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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