It’s a shame Shaquille O’Neal is the poster boy for the rapping athlete. So-called “rapletes” are not well-liked in the booth. It’s not a question of quality; for every Kobe Bryant single with Tyra Banks on the hook, there is a Vince Young freestyle floating around the internet where he goes bar for bar with some of Houston’s notables. Tony Parker supposedly has a pretty hot track with Fabolous. No, the problem with rapletes is the audacity with which they assume that their prowess on any number of courts or fields entitles them to studio time. And thus, it is a supreme irony that all discussions of rapletes inevitably lead to some laughs at Shaq Diesel’s expense (why they always gotta bring up Kazaam?), because no raplete has put in as much work as he has. Equipped with passable talent and an ear for good beats, Shaq never really embarrasses himself. Over ten years into the game, it’s clear rapping is a labor of love for him. Why else would he join a third-rate crew like the Fu-Schnickens?
It’s time to elevate Shaq’s rap career above punch line status, and I sing his praises because DJ Kayslay and Greg Street have risen to the occasion by featuring him on the least boring track on The Champions: The North Meets the South. “Can’t Stop the Reign 2006” is a remake of Shaq’s decade-old single with Notorious B.I.G., updated with Bun B and Papoose replacing Biggie. They even made a video. Pap kills his verse (despite starting off with “Do not disturb / The king’s using the bathroom”) and Bun B has perfected the loud-and-fast style he uses on all his east coast cameos. It’s a good track regardless of the Diesel factor, and the only song on The Champions in which all rappers involved deliver.
On a tape whose unstated goal is to prove the attention-starved New York rap scene can hang with the southerners currently in charge, it helps to make sure everyone is at the top of their game. “Reign 2006” makes Shaq look so good because his verse is on par with way too much of the rest of the album. Be it incompetence (Hell Rell, Young Joc) or laziness (Chamillionaire, Raekwon), there’s a lot of boring rap here, much of it being of the bloated-posse-cut variety. Even Shaq can’t save “In The Ghetto” from Fat Joe and Jim Jones, and Ghostface (“Headline: man gets sprayed by retard!”) can’t save what should be a killer “5 Deadly Venoms” from four straight (depressing) duds by Kool G. Rap, Raekwon, Lord Tariq, and Big Daddy Kane. Juelz Santana spits a three-year-old verse on “Drama Gang”, and Mike Jones claims “in ‘05 we run the show.” Chamillionaire compares himself to a tree. While Busta Rhymes and Remy Ma at least maintain their dignity (on “Go Off” and “The Hardest Out”, respectively), only Papoose shines throughout. Kayslay’s gives his pet project its share of good punch lines (“I get more butt than an excuse”) and ill visuals (“Need a passport for my brain, my mind travels”). But even he can’t stop the reign. This tape is weak, but Shaq is back!