NBA star Damian Lillard is often compared to other NBA players turned rappers, but he’s working hard to create a lane of his own.
Before taking the stage to perform at the first ever JBL Fest, a VIP experience in at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Damian Lillard sat down with ESSENCE to talk music.
Lillard, known as a two-time NBA All-Star and point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, is also known to many hip-hop heads as Dame D.O.L.L.A. (Different On Levels the Lord Allows).
He dropped his debut album in 2016, The Letter O, which showcased his skills as a rapper and earned him comparisons to other NBA players turned rappers. But, Lillard isn’t worried about being compared to athletes like Kobe Bryant, Shaq, or Metta World Peace —he’s just focused on carving his own path.
"That’s always going to happen, it’s always going to be that way,” Lillard tells ESSENCE about the comparisons. "The same as in sports, when a guy comes along and he’s doing all these things and they say ‘Back when Michael Jordan did it,’ so there’s always going to be comparisons.”
Lillard is, admittedly, a good rapper. And, if we were to rank NBA star turned hip-hop artists, he’d land somewhere in the top three.
"For me, in my mind and in my heart, I really think I’m different in my approach to it. Not to say I’m better than them, but I think what’s being put into it and the story being told is different from anything that’s been done by an athlete,” he says. "So, I don’t really buy too much into it. I think the only way to separate from it is to continue to put out quality stuff. To be consistent and to really be an artist and not just a basketball player who raps.”
Lillard’s music delves into the his life, examines his roots and climb to fame in the NBA, however, he never brags about the fame and money.
"That’s public knowledge,” he says. "People know that I make a lot of money, women love professional athletes. I don’t have to brag about that stuff.” Instead, Lillard falls into a category more closely associated with conscious rappers, the weight of his music is in his lyrics, perfect for an artist who claims to listen to various genres just for the story being told.
For Dame D.O.L.L.A., it’s not about being a conscious rapper, but a rapper willing to share his truth. "I don’t have to think about it because this is what is really happening and what I really feel. So, that’s why it might come off as conscious because it’s my truth,” Lillard says.
"I’m going to tell you the real truth. Everybody’s not willing to be as transparent in their music. They're not willing to admit that they're flawed, that they're insecure. They’re not willing to admit it in their music, but that to me makes the music better."