Hip hip like most other genres gets it’s fair share of novelty acts from time to time. So the wisdom of matching rap’s popularity with that of professional basketball was a mashup just waiting to happen. After all, it was assumed that rap was the preferred music of it’s professional basketball’s target audience in America. Another assumption was that for a large part of the NBA audience, rap was second only to basketball as the way out of the hood.
So when I heard that Shaquille O’Neal has a new album, my immediate response was to laugh- until I heard the catchy “I’m Outstanding”. O’Neal made the case for basketball star-turned-rapper almost convincing. Despite a couple of catchy singles Shaq Diesel will be remembered as a curious and perhaps inevitable exercise in entertainment stardom. What many didn’t realize was that Shaq actually had a worthwhile product that could transcend novelty status.
Unlike other rappers, Shaq’s street creed was verifiable (if not manufactured) on the basketball court. Still for thousands of impressionable urban kids, Shaq was a larger than life hero who actually had some raping skills. It could be argued that his delivery on stage was ahead of his free throw abilities on the court. With well over 1 million copies sold, Shaq Diesel is easily the best selling rap album from a NBA player.
Of course it didn’t hurt that Shaq Diesel was produced by then hot Eric Sermon, one of the hip hop greatest producers of his generation. One of his contributions, “I’m Outstanding” was one of 1993’s best jams. By deftly sampling and combining bits from the Gap Band (“Outstanding), James Brown (“The Payback), Yarboro and Peoples (“Don’t Stop the Music) and fellow rapper LL Cool J (“Jingling Baby”), Sermon created an infectious beat that sounded like an all new song.
Always the net-worker, Shaq recruited other producer including K-Cut, Def Jef and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Although there were two official singles, there were multiple tracks getting airplay on R&B stations. “What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock) a K-Cut produced track was clearly representative of East Coast old school, not unlike early Beatnicks. While much of the album was a cross section of contemporary rap styles, Shaq himself only made minor contributions to the vocal flow of many songs.
Shaquille O’Neal may not have been the first NBA player turned rapper, or even the best rapper for that matter, but his debut Shaq Diesel has it’s charms and is as belivable an attempt at street posturing that a millionaire could make. Even to this day it, remains the best album from a baller turns rapper that I have ever heard.