Editor's note: In honor of hip-hop turning 50, ESPN tapped the culture's top voices to write about their favorite athlete name-drops in hip-hop history.
Running down the court, I'm dunkin' on 'em: Lisa Leslie. --Nicki Minaj on Ludacris' "My Chick Bad" (2010)
A Nicki Minaj bar in its ideal form transmits glee above all else. You can hear the relish, feel it like a love bite. Her affinity for sports punning creates a category all its own. The Queens native is not particularly choosey in this arena, whipping together athletic maneuvers and hometown heroes from various disciplines at will. But it's the musicality that matters, the pleasure of the thing being the ultimate principle.
The rule applies as much to featured appearances, in which Minaj takes special pride. For example, picture what is now vintage: Nicki in the black and pink, Nicki with the bayang, Nicki with Ludacris on "My Chick Bad," a song praising having a partner, per the chorus, "badder than yours." On theme, the references run female, and Ludacris has a couple of his own, with nods to Venus Williams and Serena Williams (and, more facetiously, Tiger Woods' ex-wife Elin Nordegren).
And then Nicki, enters the room like so:
Now all these b-----s wanna try and be my bestie,
But I take a left and leave them hanging like a tes--'.
Trash talk to 'em then I put 'em in a Hefty,
Running down the court, I'm dunkin' on 'em: Lisa Leslie
Perhaps not the most dignified end rhyme for a four-time Olympic gold medalist, three-time MVP, and first-ever player to dunk in a WNBA game, among many, many, many, many other testaments to Leslie's virtuosity. But I like that Nicki recalls the dunk -- which happened on July 30, 2002, the same season the then Los Angeles Sparks' center became the first WNBA player to reach 3,000 total career points -- not that we should soon forget. Just 21 years ago this summer, it's been since the Hall of Famer crowned herself Lisa "Dunkin'" Leslie in the heat of the then Staples Center. Eight years later, Onika "Nicki Minaj" Maraj puts it in a verse about being an incomparable badass mama jama.
There's nothing wrong with healthy competition, especially in arenas where men seem so beside the point. Bravado and slick moves are parceled with the sport-part of the tradition, part of the fun. On the remix of "My Chick Bad," Ludacris chivalrously relegates himself to the usher position, escorting female MCs Diamond, Trina, and Philly's E-V-E to center stage. There is a notion that the community women foster among themselves stifles a desire to win and win big and definitively, a notion proved misbegotten time after time, again and again. And that's lovely.
Lauren Michele Jackson is an assistant professor of English at Northwestern University and a contributing writer at The New Yorker. She is the author of the essay collection "White Negroes" and is working on a second book with Amistad Press. She is part of New America's 2022 class of National Fellows.