Marvin Bagley III Strives for NBA’s Rap Crown
If he isn’t making defenses sweat with agile spin moves and soaring feats of athleticism, odds are that Marvin Barley III is in a recording studio, bobbing his head with a pair of headphones around his ears as he steps up to a microphone to lay down a verse.
As he carefully picks out beats and scribbles down lyrics for his debut album, the Kings rookie – who raps under the moniker “MB3FIVE” – is working on earning respect and admiration in the hip-hop community for his lyrical prowess – while silencing any of his skeptics.
“I’m confident in my abilities,” he said earlier this season. “It’s something that I’ve been in love with ever since I could remember, so when you put the time and the effort in, the confidence is there.”
Just like he isn’t afraid to confront imposing big men in the paint, Bagley isn’t backing away from challenges in the booth. On his recently-released mixtape, “The Calm Before the Storm,” the Arizona native rhymes over the instrumental to OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson,” remixes J. Cole’s hit single “Middle Child” and pays tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle.
“I’m your rapper’s favorite rapper, this their song now,” he boasts on “HOV Freestyle.”
(No. 35 is so confident, in fact, that at the onset of “No Hook,” he name-drops a former Laker who’s persona non grata in Sacramento – “I’m coming up clutch, Robert Horry” – but we’ll give the rookie a pass this time.)
Bagley is the latest name on a growing list of pro athletes who’ve crossed over into the music industry, joining the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Metta World Peace, as well as contemporaries including former Kings teammate Iman Shumpert and Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.
But the 20-year-old is no novice to the genre, penning his own lyrics since he first heard Nas and Jay-Z on his father’s car radio at age six and learning as much as he could from multiple listens to rap classics. At Duke, he studied the craft in a History of Hip-Hop class taught by Grammy-winning producer 9th Wonder and performed inside the professor’s private studio.
9th, who’s worked with icons Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Ludacris, among many others, came away impressed with how much promise the ACC Player of the Year showed as a rapper.
“I think he's a natural at doing this,” the producer told ESPN.com. “I've seen some people get in there and just forget everything, lay an egg take after take … He might have two careers.”
Since then, Bagley has shared several songs on his Soundcloud account, and released his first mixtape, “Don’t Blink,” on the day the Kings selected him with the No. 2 pick in the Draft. One of the four tracks, “Breathe,” which borrows the beat from a 2004 Fabolous song of the same name, created instant online buzz for a new fanbase that was introduced to his witty wordplay and smooth delivery.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I was just waiting for the right time to release it,” Bagley said. “The responses were pretty good to it.”
On his second compilation, the influences of his role models, including 2Pac, Jay-Z and Drake, are unmistakable in his flow and eclectic style, while the guidance of Grammy-nominated rapper J. Cole, who’s exchanged texts with Bagley after the two met last year, has helped the rising star build his brand.
“All of those guys have a great story to tell,” Bagley said. “The ability for them to attract fans and capture their tension and just create pictures with the words that they’re using is something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Rapping over timeless beats from the late 1990s and early aughts throughout the 30-minute runtime, Bagley pays homage to hip-hop pioneers, adding his own spin to Jay-Z’s “You, Me Him and Her” and beginning “With the Gang” with a nod to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotized.”
“Sicker than your average, I don’t twist cabbage off instinct, haters don’t think straight,” he spits.
On “You Know,” Bagley even croons on an Auto-Tune-assisted track that incorporations Keith Sweat’s 1996 hit, “Twisted.”
The constant theme in his songs – whether he’s pouring over obstacles he’s overcome during his turbulent road to the NBA or delving into the deeper subjects such as losing a loved one – is that Bagley taps into his authentic experiences, without using profanity to relay his message to all audiences.
“I’m just trying to tell the story about my life up to this point,” he said. “What I’ve been going through to get to this point now, what I’ve seen so far and just different things that I’ve been going through. That’s pretty much what I base my music off of. I’ve been around a lot of people and seen a lot of different things.”
Bagley intended to release a studio album after putting the finishing touches on five songs and clearing samples last fall, but the project has been delayed. In November, he teased the upcoming record by posting a video for his inspirational anthem “Look at Me Now” on YouTube, and ends “The Calm Before the Storm” by advising listeners to stay tuned for the full-length LP.
But while Bagley envisions collaborating with mainstream artists, and one day, touring during the offseason, he leaves no doubt that hooping is – and always will be – his primary passion.
“Obviously, basketball is first,” he said. “Music is something I do in my free time, to kind of get away from things. People have different hobbies. Some might draw, some might paint, do yoga or whatever, but whenever I just need to relax and get away and have a little fun, it’s music. That’s always been a part of my life … I just try to learn as much as I can and get better with my music, as well as basketball.”
If his bars are anywhere near as fine-tuned as his lefty hook shot, his album is going to vault to the top of the Billboard charts in no time.