While cruising Amazon one day, I found something curious: a 1994 hip-hop album from Immortal Records called Basketball's Best-Kept Secret featuring the flows of ten of the day's brightest NBA stars. Needless to say, this seemed like a good way to spend four dollars.
I was wrong, though. Buying this record was an outstanding way to spend four dollars. In the Pantheon of Hilariously Bad Athlete Rap, it's the missing link between "The Super Bowl Shuffle" and Kobe Bryant's abysmal "Thug Poet." Is there anything musically redeeming about it? Not at all. Is it worth listening to if you're an NBA fan? Absolutely.
The record is so riveting that I combed through it track-by-track in an attempt to find out what basketball's best-kept secret really is.
Track 02: Dana Barros "“ "Check It"
Barros levels with the listener up front: "I gots many, many things on my mind." These things include: staying strapped, his 850 BMW, and his need to "slam like Onyx, puffing on chronic." The track actually sounds a little like Onyx, so half of that rhyme's appropriate. It's also great to visualize NBA commissioner David Stern hearing the "puffing on chronic" line and then wondering how many times he could possibly drug test Barros the next year.
Does it reference jump shots? No, but there is a nice shout-out to Celtics forward Reggie Lewis, who had died of a heart defect the previous year.
Sample Dana Barros:
Track 03: Malik Sealy "“ "Lost in the Sauce"
The late Sealy turns in one of the better tracks here. DJ Alamo of Brand Nubian crafts a beat that allows Sealy to rhyme about his upbringing and the importance of being a decent human being over a simple wah-guitar and hi-hat. Big Malik "conquered the concrete with my sweet inside-outside game" and will "dunk it on you from the dotted"¦if you act like you want it, you got it."
Does it reference jump shots? As the chorus tells us, "Life's just one big jumpshot." That's the kind of profound revelation you're not going to find in your fancy college philosophy classes.
Sample Malik Sealy:
Track 04: Shaquille O'Neal "“ "Mic Check 1-2"
Shaq has one platinum and two gold records to his credit. Such credentials might lead one to believe he can rap. "Mic Check 1-2" clears up that misconception in its first 30 seconds. Teaming with Brooklyn's Ill Al Skratch, Shaq turns in what sounds like a deeper-voiced version of the worst song Ol' Dirty Bastard ever recorded. O'Neal manages to cleverly work in a great bit of product placement as part of his Reebok endorsement, though, when he claims that he can "inflate rhymes with his InstaPump."
Does it reference jump shots? Sadly, no. Most of the lyrics are just Shaq or Ill yelling "Mic Check 1-2."
Sample Shaquille O'Neal:
Track 06: Cedric Ceballos "“ "Flow On"
You may remember Ceballos for his blindfolded jam to win the 1992 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. One listen to this song, though, and you will always think of him as a poor man's Nate Dogg. Or Nate Dogg with a cold. Here on "Flow On," Ceballos even enlists frequent Nate Dogg collaborator Warren G. to handle production duties and back up his rhymes. The result is what you'd expect: a bland G-funk beat with female backing vocals encouraging Ceballos to "flow on" while he lets us know how smooth he is while eating chicken wings.
Ceballos earns extra points by constantly referring to himself by his jersey number, 23, as if basketball fans immediately think "Ceballos" when hearing that number. Take that, Michael Jordan!
Does it reference jump shots? Yep. "I gets high up off my jumpers and my dunks, you see." Oh, how we see, Cedric.
Sample Cedric Ceballos:
Track 07: Brian Shaw "“ "Anything Can Happen"
Journeyman combo guard Shaw turns in a contemplative track about his family's deaths the previous year. Interestingly, though, Ant Banks' G-funk production doesn't accentuate basketball: it likens life to a game of pool. Shaw's big name-checks on the track are his niece and his girlfriend, who's "soon to be my future wife." In other words, he's nowhere near boastful enough and way too likable to appear on this record. Shaw's slow flow is nothing to crow about, but anything better than "absolutely horrid" sounds pretty good in this context.
Does it reference jump shots? No, but Shaw's always "grabbin' a ball and dunkin' it."
Sample Brian Shaw:
Track 08: Chris Mills "“ "Sumptin' to Groove To"
"Here's a little sumptin' to nod your head to, a funky little groove that you can move to." I guess Mills' chorus is somewhat accurate; I was shaking my head "no" while moving to turn off my stereo. That counts, right? His clumsy flow isn't as honest elsewhere, though. Mills claims to be a "big ballplayer, a nice rhymesayer, and as you all know I'm fly-girl layer." I haven't checked with any fly girls, but I know that at least two of those three statements are patently false.
Words can't do justice to this track's rottenness. It's the aural equivalent of simultaneously seeing a train crash, being kicked in the stomach by a mule, and having the flu.
Does it reference jump shots? "I'm up in the gym"¦I play every day"¦I work real hard so I got a cool J"¦a jump shot"¦" Appreciate the clarification.
Sample Chris Mills:
Track 10: Jason Kidd "“ "What the Kidd Didd"
No, that's not a typo. That's really the song's clever title. Surprisingly, the track itself manages to build on that hilarity. Starting the basic premise of letting us know what the Kidd didd, the point guard delivers rhymes in pretty much the same flat voice he uses to answer postgame questions. Kidd didn't even write his own subpar rhymes. The Digital Underground's Money B. penned them and saved the most amusing rap for his own cameo: "Steady flossin' with cash earned from hittin' (Jamal) Mashburn."
So what did the Kidd do(o)? "Ain't nothing going on but cash and b-ballin'." The boasting is especially enjoyable since those sweet passes to Mashburn led Kidd's Dallas Mavericks to a stellar 13-69 record the previous season.
Does it reference jump shots? Sadly, no, but Kidd clears up the situation with the ladies. He's "got more chicks than Kentucky Fried."
Sample Jason Kidd:
Track 11: J.R. Rider "“ "Funk in the Trunk"
This track alone is worth the price of admission. Musically, it's nothing much, basically just a little piano loop over Rider's stilted flow. However, it takes the listener inside the mind of one of basketball's most notorious madmen. The 1994 dunk champion was known for his erratic off-court behavior, including drug suspensions, a kidnapping charge, and throwing a milkshake at a drive-thru worker.
Who could have seen these behavioral problems coming? It's not like Rider rapped about his motto for life: "keep one in the chamber." Well, he only did it once, anyway. This track would doubtlessly be more terrifying if Rider's delivery could remain intelligible for more than a few words at a time. "I'm going to protect"¦my defense's a killa," doesn't sound like it's about basketball, especially when it's preceded by lines that seem to be about cutting people open.
Does it reference jump shots? There's no time; Rider spends most of the last minute giving shout-outs to everyone he's ever met.
Sample J.R. Rider:
Track 13: Dennis Scott "“ "All Night Party"
Dennis Scott likes to party. All night. Forget whatever you thought you knew about the sharp-shooting small forward who helped the Orlando Magic make the NBA Finals. The man known as 3-D only wants to party. Wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, Chuck E. Cheese pizza bashes"¦it doesn't matter what kind of party. D. Scott will show up and bring the funk. He doesn't even care if there are women there, "all I wanna know is where the party at." Scott would prefer if the party goes "on and on and on and on until the break of dawn," but he's not picky. If there's a party over there, he'll rock it.
Does it reference jump shots? Scott's way too busy partying to worry about hoops.
Sample Dennis Scott:
Track 14: Gary Payton "“ "Livin' Legal and Large"
The future Hall of Fame point guard's track isn't exactly good, but it's closer than anything else on this record. Payton acquits himself fairly well flowing over a bouncy West Coast funk beat. It turns out that the Glove's lifestyle is not just large; it's also legal. The rhymes are forced and feel even weaker when you find out that Payton didn't write them himself, despite his boast that "I can make my lyrics look better than a slam dunk." Apparently he threw home that jam on some other record.
Does it reference jump shots? Oh yeah. "Hit a three"¦talk a little junk" and then later "Who is that? G.P. is what they say as I hit my J in a vicious kind of way"¦" [Payton-as-Lego image courtesy of Supersonicsoul.com.]
Sample Gary Payton:
Conclusion: So what is the album's titular best-kept secret? After listening to the whole record several times, I can only draw three firm conclusions, none of which seem like particularly well-kept secrets:
1) Basketball players have very high opinions of themselves.
2) Despite this confidence, they can't rap.
3) You should never feel truly safe if you're in the same time zone as J.R. Rider.
Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.