Hip-hop has held an undeniable influence on basketball culture. Since the 1980s, there’s been an intertwining of the two. There are numerous titles in which rappers directly reference the sport, such as Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball”, Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” and Lil Wayne’s “Kobe Bryant”. There are even more instances where a basketball player, coach or team is referenced. Some players simultaneously even launch rap careers in the midst of their basketball careers, such as Portland’s Damian Lillard and Los Angeles’ Lonzo Ball.
The overlap between hip-hop and basketball only continues to increase with time. Just ask Quavo, whose rap trio, Migos is at the forefront of rap’s modern era. He says that the relationship between the two is natural, and has been since the earliest days of the genre.
“Basketball is hip-hop. Hip-hop is basketball,” Quavo tells Sports Illustrated. “It’s no way hip-hop would be around without basketball.”
The NBA is aware of this as well, and has not only acknowledged hip-hop’s presence in its sport, but made efforts to embrace it. Today, it’s unlikely to see an NBA promotion that isn’t underscored by a rap song’s bass thudding in the background. In fact, Migos’ hit single “Stir Fry” served as the official anthem for 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, where Quavo won MVP honors during the All-Star Celebrity Game.
In 2017, hip-hop overtook rock as the most popular music genre in the United States, according to Nielsen. As far as Quavo is concerned, the impact hip-hop has made on the NBA—and the general populous—isn’t much of a surprise. He says he “most definitely” expected Migos to make as large an impact as the group has. (Migos’ albums Culture and Culture II each debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts.)
Today, NBA players are more frequently seen listening to rap, commenting on new releases or reciting verses. Some players have acknowledged that many of the genre’s messages are relative to their background and upbringing. Others are simply vibing with beats or gravitate to the lifestyle.
Quavo, a former high-school quarterback, doesn’t necessarily feel starstruck knowing star athletes are listening to his music. He says seeing LeBron listening to his songs reminds him of listening to rapper Gucci Mane in his locker room before games.
“We’re the culture,” he says. “They look at us for jewelry, they look at us for clothes, they look at us for the sound and for the way to move around, for the whips and the rides and the ‘what’s the new thing?’ And we look at them for the highlights and the dunks and we throw the championship parties.
“It’s the best of both worlds. They give us excitement on the TV screen, we give them excitement for the whip, for them to listen to, the way to live, for the world. It’s the culture.”
In comparison to other sports, basketball allows for players to more fully express themselves, extending from wardrobe to in-game gestures. This is especially apparent when directly comparing basketball with football.
“[With football] you’re already in armor—you’re already under a helmet, shoulder pads,” Quavo says. “But basketball, you just gotta express yourself. Throw on the jersey, throw on this sleeve, rock the brace, and you can see it. It’s more visual, so it really attracted and really was like a magnet to basketball, hip-hop was.”
It’s the very premise of identity that recently helped inspire Quavo, and his group members, Takeoff and Offset, to once again engage with the sports world. Migos stars in a new Mountain Dew commercial promoting the drink’s “Do the DEW” campaign. Their new song “Position to Win” plays in the background as Quavo voices over an ad which features NBA star Joel Embiid, UFC fighter Holly Holm, and skateboarders Sean Malto and Mariah Duran. The spot serves as a celebration of the “power of doing” and exceeding challenges and expectations.
“It’s all about doing what you’re saying you’re gonna do,” Quavo says. “Doing what you say you stand here to do. Doing what you say you’re put on this earth to do. So anything I say, I’m gonna do it.”
Staying true to their identity has helped the members of Migos ascend to the top of the hip-hop world. The group regularly references its Atlanta roots, a pride that extends beyond lyrics. For Quavo, his passion has made him one of the most prominent supporters of Atlanta sports.
With Super Bowl LIII set to be played Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Quavo admits it’s tough knowing the Falcons won’t have a shot at claiming at title. However, he thinks that Atlanta United’s recent MLS Cup win can be the start of a “championship renaissance in Atlanta”. Asked if there’s such a thing as an Atlanta sports curse, he brushes the notion off.
“I think Atlanta United just cracked the curse,” Quavo says. “They broke the curse. Thanks to the real futbol!”
Perhaps it won’t be much longer before the Hawks follow Atlanta United's lead and capture an NBA champoinship. Until then, Quavo will watch closely and continue to show his appreciation for what the NBA is doing to recognize hip-hop culture.
“It’s a blessing. The NBA been doing that for awhile,” he says. “I just feel like it just goes together. Basketball and hip-hop goes together.”