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Dame D.O.L.L.A. Fans Say It’s Time to Stop Sleeping on the NBA Star’s Rap Game

Music critics might dismiss Damian Lillard’s hip-hop alter ego, but these guys will stan for his every beat

Noah, a 19-year-old in Chicago, was passively scrolling through Instagram back in 2013 when he saw a grainy video of Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard rapping to the camera in a yellow room. “I had no idea that he had aspirations as a rapper or anything so I assumed it wouldn’t be very good, but I clicked on it anyway,” Noah explains. “The first thing that grabbed me was how distinct of a voice he had — he definitely didn’t seem like an amateur at all.” 

That video went viral and led to Lillard creating an entire account and hashtag around people submitting freestyle rap videos called #4BarFriday. “I knew he was the point guard for the Trail Blazers, but that’s about it,” Noah, who is something of a rapper himself, tells me. “If I didn’t know who he was, I would have thought he was just a new rapper on the come up who was starting to get some buzz.”

Needing to hear more, Noah searched for Dame D.O.L.L.A. — the moniker under which Lillard raps — and discovered that he’d just released his first album, The Letter “O”

The album was mostly panned by critics. Pitchfork doesn’t bother to even list Dame D.O.L.L.A. as an artist on its website, while Trent Clark at HipHopDX called the album “rich in positivity, low in highlights.” “Dame’s rap talents are unquestionable,” Clark concludes, “[but] his pop ear muscles could still use some training camp love.”  

Noah, however, had a different take. “I was very surprised at how good it was,” he says. “He had a great ear for production, a solid vocal presence on every track and impressive lyrical ability. When I heard his storytelling on the track ‘Legacy,’ I knew that he had serious talent.” 

Dame, of course, would love more fans like Noah. That is, despite his basketball prowess, he wants to be taken seriously as a rapper, and is set on winning a Grammy. “I don’t care about it maybe to the level I care about being the MVP or winning a championship,” Lillard told TMZ after dropping his third album Big D.O.L.L.A. “But I care about in the sense that how many NBA All-Stars or max contract players can say, ‘I legitimately won a Grammy,’ and ‘I legitimately performed at the BET Awards.’ You know what I’m saying? Like, was really taken serious as an artist. Not off of my celebrity as a basketball player but really off of me doing music.”

Music critics, though, still aren’t there yet. Big D.O.L.L.A. came and went in August with middling fanfare. And at best, Reddit’s hip-hop community, r/HipHopHeads, treats his albums with bemused surprise:

That said, guys like Noah, who are bigger fans of Dame D.O.L.L.A. than they are of Damian Lillard the point guard, definitely believe that Lillard deserves to be recognized among “real” rappers — at a minimum. “People hold Dame to a lower standard than other artists because they see rapping more as a hobby than a career for him,” Noah explains. “They just don’t expect him to improve over time because they’ve already decided he’s nothing more than an ‘NBA rapper,’ but the average Dame D.O.L.L.A. song displays more technical rapping ability than I’ve heard from a lot of rappers getting attention right now.” 

Twenty-year-old Seattle college student Alex feels the need to defend Lillard, too. He’s been following Dame D.O.L.L.A. since he “was just dropping loosies on his SoundCloud.” Ever since, he says, “Dame has just continued to put out good music.” 

“Without a doubt, he ranks up there with real rappers,” Alex continues, “and the fact that he does it at all is a testament to his talent and pursuit of a rap career.” 

“If you appreciate hip hop, lyricism and cadence, you will come to appreciate Dame’s music,” adds Mike, a 26-year-old in Toronto. Not to mention: “He has a lot better bars than ‘real’ rappers nowadays.” Yet, Mike isn’t convinced this will be enough to make him a successful rapper. “He’s not after what the record companies try to push: a radio banger, a club banger, a song for the females to vibe to,” he argues. “He creates his music with a purpose — like telling a story or giving us a glimpse of what he’s been through. His lyrics don’t sound like he’s fronting to appear as something he’s not.”

There’s also the matter of his day job. Basically, in a couple of weeks, he has to go back to playing point guard in the NBA (his Shaq diss track notwithstanding). His fans, however, refuse to leave him behind. “It sucks knowing he won’t be making any new music during the season,” Mike says. “But I try not to view it that way. I’m still a big fan of his NBA game, so to me, he’s still providing a high-quality product that I enjoy year round.” 

Plus, basketball hasn’t really slowed him down anyway. “He’s dropped three albums since his debut in 2016,” Noah says, “which is a pretty consistent track record if you ask me.”