The Secret History of Kobe Bryant's Rap Career
For three weeks during the summer of 1998, Kobe Bryant lived in the New Jersey mansion of hip-hop record executive Steve Stoute. Bryant was there to try on the role of rap star, but since he was also training to be the next Jordan, basketball consumed most of his time. Every morning, he'd drive to nearby Ramapo College and shoot 2,000 jump shots. Sometimes, Stoute would shuttle in streetball players from New York to help Bryant brush up on his defense. By sundown every day, though, he was tasked with absorbing "the lifestyle," a kind of initiation into the late-'90s world of rap royalty.
That was the idea, anyway. At the time, Stoute was president of urban music for Sony Entertainment, and he'd recently signed Bryant and his group CHEIZAW to the label. He'd moved Bryant from Los Angeles to New York that summer to, Stoute says, be around the gilded hip-hop industry. Stoute, a marketing whiz and big-picture specialist, was reaching unseen heights in the industry, having recently orchestrated Will Smith's comeback rap album, the nine-times platinum Big Willie Style. He thought he could do the same for Kobe Bryant. Basketball came naturally to the 20-year-old. Hip-hop was going to take some work.
But Bryant was up for it. When he wasn't playing ball, he was recording at the Hit Factory with late-'90s producers par excellence the Trackmasters and their stable of artists, which included Nas, Noreaga, Punch and Words, Nature, and a young scrapper named 50 Cent. Kobe lived it up in New York. He routinely went clubbing with Stoute and dined at Mr. Chow, the Chinese restaurant favored by the nouveau riche.
None of that impressed him, though. Bryant was in love with the purest form of hip-hop, and he wanted a challenge: to battle the pros. (...)
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