"Each artist raps about what they know. Gangsta rappers talk about gangsta stuff. I don't know about guns and blunts," says Shaquille O'Neal. "I write about what I Know, having a good time, having dreams."
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For O'Neal, those dreams are coming true. After two albums, one platinum, one gold, both Top 20 R&B; and two Top 15 rap singles, one gold; his new album, You Can't Stop The Reign is the first from his own label, T.W.I.M (The World Is Mine), in association with Trauma/Interscope. Three's the charm? Nah, three's the bomb, says O'Neal. "I paid my dues. Now this is my album on my label. This is the bomb joint."
This Man of Steel is the real deal. On his debut, Shaq Diesel was about where he was and Shaq Fu-da Return (with "Biological Didn't Bother") is about where he came from, "You Can't Stop The Reign" is about ,where he's going in rap, in music, in life. The world may be his party, but everybody's invited. "It's all good. There's no East Coast West Coast thing with me," he says "All music's good. All rap is good. There are just different levels. I'm a little hardcore but I'm a smooth rapper too."
Throughout his career, O'Neal has been associated with some of the most respected names in rap, from FU-Schnickens to the Wu-Tang Clan, from Warren G to A Tribe Called Quest. For You Can't Stop The Reign, guest artists include Snoop Doggy Dogg, NAS, Biggy Smalls, Mobb Deep, Lord Tariq, and Peter Gunz. Says Snoop of Shaq: "He's the shit. That's why I rap with him. If he were just ordinary and didn't have any flava, I wouldn't fuck with him. A lot of people ask me to rap with them and I don't. But I respect Shaq as a rapper. He's real. And I'm from T .A. and now he's here too. That's cool. For me, that a dream come true."
Shaq's journey started out down a hard road. Born March 6, 1972 in Newark, New Jersey, he was the first son of Lucille O'Neal, who gave him the name Shaquille Rashaun, which in Islamic means little warrior." Says Shaq with a smile, "I was never little, but I was always a warrior."
His biological father left soon after he was born and for the next year Shaq was raised by his mother and her relatives. Living in the Newark projects, they struggled to make ends meet aided by food stamps. His mother then married Philip Harrison, who Shaq considers his father. To help his family escape the blighted, crime-ridden inner city, Harrison joined the Army in 1974, eventually rising to the rank of sergeant. In addition , he took on as many as three part-time jobs to support Shaq and Shaq's younger brother Jamal and younger sisters Lateefah and Ayesha.
The military life meant frequent changes of geography for all of them. Halfway through the first grade for O'Neal, Harrison was transferred to Bayonne. In the third grade, they moved to Eatontown. Their next stationing was Fort Stewart, Georgia. In the sixth grade, they were assigned to a military base in West Germany, and experience Shaq hated and which incited youthful rebellion. In his second year of high school, they returned to the U.S., to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. There, he attended Robert c. Cole High School on the Army base.
Despite so much change, there was one constant in Shaq's life-rap. "I have a love for rap," he says. "I'm from the 'hood, same 'hood as Heavy D. I'd do the same things kids do, some bad. And when I was hangin' in the park, I'd hear the same rappers. I'd say, 'Someday I wanna be like them, on stage and rippin' it."
Early on, his desire for attention led him to a bad boy image-stealing, lying, and bullying other kids. (Drugs, however, were never part of his life. "There were kids doing drugs, even on the Army base," he says, "but that wasn't for me.") After he almost seriously injured a classmate in a fight in the eight grade, he decided to change his wayward ways. From that moment, he focused his energy on hoops and At first, like every other kid at he time, he aspired to be a breakdancer. while that fad faded, his love for the music remained. Inspired to rap after hearing the early eighties funk anthem "Planet Rock" from pioneer Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force, he'd practice rhyming in front of the mirror, imitating and admiring other favorites such as U.T.F.O., Doug E. Fresh, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Salt n' Pepa, Heavy D, Eric B. & Rakim, Ricky D., Scott La Rock and B.D.P. He'd drop his rhymes in the park and at school, creating crazy rhythms and intense, non-stop word play.
"I'm a fan of the music first, then I listen to the words," he says. You move your head because of the beat, not the words. When I was coming up, I never listened for a message. If I didn't like the beat, I'd never listen to the words. A lot of people take rap music the wrong way because they're always worried about controversial lyrics. But rap is entertainment too, and I'm an entertainer."
At age 20, Shaq exited Louisiana State University after his junior year and relocated to Orlando, Florida. The next year, he teamed with Fu-Schnickens, sharing a bill at a rap concert in Sydney, Australia (also with Ice Cube) and appearing together on television's "Arsenio Hall Show." That summer he debuted on record with a duet with FU-Schnickens, "What's Up Doc? (Can We Rock?)." The single reached Top 40 pop, Top 25 rap, and was certified golf. (It was later remixed and appeared on 1994's Nervous Breakdown album from FU-Schnickens.
Signed to Jive Records, O'Neal made his solo alum premiere with Shaq Diesel in 1993. Old School, raw, and sample heavy, it referenced basketball throughout it's lyrics, such as on "(I Know I Got) Skillz." That track went gold, charted Top 20 R&B, Top 40 pop, and was a #3 rap hit. Shaq Diesel, which earned platinum certification, reached #10 R&B, #25 pop.
In the follow-up, Shaq Fu-da Return (1994), boasted fewer samples and was funkier. It also said less about ball and more about Shaq, his home, family and growing up, such as "Biological Didn't Bother," a Top 20 hit. Shaq Fu - Da Return achieved gold status and peaked in the R~B Top 20. In 1995, he performed a rap cameo on "2Bad" on Michael Jackson's HlStory album.
For his third album effort, Shaq did more than change record companies. Two years since his last album, he was determined do this one right "I took my time- and I paid for everything." The time was found at home and in hotel rooms on the road. "I take one thing at a time," he explains. "I get the beats, then I get the lyrics." Actually he had more time to work on his raps than he thought he would. Having broken a thumb in the fall of 1995, he could do little else for six weeks. "I knocked off eight songs in that time, I practiced them so much that when summer came around they didn't take long to record at all."
While a couple of the songs on "You Can't Stop The Reign" tell stories, such as the mix of the reality and imagination on "You Can't Stop The Reign", and a song dedicated to grandmother Odessa, Shaq notes that "four or five are just flipping' words." And while some of the tracks are radio-ready, others are, as he puts it, "for the homeboys. I like to hear the hard stuff too." Musically though, there's no questions where his heart is: "The Seventies had the badest music ever made and it's coming back. Music just keeps going around."
The summer of 1996 saw Shaq make another change, a move to Los Angeles. "The thing I love about LA," he says, " is that there are many superstars walking around. People see you, they just go, 'Hi." Though only 24 years old, O'Neal already enjoys worldwide fame and enormous prosperity. For many, he's seen as bigger than life. But when it comes to his music, Shaquille O'Neal is still that kid in the park throwing down a rhyme.
Now in 2004, the way Shaquille O'Neal sees it, he's still the big cat. On his latest effort, "Hot in Here Part Five," a collaboration with DJ Vlad, Shaq voicing his "distaste" for ex-teammate Kobe Bryant, the Detroit Pistons' Ben Wallace and rappers Skillz and Ma$e. This release proves he's still got what it takes to dominate not only on the court, but also on the radio.
When Shaquille O'Neal isn't rapping, he can be found playing basketball for the Miami Heat.
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