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Cole Plante's Top 10 Summer Anthems

At 17 years old, Cole Plante has already played with the biggest DJ’s in the world including Avicii, Skrillex, Diplo, Krewella, Madeon, Porter Robinson, Dada Life, Steve Angello, Bingo Players and Major Lazer, just to name a few. After being named one of our “30 DJs To Watch In 2014,” we’ve been keeping a close eye on Plante.

His latest mix, titled “What About Us,” features a healthy combination of exclusive edits, reworks, mash-ups and originals.

Download the “What About Us Mix” below, then check out Cole Plante’s selects for top 10 summer anthems after the jump.

1. Calvin Harris – “Summer”
To not start a list about summer hits with this song is almost more ironic than not having it on here at all. Calvin did a great job with the vocal work, and the music captures that ‘hands in the air’ vibe perfectly. I think most people can relate to the story told with his lyrics and it adds another reason to why it’s a perfect summer track.

2. Martin Garrix, Sander Van Doorn, DVBBS – “Gold Skies”
A collaboration with two of the biggest names of the summer and a veteran producer, Gold Skies is one of my favorite tracks out of the past couple months. I’m a huge fan of all of these guys’ works, and love seeing Garrix and DVBBS come out with a strong big room track. With a vocal that you can already hear being chanted at festivals and a sweet lead, this track is going to be a festival banger.

3. Echosmith - “Cool Kids”
This choice is not from an electronic artist, but one of my favorite up-and-coming alt-pop bands comprised of siblings all around my age (15-20). This song grabbed my attention the same way “Pumped Up Kicks” did a few years ago with its catchy chorus and very solid production and I love the subtle throwback to the great songwriting and production style of the ‘80s. Look out for a future collab with lead vocalist/ songwriter Sydney and myself in the next coming months.

4. Porter Robinson “Lionhearted” Ft. Urban Cone
Ever since Porter announced Worlds, his new album releasing, I’ve been stoked to hear anything that comes out of it. That being said, as soon as I heard this track on Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record I knew it was going to be huge. It’s great to see that along with fantastic works like “Sad Machine”/”Sea of Voices”, Porter still kicks ass with driving four on the floor tunes. “Lionhearted” has a vocal that has that invincible feeling that we all feel with friends in the summertime, and a memorable bridge and driving drop.

5. Lorde - “Tennis Court (Flume Remix)”
Flume has been on my radar since I heard “Sleepless” back in 2011. I love anything in the chill realm, and I think this style of music is perfect for summertime. What makes this choice even better? It’s a remix of a girl dominating the summer radios already: Lorde. Opening with a haunting atmosphere, eventually it delves into one of the best switch ups I’ve heard (first heard at Coachella back in April). The track has already garnered a massive audience of listeners after two months.

6. Michael Jackson – “Love Never Felt So Good (Fedde Le Grand Remix)”
Fedde established with his “Paradise” remix (among others) that he knows exactly what to do with a remix of a huge artist. With this Michael Jackson remix, I believe he’s doubly solidified that fact. The song already is going to be a massive summer hit, and this remix translates that feeling to the summer festival stages.Catchy vocal+ catchy lead = very very catchy tune.

7. Bastille – “Pompeii (Audien Remix)”
Speaking of huge artists, Bastille has been killing it this past year. What actually has solidified my love for “Pompeii” is Audien’s remix. It gives the song a new atmospheric and gripping feeling that really makes it an experience hearing it live. I’ve been doing these massive Grad Nite shows over at Disney California Adventures and this song is always one of my ending tunes, and seeing every single person in the crowd sing it and go off proves it’s anthem abilities. (Note: drum fill from the original not included).

8. Dawn Golden – “All I Want (Diplo Remix)”
You cannot tell me Diplo is not already one of the kings of summer vibes and party music, being featured as one of the main contributors to the 22 Jump Street soundtrack, and also the DJ getting the entire Beach party going crazy. This remix is a perfect nighttime driving tune along the coast (or mountains or wherever) and also great on any venue sound system.

9. Duck Sauce - “NRG (Skrillex, Kill The Noise, Milo & Otis Remix)”
Skrillex, KTN, Milo & Otis, and Duck Sauce all in one song can only be gold. And it is. NRG already has a throwback 100 percent feel good vibe, and the remix gives it that perfect hard hitting twist that creates a perfect combination of “let’s drive to the beach!” and “Let’s hit the Mothership Tour immediately.”

10. Galantis – “You (Original Mix)”
Galantis came out with their self-titled EP and I love every song on it. “You” is my favorite, and with a remix from Tiesto and Twoloud as well as Brillz and Still Young: it will be heard on any stage or any show this summer. It captures that ‘windows down’ vibe perfectly.

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Jenny Regan

NEXT: Kemba Makes The Song Cry On His Painful Masterpiece ‘Gilda’

Kemba doesn’t look like the stereotypical rapper. He's not loaded with expensive jewelry, a large entourage, "exotic" women, and stylish clothes. The budding MC is reserved. Remember the quiet, artsy, yet cool kid in high school who didn’t put on a thick shield of toughness, but you knew he’d fight when invited to? That’s Kemba, the seemingly reticent kid moving to the beat inside of his headphones.

It’s a dreary Thursday afternoon near the end of September. Exactly six days prior to this date (Sept. 28), the Bronx native released his sobering album titled Gilda, the follow-up to 2016's Negus album. But even in the face of album release parties and the fame that comes with having a record deal, the Republic artist refuses to put on the clichéd mask of a rapper.

The regular degular kid arrives solo, and on time, at VIBE’s Times Square office. Despite his mother’s death still fresh on his mind, Kemba seems to be in great spirits. He’s generous with posing for pictures, calmly standing where the photographer asks him to. While Kemba is totally alert, his eyes hold a glare that shows he’s pondering some valuable lessons recently learned.

One listen to Gilda, named after his mother who died of a stroke, and it’s clear that the bubbling MC is adept at sorting through thoughts and unearthing lessons from deep-rooted pain.

“I’m just getting into the habit of speaking about things and not holding anything in,” Kemba says when asked about extracting lessons from discomfort. “I haven’t had a lot of revelations yet. I’m still getting accustomed to recognizing my thoughts, and feelings, sharing my thoughts, and looking at the feeling wheel, and identifying all of the things that that situation makes me feel.”

Kebma began his rap career as YC the Cynic. With Eminem being a big influence on his early rap style, Kemba’s lyrical ambition is evident on early mixtapes like 2010’s You’re Welcome and 2011’s Fall Forward, where he’s rapping over a mix of industry instrumentals and original beats. Kemba was also doing a lot of open mics around the Rotten Apple, tapping into his gift of wordplay and building his fanbase through an old-school path of impressing local crowds. His burgeoning career leveled-up after being discovered by Queens MC, Homeboy Sandman, who introduced Kemba to Hot 97 radio personality Peter Rosenberg.

But as Kemba found his footing in the underground scene and came into his own as an artist, he decided to trade in his YC the Cynic tag for a handle more befitting to the picture he wanted to paint of himself.

“I try to separate myself from constructs. I never really had pride in my name [YC the Cynic]," Kemba recalls. "I always felt detached from my real name. So I just wanted to choose something for myself.”

“I wanted it to sound youthful, like it had african roots to it, and to sound strong," he continues. “And I really just searched a bunch of names. I went through names for about a year. Like YC the Cynic, you hear it, and you can think of the type of person that would have that name. I just wanted a name that, to where I could do whatever [musically].”

Fast forward to 2019, Kemba’s departure from the battle rhymes on Gilda is his best project to date. The album moves through a series of revelations, family issues, and takes listeners on a journey of a young man trudging through hardships.

One week after the release of Gilda, Kemba sat with VIBE for a discussion about regrets, finding meaning from traumatic situations, and controlling his narrative.

...

VIBE: Gilda sounds like a project where you’re exposing a bunch of lessons that you recently learned. Kemba: I feel like it led to that. It started with me examining my life in a way that I haven’t before. It started with me not being able to process my mom’s death. At some point I started to write again and it was like, “Oh shit, this is how I feel.” But I didn’t know that until I wrote it. This is the only way I’m going to find out about myself, so let me just do this. Let me think about my childhood and write. And then at some point that became me examining myself, reading back what I wrote. I’m going to therapy now, and I’m figuring out different ways to understand myself. But that started from me realizing there was more to it than writing.

I sense that you have some regrets about the relationships in your family? It’s hard because a lot of the relationships in my family are so broken. There are a lot of family members that I love and talk to on a regular basis, but there are still some that I do not know if it will ever be repaired. And I realized that as you get older it becomes harder to link with people, and you look up and it’s been a year since you saw them. Just spending time gets really hard as you get older. But that’s the goal.

Do you wish you spent more time with your mom? I think my mom is like a whole different relationship. I wish I would’ve been there with my mom. And I did spend time with my mom. I wish it would’ve been more quality time. Now I know the difference between spending time and quality time. I wish I’d known more about her, her history, and her upbringing. So yes, there are regrets.

Has your family heard the album? A lot of my family has heard the album, and I’m pleasantly surprised that the acceptance has been as good as it has. I imagine that a lot of the people that it was about didn’t hear it. But everybody that I heard from said they were proud. Some cried at some point and said they love me. And that’s a good of an acceptance that I get from them. There’s this theme of controlling your narrative throughout your music too. How young were you when you realized that that’s important?

There's a lot of talk of controlling your narrative in your music. Most 23-years-old are not thinking about controlling their narrative. When did this become a thing for you? I can’t remember when I had that idea that that was important but I do know that in general that if you don’t control your narrative someone else will. There’s a laundry list of evidence, from the history to America to the history of hip-hop, where people don’t really stake claim, and they get the value to the point where the story is up for grabs. Like right now, for as long as I have lived it’s been recognized that Kool Herc is the Godfather of Hip-Hop and as the story goes on the story gets misconstrued. And other people take claim. So controlling your narrative is super important.

Are you into activism? Your album Negus gives me that feel. That’s how I came up. I came up being part of a community organization called Rebel Diaz. They showed me the way of the social activism. We lead and organize a bunch of marches. We went down to Ferguson,down to Baltimore for Freddie Gray. I was doing that a lot, but music took more and more of my time. But I would love to get back to that. Those are my brothers. I look to them for advice often.

What will Kemba’s story read like? I’ve thought about it. I don’t know the exact answer. I just know the things that I love to do. I want to be a part of making incredible art as long as I live. Making my own art, and helping people with their art. Whether that means creating music, helping other people create music, or just executive produce projects, producing, writing for people. I just want to be involved in art, and more involved in social service.

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Micheal Lavine

Kash Doll's Confident Spirit Earned Her The Last Laugh In 2019

It’s rightfully challenging for Kash Doll to align a track from Stacked to her everyday mood. Much like her layered debut album, Arkeisha Knight is full of admiring qualities and feelings. Charming yet vulnerable, aggressive but reserved, the rapper also possesses one thing many crave—confidence.

Her high morale has been one of the most consistent traits, earning fans from all over the boss lady's spectrum like Rihanna and Serena Williams as well as co-signs from the top rappers in the game (Drake and Big Sean to name a few). But these things aren’t aligned to her spirited aura. “It's hard to explain because it's a mix of the dance world and the confidence my mother put in me,” Kash tells VIBE. “When I was growing up I started to believe in my greatness and say, 'I am that I am that.' I'll tell you one thing, can't nobody tell me sh*t.”

Pulling that energy from within is something black women do so well. A 2017 Harris Poll arranged by Glamour and L’Oréal Paris discovered black women, in fact, are more confident than their white and Latinx counterparts. The study, comprised of 2,000 women across America, revealed black women were more likely to describe themselves as beautiful and successful. But we don’t need stats to prove what we already know.

As black women continue to break barriers, we’re often met with pushback—especially in the music industry. Women who happen to be rappers have been vocal about this throughout the genre’s existence. Think Queen Latifah’s glorious “U.N.I.T.Y.” track. Consider how people questioned the pens of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. Take a listen to Nicki Minaj’s testimony from her My Time documentary. Even rewind the very awkward times industry heads glossed over Cardi B. With more women in rap dominating the charts and the culture, artists like Rico Nasty, Doja Cat, Rapsody and Kash Doll are bringing their own bold cocky flavor to the table.

“When you love yourself, you don't try to hide it,” Kash says. “You're either going to take me as I am or have nothing but either way, I'm going to be me. People that like me, I f**k with you and if you don't, well f**k you. I ain't gotta talk to you and you don't have to listen to my music. We don't have to fake it, for real.”

It explains a lot about Kash Doll’s identity on and off wax. Her year has been a big one thanks notable appearances at Rolling Loud’s first New York turn out, scoring crossover status with collaborations with Iggy Azalea and the star-studded Charlie’s Angels Soundtrack executively produced by Ariana Grande. Through all of this, her biggest win is the gift of loyalty received from her fans, the Kash Bratz.

“I never knew what it meant when artists said they would be nothing without their fans but I get it,” she says in between laughs. “Them Kash Bratz, they keep me on my toes. They keep me going since they only want content.” Their wishes were granted with Stacked. Released late fall, the 17-track album provides effortless bad bi**h anthems like “Paid B***hes,” reworked gems (“Cheap S**t” from Keisha vs. Kash Doll is a pleasant surprise) and strong collabs with the hottest women in R&B like Summer Walker (“No Lames”) and Teyana Taylor (“Feel Something”).

The album’s intro “KD Diary” provides a peek into the pages of Kash Doll’s intriguing life and the battles she’s faced in between. Her father’s passing at a young age makes her cherish love at a special level while legal drama with her former label taught her a lesson in pushing through the most severe blows. Now signed to Republic Records, Kash officially broke free of her previous label which kept her in a legal battle for almost two years. After wrapping up "that paperwork" she scored a hit with her major-label debut, "Ice Me Out" in 2018. It was a perfect segway from her very viral track "For Everbody" which showcased her strong storytelling skills as she imagined the conversation between Belly character Keisha and Tommy's young sidechick. As she notes on "KD Diary," touring without her music on streaming services forced her to grind at an old school level in a new school digital world.

“I just wanted to give a heartfelt moment,” she says. During her ascension to the top, her lyrical chops dished out standout tracks, but Kash wants people to get a glimpse of the woman behind that Detroit grit. “You’ve heard all these songs but do you know me? Have you ever had a chance to get an understanding of who I am? So that's what my inspiration behind it was,” she explains. “The intro was called 'KD Diary' because it really is like one. It's like I'm spilling all my beans.”

A hometown hero through and through, the rapper has been steadfast in making sure her 2019 was everyone’s golden year. On the fashion front, she rocked brands from local designers like Jennifer Walker’s Furluxx fur coats. She also surprised mothers on Detroit's east side at the 7th Annual Breastfeeding Community Baby Shower, has continued her high school prom giveaways and supplied families with free turkeys during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Her genuine nature is also extended to peers in the game as she continuously shows love to Megan Thee Stallion, Fabolous and “Crazy” collaborator Lou Got Cash. To Kash, the only thing that matters is living life to the fullest and staying clear of any drama. It’s why she remains focused on her grind and cementing her place in the game. Settling previous spats with peers Lil Kim and Cardi B has been a part of that as well as celebrating the gift of life with her day ones.

“It's amazing because it's what I always wanted,” she says of her success. “I don't want anyone to ever put me in a box. I never wanted people to say, ‘She's this kind of artist.’ It just makes me feel like this is what I was destined to do, and it's so amazing, so amazing."

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Courtesy of adidas

The 6 Degrees of Damian Lillard

It was the shot and meme that was heard around the world. Earlier this year, Portland Trailblazers' star point guard Damian Lillard hit a series-clinching jumper from beyond the arc as time expired, advancing to the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. The shot, launched over former Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George's outstretched hands was a big deal to seemingly everyone else on the planet, but for Lillard, it was simply business as usual. “We’re a really resilient team,” Lillard told a reporter in a post-game interview. “We knew it was ups and downs throughout the series, we just had to keep our heads right, stay focused, stay together. We stayed together and it came down to one play and we executed really well and we were able to get it done.”

This wasn't the first time he had shattered a championship contender's dreams and delivered defeat as a cold dish served. In May 2014, Lillard buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the ‘Blazers a 99-98 win over the Houston Rockets, clinching a 4-2 win in the first round of that season's NBA Playoffs, Portland's first in fourteen years. When asked about his ability to keep his composure during these pressure-packed moments, Lillard credits his big-picture outlook with keeping him poised. "It's usually not a whole lot going through my head," he says. "I think what allows me to be confident and just keep my cool in those situations is knowing that I put the time in to give myself a chance to be successful and to end these games and staying in shape physically and just having my mind in the right place. And also understanding that I can shoulder the success and the failure of it. Whichever one happens on that night, I know I can handle both. So I go into those situations not really concerned with the outcome."

Selected by the Trailblazers in 2012 with the sixth overall draft pick, Portland, Oregon would be a culture shock for the average kid bred in the mean streets of East Oakland, California. But for Lillard, his collegiate tenure at Weber State in Utah, where he competed in Portland on several occasions, afforded him some familiarity with the city. "I always liked Portland," he shares. "Because when I was in college, at Weber, we'd play Portland State every year. So when you get a chance to come to a real city like Portland where it's like an actual downtown and stores you can go to and kind of move around, you just have a different appreciation of it when you're playing all of these different small towns. I already kind of liked the city to begin with. Now I get to explore more. My best friend was already going to college here when I got drafted so I've always liked it even before I got here. When I got here and started to meet people and learn the city, move around and just being a resident here, I've only grown to like it more. It's become more of a home to me over the years."

Many words have been used to describe Lillard's play on the court, but one of the most appropriate is "ruthless," which is a major theme of the concept behind the DAME 6, his sixth signature shoe with adidas. Released November 29, the DAME 6 is another reflection of Lillard's ties to the city. "It's a great feeling especially for me because I live in Portland," he says. "And [with] adidas being in Portland, we're able to have a strong partnership. Because of the communication and us being able to get in front of each other, it's not hard to figure things; it's always one drive. I can get to them or they can get to me and I think it makes things easier. If it's a shoe I need to see or some type of hoodie or anything, socks, whatever, they can get it in front of me right away, it's not a drawn-out process."

According to Rashad Williams, adidas Basketball Senior Director of Footwear, the brand set its sights on making Lillard one of the pillars of the three stripes not long after taking the league by storm during his Rookie of the Year campaign. "I'm from the west coast so I knew where Weber State was," Williams recalls. "And then him being a lottery pick, I think he got on everyone's radar. And Dame played in adidas growing up, all the way through college so we signed him on to the family. Then I think it was by his second or third year, we were like, 'Wow.' Not only did the Trailblazers realize they had something special, adidas realized they had something special as well."

When it comes to the shoe’s creation, Williams credits Lillard with streamlining the designing process with his own ideas and input. "I think that's the big thing with Dame, he constantly challenges us on every shoe. If something's on his mind, he'll text you or he might pull up to the office, but that's how we grow and it's real." Aside from being relentless within the confines of the game, a term that embodies who Damian is as a person is "duality." He can go from being calm and collected in the midst of family and friends to transforming into a fiery floor general. And it’s artistically reflected in the DAME 6, which has many different dimensions, layers and moving parts that speak to Lillard's multifaceted lifestyle.

"I think the best way that it mirrors me is just the duality, having both sides of the shoe looking different," the All-NBA point guard explains. "I think as a player on the court, I definitely have a mean streak. That's one side of me you won't always see, but then my demeanor and my face is completely calm. Right after the game, I'm playing with my son, during the game I'm completely different so I think that's the way that it connects. Just the duality: who I am on the court and off the court, being a rapper, being a basketball player...I just think there are so many sides to who I am.”

As a long-time rap fan and aficionado, Lillard began to share his talents on Instagram with his #4BarFriday posts. Lillard, who raps under the name Dame D.O.L.L.A. (the acronym standing for "Different on Levels Lord Allowed") upped the ante from there. In 2016, he released his debut album, The Letter O, and launched his record label, Front Page Music. Featuring appearances from Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Jamie Foxx, Marsha Ambrosius and Front Page Music's flagship signees Brookfield Duece and Danny from Sobrante, The Letter O peaked at No. 62 on Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart, a respectable debut for any new artist, let alone one tasked with carrying an NBA franchise on his back. After returning with a sophomore album, Confirmed, the following year, Lillard's reputation as a lyricist began to precede him with a number of rap artists and critics viewing him as the most talented rhymer currently in the NBA, rather than an athlete moonlighting as a gimmick.

“I think one of the things people recognize is that I'm a real student of hip-hop. I know the history of hip-hop and I respect the history of hip-hop. The reason I rap is ‘cause of some of the best people who have rapped. I'm a big, big 2Pac fan, big Nas fan. Big Andre 3000 fan, Juvenile, all of these guys. Wayne, Common...like I'm a fan of that type of music. Just creating a feeling and people being able to connect with what you're saying and because I'm a fan of that, that's the kind of rap I like to create. I like to put words together to give people a feeling and allow them to be able to connect with what I'm saying. And I think a mix of all of those things, being authentic with my music and genuine with my music, I think people can hear it and they can respect it. They can connect with it and I think they respect it more when they're like, 'This dude is a basketball player.' There are people who do this as their primary career who don't know the history of the game that they're playing. And they don't respect the history of the game that they're playing in. I think a mix of those things has allowed people to respect me doing it.”

Dame's quest to be not only the best rapping athlete but the greatest rap artist of all-time has not come without its share of challengers. The biggest contender for the crown is Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley, a former No. 2 overall pick whose debut mixtape, Don’t Blink, dropped on the night of the 2018 NBA Draft. During an appearance on ESPN’s First Take, analyst Max Kellerman asked Bagley who would be the victor in a rap battle between the two, to which he responded by picking himself as the superior rhymer. As the competitor that he is, Lillard accepted Bagley's challenge, prompting the former Duke star to throw down the gauntlet with "No Debate," a direct shot at Dame D.O.L.L.A. Not one to be outgunned, D.O.L.L.A. fired back quickly with a pair of tracks, "Bye Bye" and "MARVINNNNNN???." Bagley retorted with "Checkmate," which would be the final salvo in the pair's brief yet entertaining back-and-forth.

While a number of NBA players have released material, two had never engaged in lyrical warfare, making Lillard and Bagley's battle a historic one. "That was the reason I did it," Lillard says. "At first, I was like, 'If somebody ever says something to me with some music, I'm just gonna say nothing at all' 'cause it ain't that important for me. I rap for me, I'm just pushing my own music. I ain't in competition with no athletes. He mentioned my name once before and then it was on TV and it was like a thing. I started to prepare myself for it to happen for that reason, 'cause it hadn't been done before. So to be a part of the first, it was enticing. We did it and then after that, I was like, 'I'm not gonna do it.' Unbeknownst to Lillard, his days of sparring were far from over, as one of his own comments would land him in hot water with none other than retired NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, who didn't take too kindly to a reference Lillard made during an appearance on The Joe Budden Podcast.

Lillard's remark caught the attention of Shaq, who unleashed his vengeance against Dame on "The Originator," which saw the veteran comparing D.O.L.L.A.'s net worth and lack of championship hardware with his own. Undeterred, Lillard tossed out a pair of diss tracks, “Reign Reign Go Away" and its follow-up, “I Rest My Case.” While a large chunk of the public deemed Dame D.O.L.L.A. the victor in their dust-up, Lillard makes it clear this will likely be the last time he lyrically goes head-to-head with a fellow athlete. "Again, that was it," he reiterates. “The fact that it was Shaq, and that's like a big stage for my rap career. Having such a huge figure that I'm engaging with, I was like 'That's cool.' But that's probably it for my battle rap career."

With the release of his third studio album, Big D.O.L.L.A. — which has been billed as his most impressive project to date — Lillard plans to keep his buzz afloat this NBA season. "I mean, I've only recorded during the season maybe once or twice my whole career,” he shares. “Typically I just rap in the summer and I go away during the season, but this is the first time I did a lot of stuff in advance. I recorded a lot of extra music and I partnered with a lot of different people so that my music can continue to have legs and keep moving." He continues, “I got some stuff coming up, for sure. During the NBA season, I got some stuff coming, and something else that I can't mention right now, but y'all gonna see. But next summer, hopefully, I'll have another project ready.”

Lillard looks to make up for 2018's loss in the Conference Finals and shepherd the Trailblazers toward an NBA championship. However, with squads like the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and Utah Jazz all retooling, the western conference is as daunting as it's ever been. "I knew it was gonna be a tough season just because of every team getting better," he says. "And us coming into the season with a completely new roster, a lot of our guys that we had for the last three to four years are on new teams now. And we brought in a new group of guys, so it's like not only did everyone get better, but we're in a process where we're trying to figure each other out. We're trying to learn each other, we're still trying to put plays in and get our chemistry together and it's just gonna be a process so we're trying to find our way in an already tough western conference. I know it's gonna be tough, I know it's gonna be a battle, but we just gotta keep our head in it for the full eighty-two [games]."

And he intends to play in every single regular-season game, an anomaly of today's NBA superstars in the age of load management. Birthed by Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs and popularized by Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, the load management theory has been pegged as a key component in winning NBA championships, with last year's Raptors squad being the latest test case. Just don't expect Damian Lillard to be sitting any games out voluntarily anytime soon. "I mean, I think LeBron said it best: ‘If I'm healthy, I'm playing,’" he says, shrugging off any notion of him logging DNPs. "I think as somebody that just loves the game and I've worked hard my life to be able to play in an NBA game, I'ma have a whole post-game career to do load management or whatever. And I also think everyone doesn't have that luxury,” he adds. “I think that's part of the reason why so many top players are teaming up and trying to go to the team that's the strongest. Because it kind of affords you that opportunity more often than not where you can say, 'Okay, I'm not feeling great. I'ma sit this one out and worry about me because we have a team that's good enough to go out there and win without me.' But me personally, I love to play the game so I'm gonna always choose to play, but I also wouldn't wanna put my teammates in that position where I put myself above the team. We all can go out there and play, I always put myself on the same level as my teammates."

Lillard's game-winning shot may have been heard around the world, immortalized in memes and gifs, cementing him as one of the most clutch performers in the game, but the story didn't end there. Upsetting the Denver Nuggets in seven games in the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, Lillard, CJ McCollum and company were stymied by the Kevin Durant-less, Steph Curry-led Golden State Warriors, who swept the Trailblazers in four games, ending Portland's most successful season in nearly two decades. And with starting center Jusuf Nurkic not expected to return to the lineup anytime soon, not to mention losing Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, Seth Curry and other key players from last year's roster, Portland is looking to integrate various moving parts on the fly. Currently sitting at 9th in the Western Conference with a 9-13 record as of press time and depleted by injuries, the Trailblazers haven't gotten off to as hot of a start as expected, but with an eighty-two game season and one of the NBA's top floor generals at the wheel, counting Portland out of contention wouldn't be the safest bet.

And if Portland's recent acquisition of free agent Carmelo Anthony—who was recently named Western Conference Player of the Week (from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1)—out of basketball exile can give a jolt to the Trailblazers’ offense, a return to form is certainly not out of the question. "I'm always optimistic about every team that I'm on so I think we always have a chance,” says Lillard, whose streak of double-digit scoring games was broken the night before this sit-down in a home loss to the Raptors. "Last season, we got to the Western Conference Finals and I think that experience of playing that deep into the season was our first time and you felt it. We were up against a championship-caliber team, an experienced team and that's where we lost it; We had double-digit leads in every game, it's just that championship mentality and that championship experience kind of outdid us. But I think it's all about that process for us to just continue to move forward and try to get better so that we can get back to that position and hopefully the outcome is different."

Back to that loss at the hands of the Raptors. Afterward, as Moda Center employees, team personnel, and security hold court by the loading dock, family and friends of Blazers players await to console them after a tough defeat. Portland shooting guard CJ McCollum emerges from the press conference first, with Lillard trailing. McCollum greets Lillard’s two-year-old son, Damian Lillard, Jr., who is being held by a member of Lillard’s entourage while the man of the hour holds court with a few close pals. Clad in street clothes and looking unlike a world-class athlete that just finished fielding questions from a room of reporters about what went wrong and what they could've done differently, Lillard shadow-boxes with his son, a moment that brings to mind a remark he shared about how he keeps up with all of the moving parts of his life while living under the constant flicker of the lights.

"It's one thing to be a professional athlete and have to deal with the era that we play in, where people have so much more access to you on social media," Lillard candidly shares. "Instagram, Twitter, all these ways to kind of just poke at you, positive and negative. Like you saw, we come back there through the tunnel, the loading dock and it's a bunch of people and you're faced with what your job is all the time. People on TV are commenting on everything you do so it adds stress and it adds pressure. It just makes it harder to play in this era. But when you’ve got that family support and your own kid and that real love, that unconditional love around you, it just keeps everything in perspective and it makes it easier to deal with what your job is. It makes it easier to step out of that, even in the arena that I just lost the game in. I'm still able to step out of what my reality is."

As pleasantries turn into farewells, Lillard picks up Damian Jr. and the pair fade into the Portland night. With the Trailblazer’s set to embark on a six-game road-trip, Dame’s stay in the city will be short, but at that very moment, his face says it all: there’s no place like home.

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