Kendrick Lamar is what we in the sporting world call a generational talent. A talent so unique, that it only manifests itself but a mere few times a generation. His lyrical versatility, creative cadence and mind-boggling wordplay is shown on his last three musical offerings, all of which have catapulted him to hip-hop superstardom.

It would seem only right that none other than the King, LeBron James, be the catalyst that forced Lamar’s hand to release his most recent mixtape/album, untitled unmastered, in early March, clearly somewhat earlier than Kendrick had hoped to, given the name.

The diabolical social media platforms known to us as Twitter and Instagram, were used by LeBron to express his admiration for the new music Kendrick Lamar had released and subsequently urge the young artist to release an entire album soon, to further supply more motivation and inspiration for James’ imminent playoff run.

The intersection of hip-hop and sports in this metropolis we call life, has never been more evident than it is in today’s world. Athletes and rappers consistently lend support to each other in what would seem like a match made in urban heaven.

The affection LeBron shows for Kendrick, is nothing new, even to James himself. He has been notably linked to many artists over the course of his career such as Jay Z, Drake and Kanye. Kendrick just happens to be his latest infatuation, and with good cause.

Rap music plays an immensely important role in today’s athlete as they practise, train and prepare for competition. The soundtrack that thumps in their eardrums, often clogged by expensive headphones, usually symbolizes the strife and struggle they faced growing up and the realities of their newfound wealth, women and luxury rides.

Their seemingly never-ending love for each other, is more than just infatuation. Rather, it is an understanding that goes beyond bars, hooks, whistles and score clocks.

More recently, athletes have taken political stances against police brutality and economic inequality, which also resonates in the music that artists like Kendrick are putting out — thus bringing the industries of hip-hop and sport closer together.

It only makes sense — many of these artists and athletes come from the same neighbourhoods and have had similar experiences during their formative years, all of which contributes to them becoming the figures they are today. Their seemingly never-ending love for each other, is more than just infatuation. Rather, it is an understanding that goes beyond bars, hooks, whistles and score clocks.

Athletes and rappers have been linked since the early ’80s, when Kurtis Blow dedicated an entire song to the game of basketball (“Basketball”) and name-dropped several NBA players at the time.

The late, great Christopher Wallace stated emphatically on his first LP’s Things Done Changed that “You’re either slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot,” if you’re looking for a way out of the hood.

Rap has become another viable and respectable outlet to come out of the ails of poverty, but like professional sports, there are few rappers who make it, and there are far less who are able to stick around, which is why the respect factor among rappers and athletes is so high.

This mutual respect was on display last month at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, when the cross-pollination of rappers, athletes and celebrities permeated the frigid temperatures of the 6ix and coalesced into what seemed like an annual meeting of the successful few.

Those that endured the hardships of life’s obstacles, rose to the pinnacle of their professions and gathered to celebrate in exquisite form on Canadian soil. It seemed like almost every other NBA player was hosting a party of some sort with the help of rappers like Fabolous, Tory Lanez and Young Jeezy. We were all witnesses.

Their music allowed me to escape into a world of angst, anger and rage — everything I needed to perform at high level on the gridiron.

Back when my ankles were less brittle and my threshold for pain was noticeably higher, I do not recall being able to play a game without the presence of some hard-driving bass lines and killer snares clamoring through my headphones. Those bass lines and snares were usually from artists such as Mobb Deep, Nas, Tupac or Capone-N-Noreaga. Their music allowed me to escape into a world of angst, anger and rage — everything I needed to perform at high level on the gridiron.

So, when LeBron credits Kendrick Lamar for helping him to achieve his optimum altitude in his preparation for the post-season, it just assures me that hip-hop isn’t quite dead yet, moreover rap music still is a driving force that catapults our beloved athletes into their realms of greatness. Rap’s power is undeniable and explicitly evident in today’s sporting arena and will continue to garner my interest even if I can’t ward 300 lb. behemoth linemen like I used to.

Kendrick’s latest instalment, untitled, is an artistic rendering of the current state of the world and Compton at-large. It depicts and describes some ails of society — from the Catholic priest child abuse scandal to your local neighbourhood pimp and everything in between. He had been teasing us through various public performances over the last few weeks, and LeBron let him know that enough was enough, an album had to be dropped. And drop, it did.

Thank you ’Bron — you’ve effectively asserted your prowess in not only sport, but also music. You’ve also very cleverly obscured the view of your sordid situation in Cleveland where you’ve had head coaches fired, blasted teammates online in the shadiest of ways and pretty much helped us to overlook the weird beginnings of a playoff run and eventual return to the finals, on a team which will resemble something terribly different come next summer.

Ah well, who cares? At least we have Kendrick’s untitled to carry us through to the Golden State Warriors’ inevitable repeat victory in the NBA finals.

“Pimp, pimp, hooray!”

Karim Grant is a former professional football player who has spent time in both the NFL and CFL. His love for hip-hop spans nearly three decades of beats, rhymes and fashion. His love for sports is equally expansive, as he’s made money playing one sport and has made enemies playing countless others. If he’s not on the field or the hard court coaching inner-city youth, he’s either reading or listening to your favourite artist’s favourite artist while exercising his competitive demons at your local gym. Grant has never been one to mince words on either subject of hip-hop or sports – or anything for that matter – and he’s not about to start anytime soon.

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