of hip-hop’s rap element. According to Stoute, Kobe spent quality time with Nas and Foxy Brown to gain insight.
“He stayed in New York. He spent a lot of time with Nas and Foxy really trying to acclimate himself to what he was going to do as an artist. To learn.”
Kobe was on the verge of releasing his debut album, Visions in 2000. However, due to creative differences, as Kobe preferred to emulate lyrical rap as opposed to the pop star rap the label attempted to lure the basketball phenomenon to pursue. The album ended up being shelved and Bryant was dropped from Sony Entertainment.
However, he did make a couple of memorable tracks along with some huge features. Reigning from his postponed debut was the posse embedded “Thug Poet” featuring Broady Boy, Nas, and 50 Cent and the self-titled “Kobe” featuring Tyra Banks. He also made a tuneful guest feature on the Trackmasters remix of Brian McKnight’s “Hold Me” and also made noise on a remix to Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name.”
One of his most memorable moments in rap is his feature on fellow Lakers baller, Shaquille O’Neal’s Clark Kent produced”3X’s Dope” which is featured on Shaq’s fourth solo album, Respect.
For an elite basketball player, Kobe had a pretty ample career. Hip-hop was a culture he respected and it even influenced his signature Mamba mentality. He admired the revolutionary component of hip-hop, where lyrics were used to combat realistic matters along with the toss of battle. The art of picking and choosing your battles wisely is one thing Kobe and Hip-Hop had in common.