In light of the news that LeBron had a major hand 2 Chainz’s latest album, it’s worth asking: Should we be trusting The King’s hip-hop instincts?
When it comes to investing, LeBron James’ field goal percentage is off the charts.
The King rarely misses his shot in the business world: his pizza chain earned him nearly $40 in just five years, his 2015 Nike deal—an investment in his own skill and influence—will net him $1 billion through his lifetime and his stake in the Liverpool soccer club has quadrupled over the past eight years.
All of that’s to say: LeBron is, well, the LeBron James of investing.
But his latest business move feels a little riskier. Earlier this week, 2 Chainz announced on Twitter than James is serving as the A&R on his latest album, Rap Or Go To The League.
The news came with a teaser video that basically paints the project as a collaboration between the two men, and LeBron’s own Instagram post about the record really drives that point home.
So if we’re assuming The King really had a creative influence on the record, then it’s worth asking: is this a good idea? 2 Chainz is a wildly successful rapper in his own right, and letting James—a self-admitted newbie in the music business—steer his process could be a risky move.
Ultimately, this all comes down to one, crucial question: Is LeBron James, inarguable NBA all-timer, cultural mega-icon and investor extraordinaire, qualified to co-write a rap record? This may sound like a subjective question, but, if you look hard enough, there are plenty of stats to support an answer.
By digging into five, simple factors, we can objectively determine LeBron’s musical chops, and whether or not 2 Chainz should trust his opinion. Let’s dive in.
1. How good is 2 Chainz at basketball?
This may seem like a weird place to start, but it’s a crucial point for everything that follows. Trust means everything in the business world, and as creative partners, 2 Chainz and LeBron have to keep things on an even keel.
As a former college athlete and high school basketball standout, 2 Chainz may lose respect for James if he believes he can play basketball at least as well as The King can write a rap song.
So just how good was he? 2 Chainz played two years at Alabama State, during which time he averaged 2.8 points per game and shot 42 percent from the field. In short: he wasn’t very good.
But he was still a Division I athlete, and there’s something to be said for that. There are 351 Division I schools in the country, and, if we’re assuming a roster of approximately 15 players, that means there are only 5,265 people playing at the NCAA’s highest level at any given time.
If you add the 450 or so NBA players—who we’ll assume all perform at an even higher level—that means 2 Chainz was at least one of the best 5,715 basketball players in America. Therefore, we need to determine if LeBron has ever been one of the country’s 5,715 best rappers.
2. OK, got it. So where does LeBron’s hip-hop knowledge stand in comparison?
This one is a little trickier. We have fewer data points for King James’ hip-hop career, which has mostly been carried by his painfully awkward workout videos.
When it comes to rapping his own lyrics, LeBron’s track record is highlighted by two songs: a long-lost track made with Kevin Durant during the 2011 NBA lockout and a “freestyle” remix of Jay-Z’s “F*** With Me You Know I Got It,” during which he raps, “Shine so bright I got a tan, killa.”
Not a great resume. Based on both the quality and quantity of his work, it’s pretty safe to say The King has never been one of America’s 5,715 best rappers.
But he may be a top-tier hype man. His 2018 appearance on stage during a Drake performance of “Sicko Mode” is solid evidence that LeBron is a comfortable—and competent—in a supporting role, which might be exactly what 2 Chainz needs.
3. Do we have evidence that LeBron has made 2 Chainz’s music any better?
Rap Or Go To The League will be 2 Chainz’s fifth studio album, meaning we have four records from the BLBJ (Before LeBron James) era to compare it with.
Of those albums, two went platinum, and all four had top-five appearances on the Billboard 200. Needless to say, that’s a pretty good run.
Let’s compare that to what 2 Chainz has done during the last year—the period during which he’s supposedly been working with James. He’s put out two EPs and a handful of singles in that time, two of which earned gold record status.
One EP—2018’s The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It—was 2 Chainz’s first EP ever to chart on the Billboard 200, however his singles seemed to underperform past success, considering he had 11 platinum records in the pre-LBJ era. This one’s too close to call.
4. How much hip-hop clout does LeBron already have?
For the sake of this exercise, we’re defining hip-hop clout as how much influence, sway or power a person holds in the rap world. Basically, what does extra-musical credit does LeBron bring to the project outside of his decidedly mediocre rapping skills?
When it comes to name-recognition, 2 Chainz couldn’t pick a better collaborator. A 2017 lyric study by Genius found that King James is the most-referenced basketball player of the past decade, with 423 songs mentioning his name during a seven-year span.
Additionally, a statistical analysis in The Undefeated found that LeBron’s on-court numbers actually increase when hip-hop A-listers are sitting courtside at his games. Also, this is tough to calculate, but James seems to be the only basketball player to ever rap “Gold Digger” in a feature film, an accomplishment that should earn him at least a few bonus points.
5. Are there any other bonus points we can give LeBron, for, you know, being LeBron?
The easy answer? Yes. LeBron isn’t just the greatest, wealthiest and winningest NBA player of the our time, he’s also the most famous.
Worldwide, James’ name has been searched on google more than Tom Brady, Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo over the past five years, and as of 2018, he had more Instagram followers than any other American athlete.
This is crucial, as it means LeBron can bring a level of star power and notoriety to the project that far surpasses 2 Chainz’s already massive popularity. For example, James’ Instagram video announcing his work on the album earned more than 3 million views in just two days.
So, will this album be any good?
If the answer is yes, it’s probably not because of LeBron. We’ve established that The King’s rapping ability and hip-hop sensibilities may be sub-par—in fact less so than 2 Chainz’s basketball skill—however it’s also clear the James’ involvement will bring an insane amount of attention to the project.
And that’s the real question is: Does it matter if it’s good? The answer? No way. In fact, the record could be 2 Chainz’s worst to date, and the decision to collaborate with LeBron would still probably be a good one.
We’ll have to wait until March 1 to see what Rap Or Go To The League will sound like, but in the meantime one thing is clear: LeBron James doesn’t normally make bad business moves, and in this case, it doesn’t seem like 2 Chainz has either.