A co-worker walked by the sports department here not too long ago and asked if we were going to review Damian Lillard’s new rap album. Honestly, I don’t even know if my colleague was being serious or if he thought it might be a good idea, but I laughed.
Me? Reviewing a rap album?
Granted, I used to play the cello (apologies to my family’s ears), have been in quite a few choirs (I’m here when you need me, MoTab) and once upset Adam Levine over something I wrote (be prepared for a complaint if you claim in an article that Maroon 5 dresses like members of the chess club), but that’s all the musical cred I’ve got. I’m hardly qualified to be a music critic and especially not for a genre that doesn’t include Neil Diamond, Josh Groban or Depeche Mode. My rapping experience mostly revolves around overplayed Eminem songs.
While mulling it over, I laughed about how it could be funny for a middle-aged Utah father of four and rap novice to dissect Dame D.O.L.L.A.’s second album, “Confirmed.” (Dame D.O.L.L.A. is what the cool kids — ones who don’t refer to anybody as being “the cool kids” — call Lillard the rapper. The moniker stands for Different On Levels the Lord Allows, by the way.)
I decided to at least give the Portland point guard's album a listen.
My first move was to head to the Apple Store on my laptop.
I then went to Amazon and typed in "Damian Lillard," thinking his new album would pop right up. The results of that search: jerseys, an autographed photo and ball, a toy action figure, D Lillard 2 basketball shoes, shirts and even a replica plush doll but no music.
I got more specific on my next search: "Damian Lillard album." That resulted in two MP3s from a different album, a 2013-14 basketball card, more trading cards, an Iron Maiden shirt (of course!) and a headband.
By this point, it became obvious that not only do I not know how to review an album, I don’t even know how to buy one now.
I buy music so infrequently — my collection consists mostly of old CDs and the latest Imagine Dragons album — that I had to enter an Apple ID Verification Code and confirm that I want to buy the "Confirmed" album.
At long last, I was ready to get rocking and rolling — or rapping.
I would love to get a chance to sit down with Lillard and have him explain the story behind each of his 13 tracks and the album in general. From what I could tell, there seem to be a few themes.
Loyalty is a common refrain, and one of the collaborating artists on the album summed that up. The former Weber State star, who made a "Wasatch Front" rap for NBA2K18, is loyal to his people and wants people to be loyal to him.
“Blood makes you related, but loyalty makes you family,” AllStar Bozzle rapped along those lines in “Members Only.”
Dame, who seems driven by being an overlooked and overachieving underdog, also touched on being true to himself, from his Oakland roots to remaining who he is at his core as an NBA star and aspiring musical artist.
“Not many genuine souls out here living the truth. I do my thing and hoop and live what I spit in the booth. Easy to look at things and say I'm unappreciated, 'cause I'm the guy that get the short end like abbreviations. But I'm embracing my position for the guys before that didn't. Imma be on top the game by consensus.”
Dame also showed a bit of his romantic side.
"You hotter than a sauna, girl. I let my mama, meet your mama, girl."
As a five-star reviewer mentioned, Lillard’s rap is filled with heartfelt emotion. He’s grateful for people who mentored him and he tries to do that for others. People from Oakland to Ogden and Oregon can all be proud to have helped influence a star athlete and talented artist who’s easy to root for.
“I guess the lesson was pay it forward, I did it often — move in silence, no talking, but did a lot of walking. So many teachers on my journey feel this was my calling, to be examples for present stars and children following; keep it low, the world ain't gotta know you really balling; they at your door and you home alone, like Macaulay Culkin.”
Have to admit, it made me laugh that he was able to work Macaulay Culkin into a rap. I was also amused by the use of “Bubble Butt,” "The Simpsons, and “rubber ducky” in lyrics; funny noises someone made in his collab with Li’l Wayne; how the background music in “Switch Sides” sounded like the organist at a baseball game and how the chimes took me back to sitting on my grandparents’ deck; that this teetotaler Mormon kinda got into his “5th of Henn” rap; how the “Marshawn Lynch” rap reminded me of the “You’re a mean one, Marshawn Lynch” Mr. Grinch-inspired Vine I made a few years ago; and that another track brought back memories of Gordon Hayward’s horrific/humorous “Too Big Yo!” rap.
For me, three songs stood out and made the album worth the money and time I spent on this project.
My favorite song is “Switch Sides.” I like the beats, the singing (by Verse Simmonds) and the rapping (Dame and Brookfield Duece). Younger reviewers might call it lit. Here's some honesty from the notes I took while listening for the first time: “I’m doing a very white-looking dance in my desk chair. I have no idea what they’re singing and rapping about, but it sounds GREAT.”
I’m not too familiar with Lil Wayne’s work, but I am definitely familiar with his name (even if I recently called him “Little Wayne” to a rap fan in the pressroom as a joke). It’s not surprising that the popular rapper and Dame teamed up to make another of the album's better songs. "Run It Up" had me bouncing in my seat like a bobblehead doll.
As somebody who used to try cheesy pick-up lines (mostly to be funny and never to any success), I also got a kick out of his song “Shoota.” The first part sounds like it belongs on a Glee soundtrack, and it evolves into a catchy tune with an Expensive Melodies melody and Dame’s rapping.
The basketball/pickup-line lyrics are the best part of this fun song.
“Hey, girl. How you doin'? I'm Dame no Dash, who are you? You heard I'm good with the rock, that's true, but I don't really wanna pass on you, yeah. So if it's okay, Imma shoot my shot, Imma shoot it your way.”
To be fair, there were a few songs that weren't my cup of tea and some that included parts that I liked and parts that didn't quite click for me. As a sports writer who had the pleasure of watching Lillard become the first player to participate in five All-Star events in 2014 and who saw him light up the Jazz for a Portland-record 59 points last season, I'm certainly biased toward his basketball talents.
As a casual listener to a rap album that he obviously dedicated a lot of his time and heart to, it's evident that the basketball court doesn't have sole possession of Lillard's skill set.
I admire that. I came into this project looking to write something funny. I found more to appreciate about Lillard instead.
As you listen to his art, Dame D.O.L.L.A. makes it clear that he wants people to respect and acknowledge him for who he is and for what he does instead of for his fame and/or for his paycheck.
“Will they love me when I’m slowing down and missing game-winners?” he asks.
I'm no expert — and didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night — but it appears he's got enough musical talent and ambition to keep entertaining us even after his body slows down and his game-winners stop falling.
"I hang around older casts to stimulate my mental. Five years in the league, to say the least, have been eventful. The greatest teams assembled, that ain't really what I'm into. They know so much about me, yet I'm still so suspenseful."
Here's one middle-aged Utah father of four and rap novice who looks forward to the next surprise.
I'm a fan of Damian Lillard the basketball player, but I'm definitely impressed by Dame D.O.L.L.A.