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Lyricists’ take on the ongoing rap battle between Shaq and Dame

Who is the better raplete, Shaquille O’Neal or Damian Lillard?

Rappers want to be ballers and ballers want to be rappers.

As a former battle rapper who went undefeated on BET’s 106 & Park “Freestyle Friday,” I used to imagine playing in the NBA and hitting the game-winning bucket. For Damian Lillard (aka Dame D.O.L.L.A.) and Shaquille O’Neal (aka DJ Diesel), who are ensnared in a rap beef, they didn’t have to use their imaginations.

I try to avoid amateur rap battles, especially celebrity bouts. But when Mordecai Lyon, the co-writer of my forthcoming book Rebel to America, walked into my office talking about the O’Neal/Lillard rap beef, I pulled up the tracks and listened.

I’ve been interested in the intersection of basketball and hip-hop, two worlds that are different but equally competitive. The Lillard beef isn’t O’Neal’s first dispute with a new-school rap artist, or an NBA player. He dropped some hard bars on Kobe Bryant in 2008, accusing him of breaking up his marriage to then-wife Shaunie O’Neal and telling Bryant, “Tell me how my a– taste.”

Say what? The Shaq vs. Dame D.O.L.L.A. rap beef

But this time O’Neal appears to be locked into a match he might not be able to win.

In August, Lillard appeared on the Joe Budden Podcast and was asked if he had better music than O’Neal. “I think I rap better than Shaq,” Lillard said. “People weren’t looking at it like it’s a real rapper, it’s like, that’s Shaq rapping.” A month later on Sept. 25, O’Neal posted a four-minute video on Instagram with a message: “I except all challenges.” Nine days after O’Neal’s first diss, Lillard released “Reign Reign Go Away,” his response to the former NBA star.

Earlier this week, O’Neal released “Second Round Knockout” three days after Lillard’s latest jab at him. O’Neal evokes the spirit of the late Notorious B.I.G. by spitting over the legendary rapper’s “Victory” instrumental: “I’m so mad, even God or Allah can’t help you!” This is O’Neal’s diss, but parts of the flow are unnecessarily misogynistic: “When you run, I see that tampon string in your shorts.”

The world of rap isn’t turning over tables about this rap battle, but some in the industry are talking. “Dame’s track was just overall more polished in pretty much every way, especially sound quality,” said DJ Trackstar from Run the Jewels. “Shaq did a good job trying to little brother him, but Dame was able to rebuttal everything.”

“Shaq did a good job trying to little brother him but Dame was able to rebuttal everything.” — DJ Trackstar from Run the Jewels

“Dame ain’t playing wit Shaq. he rapping rapping,” rapper Big Pooh tweeted.

“Cadence, flow, and voice, I’m going with Dame,” said T-Dubb-O, a seasoned battle rapper. “Dame’s punches were light. As an emcee, I think Shaq was actually getting busy. He spit all facts. But his voice being old and his delivery being off made it difficult to enjoy his lyricism.”

“Dame won,” said Kanye West collaborator and Grammy-nominated songwriter GLC. When asked to elaborate, he said, ” ‘Gift bags get purchased every time you get horny.’ That line, no need for me to listen to his second track. It’s over.”

For years, O’Neal has been the consensus “best raplete.” He signed with Jive Records in 1993, the same label as KRS-One, Mobb Deep, E-40, Aaliyah and A Tribe Called Quest. His first album, Shaq Diesel, released ten days before the tipoff of the 1993-1994 NBA season, went platinum. He recorded tracks with the greatest, such as Nas, B.I.G., Ice Cube, Jay-Z, RZA, Method Man, Big Pun, Common, Black Thought and Quincy Jones.

Now Lillard believes he is a natural-born rapper who happens to be playing in the NBA. He’s even referred to himself as the J. Cole of the NBA. Musically, he has a passion for being recognized as a top-tier emcee and, despite not having championship rings to show for it, he’s already a top-tier NBA franchise player.

So when O’Neal said, “Faking like you Bron, you ain’t even Trevor Ariza,” Lillard morphed into Dame D.O.L.L.A. and said, “You big man hatin’, mad at my existence / Had a song with Bad Boy / Well I’m Jordan to the Pistons.”

According to Lillard, he doesn’t rap for fame and he respects the history. “We could’ve did a track together, just pass the torch,” he says in “Reign Reign Go Away.” He’s admitting to O’Neal, I’ve acknowledged you did it first, and I would’ve loved to work with you, but now it’s on.

Whether the O’Neal/Lillard beef goes on or not, this beef creates a new debate: Who is the best raplete alive?

Tef Poe is a NABJ award winning journalist, Harvard University's 2017 Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellow, and an international recording artist who has performed on billings with Big K.R.I.T., Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels, Yasin Bey, Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco and many more.

Mordecai Lyon is a Columbia Journalism School graduate and a researcher at Harvard Business School. Lyon is currently working with Tef Poe on his upcoming memoir Rebel to America.