An All-Star point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard is also gaining fame off the court as a rapper by the name Dame Dolla. The 25-year-old spent his off-season dropping tracks on SoundCloud and launching his #4BarFriday project, which encourages fans (such as LeBron James) to submit their own freestyles. Fresh off a $120 million contract extension, Lillard talks about his hip-hop aspirations, and shares the songs that will keep him bouncing as the 2015 NBA season heats up.
When did you first start rapping?
I started rapping towards the end of middle school. In high school, with a lot of my friends, we would make beats and just start rapping — beating on the wall, beating on the table and freestyling. When we first got our computer at our house, my brother and I would get on the Internet and download instrumentals, and just rap over instrumentals all night. When I was around 12 or 13, that started.
Who were you listening to around that time?
I was a huge fan of the Hot Boys, Juvenile — Nas and Tupac were two of my all-time favorites. I really liked Tupac because a lot of his music reminded me of stuff. It painted a picture, and took me to different places in my childhood and in my life.
You were releasing a lot more music this summer with your Music Mondays project — where were you recording?
I was recording in Portland. I rent a studio, go in there with an engineer, do my stuff. I usually have a good grip on what I’m trying to get done and how I want it to sound. When I’m at home, I’ll sit there and rap whatever I wrote to myself so many times — try to switch up the flow and stuff — that I’ll have a good idea of what I want to do. When I get to the studio, it’s usually pretty quick.
Have you tried producing at all?
I really don’t have enough time — I just wanna rap. I’m pretty sure at some point I will want to start producing and doing my own stuff, but not right now.
What’s your favorite album of the year so far?
2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole. I’m a huge J. Cole fan. Currently he’s my favorite. His music just do something for me — something that nobody else’s does right now.
Who are your favorite Oakland rappers right now?
I like two Oakland rappers — Brookfield Duece and Danny From Sobrante. I know those two guys, and I actually listen to their music pretty regularly.
Living in Portland, how do you feel about the Pacific Northwest rap scene?
I think it’s alright — I’ve been to a lot of rap shows in Portland. I do feel like it’s a little different than what I’m used to. I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Oakland, and I think a lot of times when you hear certain types of music, you can relate it to that city or you can relate it to where a person is from. When you get it from some people in the Northwest, it’s just different. You don’t see it to be the kind of place that it sounds like in some of the music.
I appreciate a lot of the artists that I’ve heard in Portland, though, because at the end of the day, I can relate to it. It’s not really as strong as other places, just because it doesn’t seem like it’s a huge thing. It’s one of those things where it just needs more people to back it in the area.
For it to actually have a movement, there’s gotta be people behind it, and people that are passionate about it — I don’t think you get a lot of that in the Northwest.
Do you remember the first rhyme you ever wrote?
The first rhyme I ever wrote, I was in 11th grade, and me and my best friends — we all played basketball together, and we came out at our games to our own song. That was the first time I ever actually wrote a verse. It was about our team and our season.
Are you going to write a song about the Blazers?
I don’t know — I like to rap about my life, and my story, stuff like that. Right now I’m in a stage of just getting my story out — then I can change topics.
Do you think you’ll have to slow down the releases now that the season’s starting?
I haven’t released anything for over a month — I might throw something out there just out of nowhere, because I recorded so much, that I have stuff that’s on ice, which I could just put out there because it’s already done. It’s not like I would have to go in the studio to do it.
You definitely get a lot done — how do you do it all?
I mean I have people who help me with it — though like I said, it’s not really as time-consuming as somebody might think. I just keep everything simple — make sure I go to the gym in the morning, get my work done, and then I got the rest of the day to figure out what I’m going to do with myself. When you keep it simple, it is simple. During the season it is a little more difficult, but in the off-season, you got a lot of time on your hands.
Here are a few of the songs that help Dame keep his head in the game:
Pregame Pump-Up: Lil Boosie, “Show the World” featuring Webbie & Kiara
“I don’t play a lot of music before games, but right now I listen to this close to game time.”
Post-Win Anthem: Snootie Wild “Made Me” featuring K Camp
“It just puts me in one of them happy moods.”
Favorite Workout Song: Tupac, “I Get Around”
“Tupac is one of my all-time favorites. Growing up, his music painted a picture and took me to different places.”
Song That Inspired Me To Rap: Cassidy, “I’m a Hustla”
“In the eighth grade that was the beat I would always try to rap to, because it was so simple.”
Guilty Pleasure: Taylor Swift
“I like 1989, the whole album. ‘Welcome to New York,’ ‘Blank Space,’ ‘Bad Blood’ — all of it! C.J. [McCollum, Blazers guard] — he for sure likes it too.”