That Time Kobe Bryant Helped a Childhood Friend Record With Jay Z

Back in the late 1990s, Kobe Bryant tried hard—very hard—to get his rap career off the ground. Even though Kobe was still just a few years into his NBA career and even though he should have, in theory, been spending more time on the basketball court than in the studio, he spent a ridiculous amount of time, energy, and money recording his debut album, Visions. It was an album that went through many different iterations with Kobe creating an underground-sounding project first before his label Sony Entertainment made him switch things up and make something more commercial. And it was also an album that eventually got shelved, meaning Kobe essentially put forth a ton of effort for, well, nothing.

There was at least one good thing that came out of Kobe’s rap career, though (and no, it wasn’t this). Kobe’s childhood friend Russell “Russ” Howard, who served as one of the main producers on Kobe’s ill-fated project, spoke with Bleacher Report recently and talked about what it was like to work with Kobe. He documented how hard Kobe worked on the album, the serious approach he took to honing his craft, and the disappointment they all felt when Sony pulled the plug on the project. But he also pointed out that, on a personal level, Kobe played an instrumental role in helping him land the biggest beat placement of his entire career.

It seems Kobe loved what Russ came up with for his album and thought he should be working with other rappers, too. So one day, while Kobe was on the set of the music video for Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker,” he stepped to Jay Z and told him about the producer. And even though Kobe wasn’t exactly an established voice when it came to dishing out music recommendations, Hov listened to what he had to say and ended up working with Russ.

From the B/R piece:

Howard and Bryant were in constant communication about what direction they wanted to pursue. Bryant, so happy with his friend's work, approached Jay Z on the set of the “Heartbreaker” music video and recommended the legendary rapper to check out his friend. Not long after, Howard was working with Brooklyn's own on Vol. 3 Life and Times of S. Carter, producing the beats of “S. Carter” and “There's Been a Murder.”

And Russ wasn’t the only one of Kobe's producers who ended up on Jay Z’s Vol. 3. Back in 2013, Grantland ran a lengthy story about the “secret history” of Kobe’s rap career, and it included a small nugget buried deep in the footnotes about how another producer Kobe was working with at the time also ended up doing some work for Jay Z before working with other Roc-A-Fella artists. Sean “S-Dot” Francis, a producer from Philadelphia, worked alongside Russ on the same two Vol. 3 tracks after a chance meeting with Jay Z during a studio session with Kobe.

From the Grantland piece:

“Kobe is in the booth rapping,” Francis says. “All of a sudden, I look in the reflection of the booth and I see this diamond chain—all diamonds—with a Rocawear shirt. Then I heard someone say, 'It sounds like you know what you’re doing in there.' And it was Jay Z. [Sony A&R] Lenny Nicholson told Kobe to come out of the booth. Kobe was like, 'What’s up?' Jay said, 'I heard you’re doing big things.' He’s like, 'Yeah, I’m getting it together.' Jay’s like, 'Let me hear what you got.' So we played him some things and he asked us if we produced…Next thing you know, [Russell and I] did two beats [“S. Carter” and “There’s Been a Murder”] on Vol. 3…The Life and Times of S. Carter.”

After working with Jay Z, Howard went on to work with DMX, Lupe Fiasco, Paul Wall, and more. Francis, meanwhile, landed beats on projects from Beanie Sigel, State Property, and others. So hey, at least Kobe’s debut album wasn’t a total waste, right?

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the songs from that album ended up after it got shelved, Howard provided B/R with the answer. “They’re out there,” he said. “Ray Donovan has them.”

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It Sounds Like Lonzo Ball Is Taking This Rap Thing Pretty Seriously

Los Angeles Lakers' Lonzo Ball is set to drop new music soon. Ball, who's made headlines recently with his 21 Savage and Jay Z comparisons, opened up about his musical ambitions in a new interview with XXL. Ball discussed his early musical influences, the importance of Lil Wayne, and his future plans.

As a kid, Ball revealed, he listened to “a lot” of 50 Cent and DMX. “Those were probably the two main rappers I was listening to when I was young, but my favorite rapper has always been Lil Wayne,” Ball said. As for why Weezy stands tallest among his influences, Ball said he feels the Young Money boss has remained consistent with his output. “Lyrically, he's definitely one of my favorites to do it,” he said. “I need him to be free so he could put that other album out for me, but he's already put a lot towards the game.” Ball credits his father, a devoted 2Pac fan, for introducing him to music.

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As for his plans to follow his debut single “Melo Ball 1,” Ball revealed he's currently working on new music. In fact, the next Lonzo Ball release will be backed by the family-owned Big Baller Music Group. “I won't be able to to do so since I'm focused on the NBA season ahead, but definitely one of my dad's close people that he works with will handle the record label,” Ball said. So far, Ball hasn't enlisted any guests for the mystery project.

Ball also noted what he's been listening to the most recently, including 21 Savage's Issa Album and Lil Uzi Vert's Luv Is Rage 2. Check out the full interview here.

Ball turned a few purists' heads earlier this month with his Nas comments. Nas, however, apparently has no idea who Lonzo Ball even is.

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DMX Placed on House Arrest After Failing Four Drug Tests

The latest development in DMX's tax evasion case finds the rapper finally catching a break. After pleading not guilty back in July, X was let out on bond but faced strict conditions, including travel restrictions. However, he violated that last part with a trip to St. Louis—a trip that might have landed him in jail.

However, on Friday morning the judge took it easy on DMX, keeping him out of jail despite his travel violation—and despite the fact that the Ruff Ryders icon failed four separate drug tests for marijuana and cocaine, according to TMZ.

Instead, X was placed on house arrest and ordered to wear an ankle bracelet. TMZ reports that the conditions are so strict that he can't even go outside to mow the lawn.

DMX is accused of hiding millions of bucks in income from the government in order to avoid taxes. In all, the U.S. attorney's office says the alleged “multi-year scheme” had X skipping out on a $1.7 million tax bill.

“For years, Earl Simmons, the recording artist and performer known as DMX, made millions from his chart-topping songs, concert performances and television shows. But while raking in millions from his songs, including his 2003 hit 'X Gon' Give it to Ya,' DMX didn’t give any of it to the IRS,” wrote Joon Kim, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was probably working on that joke for weeks. “Far from it, DMX allegedly went out of his way to evade taxes, including by avoiding personal bank accounts, setting up accounts in other’s names and paying personal expenses largely in cash.”

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DMX Pleads Not Guilty to Tax Evasion Charges

DMX was released from jail Friday after pleading not guilty to 14 counts of tax evasion.

According to the Washington Post, the 46-year-old rapper was let out on a $500,000 bond that required two co-signers; however, he must abide by court-imposed travel restrictions that prohibit him from leaving NYC unless he is cleared to perform in other areas. Additionally, DMX is prohibited from carrying a firearm while on bail and will be under strict drug testing.

The rapper spoke to reporters Friday as he was leaving federal court in NYC.

“It’s allowed me to not be scared of the situation and face it head-on, you know what I’m saying?” he said as he stood by his attorney, Murray Richman. “My life is in God’s hands.”

DMX turned himself into federal authorities Thursday after he was accused of conducting a multi-year scheme to avoid paying $1.7 million in taxes. The IRS accused the artist of providing false information on bankruptcy forms as well as using other people’s bank accounts to hide his earnings. The rapper is now facing up to 44 years in federal prison if found guilty.

Despite the legal drama, DMX told reporters he still plans to headline the 2017 Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival on Saturday night.

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DMX Has Been Arrested for Tax Evasion

Things aren’t looking too good for DMX.

Nearly three months after reportedly checking into rehab, the 46-year-old is now facing 14 counts of tax evasion. He surrendered to federal authorities Thursday and is scheduled to appear in federal court Friday in Manhattan.

According to Billboard, the rapper has been accused of concealing millions of dollars of income from the IRS to avoid paying $1.7 million in taxes. Joon Kim, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, released a statement outlining DMX's “multi-year scheme.”

“For years, Earl Simmons, the recording artist and performer known as DMX, made millions from his chart-topping songs, concert performances and television shows. But while raking in millions from his songs, including his 2003 hit ‘X Gon’ Give it to Ya,’ DMX didn’t give any of it to the IRS,” Kim wrote. “Far from it, DMX allegedly went out of his way to evade taxes, including by avoiding personal bank accounts, setting up accounts in other’s names and paying personal expenses largely in cash.”

Prosecutors also accused DMX of providing false information on bankruptcy court documents. He allegedly listed his 2011 and 2012 earnings as “unknown,” and listed his 2013 income as $10,000; it was later revealed he had earned hundreds of thousands of dollars each of those years.

The indictment also states the rapper refused to film the reality show Celebrity Couples Therapy until he was reissued a $125,000 check that had no withholding taxes.

“Celebrity rapper or not, all Americans must pay their taxes,” Kim wrote, “and together with our partners at the IRS, we will pursue those who deliberately and criminally evade this basic obligation of citizenship.”

If convicted, DMX could face up to 44 years in federal prison.

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Gunner Stahl Talks Photographing Gucci Mane and Getting Turned Down by DMX | The Culture

In just a few years Gunner Stahl has gone from a name to know in the photography world to being one of the elite photographers documenting some of the biggest names in hip-hop. On top of that, he's also released two photo books, shot a magazine cover, and hosted a number of gallery exhibits.

Even with the rapid success, it's safe to say his biggest moment has yet be captured. In the debut episode of The Culture, Complex's own Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins links up with the 25-year-old photographer to find out how he got to this point, and where he's going next.

Stahl's work behind the lens began at the age of 18 when he bought his first camera. He didn't get into portraits of musical acts until 2014 when he shot Wiz Khalifa after the Pittsburgh rapper had just dyed his hair purple. That moment inspired him to pursue photography more seriously.

Gunner Stahl
Image via Complex Original/Photography by Andy Hur

After a quick stop at a camera shop, Stahl and Jinx hit the studio for a photography session with ATL rapper Rich the Kid. There Stahl highlights the importance of trust between photographer and subject, and reveals his favorite commissioned gig was doing the cover art for Playboi Carti's self-titled debut mixtape.

Stahl also admits he got turned down by a high profile figure: “DMX… got me hyped bro.”

Check out the full episode above, where Gunner Stahl talks about capturing the moment Gucci Mane and Young Thug reunited after Mane was released from prison, and why he's inspired by photographer Chi Modu. Subscribe to Complex to catch more episodes of The Culture, and keep up with Stahl's latest moves on Instagram.

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Lonzo Ball Dragged for Old Tweet Featuring His Top 5 Rappers of All Time List

Like most kids his age, Lonzo Ball likes rap music. He likes rap music so much that he dropped a freestyle over Drake’s “Free Smoke” recently. There’s even a chance that he’s going to continue to pursue a rap career once he enters the NBA in June. But does he really know rap music?

That question came under heavy debate on Tuesday night after someone dug up an old tweet that Ball put up listing his top five rappers of all time. Ball posted his list back in May 2016. It featured Lil Wayne, Future, DMX, 50 Cent, and 2Pac on it.

Now, everyone is entitled to their own top 5 list. It’s part of what makes all the debates that take place over top 5 lists so much fun. But pretty much everything Ball says and does at this point creates some level of controversy, so of course, there were plenty of people who were outraged with his list.

Some people questioned why Future was on it:

Others wondered why 2Pac was so low on it:

And there were a whole lot of people who suggested other names that they believed should have appeared on the list:

But mostly, people just clowned Ball’s list with one meme after another to show their disapproval of it:

For what it’s worth, Ball is, at the very least, consistent with his top 5 list. In March, he made an appearance on Chris Broussard’s In the Zone podcast and provided the same exact list when he was asked to name his top 5 rappers of all time. You can hear him talk about it at the 2-minute mark here:

Ball also released his list of his top 5 rappers “rn” one day before dropping his top 5 rappers of all time list. You can check that out here:

We don’t know if we would necessarily agree with either of Ball’s lists. But he is 19. So are people really that surprised to see some of the names on them?

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Joe Budden and DJ Akademiks Debate Whether Lil Yachty Is Bad for Hip-Hop Culture

On today's episode of Everyday Struggle, Joe Budden and DJ Akademiks share some quick thoughts on Kendrick Lamar's Damn officially going No. 1. They also break down Lil Yachty's Teenage Emotions album cover and why he may have went the route he did. Later, Budden and Akademiks take a close look at Desiigner's current standing in the game and whether he should be blaming NYC radio for not supporting his new music. Additionally, Budden and Akademiks also share a message for DMX and predict if Quavo should pursue a solo career outside of Migos. 

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Where Will Kendrick Lamar’s Next Studio Album Take Us?

Kendrick Lamar has a way of putting the entire music world on high alert. The Compton wordsmith signaled his grand return in dramatic fashion by dropping “The Heart Part 4” on Thursday night. After calling himself the greatest rapper alive and rattling off subliminal disses presumably aimed at Big Sean and Drake, Kendrick ends the shape-shifting track with a presumed release date for his next LP, gift wrapped as a warning to rivals: “Y'all got 'til April the 7th to get y'all shit together.”

So there you have it. Eleven days from today, Kendrick Lamar is coming…with something. But just where does one of rap’s most important voices go following the massive masterpiece that is To Pimp a Butterfly? He dropped some hints earlier this month in an interview with T: The New York Times Style Magazine, describing the project as timely and “very urgent.”

“I think now, how wayward things have gone within the past few months, my focus is ultimately going back to my community and the other communities around the world where they’re doing the groundwork,” he said. “To Pimp a Butterfly was addressing the problem. I’m in a space now where I’m not addressing the problem anymore. We’re in a time where we exclude one major component out of this whole thing called life: God. Nobody speaks on it because it’s almost in conflict with what’s going on in the world when you talk about politics and government and the system.”

He continued with an analogy about watching a hypothetical daughter mature into a woman. “At one point in time I may have a little girl who grows up and tells me about her engagements with a male figure—things that most men don’t want to hear,” he said. “Learning to accept it, and not run away from it, that’s how I want this album to feel.”

The two themes—confronting the inevitable and the significance of religion in the midst of political havoc—evoke the idea of meeting with God in the afterlife. Kendrick alludes to this in “The Heart Part 4” via his burn of America’s so-called leader (“Donald Trump is a chump/Know how we feel, punk? Tell 'em that God comin’”). DMX has talks with both the devil (“Damien”) and the Lord (“The Convo”) on It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, the album that first inspired a young K-Dot to write his own raps. Perhaps Kendrick plans to address the same grapple on his next work.

Focusing on a higher power would be consistent with the trajectory of Kendrick Lamar’s studio albums thus far. Each LP finds him broadening his scope, almost as if he’s adjusting to the size and diversity of his audience. Section.80 homes in on the experience of ’80s babies brought up in the midst of Reaganomics and the crack epidemic. Its 2012 follow up, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, paints with wider strokes, portraying the perils of growing up on the red-and-blue patrolled blocks of Compton, which really serves as a microcosm for Any Hood, U.S.A. To Pimp a Butterfly and its well-received leftovers Untitled Unmastered are generally concerned with the plight of black Americans (the former has been notably described as “overwhelmingly black”). Religion would not be new terrain for Kendrick—GKMC concludes with a life-changing baptism and TPAB’s “How Much A Dollar Cost” is about an encounter with a panhandler who turns out to be God. Yet the time seems appropriate to musically explore spirituality in greater depth, especially after Chance the Rapper blurred the line between spiritual and secular rap last year with Coloring Book.

As for politics, things done changed since the last time Kendrick compiled an album. TPAB dropped in the wake of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice’s murders by police officers, days when movements like Black Lives Matter were beginning to really find momentum. Kendrick took it all in and spit out a soundtrack of survival (“We gon’ be alright”), self-care (“I love myself”), self-esteem (“Complexion don’t mean a thing”) and self-worth (“This dick ain’t free”). And while each of those themes remains important, for many the socio-political climate has shifted from survival to resistance. Kendrick has the opportunity to make angrier—or to use his words, “very urgent”—music to keep listeners fighting the good fight against America’s first (and, God-willing, last) orange president. He could pack his new LP with tracks that are more Public Enemy than A Tribe Called Quest, more “The Blacker The Berry” than “You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said).”

Alternatively, Kendrick could blow minds with an album that aims to be an easier listen than its predecessor. Maybe he’s cooking up music designed to take your mind off the clusterfuck in the nation’s capital and its ensuing whitelash, calling up the likes of Quavo, Travis Scott, and Metro Boomin to compile a project full of trunk rattlers and trap-friendly pop hits. Aside from toning down Kendrick’s sometimes heavy songs, it’d be an interesting wrinkle in his rivalries with Drake and Big Sean, who’ve enjoyed better success on the singles charts (please believe there will be some shots at both on the new project, whether subliminal or Kurupt-like).

If K-Dot really wanted to come from left field, he could drop a primarily sung release—he told Rick Rubin last year that he could envision himself one day creating a project where he’s not rapping. “I think I got the confidence for it,” he said. “If I can master the idea and make the time to approach it the right way, I think I can push it out.” (You get a sense of that side of Kendrick’s abilities on Mac Miller’s “God Is Fair, Sexy, Nasty,” from The Divine Feminine.)

A document purported to be Kendrick’s upcoming LP credits surfaced on the internet Saturday, citing Andre 3000, D’Angelo, and Kanye West as collaborators. Despite a thoroughness that includes sample credits and publisher information, it seems to be the imaginative work of an obsessive troll—producer Cardo has debunked it via Twitter, and one song is even titled “Counterfeit.” The takeaway: Only Kendrick Lamar knows what the next entry of his catalog holds.

“Everything is going to make sense—not only to myself but to anybody who wants to understand life and music,” Kendrick told the Guardian in 2015 of his follow-up to TPAB. “I know exactly what I want to say next.” We’re all ears, Kenny.

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