I have to confess: I know little to nothing about basketball. For the longest time, I thought James Harden was the best defensive player in the NBA, and believed Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan were the same person till the former passed away. Yet despite my ignorance, when I heard that after a few years hiatus, rappers Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed would get off the bench and enter back into the rap game by releasing a joint basketball-themed project, I was intrigued.
Basketball and hip-hop both thrive on competition and require collaboration, and while many rap songs have explored this connection, from J. Cole’s “I Got It” to Post Malone’s “White Iverson,” none have been able to do it quite like Mineo and Wordsplayed (John Itiola) have with Magic & Bird, a mixtape that is a pinnacle of basketball-hip-hop fusion. Incorporating ingenious wordplay over infectious trap beats, this fast-paced project is a tonal Valhalla. It highlights the very best talents of both artists and synthesizes them to create something completely new, standing as one of this summer’s best releases.
The mixtape takes its name from the friendship-rivalry that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson had in the 1980s. Menio and Wordsplayed fit into their respecive basketball players’ roles comfortably. Wordsplayed effectively raps as a point guard, dishing out masterful verses to Mineo, whose verses ooze fervor and power.The bane of collaborative albums is that more often than not, a straitjacket of three minutes can’t hold the egos of two mega-artists and each usually take turns domineering over tracks. Mineo and Wordsplayed are well-established artists independently. But the two work well in tandem, and their teamwork is best exemplified in “DUNK CONTEST (MAGIC BIRD).” Rather than do separate verses, the two intersperse their lines in between the hook, and pass lyrical allyoops to each other, rapping “Yeah, this that, this that, this that Penny with the Shaq / Yeah, if he’s passing’ me the rock, they might not get it back.” This is their collaboration at its best and establishes them as a cohesive unit rather than disjointed factions.
Thematically, the two poke fun at foes, express gratitude to friends and family who have helped them succeed, and while they do mention faith, it is never the focal point of a song. This ends up servicing the project better as a whole, as the two have a variety of other topics on which they wish to touch. The mixtape’s lead single “KIDZ” sets the vibe the best, where Mineo and Wordsplayed both rap “I do it for the kids,” highlighting their desire to make a high-energy and fun mixtape that anyone can listen to and that their expressions of faith do not have to be antithetical to having a good time. As expected, myriad sports-themed lines adorn the project, from snap-worthy lines like Mineo’s “Shoutout to all the single mothers / two jobs, three kids I call that a triple-double” to “Colored folks still can’t swim / But Mike Phelps couldn’t walk the water.”
Mineo’s label Reach Records churns out hits the way Gordon Ramsey does f-bombs, Steph Curry does three pointers and Lebron does flops, and Magic & Bird is filled to the brim with bangers. Every single track exudes high energy and heavy bass, and nearly every track is a trap song. While the danger was that the mixtape would sound too repetitive, Mineo and Wordsplayed spice up each track with different elements to keep things interesting.
In “TEAM,” guest artist Beam sings the hook, a brief reprieve in between Mineo and Wordsplayed’s rapid verses. Even the project’s most mellow song “BREAK BREAD” has smaller but effective bass drops which pound and then faintly oscillate before Mineo and Wordsplayed go into their verses. Conversely, “DANCE (You See It)” is a thrilling and monumental feat of showmanship with the duo riding the beat like Vin Diesel does a muscle car: respectful, but not afraid to push limits. The bass is deep and immediately smacks you from the first listen, and Wordsplayed in particular navigates through the overwhelming production by spitting confident bars to match: “I was told that I’m kinda strange, and I can’t debate it / Either way I’ma kill the game like it’s premeditated.” For his verse, Mineo opts for a psychedelic and crazed delivery, blending complex rhyme schemes together and somehow mentioning John Travolta and Charlemagne The God in the same breath.
Famed Reach Records producer Gawvi produced two tracks (“SAY LESS” and “JUDO”) and his beats are usually enough of intricate creations that they can be the saving grace to lackluster rhymes, but rather than use Gawvi’s wicked beats as a reason to coast, the duo brings bars to match their ferocity. “SAY LESS” is one of the album’s best tracks, with its lumbering start-up quickly accelerating to a hammering smorgasbord of robust synths. Mineo drops memorable lines left and right, from “I’m not doing good, I’m a straight mess / But God doing way more with way less” to “good is the enemy of greatness.”
However, even in the midst of fun, the duo is still willing to be introspective. On “JUDO”, Mineo wrestles with the struggle he still has with reconciling with his absent father, rapping “Look, my dad, my dad, I still ain’t call him back.” Wordsplayed mixes facetious jabs and commentary in “SAY LESS,” stating “They think they smart but they never play chess / I live a New York minute you need to say less / Trader Joes in the Hood it’s the Matrix.” The mixing of thoughtful lyricism and more fun lines is not jarring, but rather helps keeps listeners on their toes, urging them to pay attention to the lyrics rather than have it fade to the background of the beat.
Not everyone could have pulled off what Mineo and Wordsplayed did with Magic & Bird. To keep a constant half-smile when writing and rapping these songs would have been a challenge for anyone. It is an impressive feat of lyricism and teamwork, proving that when done right, collab projects can be a worthwhile testament and celebration of each artist’s strengths while challenging them to stress their individual musicality. All in all, Magic & Bird is the lyrical equivalent of DeAndre Jordan dunking over Brandon Knight: unexpected, confident and show-stopping.
Zachary Lee is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org