Coming with more hits than the Braves and the Yankees...
Most of us will remember 2016 as a...less than optimal period.
The human race lost some good people and primates, and it was easy to get discouraged by the daily morasse of "Ugh! This year" posts on social media.
But despite its seemingly never-ending snowstorm of garbage, 2016 still somehow managed to be a bright spot for the art of hip hop, and quite possibly the best year for American sports of the television era.
In this spirit, I compiled the 25 best sports references in hip hop from the last 12 months.* We might’ve lost Phife, but he went out doing what he loved most: roasting the Jets.
*I didn’t include songs like Post Malone’s “White Iverson” and Kanye West’s “FACTS,” which came out as singles in 2015. And I probably didn't include the song you really hoped I included.
Quavo: The Big Pot Super Bowl
The Song: Post Malone’s “Congratulations”
Big rings, champagne
My life is like a ball game
But instead I’m in the trap though
Pot so big, call it Super Bowl
Roger Goodell has already tapped Quavo as his successor thanks to this line alone.
2 Chainz: the Vinny Testaverde of the VIP
The Song: “Diamonds Talkin Back"
Diamonds talking back they say, “[Expletive] y’all"
Walk in to the VIP and yell, “Touchdown!"
2 Chainz spends most of his 2016 mixtape Hibachi For Lunch re-asserting himself as the John Madden of hip hop punchlines, which is the highest praise that can be given in our current context.
Reprising his role as hype man/friend-you-can’t-bring-around-family, French Montana joined Drake on the Six God’s most danceable diss track of the year and laid down a mostly forgettable opening verse to set the table.
The one line that stands out is a Malice at the Palace/Ben Wallace reference French may or may not have intentionally strung together.
I’m giving French the benefit of the doubt on this connection. Someone has to.
Gucci Mane: the Dream Shake of murder
The Song: “Waybach"
Keep a rocket in my pocket like my name was Hakeem
Somebody had the picture, she thought it was a dream
Gucci Mane expresses both his love for Hakeem Olajuwon and his penchant for carrying the tool on him at all times.
Kevin Gates: goaltending
The Song: “Not The Only One"
Couldn’t see no wrong in people tryna help ‘em
Wanna see my youngins really eatin'
Goaltending, blocking blessings for no reason
The lead track off his 2016 album Islah, “Not The Only One” is about Kevin Gates beginning, struggle and ultimate triumph in hip hop, and tucked into the first verse is an interesting line about “goaltending”—which could be read as haters blocking Gates’ attempt to better his family, or friends screwing things up by trying to “help” his rise.
Chance: MJ's Secret Stuff
The Song: “Finish Line / Drown”
Gimme the water, gimme the water!
I need the kind from Space Jam
Chance the Rapper kicks off the second verse of “Finish Line / Drown” by demanding the water, a.k.a. Michael's Secret Stuff.
It’s also probably an allusion to baptismal water, which should always be applied in a blue bottle with a handwritten label.
NoName: shadow boxing
The Song: Noname’s “Shadow Man”
When I can’t fall asleep at night
I blindly taught myself to fight
Aw shadow man shadow box, please keep your hands up
And if you get knocked down don’t forget to stand up
Chicago artist and longtime Chance the Rapper collaborator Noname is very familiar with sparring with the best.
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Consequence: Swaggy enough for Instagram
The Song: ATCQ’s “Mobius"
So swaggy, he could’ve broke up with IG
I ain’t surprised that they broke up on IG
Consequence takes a moment to weigh in on Nick Young breaking up with Iggy Azalea, a meltdown that played out on Instagram, which was, by all accounts, the thing both loved most.
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Young Thug: taking the Ron Artest route
The Song: “Floyd Mayweather"
[Expletive] tried to hit a lick and missed
Tried to run then I caught like a fish
I’ma catch his ass with the whole clip
I’ma beat they ass up like Ron Artest
A Metta World Peace is just a Ron Artest by any other name for Thug.
ScHoolboy Q: the Eric Dickerson of dope
The Song: “TorcH"
Runnin’ errands for grams, the paramedics at Tam's
Force to grow to a man
Before L.A. had them Rams
ScHoolboy Q's dope game has an original Eric Dickerson jersey.
Kanye West: feeling Like Kobe
The Song: “THat Part"
[Expletive] with an attitude, I feel like O'Shea
Walkin’ living legend, I feel like Kobe
I just left the strip club, got some glitter on me
Wifey gonna kill me, she the female OJ
The Ice Cube / Kobe reference that gave birth to an entire cottage industry of shirts ripping off the phrase.
If you see someone with a "I Feel Like Gronk" shirt, you are legally allowed to spike their phone. They'll think it's hilarious.
Taylor HillGetty Images for The Meadows
Phife Dawg: Tyson types
The Song: "Space Program"
Gotta get it together for sisters
For mothers and fathers and dead [expletive]
For non-conformers, won’t hear the quitters
For Tyson types and Che figures
Phife Dawg was to hip hop what Spud Webb was to short kids who wanted to be like Mike.
Travi$ Scott: James Harden from deep
The Song: “way back"
I need fake[expletive] to get way back
James Harden with the range on my [expletive], way back
It’s summertime, why they trying to throw shade
All these wins I can never Golden State (yeah)
UFC I’m tapping to my old ways (alright)
Dropped the Rodeo, I dodged a bull like ole
Hopped in the Bronco skrrt off like I’m OJ
Travi$ Scott really likes sports similes.
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Kendrick & Top Dawg: the Kobe and Phil of hip hop
The Song: “untitled 02”
Me and Top is like a Kobe and Phil
A father figure, [expletive] with him, you get killed
[Expletive] with me and he will kill you himself
Kendrick Lamar threw down untitled unmastered early in the year when a lot of the year’s best hip hop was dropping—a confident move, considering the project was mostly leftovers off the cutting room floor from To Pimp a Butterfly.
But it worked, and Lamar is at his most certain on the eight-track project when he compares himself and Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith—CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment and the man who discovered Lamar—to Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson.
It’s a good comparison, barring the fact most people like Kendrick Lamar.
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Drake: it's all softball at this point
The Song: “Sneakin’"
David Blaine last summer, man, you had to vanish
I get the hits like somebody pitching underhanded
Hard line? No.
Extremely accurate as it relates to Drake's current hit-or-miss rate? Absolutely.
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2 Chainz: a hard lesson in Falcons football
The Song: “Countin’”
Bet a hundred thousand with the Falcons
Lost a hundred thousand with the Falcons
The Early Season Atlanta Falcons make fools of us all, Chainz.
Tim MosenfelderGetty Images
Young Thug: Slime Baller
The Song: Chance the Rapper’s “Mixtape"
I got me some rings like I’m Bruce Bowen
I’m ballin’ on you like I’m Chris Paul
A shoutout from Young Thug to Chris Paul, and a less-than-expected nod to Bruce Bowen, who does indeed have three championship rings.
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Drake: big fan of the Giants
The Song: “Fake Love"
Just when [expletive] look out of reach
I reach back like one-three
Like one-three, yeah
A play on Odell Beckham's one-handed grab against the Cowboys in 2015.
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Phife Dawg: frustrated Jets fan
The Song: “Dis Generation"
Pass [expletive], been waiting for a Jet's title since last
Richard Todd, Todd Bowles, gang green on that ass
Phife at his most Phife-iest. Only the Dyno Mutt would take the time to write a rhyme about Todd Bowles and the living hell of being a Jets fan in 2016.
Q-Tip: The Ego
The Song: "Ego"
They call you fat and lazy, your commentary crazy
They photoshop your face on a box of McCormick gravy
And now that inner voice, that ego, making you get wavy
Change your diet, hit the gym
And say “What were you saying to me?"
The ego makes you do it, it makes you face the music
Or run away from life so fast that you’ll outsprint Carl Lewis
“Ego” is Tribe taking a different look at vanity, which is, as Q-Tip argues, a fight-or-flight sense of pride that kicks in when everything seems terrible. It can make you change your life, or it can send you running for the hills faster than Carl Lewis—a former American gold-medal-winning sprinter.
Be the former, guys.
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Jadakiss: balling with the devil
The Song: ScHoolboy Q’s “Groovy Tony / Eddie K"
Running with the rebels, it’s a three-man weave
With the Lord and the devil
Really all I need is a pitchfork and a shovel
Mr. Top 5, Dead or Alive drops onto Q’s Blank Face LP (a 2016 HOFer for the fake album art alone) and lays down 10 yards of hellfire and body bags, including this tidy little visual of he, God and Satan running a classic three-man weave drill.
But [expletive] I don't believe in your jumper: Bron or Rondo
That's cold like AC
Y'all slow like AC in that Bronco
Got the juice I'm in the Finals
Take a shot I got the bottles
Splash my brothers with the lotto
Hidden world we must unravel
Take a Rocket to Japan, Like James Harden we gon travel
Cook you in my frying pan, then I'm gone yo, Arigato
Basedgod please curse all of my foes
A 25-year-old rapper from Montreal, Wasiu’s lyrics began circulating the rap blogosphere in 2016 with the release of “No Jumper,” a track inspired by this summer’s NBA Finals.
It’s a highly bring-back-able track and proof that you can start a song with a line like “White man told me all I do is jump” and somehow bring that point home with a straight-out-the-box BOFA joke.
Kanye West: on some Diddy ish
The Song: “Highlights”
I’ma bust the coach’s head open on some Diddy [expletive]
If he ever talk to my son like an idiot
A solid rhyme by ‘Ye and an important reminder that P. Diddy ran up on a college football strength & conditioner coach with a kettle bell in 2015.
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Drake: channeling Vinsanity
The Song: "Weston Road Flows"
Been flowin’ stupid since Vince Carter was on some through the legs, arms in the hoop [expletive].
Whatever you thought of Views, you'd probably at least agree that Drake is present on the album in all his most Drake-ish forms—including Sports Fan Drake, one of the most childish and somehow relatable Drakes of all Drakes.