The late Kobe Bryant was esteemed by hip-hop A-listers from Kanye to Kendrick, from Cardi B to Swae Lee. And in 1999 — back when he still wore a No. 8 jersey — he even recorded a debut single of his own, “K.O.B.E.,” and handled business in a rap battle.
One night at the now-defunct Hit Factory on 54th Street, the Los Angeles Lakers’ shooting guard took on the duo Punchline and Wordsworth — and won. “Kobe had a quality of lyrics,” MC Wordsworth told Grantland in 2013. “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.”
Beyond his lyrical skills, Bryant’s life and career resonated with rappers. An 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion, he is considered one of the greatest NBA players of all time, scoring a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors and 60 in his final game, in which he led the Lakers to victory against the Utah Jazz in 2016.
Tragically, Bryant died Sunday, January 26, near Calabasas, California, in a helicopter crash that also claimed the life of his daughter Gianna and seven others. Bryant was 41.
For over a decade, rappers have been citing the basketball titan. Here are six lyrical shout-outs to the “Black Mamba,” by artists who paid public homage upon his passing or during his career.
Ice Cube compares himself to a notorious Ugandan despot (“I’m the only West Coast king/Idi Amin”) before comparing himself to an L.A. favorite son: “It’s already over, supernova/I’m Kobe, you the n—a I’m hooping over.”
“Congratulations on a fabulous career,” Ice Cube said in a 2016 video message to Bryant hashtagged #MambaDay. “You’re in my heart; you’re the hero.”
On his Trap God 3 mixtape, Gucci Mane compared Bryant’s shoots-and-scores to an itchy trigger finger: “I got that Kobe Bryant, Smith & Wesson/Shoot first, I ain’t askin’ questions/You think this an old Western ’cause I got my secret weapon.”
“Rest in peace, Kobe! My heart broken,” he tweeted on Sunday.
In 2004, Bryant signed what was then the largest contract in NBA history, a seven-year/$136.4 million deal with the Lakers. Nearly a decade later, Rick Ross spit an unmistakable descriptor, “Kobe Bryant money,” as a guest on this Cassie track.
Upon Bryant’s death, Ross simply tweeted Bryant’s name with a praying-hands emoji.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Dash Snow
“The Heart Pt. 2”
Overly Dedicated (2010)
Atop a sample from the Roots’ “A Peace of Light,” K. Dot flips Bryant’s 24 jersey number into a meditation on gun control: “One hood with 20 four-fours [44-caliber rounds] like a cloned Kobe Bryant.”
In the wake of Bryant’s final game, Lamar tweeted, “NO PRESSURE. The great one… Thank you for the journey champ.”
Tear Drop Tune 2 (2009)
Weezy’s homage to Bryant begins with a sample from the man himself: “I want to be the best, simple and plain. That’s why I play the game. And to be the best, you have to win, and that’s what drives me.” The brilliantly groggy rapper makes connections to his own feats: “Practice every day/Practice in my sleep/Straight outta high school/The brackets aren’t for me.”
Wayne’s Twitter tribute to Bryant was simple and straightforward: “We lost a king. 824.”
Kanye West feat. Big Sean, Charlie Wilson & Beyoncé
“See Me Now”
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
On a bonus track from Ye’s masterpiece, Big Sean raps, “They say G.O.O.D. Music [West’s label] like the new Miami Heat, shit/Comparin’ them to us, man, they gotta add Kobe.”