Mike WiLL Made-It recently released his entire 2016 production catalogue. Top to bottom, the list is nothing short of impressive. The Atlanta producer notoriously provides trap’s energizing pulse, but he diversifies his instrumentals through working with varied artists. The same guy who made GOOD Music’s “Mercy” also produced Miley Cyrus’ 2013 anthem, “We Can’t Stop.”
Perusing his 35 2016 credits demonstrates his allure, impact, instrumental assortment, and artist loyalty: his hi-hat heavy beat took the world by storm on Rae Shremmurd’s “Black Beatles;” his dynamic production on “Formation” helped Beyoncé orchestrate one of the year’s best albums; he clearly loves Gucci. As I marvel at this list, I can’t help but think of another beat maker, who didn’t impart this impact, but held his own in the production world: Chris Webber.
Yes, you read that right: Chris Webber, the basketball player. When he wasn’t cementing one of the greatest college basketball legacies and narratives though Michigan’s “Fab Five,” or enjoying a prominent 16-season NBA career, C. Webb loved making music. His short-lived rap career was anchored by his ’99 album, 2 Much Drama, which includes his exclusive single, “Gangsta, Gangsta” featuring Kurrupt. This track claimed the Hot Rap Singles Chart’s #10 spot, potentially hinting at a secondary career path for Webber.
Well, here we are and Chris Webber is still better known as the guy who was involved in shady collegiate financial transactions, calling basketball’s worst timeout, a Like Mike cameo, and, sure, his NBA career. No, C. Webb couldn’t cut it behind the microphone, but he showed promise behind the track.
The late ‘90s - early '00s might’ve been Webber’s prime. He had just begun his Sacramento Kings tenure, where he made four out of his five All-Star appearances, made his lone All-NBA first team (2001), and he began his Hip Hop pursuit, with the aforementioned 2 Much Drama album. This failed rap attempt pivoted Webber’s music focus from emcee to producer, with his best cuts supporting the legendary Nasty Nas.
Jalen Rose wasn’t Webber’s only famous teammate. Continuing their preexisting relationship, Chris went out to LA to kick it with Nas—damn, that’s such an enviable statement—to enjoy the warm weather and experience the rapper lifestyle. While in the studio with Nas, someone encouraged Chris to pop in the disc he’d been bumping on his walkman—a self-produced track. Coyly, Webber complied and played his beat for Nas and company. This was at 1 in the morning. By 4AM, they’d completed the song “Blunt Ashes” off Nas’ eighth studio album, Hip Hop is Dead.
Sampling Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology),” Chris’ beat resembles a dark Church hymn, which adequately embodies the perceptive, conscious track that fits comfortably in Nas’ library. The soulful touches combined with its gritty aura demonstrates an advanced production acumen typically reserved for individuals whose tax return shows “musician” as their occupation, not a hobby or pipe dream. “Blunt Ashes” showed C. Webb’s potential, and further entertained the idea of his producer trajectory. His successive Nas collaboration finds Chris coming into his own as an instrumentalist.
Off Nas’ 2007 Greatest Hits album, Webber produced the joint, “Surviving The Times”—a personal favorite Nas track of mine. Chris magnifies the jazzy touches explored on “Blunt Ashes” to structure “Surviving The Times’” backbone, sampling Nipsey Russell’s “What Would I Do If I Could Feel,” that develops beautifully into a soulful, ‘90s boom bap beat—a perfect canvas for Nas to paint his feelings. On his Kanye flow, Webber’s Nipsey Russell sample exemplifies his overall musical command that extends past a rudimentary understanding into a composer with confidence and vision. I’ve always marveled at someone’s sampling ability, and man did I marvel the first time I heard “Surviving The Times.”
Embarrassingly, my initial exposure to this track came only a couple of years ago. I was sitting in my apartment when my roommate threw this on the speaker. I thought to myself, “Yo what’s this Nas track? Why don’t I know this Nas track? Who produced this?” After discretely googling the song’s lyrics to discover its title, I came across the producer. My eyes bulged when I read the credit, and I internally gasped, “Chris Webber?! The Chris Webber?!” Yes, it was the Chris Webber. I saw him in a totally different light: as more than just an unfortunate college story of “what could have been” or a solid NBA career; he became a man not defined by his reputation, but as a man with interests and curiosities. So often we regard professional athletes exclusively as ambassadors of their respective sports, forgetting that they are people, just like you and me. They too have passions outside of what pays the bills. They too may wish to change their situation, to escape.
Unfortunately, “Surviving The Times” is Webber’s last production credit. While his music career was short lived, he impressively stepped out of his basketball pond into a murky, gaping musical ocean. His life was already set with basketball, but Chris didn’t want to succumb to complacency—he wanted to test himself. He had a passion, and he pursued it.
I’m pretty sure everyone has the same reaction when they learn of C. Webb’s musical background: “That’s the same Chris Webber?!” I’m also pretty sure that they develop a newfound respect for him. To already be incredibly established in one field, and then to transfer focus to a completely different area is difficult and admirable—sometimes, it seems impossible. Webber welcomed the challenge.
Chris Webber might have been revered for his low post dominance and rebounding expertise in basketball, but in Hip Hop he was better known for dishing out assists. He helped out one of rap’s most legendary MCs by supplying two different, yet equally great beats, confirming that his musical pursuit was wise. It’s easy to get comfortable; it’s difficult to place yourself in someone else’s world, and not only survive, but thrive. In Hip Hop, if only for a bright moment, Chris Webber thrived.