Cole Beasley is the latest athlete to cross over into the music industry.
The Dallas Cowboys diminutive wide receiver made his rap debut earlier this week, releasing a single called “80 Stings.” Beasley hopes it becomes the signature track for an album to be released in the coming months.
The early reviews were generally positive as it was one of the most popular hip-hop/rap songs on iTunes earlier this week. Beasley has drawn comparisons to rappers ranging from Eminem to Yelawolf.
“My goal is to reach music lovers all over the world,” Beasley said in a news release. “Some people may question my loyalty to football, but the passion for that will not change.”
This is nothing new for the sports world. Athletes have been trying to become artists for years.
Cowboys great Deion Sanders didn’t get much positive reaction as a singer/rapper with his 1994 song “Must Be the Money.” NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and golf star John Daly have also made well-known ventures into music.
The list goes on from there – Iman Shumpert, Bronson Arroyo, Kareem Rush, Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya and Alexi Lalas, to name a few.
The late Waymon Tisdale, a former NBA star who became a successful jazz musician after retiring from pro basketball. He died of cancer in 2009.
To Josh Swade, it’s more of a hobby and passion for athletes more than a realistic avenue to becoming the next music superstar.
“First of all, it’s entertainment. They share that in common,” said Swade, a co-founder of the New York City-based music label +1 Records, which is part of 300 Entertainment.
“Athletes, because they have disposal income, are able to pursue glamorous business endeavors. Obviously, athletes love hip hop and a natural place to put free time is into music. I think it’s an obvious, natural hobby or passion to put their energy toward.
“But the minute an athlete does something like that, the general public’s typical reaction is not to like it. The reason is, the consumer buying public doesn’t want that person to be successful in something else just because they’re famous or an athlete.
“We still want our entertainers to be the cream of the crop and come up the way they’re supposed to come up. The minute we’re spoon fed music from an athlete, I think the underlying problem we have with it is we would not be listening to this music if not for the fact they are famous for the sport.”
That, in essence, is why most athletes are one-and-done in their singing careers. There are exceptions, and Beasley could become one if he follows through with a full album.
O’Neal has been widely mocked for his rap career, but he actually released five studio albums and one compilation album.
“A lot of these athletes start way behind the starting line to win over the public,” Swade said. “The one thing I will say about Shaq, though, is he put out a lot of music and a lot of records. When you look at other guys like Kobe or (Allen) Iverson or Chris Webber or Deion, they only tried it one time and for the most part shied away.
“You’ve got to respect Shaq’s discography. He was really committed to it. Was he a great rapper? No, but he had a crew, the Fu-Schnickens, and you’ve got to give him credit for doing his thing.”
Most athletes give up on their music endeavors early on. It’s a time-consuming hobby and one subject to much scorn. Not only are the players subjecting themselves to criticism of their music, they’re also subjecting themselves for criticism for “not caring” about their respective sport.
That’s why Beasley attempted to make it clear that his rap debut would not affect his football career.
But it’s almost impossible for an athlete to have success both in their respective sport and in the music industry.
Swade believes Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is the best rapper among athletes he’s listened to.
“He’s good. I think he’s got talent,” said Swade, whose label has more of an indie rock focus.
But Swade made it clear that he isn’t interested in finding an athlete with musical talent.
“As a record-label owner, I’m definitely not in the business of trying to find the next great athlete who can rap,” Swade said. “Part of that is I’m not interested and, like I said earlier, the public is not really interested in it.
“There’s a reason why none of these guys have had a breakthrough hit. If Damian Lillard actually had a hit, then all of a sudden things would change. The conversation would change. But, until someone truly breaks through, I think it’s going to be a lot of eye rolling.
“I really don’t think you can be a giant, or very good, at both. I think that’s really, really hard. Doing both jobs well is hard.”
Swade went on to explain that athletes and musicians have similar paths to the top, and the crossover lacks authenticity.
“On the court or the field, you can be an innovator because it’s your main craft,” Swade said. “It’s hard to be an innovator when you move over to a craft you’re not working on every day.
“And there’s not the same desperation as an artist who is trying to make it. There’s a lack of authenticity. They’re rich athletes. I hate to hold that against them, but that richness keeps them from having a grit that other artists do.”
It goes both ways, of course.
Artists are just as interested in breaking into the sports world as athletes are in the music industry.
Rock star Jon Bon Jovi was part of a group that tried to purchase the Buffalo Bills. Rap superstar Jay-Z founded Roc Nation Sports, which is becoming a more prevalent talent agency representing players such as Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.
Fellow rapper Lil Wayne has also gotten into the sports agency business with his company, Young Money, and so is country singer Darius Rucker, who is a partner at MGC Sports.
Master P, who built No Limit Records, dabbled in pursuing a professional basketball career in the late 1990s. Snoop Dogg has made headlines for coaching his son’s football teams in recent years.
“There is a lot of crossover,” Swade said. “Music and sports go hand-in-hand. They really do. People like seeing what’s on LeBron James’ or Kevin Durant’s pregame playlist, what songs pump them up.
“But, for some reason, we don’t want our athletes to perform and I don’t know if we’ve really had a performer other than Master P try to be an athlete.”