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New American Songbook

Emcee Shaq vs. parallel-Shaq

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Somewhere in the vast pantheon of alternate universes and parallel worlds, there is an earth, much like ours, where Shaquille O’Neal is one of the greatest rappers of all time who for a brief period dabbled in basketball. It’s a world a little bit more ridiculous than our own, but nice in its own ways, gentler maybe, more enthusiastic. One of the greatest failings of modern science is that we can’t travel to this world, but we do have our own Emcee Shaq, and while he doesn’t quite reach parallel-Shaq’s level of greatness, he’s a pretty good rapper in his own right, and his albums give us a glimpse, however fleeting, of that impossible world.

Shaq’s hip hop sits comfortably in the pocket of early 90’s hip hop. He’s not a preacher like Nas, but he’s not a packaged scam like Vanilla Ice, either. He released five albums, including a greatest hits album, and all of them feature some of the top producers and emcees in the game at the time: Erick Sermon, Warren G, Mobb Deep and the RZA all produce and drop verses on multiple tracks. Even Rakim shows up on the third album.

Throughout Shaq’s entire catalog, the rhymes are good, if uninventive. The world, though, is incredible. It’s a world of five-star emcees mixing verses with an earnest enthusiast; it’s playful product placement and honest park bravado. It’s fun, bizarre and a little saccharine, but it’s accessible: you could literally do this. Probably. How hard can it be? Somewhere in the vast pantheon of alternate universes, there is an earth, much like ours, where you, too, are one of the greatest rappers of all time.