LeBron James is a lot of things: current best player in the NBA working on all-time greatest status, future Space Jam sequel star and game show producer. But these are just a few of the titles Akron, Ohio's favorite son can claim. So it shouldn't be too surprising that people would want to have their work associated with the four-time regular season MVP. His Twitter, for example, goes out to nearly 35 million fans and he has over 23 million that follow him on Facebook.
Yet it's his Instagram account, boasting nearly 30 million followers, that has turned into the hottest place for rappers to unveil snippets of their upcoming albums or gain new fans.
If you follow James on the photo-sharing app, you may have noticed that he tends to get his hands on some exclusive music way before anyone else does. He's one of the most recognizable figures in the world, so it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that he can get people to let him hear what they're working on before everybody else. But it's what James does, posting short Instagram stories of himself enjoying – and often times rapping along to – unreleased tracks by some of the hottest rappers in the world that has become a hot commodity. The LeBron James Seal of Approval.
Getting the music into the NBA star's hands is a very valuable promotional tool. A single tweet from James was estimated last year to be worth around $165,000. While his Instagram stories only have a lifespan of 24 hours, Banksy Gonzalez at Uproxx believes a single post by the Cavs star "must be worth somewhere in the six figure range."
While James might not have the same amount of followers as somebody like Beyoncé (currently at 99.7 million), and whose Instagram posts are estimated to be worth around a cool million each, the basketball star is giving away some expensive advertising, "because the audience is so streamlined they're probably more valuable than a typical television commercial or magazine spread." They might not stick around long, but the intimacy of the stories only helps to heighten the sense of real interest James has in whatever he's listening to.
Pretty much everything James says or does is a sound bite or a story at the top of any sports section. So this past March, when he tweeted lyrics from Drake's album More Life way before its actual release, many misconstrued it at the time as being his response to Charles Barkley taking shots at him on live television. Then, last week, James recorded himself jamming out to Kendrick Lamar's album Damn. on Instagram a couple of days before its highly anticipated release over the weekend.
It turns out none of this is by accident. James gets a copy of the album, and shows his appreciation by posting it into his stories. A worthwhile trade for any rapper or producer.
Mike Will Made-It – who has worked with 2 Chainz, Rihanna, Lil Wayne and Beyoncé in the past, and produced Lamar's song "HUMBLE" – told TMZ that James is a "real fan of music," and he said the future Hall of Famer is on his list of very important people he sends music to from time to time. In his words: "You gotta send the King your music, bruh."
It also doesn't hurt that James lets his followers know what he's into. His Instagram feed often looks like a one-man listening party, a way to get listeners excited about what James is hyped about. James looks like, and sometimes actually is, getting psyched up for a game while listening to the songs. It's a very convincing tool, seeing the best basketball player in the world going off to a track.
"I sent LeBron Ransom 2 before it came out," Mike said. "He loves music. I mean, that's the king. Kings amongst kings.”
This isn't the first time James has been on Drake's or Lamar's radar, either. James is said to be the reason Lamar's untitled unmastered album came out when it did last year after he asked Top Dawg Entertainment's CEO on Twitter if they could release the untitled tracks he performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and at the Grammys. James also tweeted in 2015 that Drake personally sent him his What a Time to Be Alive album with Future and that he couldn't stop listening to it. It looks like James is a fan of Future's new stuff, too, based on some of his other Instagram videos.
Based on his current status as the Guy in the NBA, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that James gets name-checked in rap songs pretty often. Yo Gotti made a song called "LeBron James" in 2014, rapping, "I'm LeBron James, you're a fucking rookie," and there are plenty of other examples of his name being dropped from Jay-Z's "Clique" to Meek Mill's "Levels." Drake even teamed up with Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem to record "Forever" for James' 2008 documentary More Than a Game. But just like everything else in the LeBron James story, he's still got a lot of catching up to do with Michael Jordan if he wants to surpass the Chicago Bulls legend in the hearing his name in songs department.
Yet while Jordan had a good two-plus decade jump on James in terms of being the player who has been mentioned by everybody from 2Pac (1991's "Tha Lunatic") to Drake's odes in songs like "Back to Back," "Jumpman" and of course, the rapper's own signature OVO Air Jordan collaborations, James is stamping out his own legacy. The most famous active basketball player in the world essentially debuts snippets of tracks by big names to his fans, but also sheds light on rappers people might not know about, like lip-synching along to a track off Brotha Lynch Hung's 1995 album Season of da Siccness. A looked over release that came out when James was 11 years old, it proved that James knows how many people are paying attention to his music tastes, and that the NBA's biggest star will keep his fans guessing what he'll let them listen to next.