In the immortal words of the (once?) great Lil Wayne “Athletes wanna be rappers; rappers wanna be athletes“. While it may be difficult to ascertain the veracity of the latter, there appears to be ample evidence for the former. We’ve put together a list of athlete-musicians and listened to as much of their work as we can handle. Here’s our definite score starting at the top. For the purposes of this article, we have only included athletes who have both played at one game at the top-level of one of the major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, Soccer, golf, boxing, UFC, etc.) and have released at least one album. Athletes who only lent back-up vocals or musicians who were also college-level foosball players don’t count.
1. Mike Reid
Apparently there is a guy name Mike Reid who was an All-American at Penn State, a first round-draft pick for the bangles in 1970, and a two-time all-pro defensive tackle in the NFL who retired and had a number one hit on the country-charts in 1990. He also wrote a song that won a country grammy. I don’t like country music and wasn’t alive in 1970, but I reckon the grammy alone is worth the top spot on this list.
2. Wayman Tisdale
Simply being able to play an instrument would be enough to reach the upper echelon of this list, but Tisdale was actually really good at bass, and I say this as a long time player of that instrument. His NBA career numbers weren’t bad either. While this style of music (instrumental smooth-jazz) isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, his music is a very good example of the style, and his debut album’s name “Power Forward” is not only the name of the position Tisdale played, but also a good phrasal description of his music.
3. Denny McLain
Denny McLain won two Cy Young awards (1968 and 1969) before his career was cut short by injury. This music is good enough that I put two videos here. Stay classy McLain.
4. Bernie Williams
The former Yankee center fielder is serviceable Latin-Jazz guitar player as evidenced above. Certainly a fair bit of the popularity of his music comes from his celebrity as a baseball player, but his guitar player is at least a reasonable facsimile of what accomplished players of that style perform.
5. John Daly
The hard-drinking, problem-gambling golfer has recorded some country songs and albums, and has the noteriety of singing back-up vocals on some kid rock song (damn if I’m going to look that up). I don’t like this kind of music even a little bit, but it seems about as good as a neighborhood dad band doing country. Which is a lot better than most of the shit on this list.
6. Alexi Lalas
Alexi Lalas is a Bill Walton-type player in the soccer world: no one under a certain age ever watched him play, but we’ve all been told he was good and now he’s on television talking about the sport all the time. He is also a surprisingly decent musician and songwriter, with five solo albums.
7. Oscar De La Hoya
I was sure this was going to be terrible, but it surprised me: De La Hoya really can sing. It’s a pretty cheesy style of music and very dated by now, but it’s very well done.
8. Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali released an album “I am the Greatest” (as Cassius Clay) in 1963. The album is almost entirely spoken-word, but it’s good. Ali even tried his had at singing with this semi-decent cover of “Stand by Me”, posted above.
9. Kyle Turney
I have a bit of a difficult time evaluating country music, but the former offensive tackle for the Saints, Rams and Chiefs effort here sounds about what modern country sounds like.
10. Roy Jones Jr.
If you don’t expect too much (trust me, I didn’t), the boxing great’s 2001 effort “Round One: The Album” is actually pleasing. RJJ’s got good lyrics and flow, and I am actually surprised he did put more out.
11. Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey is seventh all-time on the United States men’s soccer team’s goal scoring table, and finished tied for fourth in scoring for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League in 2011-2012. That’s almost certainly the best single-season achievement for an American outfield player in Europe. His rapping skills don’t hold up to his footy skills, but he’s not the worst rapper any of us have ever heard.
12. Kobe Bryant
I can’t even… Words can’t even… There’s not enough space in this column to even scratch the surface of Kobe Bryant and rap. This song with Tyra Banks (!!!) has to be heard to be understood. If you are interested in the entire story of Kobe and his rap aspirations, Thomas Golianopoulus once wrote a few thousand words on the subject.
13. Tim Flannery
Flannery was a minor player for the Padres from 1979 till 1989, and has been third-base coach for the Giants since 2007. He’s recorded a dozen or so albums of Christian rock that sounds like the Eagles-meets-hillbillies-meets-Jesus. I wouldn’t listen to it, but I can imagine others might. He loses a ton of points for not being a very good baseball player.
14. Chris Webber
The beats in Webber’s 1999 album “2 much drama” are great in the way that on tracks from the turn of the millennium can be: if you were young then (I was in high school) you remember these kinds of beats. Webber doesn’t have much flow, but he’s joined by Redman and Kurupt, and the album has enough of a nostalgia-feel to it that it hold some water. The best track is the one I’ve put above.
15. Allen Iverson (aka Jewels 4)
Iverson’s rapping has a bit of flow to it, and his rhymes are about what you would expect to see at a local rap show in a major city (say, Seattle) from newbie openers. It’s actually that bad, it’s just not very good.
16. Bronson Arroyo
After winning the 2004 World Series with the Red Sox, Arroyo released an all-covers album of a bunch of 1990s and early 2000s rock hits entited “Covering the Bases”. Arroyo is a bar-gig-cover-band-level singer, and it is what it is.
17. JR Smith
This is not the best song on this list by any measure, but I am handing out bonus points for the tongue-in-cheek factor. I am assuming it is semi-serious… god please let this be semi-serious at best…
18. Jack McDowell (member of Stick Figure)
Jack McDowell may have been a disappointment for the Indians and Angels after winning the Cy Young in 1993, but his career as a guitar player after baseball was almost convincing as a member of Stick Figure.
19. Darren McCarty (member of Grinder)
McCarty was an enforcer for the Red Winds in the 1990s and 2000s, so it makes sense his band’s music would be tough-guy punk rock.
20. Nick Swisher
I know it’s shitty to rag on a guy for doing a charity album of kids music, but fuck this sucks as music. I am sure Swisher is a great guy and at times has been a pretty good ball player, but I never want to listen to this again.
21. Deion Sanders
Deion earns this spot not by his music (which is dreadful), but because he hit a home run in the majors and scored a touchdown in an NFL game in the same week. That’s worth something. A lot more than this song, in fact.
22. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq released four studio albums, and his first, “Shaq Diesel” sold over a million copies and is RIAA certified platinum. Despite help from Jay-Z, the Notorious BIG (!!!), RZA, Method Man, Redman, Fu-Schnickens (who I thought were fucking dope as a 10 year old), Mobb Deep, and many, many others, nothing can redeem most of the tracks on these albums: Shaq’s lyrics were simultaneously bizarre, cheesy, idiotic and hilarious. “I’m about to rip it to shreds, no smithereens/Eat you like a sandwich (what kind?)/SUBMARINES!!!” Huh?
23. Ron Artest
Artest’s music is a combination of poor rhymes and bland productions in his over-sincere 2006 release “My World”. It’s pretty painful.
24. Guy Lafleur
Montreal Canadiens great and Quebec native Guy Lafleur was on top of the hockey world in the 1970s: he had led the league in scoring and won five Stanley Cups. So he decided to stretch out into music and recorded this rather avant-garde album of himself reciting hockey instructions in French accompanied by disco music. It’s quite bizarre and patently unlistenable.
25. Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao is a legend in Philippines, a country that takes karaoke so seriously that at least 12 people have been murdered over their poor renditions of “My Way” (an ironic song to kill someone because you don’t like their “way” of singing it, but I degress). Those two facts: universal adoration in your native country and that country’s obsession with explain this album perfectly: Macquiao is basically singing karaoke versions, with karaoke effects on his vocals, of songs he’s paid people to write for him. It’s really, really bad. Bad enough for the lowest spot on this list. At least he did it his way?
24 Nick Swisher
Bonus track: Mark “Jacko” Jackson
Jacko played Aussie rules back in the 1970s and 1980s and put out one of the worst songs with one of the worst videos I’ve ever seen. He also did a couple of movies. I think I’ll skip ’em.