Courtesy of Vanity Fair H/T Lisa Robinson
Vanity Fair: Do you feel the current protests in response to George Floyd’s killing have exposed systemic racism in a new way? Do you think there will be real change?
Damian Lillard: I don’t think systemic racism was exposed more this time than in recent years. I just think we as Black people have had enough of the bullshit. We’ve reached that breaking point. Our ancestors dealt with inequality, slavery, segregation, lynching, etc., and now we have so many instances where what we knew existed is in our faces on camera, and there are never any repercussions or remorse shown. It’s always “justified” somehow. As far as real change, I think the unity being shown across the nation and in other countries is delivering a strong message and applying true pressure. There are also more people in search of ways to take true action toward change and not just be a part of the outcry. So I think now, more than any other time, we are moving in the direction of change.
The Trail Blazers are one of the 22 teams participating in the restart of the NBA season in Orlando, July 31. Do you feel secure about your safety in regard to the coronavirus, and do you think the plan for the top 16 teams plus six more is fair?
As a competitor I’m happy we will get an opportunity to continue and try to make a run in the playoffs. I am a little concerned about the risk we’re taking dealing with the virus, but the NBA will take all precautions into consideration to keep us safe. I think the plan going forward is fair.
When the season shut down, the Trail Blazers were in ninth place; if you move up to eighth, you could play the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. You want that?
Of course. I think we could beat them.
As a Knicks fan, I wish you would come here. Madison Square Garden is so great.
I thought I was headed there a few years ago; I was hearing trade rumors. The Garden is my favorite place to play.
Michael Jordan said the same thing about the Garden in The Last Dance. Did you watch that documentary? The music in it was so great.
I have been watching it and I still listen to that music. The music I heard as a kid in the car with my mom—all that music from the ’90s: Lauryn Hill, the Fugees, DMX—that music is still on my playlist.
How did you get the nickname “Dame D.O.L.L.A.?”
My college roommates called me Dame Dolla, and then I decided to use it as my rap name. But I turned “Dolla” into an acronym: It stands for different on levels the Lord allows.
You can really rhyme, but most basketball stars who rap aren’t taken seriously.
I think people just respect my rap [because] I didn’t skip steps. It’s a passion I picked up before [my] status as an NBA player. I took the route of any other aspiring artist; I started a platform on Instagram called #4BarFriday, where you rapped four bars and I got some big basketball names to do it [LeBron James, Paul George, CJ McCollum] and basically created a whole community. I started dropping freestyles every Monday, performing little shows in Portland and Washington, then started getting tweets from people who actually wanted to hear me make more music. I dropped two albums, people liked them, then I dropped another one last summer which was the most well-received—people just loved it.
What was that “battle” about that you and Shaquille O’Neal engaged in last year?
The battle with Shaq was not personal. He took offense to something I said and decided to diss me. So we settled it in a lyrical spar…But since then, we’ve done a song together and communicate often through text.
Who were your musical influences growing up?
I love Tupac, Nas, André 3000, Common, Lil Wayne…Lil Wayne is on all three of my albums. When I started putting out my rap music, he heard my stuff, we connected and started talking and became really good friends.
What do your basketball game and your music have in common?
If there’s an area of my basketball game I’m struggling in, I’m not opposed to someone telling me you need try this, and if it makes me sharper and better I do it. The same thing with my music: I’ll send it to Common, Joe Budden, J. Cole, QTip—friends who are elite in music. I want to hear the absolute truth. And they tell me the truth. They give me directions.
Much of rap music is about struggle; did you have a rough childhood?
I did have a rough childhood. I come from a real strong family—a lot of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents—we had dinner, we had school clothes. We didn’t have everything, but our life was fine. But the environment where we grew up in Oakland was rough.
You were chosen for the All-Star Game this past year but were injured and couldn’t play. Were you able to train, and record music since the NBA shut down on March 12?
I’m healthy now, and I have a gym in my house, so I’ve been training. I record in a studio in L.A. and one in Portland. But with all this stuff going on, I set up a studio in my house, so every few days I’ll come in and write and record. After my last album was received so well, I got the attention of real music fans, so from now on I want everything I put out to be of a high quality.
How has your music evolved from your last album to what you’re working on now?
My last album was me making the kind of music that other people want to hear. In this era they want the bounce or the mumble rap, but I love Nas and J. Cole, that’s more of my style. With this new one, it’s me giving 100% authenticity of how I think and feel—being more vulnerable.
I shed a tear reading that Knicks part. Damian Lillard would have been great under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.