Damian Lillard just wants to be respected. The Portland Trail Blazers point guard and Oakland, CA native had his fair share of trials and tribulations. Despite starting out the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2013 and subsequent All-Star spots for the next two years, he was a replacement after being snubbed in voting in 2015 and once again snubbed this past season. He often expressed his frustration of not being selected only to be criticized further by NBA fans and called a crybaby. ‘It’s free to complain/It’s deeper than fame, it’s principle/My feelings hurt? Minimal’ was his response in the opening track, “Bill Walton”, off of his debut rap album The Letter O.
Lillard is a perfectionist in the best sense and over the past few years he desired to be the best dual NBA basketball player and rapper. That claim isn’t too hard to accomplish if it is narrowed to the Shaq’s, Kobe’s, and Stak5’s (Stephen Jackson) of the world. Hip-Hop and the NBA are synonymous with one another, despite early attempts from former commissioner David Stern to deter that. From dress codes to international incorporation in the draft, and the one-and-done college rule that kept athletes from immediately going pro after high school, the NBA’s bond with Hip-Hop culture extends through generations and help revolutionized the sport. Damian Lillard (aka Dame D.O.L.L.A) shows that here with an impressively solid effort.
The Letter O highlights Dame’s upbringing into NBA Stardom early on from his time in Weber State (“Wasatch Front”), adjusting to his new reality (“Misguided”), and getting robbed at gunpoint as a youth (“Roll Call”). Halfway through is the standout “Thank You”, an ode to his grandmother that took care of him and his friends growing up though being ‘half-blind in one eye with a great set of antennas’’. The song is complete with a beat that sound like prime Roc-Era Just Blaze and a soulful Marsha Ambrosius hook. It was a good look at how much potential Dame could have in making compelling music at the emotional core.
Being a NBA Star, Damian is well-connected and that is beneficial with the guest appearances throughout. From Jamie Foxx to Lil Wayne and fellow Oakland resident Raphael Saadiq, Lillard managed to bring them in for the album but it only leads to a jumbled second half. He attempts to smooth it out with a couple of bedroom joints (“Plans”, “Pillow Talk”) with mixed results and a couple of the songs would proceed to blend into one another. However he receives a great Wayne verse for “Loyal To The Soil”, continuing his reinvigorated 2016 run and Lillard switches flows with the precision of a crossover.
While it is not BBall’s Best Kept Secret, The Letter O is an album that shows whether it is on the basketball court or in the booth, Damian Lillard takes his craft seriously. He still feels that people sleep on him in both occupations, but this might be one that people should pay attention to and not ignore.