Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers guard and rap aficionado, made waves throughout both the sporting and music industries with the surprise midnight release of his debut rap album on Oct. 21.
Under the moniker “Dame D.O.L.L.A.” — Different on Levels the Lord Allows — Lillard released a 12-song album titled “The Letter O,” paying tribute to the places in which he grew up: Oakland, California; Ogden, Utah and Portland, Oregon.
The album features collaborations from Dupre, Marsha Ambrosius, Brookfield Duece, Danny from Sobrante, Juvenile, Manny Lotus, Adrian Marcel, Raphael Saadiq, Jamie Foxx and Lil Wayne.
No novice in the rap industry, Lillard made his craft known through various media: multiple Soundcloud releases; his #4BarFriday website and social media page; guest appearances on radio shows (such as the viral-hit freestyle on the "Sway in the Morning" radio show in 2015); and even in a spot in the series of “Meet The Hoopers” commercials from State Farm.
Within the following 12 tracks, Lillard pours over his humble and turbulent upbringing, the results of his rise to stardom and even his haters — who he claims will have no choice but to respect him soon enough.
I respect him. Do you?
…No? Maybe this review will change your mind.
Review: Showcasing some of the best lines, Lillard opens up rapping about his unstoppable rise to fame, calling out his haters in the process. Throwing shots at his private school coach who said that he wouldn’t make it to the league — yeah, Don Lippi was wrong, big time — and those who snubbed him from making the All-Star game three times, Lillard holds nothing back. (Although he’s been snubbed, he says that it’s fixable, thanks in part to “twenty M’s” — yes, he’s speaking of $20 million. I would definitely be OK with the money, at least. Definitely.)
Best Verse: I’m like a product of poverty and a prodigy / My private school coach said I couldn't, what a hypocrisy / Obviously, I'm built like no other, it ain't no stoppin' me / Tunnel vision I'm blinding whoever busy jockin' me
Review: Rhyming over a slow and smooth beat, Lillard reminisces on his college days at Weber State, where he was the big man on campus — and owned it. Not only is the beat smooth, it’s clear he was while in college, too. If you were anything like Jerome, you were the man … or at least you were trying to be.
Best Verse: Far away from home and feeling so alone / A boy amongst men, I ain't even wear cologne / Girls call me MCM, I’m tryna be Jerome / The Jazz up the road I wanna play for Jerry Sloan
Review: Rapping with Dupre, Lillard raps on the realization of his dreams and his meteoric rise as he put the work in, leaving others in the dust.
Best Verse: I earned my respect, they holla here when I'm gone / When I touch down, I be like 'Heir to the throne' / I could really change a life ya know, switch your situation / Long as people do they part I need participation / Rather see 'em in the triumph than the litigation / All their eyes on me, I be their inspiration
Review: Although Dame’s message about fame’s vanity is strong, it’s overshadowed by one of his opening lines: “They just gotta keep the gas filled / Least that’s what I tend to see like they from Nashville.” You catch the wordplay? Tend-to-see, Tennessee? Get it? It’s cool, right? No? Hey, the wordplay may not be the greatest, or close to his idol J. Cole, but it’s still not too shabby.
Best Verse: The wardrobe not a way to fool folks / See these Yeezys might get me a few strokes / You and many with money that's fool’s gold / That's why I've only got friends, I'm cool bro
Review: Heavy with love and gratitude, Lillard raps on the importance of his grandmother, with Danny from Sobrante and Brookfield Duece supplying two more verses — and Marsha Ambrosius singing an absolutely beautiful hook. I don’t even know his grandmother, yet with all the lovely vibes sent her way, I can’t help but love her, too. Is that weird?
Best Verse: Grew attached to how you love and what you had inside / Never held your tongue, wasn't lettin' nothing slide / Learned early that you gotta give credit where's due / Who better to start with, I gotta start with you
Review: Jamie Foxx is featured in this song. Yes, they have Django in the house singing a suave hook. Things get pretty sexual, though, as he mentions plans about getting his hands on a beautiful woman. Yeah, this completely eclipses Lillard’s role in the song, and I’m pretty sure you can’t listen to this without imagining Django and … I’ll stop there.
Best Verse: I've been making plans come and look at my planner / I can spoil you with gifts, come and sit with Santa / I love the way you slay, call me secret admirer / I can be your Urkel, always had a thing for Myra
Review: With Danny from Sobrante and Juvenile — yes, the Juvenile who released that oh-so-great 1999 hit “Back That Azz Up”, a work of lyrical genius in its own right — on the track, Lillard raps on becoming a “hell of a hooper and a hell of a man” while breaking out of the slums to achieve greatness.
Best Verse: Back at home they like, ‘He made it’ / That decorated patience was amazing, looking back at the obstacles that he faced that ain't faze him / Bullets that could have grazed but it didn't, boy he a great one / Forrest Gump, he made it out and came back just to save 'em
“Loyal to the Soil”
Review: Lillard got Lil Wayne to collaborate with him. Weezy. Tunechi. That goes to show how much respect Lillard is gaining in the industry. In what may be the only song that Lil Wayne doesn’t curse (he said “hell,” but I’ll let it slide), the two rap about remaining loyal to their roots despite gaining fame. To no one’s surprise, this is one of the more — if not most — popular songs within the album, and deservedly so.
*** Unfortunately, Lillard announced via Twitter on Tuesday, Oct. 25, that Lil Wayne would need to be removed from the track, due to conflicts with Wayne’s parent label. So… quick, before he’s removed entirely, go listen to the song! ***
Best Verse: I won’t let that money define me / I let my struggles refine me / I know my angels behind me / Young, rich, and in the sticks tryna find peace
Review: In a rigid song with Brookfield Duece, Lillard raps on growing up in a harsh neighborhood, even recalling an instance where he was held up at gunpoint.
Best Verse: I had to learn my lesson, be careful of my surroundings / Pull that gun up on me, my heart was pounding / Was nervous, I should have seen 'em lurking / I started praise and worship, a cold, cold city but it gave me sense of urging
Review: Damian, listen … I like you, but not like that. You’re trying to be all seductive with your sweet-talking, but I’m not into you like that. I just want to hear some nice rapping, man. Ladies, if you want to listen to Lillard mention “verbs” and “riding that seesaw” while Manny Lotus sings the hook, then be my guest. I’ll be skipping to the next track.
Best Verse: I call her to my altar, let me practice what I'm preaching / I come across the world baby girl, just to see you
Review: I never heard of Adrian Marcel before listening to this track. I wish I had. He sounds like an off-brand version of Usher — providing incredible vocals that can give you chills. Except he’s not Usher, but he’s similar, and anything close to Usher is awesome. Together through Marcel’s vocals, Lillard’s bars and a smooth, mellow beat, the story of being a “victim of success” is shared.
Best Verse: Invested in the dream now I'm living on the screen / Everybody want the fruits, they say I got the juice / Humble beginnings is finished now I'm making millions / Funny how when tables get turned so do attendance / People get a title like loyalty come with pension
Review: Lillard produces the most positive message out of the entire album, encouraging others to be role models, being a “hero” to others in a tough world. It’s a great message, and shows Lillard’s great character… And yet, the hook kills it. The hook kills the whole song. And not the good type of kill, either — it’s just bad, period. Sorry, Raphael Saadiq. You may have won a Grammy back in 2003, Saadiq, but that was 13 years ago. Times have changed.
Best Verse: It's a jungle out there, people watch your back / And watch your front because people be tryna front / I ain't got them kind of problems, never been the type to stunt / Where I'm from that gets you burnt and I'm not yearning for the sun
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