Rap’s Basketball Alter Egos: Vince Staples and Jimmy Butler

Hip-hop and the NBA are inextricably linked: Rappers sit courtside, ballers come backstage after shows, and enough love is shown both ways for the two communities to be considered one big family. (It also helps when some rap stars are literally employed by NBA teams, or when players show up to freestyle on “Sway In The Morning.”)

As we traced the career arcs of some of the biggest stars in rap and basketball, we noticed that some guys appear to be two sides of the same famous coin. Alter egos, if you will.

Jimmy Butler = Vince Staples

Jimmy Butler is 6’7’’ and basically lives above the rim; Vince Staples drops bars. Butler’s got some sort of dread-fade haircut while Staples rocks a dirt ‘stache. They’re from the South and the West Coast, respectively. How could they be the same dude? There’s reason to speculate.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Jimmy Butler came out of nowhere. Nobody who plays for Marquette, earns All-Big East honors (back when the Big East was the Big East), and plays for the Bulls is a nobody. But his path to stardom was often far from promised.

Vince Staples—an impossibly young rapper considering the strength of his incisive lyricism and cold-hearted outlookalso seemed to emerge despite his past rather than because of it. He comes from Long Beach and, like many of the greats, turned to music over gang life. But he did so almost reluctantly, jumping on tracks at the urging of friends and for lack of anything better to do. In another life, he might not have made it this far at all.

Butler is out of Houston, Texas, and had to survive after being thrown out of the house when he was just 13. As a basketball player, he never seemed to turn heads. He played just well enough in high school to attend Tyler Junior College. He played just well enough at Tyler to win a scholarship to Marquette. He played just well enough under Buzz Williams to earn a starting spot and a reputation for tenacious defense. He was drafted almost as an afterthought at the end of the first round in 2011.

Staples came into the game surrounded by young heavyweights—one of his early mixtapes was entirely produced by Mac Miller, and another had beats from No ID. The support, both financial and emotional, was there. It was just a matter of time and patience, and as the months went by, Staples became a name in his own right. In 2014, he released his Hell Can Wait EP and the buzz was official.

Butler came into his own in 2014 as well. By the start of the 2014 season, the team needed another star to anchor a team of talented, tough-nosed two-way players. Butler responded by leading the league in minutes while posting career-best averages in points, rebounds, and assists and playing lockdown defense every night. He went from supporting character to a leading role in the course of a season, and timed it perfectly, cashing in as a restricted free agent this past offseason on the strength of an All-Star campaign.

In 2015, Staples released Summertime ’06 on Def Jam to widespread acclaim, blowing away those who had yet to hear his snapping, high-pitched but level-headed take on gangbangers in SoCal. He has supported his hold on “realness” by giving subsequent interviews decrying those who call him real, quick to call the media’s bluff while not taking himself too seriously. That, along with his XXL Freshman class status, ensures his next release won’t be slept on.

Plus, Butler is kind of a goofball, the type to break into Taylor Swift renditions on camera and admit to removing his rearview mirror so as not to “look back.” Staples is also remarkably funny: He’s an amazing Twitter follow, and have you ever heard his theories about Ray J’s influence on black culture?

A young man who overcame a tough background and now enters the prime of his career after toiling in obscurity, bringing a unique skillset and playful attitude to the task of taking the game over. Just who are we talking about anymore? Meet “Vinny Butler,” whose 2016 is bound to be even better.

Latest News