Kareem Rush's smooth move to music

You'd think in a sport where dribbling is a highly valued asset, the crossover would come easier.

But when it comes to music and NBA players, crossovers have provided quite a few bricks in return.

Shaquille O'Neal's "Shaq Diesel" went platinum in 1993, but subsequent rapping forays by Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson (a.k.a. Jewels), Tony Parker and Ron Artest have all generally failed (unless you count the one week Parker's "Balance-toi" spent at No. 1 on the French chart).

Kareem Rush isn't rapping. He's singing.

And for a player, whose seven-year NBA service has been predicated by a smooth jump shot, Rush insists his voice is smoother.

With a single, "Hold You Down," receiving airtime on 10 R&B stations across the country, including his hometown KPRS in Kansas City, Mo., as well as stations in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., Rush is trying to do something countless other professional athletes have failed at -- succeed in the music business.

Rush, 29, has played for five NBA franchises and opened this season with the Los Angeles Clippers before a knee injury ended his year seven games into the campaign.

The time away from the court allowed Rush an opportunity to pour his time into his other passion -- music.

With help from producers Mechalie Jamison and Earl Powell, who have worked with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans and Jennifer Hudson, Rush will release his debut 12-song album, "Rehabbing R&B" in late summer-early fall. The music video for "Hold You Down" will premiere on VH1 Soul and BET's Centric this summer, coupled with a 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at Rush's recording process as well as the progress on his knee rehab.

Rush recently took the time to talk with The Life about his passion for music and why he thinks he has what it takes to make it in the industry.

The Life: I take it you've always had an interest in music. Where did that come from?

Rush: It's been a lifelong thing of mine. Nothing really professional. I sang a couple years in choir, and any of my close friends know that singing has always been a big part of my life. They can't get me to shut up. All I do is sing.

The Life: In high school, did you take any heat as a top athlete singing in choir when you're supposed to be this macho guy?

Rush: Oh no, not at all. Like I said, anybody that knew me, knew that I sang all the time. So it wasn't anything for them to see me in choir. Actually all my friends had been pushing me to do something with my voice for a long time, I just really hadn't had the time to focus on it. But all my friends and close family know that singing is a huge part of my life, and they're happy to see that I've actually given it a try and am pursuing it a little bit.

The Life: When you see other athletes try their hand at music, say like a Ron Artest, and you see them scoffed at, does it make you maybe a little apprehensive about going public with your music?

Rush: Not at all. I believe in myself more than anybody. If I think I can do it, and I'm OK with putting myself out there and seeing what I can do, yeah I'm fine with that. I don't look at other people's music. I'm my own musician. I have my own style, and I think my music is genuine.

I'm not a gimmick. I'm not out here playing. I take this as seriously as I take basketball. As much of a passion as I have for basketball, I have for music. So this is not a game to me. 'Oh, I'm an NBA guy with a bunch of money, so let me play this music thing.' This is an actual business. This is a career for me that I plan on having after I retire and sing for 20 years. This is my second career. So I take this very, very seriously.

The Life: Did you get a chance to see Jerry Stackhouse sing the national anthem for Game 6 of the Bucks-Hawks series?

Rush: I did. He sang pretty good actually. I was pretty impressed. I had been hearing about him for the last few years that he sings, but I never really heard him. I YouTubed him, and he did a pretty good job. That's one of my aspirations too is to sing the national anthem at a game, so hopefully next year I'll be able to do that.

The Life: Is there underground chatter in the NBA about guys who can sing?

Rush: I mean, in the NBA most of the guys are hip-hop oriented and most of the guys do the rap thing. It's very rare for a guy, like you said, a big macho guy, singing love songs. So you don't hear a lot of guys that can sing. But I heard Jerry Stackhouse could sing. I heard Walter McCarty could sing a few years back. I never heard anybody with something out on the radio, so I think I'm really the first guy to come through on the R&B side to actually have something that's playing on the radio with an album coming soon.

The Life: Who are some of your musical influences?

Rush: Some of my favorites are Boyz II Men, K-Ci & JoJo, but that's back in the day. Now, I'm a huge fan of Maxwell, huge fan of Robin Thicke, Musiq Soulchild. Old school, Marvin Gaye. Typical R&B.

The Life: I think I had my first kiss to some Boyz II Men at a school dance, so I can appreciate that.

Rush: There you go. My favorite song to sing to the ladies was "One Sweet Day." I would sing that to the girls all the time.

The Life: Do you write your own stuff?

Rush: Actually, I've been dabbling (in) writing a little bit. I wrote a remix to my single, a basketball remix.

I actually dabbled and co-wrote a song on my album called "Missouri," which is an homage to home and talk about my time growing up with my grandma and my brothers and all my friends. Most of that is based off my life, so I wrote part of that song.

But other than that, I'm still rounding myself into an artist. I'm still a basketball player, but I'm trying to make the transition into being an artist. So I'm going to take some piano lessons and work on being a complete artist. This is a serious deal.

The Life: You're working with some producers who have worked with some of the industry's big names. How did you get hooked up with them?

Rush: Through a mutual friend, that's the crazy thing. When I tore my knee up, I told one of my good friends that I'm going to try this singing thing out. So she said, 'Why don't you sing something into your phone and send it to my friends?'

So I sent a memo on my iPhone. I sang Maxwell, "Pretty Wings" on my phone sent it to them. They said, 'OK, you can carry a note. So let me get you out here and we can do a demo deal.'

So the first day I got into the studio, I killed it. So they were like, 'OK, we can do more than just a demo deal. Let's try to cut a single on you.' So we end up cutting a single and this thing kind of snowballed and snowballed and four months later, like I said, I have a song on the radio, and I shot a video. The start has all been positive, so I couldn't be any more happier than I am right now.

The Life: What's smoother, your jump shot or your music?

Rush: I think my tunes. A lot of my songs are love songs, and I'm just really bringing back the old-school classic R&B, great music, good stories. I think people will really enjoy it if they give it a try. They might hesitate because of the whole NBA thing, a basketball player trying to sing, but I think they'll really enjoy my music if they gave it a shot.

The Life: What do your brothers (former UCLA standout JaRon and Indiana Pacers shooting guard Brandon) think about the music?

Rush: As any brothers they're going to be supportive, but they were shocked, like I said, a lot of people know I could sing, but they never really heard me sing anything besides other people's songs.

When they actually heard my voice and heard me singing my own songs, they were impressed. They were kind of blown back by it. It was a shock to me really when I heard it, I was like, 'Damn, I sound like that? I didn't know I could sound like that.' It's been a big surprise for a lot of people.

The Life: Any joking around with JaRon and Brandon about them getting on backup vocals and you guys could be the second coming of Rush?

Rush: (Laughs) I'm sure they'd like that. Brandon is actually in L.A. now, so he was in the house the other day, but he's a rapper. I might get him on one of my songs, so he can do a verse. But they're not musicians. They're going to stick to basketball.

The Life: What's worse, a pro athlete trying to sing who can't or a celebrity trying to play sports, but can't?

Rush: I would say, an athlete trying to sing. I always think back to Carl Lewis. He really ruined it for all athletes. That moment right there. Ugh.

The Life: How's the knee rehab coming along?

Rush: It's a long, tedious process. ACL microfracture is a serious deal. Nine months is my rehab, but the thing is, it happened early enough in the season where I've got plenty of time to get myself back in shape before training camp, so that's been the blessing in disguise. It actually happened in November, so I got a full nine months to rehab. I've been working every day, but it's a long and tedious progress and I plan on being ready for training camp.

The Life: So the time away from the court, I'm guessing gave you the music opportunity sooner than you maybe would have had time for?

Rush: That's really the only reason why I tried to pursue it now. Because being my first serious injury, I knew what guys go through when they're dealing with something so serious.

So I initially wanted to go back to school and finish my degree, but then I was like, 'Well, let me try this music thing.' It's really the only reason why I pursued it was because of my injury. That's why the album is called "Rehabbing R&B."

The Life: All right, pitch music fans on why they should listen to Kareem Rush's music.

Rush: If you like Kareem Rush's basketball career, you'll love my music. My music is really classic, timeless R&B. I have a lot of passion for it. I enjoy doing it. I just want everybody to give it a shot. Give it a listen.

Don't let the athlete stuff fool you. Just let the music speak for itself. I think people will really gravitate to it and really like it. All I say is, give it a try.

Matthew Glenesk is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis.