That song, which is called “3 X’s Dope,” appears on O’Neal’s 1998 album Respect. It features the female rapper Sonja Blade, who was writing for Shaq at the time, and a third rapper not listed in the credits who kicks off the track.
Kobe Bryant is that rapper.
Some say Bryant’s name wasn’t listed for label-clearance reasons (Shaq recorded for A&M). Others say the song was meant to be a surprise. It was recorded in early 1998 in Los Angeles with legendary hip-hop producer Clark Kent. At first Bryant sat quietly while Kent finished composing the song. O’Neal kept the mood light, cracking jokes and talking trash to his little bro.
“You got to come with your A-game, son. You got to come with your A-game.”
Bryant didn’t back down.“Nah, I’m ready, son. I got mines.”
Then he stepped into the booth. Bryant memorized his verse, but he rapped too fast, zooming past the tempo of the production. By the third take he’d nailed it. “When he laid that down, the whole studio erupted because it was like, ‘This guy is not playing.’ This was not A-B-C stuff,” Sonja Blade says, laughing. “I couldn’t listen to his verse for years.”
I recently played Bryant’s verse for Sonja Blade.
“You know what’s funny? He sounds dope,” she says afterward. “Compared to the rappers today, he’s dope. He sounds like an underground backpack rapper. It don’t even sound like Kobe Bryant. I would want to hear more from this kid if I didn’t know who he was. That’s funny. Nobody raps like that anymore. Yo, he came there to prove a point. He put thought into that. I couldn’t hear it for years when everyone joked about it. Now hearing it, he doesn’t sound bad.”
Clark Kent has a different take on Bryant’s performance. “He just seemed like one of those guys that wanted to be good so bad that he was trying to use the most intelligent [words] and have the sick vernacular. It was like, ‘Calm down, duke. Just rap.’ He was the lyrical-miracle-genius-type rapper.”I played the record again for Clark, too.“Hilarious. It’s just funny because knowing that we was there and he was rapping was hilarious. He was like this little basketball dude … This was his second year [in the NBA] so he was dumb young. He thought he was a rapper.” Kent giggles. “Oh my God, hilarious. I don’t even want to talk about this anymore.”