Shaq Bounces Beats

Having gone on to win his second straight championship and to further secure his place in basketball history, O'Neal is again diversifying his resume with several new entertainment projects during thi

Shaquille O'Neal is no doubt flashing that sly, multimillion-dollar grin on the other end of the line as he insinuates during a telephone interview that work on his forthcoming album probably kept the Los Angeles Lakers from going undefeated in this year's NBA playoffs.

"I finished it right before the finals," O'Neal says of "Shaquille O'Neal Presents His Superfriends, Vol. 1" (due Oct. 9 via Twism/Trauma). "I was working on it during the playoffs, and a lot of people were like, 'Ain't that gonna slow you down?' Obviously it didn't, 'cause we made it through the first three teams. It was when I stopped recording and tried to do something different -- that's when we lost that first game."

Having gone on to win his second straight championship and to further secure his place in basketball history, O'Neal is again diversifying his resume with several new entertainment projects during this off-season. First among those is "Superfriends," O'Neal's fifth studio album. (His debut, 1993's "Shaq Diesel," was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for U.S. shipments of 1 million copies, while the next year's "Shaq-Fu: Da Return," has gone gold (500, 000 units).)

The set features L.A.'s Superman rhyming with a number of key players in the rap game (Common, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Nate Dogg, Talib Kweli, 112, Ludacris), as well as a few local rockers (311's Nick Hexum and Chad Sexton and Korn's Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu). It's a project O'Neal's been wanting to do for some time, one that began taking shape about a year ago.

The album is his first since 1998's "Respect" (A&M), which was finished just before the Lakers hired former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson to help deliver a championship to L.A. Once Jackson came on board, the team's center says that he "wanted to focus on getting that championship." After completing that task last summer, he began recording one track at a time, with Tank, L.T. Hutton, Rick Rock, Amir, and Chea Pope taking turns producing.

Each of the album's producers worked on a song or two with the 29-year-old O'Neal, who would head into the studio after practices or on days off but "never the night before a game," he notes. "We'd talk about the concept, then I'd tell 'em to play me all the beats [they had prepared]. Then I would pick two or three and take a couple of days to write.

"On this album," he continues, "I'm just talking about things that I go through. I'm just having a good time."

"Superfriends" runs the gamut, including the irresistible funk of "Strawberry Letter," with a sample of the Brothers Johnson's "Strawberry Letter 23." O'Neal says that "Psycho," featuring the aforementioned members of Korn and 311, "shows the mosh pit sound of me that people really don't get to see." The album's secret weapon, O'Neal says, is an as-yet-untitled track that "nobody's heard yet," on which Dr. Dre performed on and produced.

"I wanted to make a universal album," says O'Neal, who unites East Coast (Mos Def, Black Thought), West Coast (Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg), Southern (Trina), and Midwestern (Common) rappers on the project.

Trauma president Rob Kahane says, "The hardest job for us is overcoming that 'athlete who wants to rap' stigma. It's a major challenge to prove that he's legitimate. In the past, I think people have dismissed his albums and said, 'Oh, that's Shaq making a new record.' They haven't allowed themselves to get into the records. But rapping with people like Dre and Twista has required Shaq to really step it up."

Trauma has serviced radio with the single "Connected," featuring W.C. and Nate Dogg. The "Connected" video has also been shown on MTV and BET, according to Kahane, who adds that "Do It Faster," featuring Twista and Trina, may be the second single, while Shaq's track with Dre may go to radio around Christmas.

O'Neal -- who's also working on a basketball documentary titled "Reflections of a Championship Summer" and a film with the cast of MTV's "Jackass" titled "Shaq Goes Psycho" -- says he draws motivation from his critics in both the basketball and entertainment realms. "They can't bother me. For Ludacris, a Dre, and a Snoop to come in the studio and say, 'I'll get on your album,' that tells me I already made it. I know I put together good, solid music, and I've never done nothing whack."

"I like being the only athlete who's been able to hang up there with the other rappers," he continues. "I've been on tracks with B.I.G. and Nas, and I've been on my own. I think rappers respect the hard work I put in. They know I'm real serious, that I'm not doing any of that 'Super Bowl Shuffle' stuff."