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This story appeared in the April 2000 issue of VIBE, months before he won his first of five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. Written by Isaac Paris
Okay, Sherlock, we know Kobe Bryant is way past the verge of stardom. As an all-star shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, he gets thousands of fans screaming with excitement every other night. Bryant's baseline drives are as smooth as Nate Dogg's vocals, and his slam dunks bump like a gritty bass line from a DJ Premier track.
Now, with his debut rap album, Visions (Columbia), due in March, the 21-year-old is poised to follow in the footsteps of teammate Shaquille O'Neal (who he occasionally exchanges verses with in the locker room) and prove that his skills aren't limited to flying above the rim. Although Bryant realizes that being the man on the hardwood is no guarantee that you can actually hold it down in the studio (NBA stars/inept MCs like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd can attest to that), Visions proves his wordsmith capabilities are ample enough to allow him to play with the big dogs.
"People are gonna be surprised," Bryant says self-assuredly. "Toward the latter stages [of recording], I was real comfortable. I was like, 'I got this sh*t!'" In fact, tonight in his Milwaukee hotel room––on the eve of a game against the Bucks––Bryant's more pressed with defending the unproven mike skills of his homegirl that he is his own.
"Tyra can sing," he says of supermodel Tyra Banks, who makes her singing debut on Visions' first single, the buoyant "K.O.B.E." Destiny's Child, the Roots' Black Thought, 50 Cent, and Beanie Sigel also support the hoopster on the CD.
"The album is pretty hard. People expect me to come a little more commercial than I did," says Bryant. "At first it was all battle raps, but I really wanted to give the total picture of what was going on around me, like money, jewelry, women, and trust issues."
Nevertheless, money, hoes, and clothes aren't the only things this player knows. He also knows how to win. The following night, after No. 8 scores 22 points as the Lakers thrash the Bucks, he's convinced he'll be just as successful rapping as he is playing on his championship-contending team. "[On the mic] you want respect. If I want something I'm gonna get it. Just buy the album and see for yourself."
"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!
Update: 5:37 PM EST (January 26, 2020) - L.A. County sheriff Alex Villanueva a total of 9 people are believed to have been on board the helicopter during the fatal crash, according to the flight manifest. There are no survivors.
Update: 3:37 PM EST (January 26, 2020) - Bryant's second daughter Gianna Maria-Onore was among the passengers who died in the fatal helicopter crash, reports TMZ Sports.
The two were reportedly on their way to her basketball tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy. Nicknamed, "Gigi aka Viva aka the Mambacita #2, the 13-year-old also played basketball and dominated the court just like her dad. The emerging basketball star had dreams of playing for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
NBA legend Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning (Jan. 26).
At around 10 a.m. PST, authorities responded to a fiery crash near Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas, Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times notes. All passengers on board the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, which is reported to be four other people, were reported dead at the scene. A brushfire ensued causing difficult conditions for firefighters to contain the incident, the news website further states.
Bryant, 41, is survived by his wife Vanessa Bryant, and three children: Natalia Diamante, Bianka Bella, and Capri Kobe, who was born in 2019.