The Kobe Bryant Rap Album That LL Cool J Helped Bury Finally Leaked After 20 Years
The admonishment sometimes offered to individuals venturing outside their area of expertise is, “Stay in your lane.” In the case of Kobe Bryant, that lane was the 16-by-19 rectangle extending from beneath the bucket to the free-throw line on a basketball court.
Alas, the rap album that Bryant recorded in 2000 finally leaked just days before his posthumous induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. By all indications, LL Cool J was spot-on in imploring his friend to abandon his musical ambitions.
Kobe Bryant was a masterful basketball player
After spending half his childhood in Italy, where his father played basketball professionally, Kobe Bryant returned to the Philadelphia area as a young teen and showed athletic skills beyond those of his peers. College basketball coaches recognized his potential and recruited him, but higher education was not in Bryant’s plans. Instead, he declared for the 1996 NBA draft after his senior season in high school and landed with the LA Lakers.
He became a full-time starter at the age of 20 and spent 20 seasons in the NBA. Individually, he averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists a game in 1,346 regular-season contests. Collectively, he teamed with Shaquille O’Neal to help the Lakers to three straight league championships. Later, Bryant became the dominant force on two more title teams, and he also helped the United States to a pair of gold medals in the Olympics.
Bryant retired in 2016 at the age of 37 and was on his way to induction to the sport’s hall of fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Tragically, he did not live to celebrate the moment; Bryant and daughter Gianna were among the passengers who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, while en route to a youth basketball game.
Kobe Bryant’s love of rap music led to him branching out
LA Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal released four rap albums in the 1990s that enjoyed some commercial success despite mixed reviews by critics. Bryant decided that he, too, would venture into hip hop, signing with Sony Records.
The result was one studio album. Though the compilation was not released, Bryant performed a track from it with the help of supermodel Tyra Banks during the weekend of the 2000 NBA All-Star Game. Collaborators in the studio included R&B performer Brian McKnight, Nas, and 50 Cent, up to that point relatively unknown in the music industry.
The one song that Bryant performed during the All-Star Game weekend, “K.O.B.E.,” generated a savage review from the Los Angeles Times, and the album never made it into stores – a decision influenced by an iconic entertainer.
“He played me this album, this gangsta rap album, and I was like, ‘Kobe,’ I said, ‘Come on dog. That’s not what you need to be doing,’ LL Cool J told Entertainment Tonight. “He had a gangster rap album. He played me that album, we’re sitting in a parking lot. I was confused, I was sittin’ there like, ‘What are we doing? You got endorsements, what are you doing?’
The tracks are out there for public consumption now
Sony Records shelved Kobe Bryant’s album, Visions, following LL Cool J’s feedback to the basketball star, and the label dropped him shortly afterward. His foray into rap music remained largely forgotten until shortly before the Basketball Hall of Fame induction. According to BroBible.com, a poor-quality CD containing the album’s contents surfaced on May 10, 2021.
Per the website’s Connor Toole:
“After giving it a listen, I think it’s pretty easy to understand why the album never saw the light of day, as it’s about as underwhelming as you’d expect. With that said, I’m just glad this piece of history has been (at least semi) preserved for posterity.”