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"Hey, Jon B's in the house!" says Kobe Bryant, laughing, when I step into New York's Hit Factory.
"Money, you trying to snap?" I ask. "That's why you're wearing bell-bottoms." It's no surprise Kobe and I get along. We share passions—for hip-hop and basketball—and the same high school alma mater, Lower Merion, in Ardmore, Pa. Although I graduated twelve years before he did, I felt much pride when he made our school a household name in 1996, the year he jumped from his senior year in high school to the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers.
In '98, Kobe represented again as the youngest player in history to play in an NBA All-Star game. And while the current league lockout threatens to shut down the Lakers' dreams of a 1999 championship, Kobe's not sweating it. The six-foot-seven-inch guard's making moves as CEO and president of the one-year-old Kobe Family Entertainment. He's also picking up the mike as part of rap group signed to Trackmasters/Columbia. After our interview, he played me some milky-thick instrumentals, then later he rocked complex rhymes during his interview on New York's Hot 97 FM (WQHT). This cat Kobe is smart. And cool—mad cool.
Public Enemy—"Brothers Gonna Work It Out" (Def Jam, 1990)
B: Do you know this song?
K.B.: It's Public Enemy. Everybody knows them. Back in the day, me and my cousin used to do the Flavor Flav dance! My grandma would be like, "Kobe, what are you doing? You got an itch down there?" I'd be like, Grandma, it's the new dance.
B: I used to work at Def Jam—from '89 to '93—and Flav would come into the office and literally take it over. Nothing could be done, workwise, while he was there. One time, he got on top of my desk and was doing his dance. He was like that all the time. It wasn't an act for the stage or videos. That's just Flav.
De La Soul Featuring Pete Rock and InI––"Stay Away" (unreleased bootleg, 1998)
B: This record is beautiful. Do you like it?
K.B.: Hell yeah. It makes you want to listen and do nothing else. Not like some other songs—you hear them and want to punch the table. Even the lyrics have a melody. De La always bring it lyrically. You can always expect that they'll rhyme honestly about what they see.
B: I can listen to their first album, which is ten years old, and still not know what the fuck they're talking about. Regardless, their voices, delivery, flow, and intelligence make them one of my favorites of all time.
K.B.: When one of their songs comes on, you have to listen. But today, a lot of people don't have the patience for that.
B: Do you have a different name for yourself as an MC?
K.B.: Kobe, plain and simple.
B: What's the name of your group?
K.B..: Cheizaw. It stands for Canon Homo sapiens Eclectic Iconic Zaibatsu Abstract Words. Canon is the ruler of the spiritual body. Homo sapien is the [scientific] term for human beings. Eclectic means choosing the best of very diverse styles. Icon is a symbol. Zaibatsu is a Japanese word for powerful family. Abstract makes concentration very difficult. Words, meaning lyrics. That's Cheizaw—that's how we're putting it down. Six members, all from Philly...Illadelph!
4 Hero—"Loveless" featuring Ursula Rucker (Talkin Loud/Mercury, 1998)
K.B.: I feel that joint to the most. I love the most. Who is that?
B: It's a drum n' bass group called 4 Hero, out of London. The poet, Ursula, is from Philly. She's on the Roots' first two albums, Do You Want More?!!!??! (DGC, 1995) and Illadelph Halflife (Geffen, 1996), and I hear she does a poem on their upcoming release too. She's ill—on some emotional poetry shit.
K.B.: Yeah, man. I love poetry. Don't you have a famous [poetry] spot out here [in New York]?
B: The Nuyorican Poets' Cafe. My man Ricky and I do shows there twice a month. Common, Wyclef, Saul Williams from the movie Slam, and Roy Hargrove have all come down and jammed.
K.B.: I've never been to a spot like that before, but I love poetry. I love writing it.
B: Have you ever checked out Gil-Scott Heron? I highly recommend him.
Nancy Wilson—"Call Me" (Pickwick/Capitol, 1966)
K.B.: Sounds like the melody from that TV show, from back in the day. The one with two girls in it...two roommates...
B: Three's Company?
K.B.: Nah, I think it was Laverne & Shirley...I don't know this record at all. I don't know what you want me to say.
B: Well, does it make you happy or sad? Does it make you want to take a sh*t?
K.B.: It makes me...[snaps his fingers and shimmies with his shoulders]. You know what I mean? Ha, ha!
Showcasing her musicality, H.E.R. began her soothing performance of "Sometimes" on the piano for the Grammy Awards Sunday evening (Jan. 26). After performing her lyrical exercise, the California native took her talents to the electric guitar which garnered a wave of applause from the audience for her command of the instrument.
In 2019, the “Slide” singer was nominated for five Grammy Awards. She won two: Best R&B Performance (“Best Part” with Daniel Caesar) and Best R&B Album for H.E.R.
This year, H.E.R. is nominated for Song of the Year for “Hard Place,” Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song for “Could’ve Been,” and Album of the Year (I Used To Know Her).
View her performance below.
Hours after Nipsey Hussle was posthumously awarded with his first Grammy, the awards ceremony honored him with a heartfelt performance by an all-star roster of John Legend, DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Roddy Rich, Kirk Franklin and YG.
Meek Mill began the performance with an emotive, unreleased verse that served as a letter to Nipsey, with Roddy Ricch singing a chorus. [Update: The song, "Letter To Nipsey," was released to streaming services later that night.] That led into a rousing performance of "Higher," the song that appeared on DJ Khaled's album Father of Asahd. John Legend played the piano and sang the chorus while backed by a choir, which was directed by an energetic, adlibbing Kirk Franklin, as a video of Nipsey rapping played on a big screen. YG joined the stage in a red suit, speaking to the gang unity between Crips and Bloods that Nipsey endorsed with his music and his life. The performance ended with an image of Los Angeles legends Nipsey Hussle and and the recently deceased Kobe Bryant, with Khaled paying tribute to them both.
Nipsey Hussle's debut studio album, Victory Lap (2018) came after an epic mixtape earned him a nomination for Best Rap Album at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards. He died on March 31, 2019, after being gunned down on in the parking lot of his Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles. The music and business worlds reeled from his loss, with his rap career on the upswing and his work as a businessman and community leader inspiring many.
Before Sunday's (Jan. 26) ceremony, Nipsey Hussle was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle," the last single that he released in his lifetime. The song features a guest appearance by Roddy Ricch, and is produced by Hit-Boy.