As a way to pass the time during the 2011 NBA lockout, Kevin Durant and LeBron James recorded a rap song together in a Cleveland recording studio. Called “It Ain’t Easy,” the full track went unheard by the general public until Ohio-based producer Franky Wahoo posted a version to SoundCloud last week.
The song was merely a rumor for years, but its existence was confirmed in 2017 when Wahoo posted a 23-second sample of the track to Twitter. Despite offers from TMZ and discussions with LeBron’s agent, Wahoo wound up putting the song on SoundCloud for everyone’s, um, enjoyment.
Noisey spoke to Wahoo about the 2011 recording session, which sounds like it amounted to little more than a couple of buddies messing around on studio equipment. “It was kind of cool,” Wahoo said, “[T]here was no paperwork signed. Just recorded, hung out all night and left.” This relaxed arrangement explains why he felt comfortable posting the track on his own.
The song is better as a time capsule than an actual song, as it provides a look at a fascinating moment in both players’ careers. Neither had won a title yet, though they would meet in the NBA Finals at the end of that shortened season. James and the Miami Heat prevailed over Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, giving LeBron his first-ever championship.
Durant and LeBron’s are but two names on the long list of NBA players who’ve tried to rap. These attempts range from awful (Kobe Bryant) to decent (Damian Lillard) and endearingly prolific (Shaquille O’Neal). It feels a little unfair to critique “It Ain’t Easy” because Durant and James clearly had reservations about releasing it to the public. Grading on a curve, though, I think it’s safe to say that it is the best rap song ever recorded by winners of the last three NBA Finals MVP trophies.
This didn’t mark the first time Durant recorded a few bars, and his verse from a 2009 Nike ad was actually pretty good. His parts on “It Ain’t Easy” aren’t as impressive, but he sounds like he was trying hard. (Effort is hip, right?) Durant’s line, “I feel like the world is Skip Bayless and I’m LeBron James,” is a remarkably prescient assessment of the kind of self-aware oversensitivity that would one day come to define his brand on social media.
While I think LeBron’s verse is fine, the guy who helped produce it disagrees. “This is the first time LeBron’s been human,” Wahoo told Noisey. “He’s not good at this.” That’s rather harsh! Sure, he kind of sounds like Bubba Sparxxx, but that’s not a bad thing. (At least it wasn’t in 2011).
Due to a CBA extension, there won’t be another NBA lockout until at least 2023. That should give LeBron and Durant plenty of time to work on their skills behind the mic.
*Correction, September 8, 2018: This post originally misspelled the names of Damian Lillard and Kobe Bryant.