NBA Star Damian 'Dame D.O.L.L.A.' Lillard Talks New LP 'Confirmed' & Why Winning an NBA Title Is More Important Than a Grammy

AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer
Damian Lillard photographed at the Moda Center on Sept. 25, 2017 in Portland, Ore.

"I feel like when it comes to rap, like real rap music, and knowing the pioneers of rap, I feel like there's no competition for me in the NBA."

Since 2012, Portland Trailblazers guard, Damian Lillard, has trounced his adversaries with ease on the NBA hardwood.

The 6'3'' locomotive was considered unlikely to dazzle in the NBA, because he was an unknown commodity coming out of non-NCAA superpower Weber State. What pundits missed on the scouting reports was that Lillard thrives when the chips are down. A marksman from the three-point line, Lillard crumpled up his haters' criticism and shot their dubious words down the garbage can with his stellar play on the court.

Now, at age 27, Lillard has morphed into a two-time All-Star and cerebral assassin for the Blazers. Last year, he torched his opposition on a nightly basis, averaging a career-best 27 points per game. In addition to filling up the stats sheet, the proverbial dark horse bloomed into a lethal MC on the mic. In 2016, he unveiled his debut album, The Letter O, which boasted features from Lil Wayne, Jamie Foxx and Marsha Ambroisus, and made the Billboard 200 albums chart in November.

For Lillard, proving people wrong on a regular basis puts a smile on his face. So, for his second act, Lillard -- whose rap name is Dame D.O.L.L.A. -- dropped his new album Confirmed on Friday (Oct. 6), highlighted by his Lil Wayne-assisted single "Run It Up." With album number two officially out and a new season underway, Lillard's confidence is at an all-time high. 

Billboard spoke to Dame D.O.L.L.A. about his latest release Confirmed, the biggest lesson he's learned from working with Lil Wayne, why winning an NBA title is more important than a Grammy Award, and his thoughts on Lonzo Ball's rap skills. 

How much confidence have you gained as an MC since your debut album The Letter O

I think I was confident to begin with. I was really confident in what I had to say [with The Letter O]. I believed in what I was saying and I knew that it came from a real place. Just knowing that a lot of people heard what I had to say, I knew that they'd relate to it and they'd be able to tell that I was truly confident in my skills. As far as the quality of it, and knowing what sound I was looking for and knowing how to make the songs, I'm much more confident in the second project. I'm really happy with the growth of the production and the music itself. I feel like people will hear the growth for me as an artist. So I'm excited about that. 

With you doing freestyles on Sway in the Morning, to having features by Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, to doing shows, at what point in your music career did you feel validated or that your artistry was confirmed? 

I think it was after the first album and almost eight months after I released the album. You know, there were people still listening to it on Twitter. People were still talking about it. People were still noticing like hidden tracks, tracks you know that weren't the main tracks on that album. So when that started happening, I was like, "Man, eight months removed from my first album and people are tweeting me that aren't fans of the basketball player, they're tweeting me as fans of my music." Like, once that started happening, and [Lil] Wayne obviously being on the first album -- he started sending me tracks of his to get on and to get on his stuff. So those types of things are kind of what made me realize that I've crossed over as a full-blown artist. 

Speaking of Wayne, you have him featured on your new album for a second time. In what ways has he tested you as a lyricist or as an artist in the studio? 

I think the biggest way that I'd say that he's tested me is that some of the songs that he's sent me aren't beats or types of songs that I would typically make or be on. So if Wayne sends me something, I'm not going to turn it down like, "Nah, send me something else," I'm gonna figure it out. You know, he sent me a few songs where I had to figure it out. It took me some time to figure out what angle I was going to go [with], and how I was going to put the verse together while also trying to hold my own on a track with him. So I think that's how he's forced me to grow, by sending me songs that aren't what I'd typically get on. I thought that was good for me. 

In a recent Instagram post, you said that you've received criticism for hanging out in the studio too much, yet you averaged over 27 points a game last season. Why do you feel people have been targeting you so much if you've been performing at a high level on a regular basis? 

You know, people have to say something. The one thing that I've learned about people since I've started to have a lot of success in my life is that it's going to be people out there who don't wanna see other people being successful, let alone being professional athletes. They don't wanna see me doing that, too. It's kind of like, "Stop doing so well. Stop pushing the line." It kind of makes people uncomfortable. That's kind of what I had to accept about it. 

For your album cover, you referenced Tupac, Biggie and Nas as inspirations as far as you wearing the crown to honor Big and you wearing the chain and watch to honor 'Pac. From an artist standpoint, what skills have your implemented from their styles into your artistry? 

I mean, with Biggie, I thought his flow and his swag was better than Tupac's, but I thought Tupac's passion and ability to relate to the average person was better than Biggie and I thought Nas was kind of like both, with a lot substance going, but a lot of swag. He had the gold chains, the Mercedes whips with the rims on it, the shades, and the fades with the parts, like he embodied all of that. 

With Tupac, I really come from the streets of Oakland, so I really have stories that I can tell and I can relate to people on a certain level, coming from a celebrity. You know, I was always inspired by Tupac, and by the way he could make a real situation into a song and people love him for it and he's passionate about it. With my music, I try to put that into it and keep that in mind. With Biggie, it's about having those clever lines, while also embracing who I am.

I'll have lines where I'll talk about myself being upset about not being an All-Star and just kind of embracing those moments when people call me a cry baby, the same way Biggie embraced the moment he was like, "Fat, black, and ugly as ever/ However, I stay Coogi down to the socks" [on 1995's "One More Chance" remix] you know what I'm saying? He's embracing the fact that, "I might not be the most attractive. I'm fat, but whatever. I'm still swagged out in this Coogi. I still get chicks. Whatever." I always admired that openness about his style and I'm still who I am. 

With Nas, it's just the swag. He's very articulate, and a lot of knowledge shines through him in his music. With me being a professional athlete and also a college graduate coming a from a family where education is taken very seriously, but also having family members in the streets, I feel like I relate to Nas a lot, as well. Those are the three guys that I've always paid a lot of attention to and to this day, I listen all three of their music regularly. 

You've received love from players and rappers for your skills, but what's been the reception like from your hometown of Oakland regarding your rap career? 

I mean, when my first album dropped, KD [Kevin Durant] texted me like, "Man, I mess with the album." Mistah Fab -- he's an artist from Oakland -- he follows my music. Iamsu! and a lot of the local guys follow my music, but I'm not sure how much recognition it gets from my hometown, period. I know people from my neighborhood, they're up to speed with it, but as far as people in the Bay Area, I'm really not sure what kind of reception it gets. I know "Run It Up" gets some spins out there, so maybe that'll be the one that'll hit the hardest at home. We'll see. 

Your team played the Golden State Warriors last year in the playoffs. Do you have a love/hate relationship with the Warriors considering you play for the Blazers and you're from the Bay Area? 

I grew up a Warriors fan. I had season tickets for two years when they were cheap and [the team wasn't] good. It's the hometown team. I'm all about the hometown, but being a competitor and with me playing somewhere else, it's no love lost for Oakland, but you know, the Warriors are on the opposite side now. When I come there, I'm playing against my hometown team, but in front of my family, so it's always gonna be a little bit extra when you're in that type of situation. 

If you could pinpoint your favorite 16-bar verse from Confirmed, which one would you choose and why? 

My favorite 16 could be on a song I did with Nick Grant called "The Let Down." It's about how everything is all good right now. I'm rapping, I'm hooping, I'm on a max-contract, I got a big shoe deal. Everything is good now. So of course, the support is going to be there, the love is going to be there, but what's going to happen when it changes, or when I'm on the back-end of my career, or when I ain't on TV all the time?

What is it going to be like then? I kind of addressed that in that song with real bars. It was a lot of clever bars while also saying how I feel. Like, I really wonder how that's gonna be. I also have a 16 on a song called "Switch Sides." There's a verse on there where I'm talking about being with the same people. I was saying a lot of stuff. That's one of my favorite songs. The second verse on "Switch Sides" and my verse on "The Let Down." Those are probably two of my favorites. 

Lonzo Ball has released several songs and he said he'd be open to work with you in a past interview he had with us. Would you be open to collaborating with him or anyone else in the league? 

I'm open to it. See, the thing that people don't understand is that it's always "Who's the best NBA rapper?" and all that stuff. I'm really not interested in being in competition with NBA rappers. I feel like when it comes to rap, like real rap music, and knowing the pioneers of rap, I feel like there's no competition for me in the NBA. Other guys can rap, but they're not as invested or as deep into actual music as I am and always have been. I think that might be what the difference is. I'm more wanting to be an artist.

Damian Lillard is a basketball player, Dame D.O.L.L.A. is an artist. I make music. I don't really care about that debate, but I'm definitely open to work with whoever, but I'm not going to just get on any song. A lot of my music means something. It's not meant to be super inspirational, but my songs whether you understand it now or what it's trying to say six months later, there's going to be something behind it. 

Lonzo said he thought that Nas was done in terms of his career. What's your thoughts on that, considering you're such a Nas fan? 

Like I said, I'm really deeply, deeply invested in music, especially hip-hop. So when I was a kid, I remember what I was hearing -- even in R&B -- I remember what I was hearing because it gave me a feeling. That's what made me so interested and have a love for music, so I appreciate all of that stuff. Even when I got to middle school and I started listening to Nas, Biggie and all that stuff, when I can understand it better, I went back to The Lost Tapes, I went back to Nastradamus, and all that stuff.

Even with Dr. Dre, Snoop [Dogg] and Tupac, I went back and listened to all their stuff. Even JAY-Z, because I understand it all better now. I think what you have now is dudes are just not that deep into music. So whatever is hot right now, that's what they're going to appreciate the most. They're not really going back and doing their homework, so they appreciate it less. You almost can't be upset at Lonzo for even saying that, because if you ask him to name five songs off Stillmatic, I bet you that he probably couldn't name five. 

Do you think it's age thing, because he's only 19? 

Yeah, I think age is a part of it, but I also think how interested are you about knowing your music. If he listens to "If I Ruled the World" and then listens to whatever he listens to now, I'm sure he'll like "If I Ruled the World." That's timeless. I'm sure he would like it, but it's just the timing of it, and how interested are you in going back and listening to it? How much do you care about music? A lot of kids now, I don't think they care to go back and listen to KRS-One or Rakim. A lot of stuff like that, I have them on playlists because I like listening to the sound of it. 

Lastly, if you could choose between winning an NBA title or winning a Grammy, which would you choose and why? 

I'd choose NBA title. 

Why NBA title? 

Because once you win an NBA title, that's like a lifelong dream. I've invested my entire life to basketball and that's what I care about the most. Obviously, the kind of love me having for music is big time, but there's only one NBA champion that year. At the Grammys, you can win a specific award, but other people win Grammy's that night, you know what I'm saying. NBA championship for sure. 

Are winning awards in music on your radar at all? 

Definitely, for sure. I never been like a big legacy person and all that, but I am somebody that likes to break barriers and do stuff that might be uncomfortable, but I always follow what I believe and follow my heart. A lot of people say, "Oh he's been a two-time All-Star and he's averaged 27 a game," but that's not enough for me. I'm more than just a basketball player. With music being something that I'm very interested in, I wanna be successful in that too. If I go into a completely different line and accomplish something like that, then that'll definitely mean something to me.