Sports and hip hop culture have been married for the past 25-plus years. In 1984, a Jheri-curled Kurtis Blow started name checking his favorite players in "Basketball" and, after that, it was a wrap. It's a quid pro quo thing. The rappers inspire the athletes -- what do you think they're pumping through the headphones, Vampire Weekend? -- and the athletes inspire the rappers. That's why you see so much sports vernacular in hip hop slang.
Listen to the players in the locker rooms or talk to a lot of young kids under 25 and you'll probably stumble across them referring to a person or thing as going "hard in the paint." Why? Because Atlanta rapper Waka Flocka Flame dropped a single under that title this summer (it's still hot) and it has pervaded the hip hop lexicon. He was inspired by (who else?) LeBron James.
"It was the only way for me to express my anger," he said. "LeBron is my favorite player and, at the time, I just wanted to do a song that was like taking all five to the hole and bangin' on 'em! Or, like Shaq, shatter the glass on 'em!"
This is coming from a dude that has a "LeBron Flocka James" mixtape series. He's a fan. But curiously, "Hard in the Paint" contains zero sports references other than its title. It's a catch-all phrase. Waka Flocka is telling us he goes hard in the paint on the streets, with women ... and, uh, on the streets and with women. But your car can go hard in the paint, and so can your kicks. A veal slider can go hard in the paint. Say you're a lawyer and won a case -- you just went hard in the paint. Or, like Blake Griffin, you can physically go hard in the paint.
It's just another in a long line of sports-inspired slang. If you're running things, you're "quarterbacking." Twenty-four inch rims? You're "sitting on Kobes." Got an intrusive boss or a clingy boyfriend/girlfriend? They're "playing me close." Don't feel like going out? "I think I'm gonna ride the bench."
"All I do is watch sports," said Waka, noting why the sports references are so prevalent in hip hop lyrics and slang. "They're like gladiators. So whenever you gotta do something big, that's who you go to."
It's paying off. You might not dig his music or vibe, but somebody does -- a lot of people, actually. He's a hitmaker. He's "in the zone."