Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is not the first NBA star to moonlight in music. All-star players Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson all released albums in the 1990s, and several current NBA players have as well, to mixed reviews. But Lillard’s autobiographical release The Letter O might be the best. Recording as Dame D.O.L.L.A. (short for “different on levels the Lord allows”) Lillard’s songs explore his childhood in Oakland, family, college years and beginning basketball career, with guest turns from Jamie Foxx, Lil Wayne, and Raphael Saadiq among others.
Before the start of the 2013-14 season, Lillard started “4-Bar Friday,” inviting other NBA players and fans to submit their own rhymes. Along the way, Lillard’s prolific musical output included a 2016 video that’s a plea for racial harmony, “Bigger Than Us.” Concurrent with the release of The Letter O in November, Lillard announced the launch of music label, Front Page Music.
At the team’s practice facility in December, Lillard talked about his new record, balancing music and basketball, and his goals for his record label.
On his reason for starting a record label:
Damian Lillard: “I just want to help aspiring artists. I’ve got a platform with 4-bar Friday where I’ve connected with so many people that have constantly submitted 4-bar Fridays over the last 4 years. It’s almost like you have friendships with all these people now, because you’re in contact with them, they’re so invested in something you’ve created. I’m going to take a look and try to help get their music out there and put them in a room with people that can give them an opportunity to launch their music careers.
The first two artists are from Oakland. Both of them are cousins. They’re older, both of them in their 30s and they have a background in music. They’ve put out albums and mixtapes. So it wasn’t like a favor, it was more artists I believe in, good artists, people that have something to tell, and just helping them launch their stuff. It’s going to be fun.”
On how the label could grow:
DL: “I’m not sure. Right now it’s fresh. You know, it’s not some big label with a bunch of employees. I have a few people working on the label and we’re helping two people right now. It’s real simple but I see it being bigger later on.”
On the possibility of playing more shows or a tour:
DL: “When the season ends, you know I usually take my summer and that’s when I really do more music, putting out freestyles, and I did a show on my birthday last year, a show for Adidas in Las Vegas. I‘m thinking of doing something light next summer, maybe a few shows with the people on the label, introducing the label that way, and having them open up and then I perform as well. Just brainstorming right now, coming up with ideas because I couldn’t do a tour or anything like that.”
On balancing basketball and his music:
DL: “First things first. I show up here in the morning, I do what I need to do to prepare myself for practice, do what I need to do after practice getting my shots up, getting my lift in. And then you’ve got the rest of the day. You know what I mean? You handle your business and then you’ve got a life to live. And that’s what I do. I go, sometime listen to beats, I might write something. I might look up some stuff. I read, so I’m constantly feeding my brain and having something to say and living. It’s simple. As long as you keep your priorities straight, it’s not a lot to handle.”
About musical ideas that come up during the season:
DL: “Sometimes on the plane, my teammates will tell you I pull my laptop out, get some headphones and I just zone out, listen to beats and start writing. I pay attention to a lot of stuff, so there’s always a lot to share, a lot to say, you know. I’m constantly learning.”
About putting autobiographical stories on his new record:
DL: “It was [fun], it was. Because I remembered it so clearly. It was also fun to be able to share the vibe, to know that people are going to really feel this, to feel what I felt because these are real situations. I was sharing the truth. I know some people make music for entertainment purposes and they don’t always have a lot of substance or truth behind it. And I’m writing bars about stuff that really happened. You know, I enjoyed that part of it.”