Damian Lillard is still seething. Less than 12 hours before Rolling Stone’s scheduled interview with the NBA star’s hip-hop nom de plume Dame D.O.L.L.A., Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers were victimized by a non-goaltending call on his game-tying lay-up, a mistake that inflamed both NBA Twitter and the usually mild-mannered Lillard.
Following the game, Lillard lashed out at the “punk ass” refs on social media, and even now on the phone a half day later, the stinging aftermath of the previous night’s basketball game is infringing on his ability to talk about Dame D.O.L.L.A. and his most high-profile music performance yet. “I’m trying to let it go,” Lillard says.
The referees’ flagrant foul-up is seemingly the only thing that could deter Lillard: In January, the point guard — en route to his fifth NBA All-Star Game — went volcanic, putting up arguably the greatest two-week stretch in post-Wilt Chamberlain NBA history: Three games over 50 points, including a Trail Blazers-record 61 points, plus his first career triple-double followed by a 48-point performance and Blazers win on the night the Los Angeles Lakers honored Kobe Bryant on their home court.
“It’s just a feeling of you can do whatever you wanna do,” Lillard tells Rolling Stone of his two-time NBA Western Conference Player of the Week hot streak. “You feel like the defense is at your mercy, and it’s just not up to them what the outcome is gonna be.”
Most importantly, Lillard would tell you, were the much-needed wins the struggling Blazers tallied to keep afloat in the playoff race. Unfortunately, the calendar flip to February has brought a string of losses and, for Lillard, a last-minute groin injury that forced him to remove himself from this Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.
However, while Damian Lillard won’t be suiting up for Team LeBron at Chicago’s United Center, Dame D.O.L.L.A. will still take center court when he becomes the first NBA player to headline an All-Star Weekend performance on Saturday night at the packed arena. It’s the biggest performance of Dame’s career, with past collaborators Lil Wayne and Jeremih set to join him for the showcase.
Lillard, the basketball player, is used to performing on the big stage — and as a killer in the clutch, the bigger the stage, the better the performance — but Dame D.O.L.L.A. has limited experience in front of an audience that size. Still, there’s no nervousness as he readies to bring his rap skills to the basketball court.
“I don’t approach it the same way, but I think I’ve performed enough now where there’s no anxiety,” Dame says, noting that he joined YBD Cordae onstage when that rapper played Portland’s Moda Center in 2019. “There was a big crowd in the arena and I felt fine. It was cool. I feel comfortable in my music so I don’t even worry about it.”
Saturday’s All-Star Weekend performance will also mark the first time D.O.L.L.A. has rapped alongside Lil Wayne, who has contributed to Dame’s last two albums; the two rappers have worked together in the studio, but never onstage. On Saturday night, the pair will perform “Run It Up,” from Dame D.O.L.L.A.’s 2018 album Confirmed, while Jeremih will assist for “Moneyball” off 2019’s Big D.O.L.L.A.
Lil Wayne isn’t the only rap royalty that D.O.L.L.A. has aligned with recently: Pusha T and Lillard collaborated on a new Adidas shoe, with the Clipse rapper also dropping a Pharrell Williams-produced, Lillard-inspired track to celebrate the release of the mixtape-inspired Dame 6 sneaker:
“We both with Adidas, and they wanted me to collaborate with another artist that I liked, that I was a fan of. I mentioned him,” Lillard said of working with Pusha T. “We met, we kind of brainstormed and we came up with something else cool.” While Lillard only appears (and doesn’t rap) in the Pusha T spot, he insinuated a musical collaboration was on the horizon. “It’s a possibility,” he said coyly. (Another possibility: Common, who sat courtside at a recent Blazers game.)
Lillard’s recent heroics also caught the attention of another rap legend, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, who tweeted that Lillard is “the most lethal player in the NBA” and “the BEST leader I’ve seen in a very long time.”
Imo @Dame_Lillard is the most lethal player in the @NBA he has been elevated To a rare loft… and is the BEST leader I’ve seen in a very long time. @trailblazers he’s got the OG @carmeloanthony and the accomplice assassin @CJMcCollum .. Whiteside and Nirkic in the wings . Damn
— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) February 3, 2020
“It’s great praise, because you have to assume that what he sees is not just the basketball going in the basket,” Lillard said of Chuck D’s adulation. “When you talk about leadership, that’s seeing your body language and your interactions, demeanor, just how you carry things, good and bad. So for him to make that kind of statement was a huge compliment.”
Lillard’s preseason plan to drop new D.O.L.L.A. tracks following big games — and they rarely get bigger than a 61-point explosion — has been stymied in part by the Trail Blazers’ unexpected struggles; after reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, the Blazers enter the All-Star break six games under .500 and four games out of a playoff spot.
“I got some stuff that’s already recorded but I think that plan got messed up when [the Trail Blazers] came out and weren’t winning. I got off that idea because we haven’t been winning enough games, so I haven’t really been as in tune with that idea,” Dame says. “I got a few songs that are unreleased and I’m just trying to figure out a plan for them.”
Prior to the season, Lillard told Rolling Stone that his personal goals included an MVP trophy and a Grammy Award. Despite the Blazers’ record, Lillard is firmly entrenched in the MVP conversation, but the Grammy part may continue to pose a problem: On January 26th, instead of hypothetically taking part in Music’s Biggest Night, Lillard was playing against the Indiana Pacers. Should he ever be nominated and the situation arise again, would Lillard miss a game for the Grammys? “Nope,” he said. “I would play in the game and accept the award at halftime.”