This Is (Lil Wayne on) “Sportscenter”

Day 300: “Sportscenter” – Dedication 2, 2006

“I watch sports, dawg, is basically that’s what I’m trying to say. I watch sports, man, that’s what I’m into. Sports, sports, sports. Every sport. Hockey, golf, basketball, football of course, baseball. I got a favorite team, a favorite player in every single sport.”

If you’ve listened to “Sportscenter,” you know Lil Wayne loves sports. Alternately, if you haven’t listened to “Sportscenter” but you’ve looked at Twitter any time in the past eight years or so, you know Lil Wayne loves sports. They are his favorite thing to tweet about, and he doesn’t really discriminate in his preferences unless he’s talking about his favorite team, the Green Bay Packers.

If you are an athlete who has won a championship, Lil Wayne will probably tweet something congratulatory about you. Recent examples include a kind note for NBA MVP Russell Westbrook and a complimentary “well deserved” to Russ’s former teammate Kevin Durant’s Golden State Warriors on their NBA championship. Last year, after tweeting enthusiastically about Alex Ovechkin, he was asked to discuss partying with the hockey player on Sportscenter, and, not long after, Ovechkin himself was asked on the same show to weigh in on his friendship with Wayne.

In fact, Lil Wayne has become something of a fixture on sports talk television in recent years. It’s one of the only venues in which he’s given interviews, and he even made the theme song for FS1’s Undisputed with Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe. In addition to Sportscenter, in the last year he’s also been on ESPN’s First Take and Highly Questionable to discuss everything from partying with J.R. Smith to why David Ortiz is overrated.

But before Lil Wayne was guesting on every sports show you can think of, he was rattling them off on “Sportscenter,” a mixtape track where he discussed his favorite TV programming and love of all sports. It’s a fan favorite from Dedication 2, and it’s one of my personal favorites as well because it’s a master class in rapping in a way that tells its own story. As we hear something like the sound of balls bouncing on a court in the background, Lil Wayne lays into the heavy beat with considerable bounce in his flow, his words hitting percussively like tennis balls at the US Open: “I’m from New Orleans, nowhere near peace / pure beast, fear free, dear grief / catch up bitch I’m in gear three / Zoom! Gone. See ya, peace!”

I know it may sound like I’m just coming up with random associations for the sound, but there’s a reason the song always makes me think of tennis. Lil Wayne raps about it: “I’m servin’ this track like Steffi Graf, yeah / Roger Federer, there’s no competitors.” At the time, Graf was still the greatest women’s tennis player in history (her record number of Grand Slam titles has since been surpassed by Serena Williams), and Roger Federer was ranked number one in the world in men’s tennis (crazily enough, 11 years later, although he is currently ranked third, he is still arguably the best player; he just won his record eighth Wimbledon two days ago without losing a set in the entire tournament).

There’s a reason for these comparisons on a tape that involves a skit about being the best rapper alive. There’s a reason they come right after he raps “Can I get a mic or a mic and a half that the Source owe me? Shout out to the editors there.” There’s a reason they come on the song with one of my favorite Lil Wayne transitions, the one where, right after the above “see ya, peace!” he continues, “drop one finger, yeah / fuck ’em and whoever made ’em” (to be clear, he’s talking about turning a peace sign into a middle finger).

“Sportscenter” is Wayne at his absolute peak, as relaxed as a tennis pro hitting the ball around yet as focused as that same player stepping up to the baseline for a serve. There’s a casual grace to his mindset here that few if any rappers—including Wayne, frankly—regularly exhibit these days. It’s a moment where rap feels like a sport.

Incidentally, this week, Lil Wayne was on Sportscenter once again, this time not as a commentator but as an athlete. A short segment profiled his love of skating, showing him skating around his home skate park and featuring discussions of Instagram skate stars. Toward the end of the segment, Wayne compares skating to music, pointing out that, while there are rules and expectations in music, there are none in skating. This perspective may seem like an odd take from an artist who has spent his entire career defying the music industry’s preconceptions, but it also makes sense given the space he occupies now. Lots of people want lots of different things from Lil Wayne the musician, and, in that context, you can imagine it must be difficult to get back to the clear-headed, expectation-free mindset that fueled songs like “Sportscenter,” where all Wayne wanted to do was to prove he was the best.

“Skating is very therapeutic for me because I don’t have to think about nothing else but what I’m doing,” Wayne says in the video, over footage of him landing what, to my inexpert eye, look like solid mid-tier tricks. He continues, “When I’m trying to land a trick, that’s the most important thing to me, period. Don’t come at me talking about no song. I don’t want to talk about no music. Man, what should I do with my feet? When should I pop?”

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