Cape Town Tigers point guard Myck Kabongo is a significantly better basketballer than fellow rapper J. Cole, it’s fair to say, but the Democratic Republic of Congo international has nothing but respect for the Grammy winner, both on the court and off.
Kabongo and Cole are not unknown to each other, even before they both appeared at the inaugural Basketball Africa League last year, as they’ve know each other since their high school days. Cole’s manager, Ibrahim ‘IB’ Hamad is a good childhood friend of Kabongo’s, who grew up in Canada and the US.
Kabongo, who uses Lu-Kusa WOE as his musical pseudonym, says that while Cole may have been criticized for veering out of his lane and attempting to play pro ball, athletes face similar backlash when they show a strong interest in making music.
“There’s a stigma behind: ‘Oh, he’s an athlete. We don’t want to hear it.’ [Many] athletes that do put music out — it’s trash, to be honest — and I take my time and I write my music,” Kabongo told ESPN.
“I’ve studied hip-hop since I was a kid. I take it much more seriously than your average rapper who is just going in there to be cool. I actually have something to say. My music is going to touch people and affect people in a positive way.
“I’m very critical of what I say and how I say it, because I know it’s very important when little kids look up to you and they’re easily influenced, so I have a position to be influencing people for the better.”
Kabongo never shared the same bond with Cole that he did with Hamad, but he was able to touch base with the rap superstar from Fayetteville, North Carolina at last year’s BAL, where Cole played three games for the Rwanda Patriots.
“I played him [Cole] one of my songs when we were at the BAL last year and he went crazy,” Kabongo said.
“Obviously, I wanted a verse from him, but where he’s at, I have to work to earn that. I’ll get there one day — I have faith and I have no doubt — but just to see a GOAT take in my song and then respond showed me I’m on the path where I need to go.
“It was definitely big [of him] to even take the time out to listen while he was about to drop The Off-Season and to be like: ‘Yo, your joint’s fire.’ That meant a lot to me and gave me confidence going into this next album.”
Kabongo, who played for Ferroviário de Maputo at the time, was thrilled to see Cole at the BAL, but not everybody shared the same sentiment. AS Salé point guard Terrell Stoglin accused him of taking the place of a deserving professional.
Speaking on the backlash Cole, who has since signed up to play pro ball in Canada, received from critics, Kabongo said: “It’s just something people don’t understand. Whenever there’s an unknown, people are indifferent — they don’t know how to react to it.
“He’s talented at both and he’s worked his tail off to be in the position that he was in. It was great for the league — it generated so much publicity for the league that it needed. People knew about the league, so I don’t understand the people who felt like he didn’t belong, because he did.
“He played out there… He’s not a star, but he helped his team do what they had to do, and in the end, they were in the semifinals. When there’s something people don’t understand in the world we live in, they’re quick to judge, but if someone’s passionate and puts the time in — it’s not like he didn’t put the hours in, stay in shape and be ready to play against professional athletes — he did and you’ve got to respect that.”
Kabongo, who hopes to go into basketball coaching once his playing career ends, is well-placed to speak on life as an athlete-rapper. Having grown up in Toronto, he has established a loyal fanbase in Canada.
His basketball career was the first to take off, seeing him play college ball at UT Austin, in the NBA D-League and around the world, but at the age of 30, he is beginning to earn plaudits for his music.
“There’s a lot of things to factor when you want to change your career, but for me right now, basketball is still for me. I still have that fire. I have a fire for music when I’m not playing, so I know how to balance it out to this point,” he said.
“In Canada, I’m already almost at a million streams, which is insane independently. I just know with the machine behind me, I have music that… I’ve travelled so much, so my music will resonate and relate to so many more people than just myself,” he said.
“Obviously, the US is where you want to explode and blow up for hip-hop. I think, the way the world is now, I just need a label to put the backing behind it. I think once people listen to it, they’ll gravitate to it and it will do the way it’s supposed to do.”
Kabongo’s Tigers will face Tunisia’s US Monastir in the BAL quarterfinals at Kigali Arena on May 22, with the game scheduled to tip off at 14:30 CAT.
The BAL airs on ESPN in Africa, and on ESPN+ and ESPNNews in the US.
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