If you are an athlete, there are few greater accomplishments than being mentioned in a rap song. This is the ultimate sign of “making it,” giving you untold amounts of street cred. And if you’ve heard the recent Jay-Z and Kanye West album, Watch the Throne, then you know they shell out a whole lot of street cred on that album, name checking every major athlete you can imagine.
But it’s not like dropping athlete names in your rhymes is a new development. While legendary athletes like Michael Jordan are no stranger to rap songs, sometimes you’ll hear a name come up in a song that makes you question everything you knew about sports and rap.
Here are ten remarkably random sports references in rap songs…
10. Mario Lemieux in A Tribe Called Quest’s “Keep it Rolling”
And We Quote: “You know how we do/I skate on your crew like Mario Lemieux.”
If someone asked you the opposite of rap and you replied “hockey,” you would probably be right. So anytime a hockey player is in a rap song it’s pretty funny. Wayne Gretzky found his way into a number of rap songs, but he was like the Michael Jordan of hockey, so that’s not at all creative.
But Lemieux was one of the greatest hockey players ever, maybe even more talented than Gretzky, although he’s nowhere near as universally recognized. Especially outside the sports world. Throw in a French name and the image of Mario Lemieux skating on your crew, and this is a classic obscure reference.
9. Rod Carew in the Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot”
And We Quote: “I got more action than my man John Woo/And I’ve got mad hits like I was Rod Carew.”
The Beastie Boys are the kings of obscure references. And on “Sure Shot,” the first track on their legendary Ill Communication album, they drop one of their best. Despite making the Hall of Fame, Rod Carew is not really romanticized as a legendary baseball player. Except by Mike D, apparently.
Carew played second base from 1967-1985 for the Twins and Angels and was known as a contact hitter, finishing with 3,053 hits and a .328 batting average. He was certainly good. But out of all the players who were good at getting hits (say, Pete Rose or Ty Cobb who each had a thousand hits more than him) Rod Carew is not one that generally comes to mind. And let’s face it, hitting singles is pretty lame. No one grows up wanting to be the greatest singles hitter ever. On top of that, Carew is just generally not very cool. But the Beastie Boys always straddled that line too.
8. Darius Miles and Larry Hughes in Murphy Lee’s “What Da Hook Gon Be”
And We Quote: “St. Louis like Blues, D. Miles and Larry Hughes.”
It’s hard to believe Murphy Lee was actually a big-ish rapper at one point. As a Nelly disciple, he repped St. Louis with this trifecta of random sports references. Not only does he get the city’s hockey team in there (the Blues, who probably still exist), but not content with shouting out white man sports, Lee manages to reference two terrible basketball players from St. Louis as well.
Darius Miles is known for being generally a terrible person who recently got arrested for attempting to take a loaded gun on a plane while Larry Hughes is known for being the super overrated second option on LeBron’s Cavs. But apparently both are from St. Louis, although absolutely no one outside of St. Louis was previously aware of this. And St. Louis has to take what they can get.
7. Nick Van Exel in Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Crazy in Love”
And We Quote: “The Roc handle like Van Exel/I shake phonies man, you can’t get next to.”
Van Exel was a solid player, even an All-Star in 1998. But he was never a truly great player, not the kind that warrants a mention in a rap song, anyway. After a long stint with the Lakers, he bounced around playing for the Nuggets, Mavs, Warriors, Trail Blazers and Spurs.
But regardless, Jay-Z, in one of the biggest songs of the decade on Beyonce’s iconic first single, decided to reference him. As far as sports metaphors go, handling your business like Nick Van Exel is really not a good thing any way you look at it. It would be sort of like if the Roc was slightly successful and then got sold a bunch of times and didn’t do anything important.
6. Aaron Brooks in Lil Wayne’s “DOA”
And We Quote: “Got the stove on my waist, and we cooks/I’m in the way you can’t pass like Aaron Brooks.”
Lil Wayne drops athlete names like he drops references to purple drink. He even wrote for ESPN for a while and once appeared on their afternoon sports talk show “Around The Horn.” But he does something in his version of “DOA” rarely done in rap: he references an athlete for sucking. Aaron Brooks, the former Saints and Raiders quarterback, was the definition of mediocre. The man loved to throw interceptions. And also completely alienated two franchises. But it’s almost possible to feel bad for him. Lil Wayne really had no business picking on Brooks. Although it’s also funny and therefore completely justified because he really did suck.
5. Horace Grant in Puff Daddy’s “All About the Benjamins”
And We Quote: “On the low from the Jake in the Taurus/Tryin’ to get my hands on some Grants like Horace.”
The only single I ever bought in my life was the “All About the Benjamins” rock remix. I was in 5th grade when I bought it. And I had no idea it was a reference to Horace Grant for years partly because I thought he said “brass” instead of Grants, although I did think Puffy was leaving Jacobs Field in a Taurus (turns out this is slang for undercover cops).
In a song called “All About the Benjamins,” I feel like settling for $50s was shooting a little low. Which is sort of like using a Horace Grant reference. He was a good player, not anything special, and played for the first Bulls dynasty. But he will always be known as That Guy Who Wore the Goggles, finding his own place in niche pop culture. To be dropped in a song about cash (and in my opinion, Puff Daddy’s best song ever) has to be one of the greatest moments in underdog history.
4. Juan Pierre in Beyoncé featuring Jay Z’s “Déjà Vu”
And We Quote: “I used to run the base like Juan Pierre/now I run the bass, hi hat and the snare.”
Jay-Z is a giving man. First his Nick Van Exel reference and now a Juan Pierre reference. I interviewed Pierre once, a great guy with entertaining quotes. Nothing against him at all. There are just not too many guys in rap songs that get name-checked with a career high of three home runs in a season. But Juan Pierre is one of the most prolific base stealers of the last decade, which is about all he does. But this song was from arguably the two biggest people in music and was nominated for three Grammys. It’s not a stretch to say this could have been the highlight of his career – and he won a World Series in 2003 and has three stolen base crowns. But thanks to Jay-Z, he’s immortal.
3. Vinny Testaverde in A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Chase Pt. 2”
“Sit back and learn, come now watch the birdie/Your styles are incomplete, same as Vinny Testaverde”
Like the Aaron Brooks mention, Testaverde is in this song for all the wrong reasons. But this one is even more incredible. Testaverde was a more-known player than Brooks, but the timing of this is what makes it so special. The song came out in 1993. At the time, Testaverde, the first overall pick in the 1987 draft, was playing for the Cleveland Browns. As evidenced by the Phife Dawg reference, Testaverde already sucked. For many players, being called out in a rap song by a legendary rap group while in your prime would be enough to mentally ruin them. But not Testaverde. He would go on to play for 14 more seasons after the release of this song, including making two Pro Bowls. But he was never cool, despite his great head of hair.
2. Sadaharu Oh in the Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies”
And We Quote: “There’s more to me than you’ll ever know/And I’ve got more hits than Sadaharu Oh.”
It’s not a stretch to think Sadaharu Oh is more known in America for being mentioned in “Hey Ladies” than he is for being the single-season and all-time home run leader in Japan. However, as with Rod Carew, the Beastie Boys chose to delve into obscure baseball history to make a “hits” metaphor, this time landing on the completely random Sadaharu Oh. Keeping with the rhyme scheme, they could have easily chosen “Joltin’ Joe.” Yet they felt the need once again to impress with their useless knowledge and ended up on Saduharu Oh, someone who is so off of the radar the reference is really more of an inside joke. But that’s what makes it so great.
1. Marty Schottenheimer in Eminem’s “I Just Don’t Give A Fuck”
And We Quote: “I’m buzzin’ Dirty Dozen, naughty rotten rhymer/Cursin’ at you players worse than Marty Schottenheimer.”
Granted, Shottenheimer isn’t an athlete. But On Eminem’s classic debut, The Slim Shady LP, on perhaps the best song of the album, Eminem gives us the single greatest random sports figure reference in rap history. Not only was Schottenheimer, then the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, about as far away from someone you would expect to find in a rap song, but his name is not an easy one to fit into a verse. There’s nothing cool about Shottenheimer (or really the Chiefs). He was a relatively mediocre coach who succeeded in the regular season but never made a Super Bowl. The Shottenheimer line is perfect in its complete randomness yet still has the ability to work in the song.
If I had the chance to speak to Eminem or Shottenheimer, I would immediately ask him about this line. What do you think would happen if the two met? I have no idea. But I just got a great idea for a documentary.