Before NBA 2K, AND1’s Mixtapes Masterfully Merged Hoops & Hip-Hop (Videos)

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Hip-Hop and basketball are nearing a 40-year marriage, with their first noteworthy rendezvous coming in the form of Big Bang Hank of The Sugarhill Gang delivering “I got a color TV so I can see the Knicks play basketball” on the 1979 classic “Rapper’s Delight.” While the parallels between the two crafts were emerging prior to mention on wax, that inaugural embedding of hoops into Hip-Hop marked the dawn of an entire shift in the two field’s collective cultures. Five years later in 1984, Kurtis Blow released “Basketball,” which essentially became the cardinal track in fusing the two fields. Subsequent hoop-related mentions from Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube, Nas, and Biggie (among hundreds of other rappers), quickly ingrained basketball as a vital thread within the makeup of Hip-Hop’s DNA, and vice versa.

As basketball and Hip-Hop were taking shape, so were technology and video games. While the Magnavox Odyssey boasted the first ever Basketball video game in 1972, it was around the same time “Rapper’s Delight” was released in 1979, that Atari unveiled “Atari Basketball,” featuring the first ever Black video game character. Of course, video games progressed quickly through iconic series such as Jordan vs. Bird, Arch Rivals, and NBA JAM. Before long in 2003, it was EA Sports’ NBA LIVE franchise that began to feature soundtracks to pair, with a heavy focus on Hip-Hop music. Around 2009-2010, NBA 2K surpassed NBA Live and became the authority in both functionality and soundtrack structure. Still residing as the benchmark for digital basketball game-play and its accompanying music, being featured on the 2K soundtrack is a badge of honor for today’s artists.

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Before basketball-based video games fully embraced injecting Hip-Hop into its architecture though, it was AND1 who was the true pioneer of integrating the two. Already avant-garde and theatrical, but rooted in the streets (much like Hip-Hop), AND1 had carved out an unexplored lane within the basketball community. They spent five years from 1993 on establishing a brand that attracted the individual engrossed by hoops, but with an intentional focus on removing certain constraints from the game. The rules were loose, and the platform was more about unaccompanied imagination and style than it was game-play or results. It was only natural and a matter of time before Hip-Hop permeated AND1 in grand fashion.

With thousands of VHS tapes full of streetball highlights laying around the AND1 offices, DJ Set Free (who was working with Rawkus Records at the time) would take the tapes and play sets with the footage in the background. After identifying the potential of pairing the video with Hip-Hop, Set Free and crew proceeded in the endeavor, combing through hundreds of hours of footage to create the AND1 Mixtapes. Featuring eventual cult-hero, Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston in a large part of the grainy Volume 1 (known as “The Skip Tape”) visuals, the six-track 18-minute video mixtape (which was the first of its kind) featured heavyweights such as Common & Sadat X (“1-9-9-9”), GZA (“Breaker, Breaker”), and High & Mighty featuring Mos Def (“B-Boy Documenr ’99”).

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After a guerrilla marketing approach that saw the AND1 team include the inaugural run of 50,000+ video mixtapes as a promotional item in sales, along with sliding it into the hands of record labels, NBA players, and Hip-Hop artists, the video (and brand alike) became a swift and thrilling success. AND1 followed up the first volume with four subsequent mixtape editions, enlisting the likes of EPMD, Ras Kass, Snoop Dogg, M.O.P., Kool G Rap, Busta Rhymes, Beatnuts, Capone-N-Noreaga, Talib Kweli, and Kurupt among a handful of other notable MCs.

At the foundation of both Hip-Hop and basketball, and what allows them to harmonize so effortlessly, is a deep sense of individuality and expression. Within that singular uniqueness though is the common understanding among those associated that all isolated glory is part of a greater movement. AND1 was a trailblazer in packaging and presenting that originality within a marriage of sport and music. The brand built a colorful home for Hip-Hop and hoops heads alike, ultimately setting the table for the phenomenon of video-game based soundtracks that fans and artists celebrate today.

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#BonusBeat: Listen to Volumes 1 -5 of AND1’s Mixtapes on the Youtube playlist below