Trap/Defense: The Basketball and Rap Lives of Marquis Daniels

Marquis Daniels is a veteran NBA role-player for a living, and a Gucci Mane collaborator as something more than a hobby.
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There is a reason why Marquis Daniels does not necessarily want to talk about his rap career, and it’s not because he can’t rap.

In the folkloric world of NBA hip-hop, where overstatement and mythos are everything—Elton Brand has six albums of perfect material he’ll never release; Stephen Jackson is secretly the best rapper alive—and the actual audible music is mostly a bummer, Daniels has a solid reputation and a mixtape track record that mostly backs it up. He is not the first or certainly the most famous basketball player to take a turn on the mic. Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and The Artist Formerly Known As Ron Artest all put out whole albums, which is not quite the same thing as saying that anyone should listen to those albums. Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker both have some truly harrowing singles to their credit. Marquis Daniels, in the studio as on the court, is a different story.

Daniels has moved around the NBA, mostly on mid-level contracts, for nearly a decade, making a very good living for a player who wasn’t drafted after a solid four-year stint at Auburn. He has a respectable career, an NBA Championship ring and a reputation for defense-minded, team-first play. That and a hip-hop persona, and body of work, under the name Q6. He doesn’t talk much, but Daniels is especially reluctant to talk about that last part.

"There's just a kitsch about it because number one you're in the NBA and you're automatically going to get stereotyped, ‘Oh here's another NBA player trying to rap,’” Daniels told me. “That's why I didn't even say Marquis Daniels. I used my rap name [Q6] because you hear it then see it's me and say, 'Okay, he can actually rap,' or 'He can't rap.' It won't be a stereotype that leads you to listen to it.”

***

It’s easy, given Daniels’ reputation as one of the NBA’s blue collar types, to ascribe his reluctance to talk about his musical career to some deeper modesty. While that’s part of it, Daniels is as familiar with the NBA’s kill-it-with-fire discography as the rest of us. He takes his music seriously, and that means being circumspect about leveraging his fame. “If you get a chance with them [rappers], they want to play basketball with us and we want to be in the studio with them," says Daniels. It’s not an equation that leads to serious work, and Daniels aims to be taken seriously.

It’s as much of a longshot for him as it is for any aspiring rapper. In practice, this pursuit means Daniels is quietly recording songs in the offseason and writing during long plane rides from city to city. He loves making music as much as he loves playing basketball, but goes about it in a covert way, which is exactly how he operates in his day job. “I approach the booth the same way I hit the court,” he told KrankItUpMag.com in a (sic)-heavy interview. “I gotta go hard every time it's always somebody judging and ready to be like he can’t rap, so I'm a demand respect the same way I came in the game!”

For all his evident passion, Daniels projects disinterest on the court: his facial expression rarely changes and he’s not an Eddie House-ian jitterbug on the sidelines. But his deliberate-seeming movements are just that. He handles his business as if it’s business. It’s a solid attribute to have, for a rapper or a NBA role player. But Daniels’ low-key persona and modesty makes the experience of meeting his hip-hop alter ego that much more startling.

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In the post-Jordan years, David Stern decided he was okay with hip-hop. Not really; no one was likely to catch Stern bumping Mystikal in his Bentley. But when the league met the challenge of appealing to young fans in the years after the Jordan Singularity, it meant embracing hip-hop. This meant tattoos and The Entire Allen Iverson Thing and alienating some skittish older fans, but the alternative was drifting into brand-managed artificiality and irrelevance.  

And so the NBA tentatively and a little grumpily rolled with it. But Stern and the rest of the front office weren’t quite ready for what accepting hip-hop would mean or entail, then or now.

“The lyrics that have been attributed to Allen Iverson’s soon-to-be-released rap CD are coarse, offensive and anti-social,” Stern said in a strongly worded statement in 2000, when he forced Iverson to put a completed album on the shelf. “However, I have come to understand, unfortunately, that certain rap artists regularly spew such lyrics to a wide audience at great profit to some of America’s most successful entertainment companies.” If there’s a Pitchfork-ian numerical equivalent for this assessment of the genre, it begins with a zero and may or may not involve numbers after the decimal point.

If Stern couldn't come to grips with what hip-hop sounded like in 2000, it’s unlikely that he’d enjoy “Lost Files: Q6 Edition.” Daniels fully holds his own with bigger name trap-music personages such as Lil Boosie and Gucci Mane on songs like “Pussy and Patron”. But more to the point: that song is called “Pussy and Patron,” and other songs are called “Certified Gangsta” and “Pussy Nigga” and so trappishly on. They’re about more or less what you’d expect, and Daniels consistently hits the genre’s marks, which means that he is boisterous and boastful and tough-talking and scrupulously overstated in all the usual ways.

It’s not that he sounds like a rapping basketball player so much as that he doesn’t; his voice rides from song to song as if he’s taking layups, barely breaking a sweat. The stuttering beats are professional-grade and contemporary, and Daniels sounds as at home over them as any of his better-known guests. If Stern, or any listener inclined towards taking offense, could find fault with any of this, this would be it. Daniels really might be the best rapper the NBA has seen, but hip-hop is exponentially different and darker than it was when Shaq goofed it up with the Fu-Schnickens. Daniels is as quick to talk ugly and make with the gun talk and semi-sketchy symbology as those non-NBA peers. This is the idea.

It’s why Daniels gets respect as a rapper, and why Gucci Mane and the like would deign to appear on a mixtape with him. If Q6’s music is not exactly original, it’s worth noting that being original isn’t the point: the idea for Daniels is to sound more or less like those peers, and get in where he fits in within the genre’s guidelines. Here, as on the court, he’s filling his role: playing to type, working hard, doing what’s required and sticking to the script. There are and always will be rappers who break with convention and bend rules and make challenging, heedless, new-sounding music, but that’s not what Daniels is trying to do. He’s a team player.

***

Daniels grew up in Orlando, which is not the same as growing up in Disneyworld. U.S. News named Orlando the third Most Dangerous City in America, behind only Atlanta and St. Louis, and that city—not one with Disney characters walking around—is the one Daniels knows.

"[Orlando is] actually a lot worse than what people think it is," says Daniels. "The crime rate is pretty bad there. It's a tourist area and it makes the crime rate even worse because people see that as an opportunity to walk up to people and steal, which is bad. It’s gotten a lot better, but it's not just Mickey Mouse."

Daniels grew up as a basketball player in the shadow of Amway Arena, the original home of the Orlando Magic. Daniels and his friends spent their days playing at the Callahan Neighborhood Center, in the same neighborhood as Amway, and he had plenty of occasion to see such Magic stars as Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott and Shaq, with whom Daniels would later be a teammate, around the neighborhood.

“I still remember telling Shaq one day, the first time I saw him, he was like, ‘Whatcha looking at son?' and I was like, 'Looking at you,' and ran out of the gym,” recalls Daniels. “He was trying to chase me. I saw him again, he said, 'Hey little man, who are you?' and I was like, 'You going to know who I am one day. I'm going to be in the NBA.' He joked with me last time I was playing him. He was like 'That was your little bad boy wasn't it?'”

With the encouragement of his brothers, Daniels focused on basketball in high school, eventually earning a spot at the North Carolina prep hoops powerhouse Mount Zion Christian Academy, the same prep school where fellow NBA players Tracy McGrady, Brandon Rush, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Jarrett Jack went, and eventually a scholarship (and diploma) from Auburn. Then, as now, he kept at rapping, while mostly keeping it to himself. "I was rapping in high school,” Daniels says. “Just going in the cafeteria freestyling, going outside in the neighborhood rapping with my friends and stuff.”

The grandson of a pastor, Daniels grew up in the church—like many athletes, he has a bible verse tattooed on his body; unlike many, he works hard at his bible study—and remains devout. He recalls reading bible verses to his grandparents once they were unable to read the words themselves, and insists that his faith is as big a part of his identity as either his music or his on-court life.

This isn’t to say that Daniels’ mixtapes are full of bible stories—whatever the opposite of a bible story is, it’s on “Lost Files”—or that he considers himself a finished product in any of his pursuits. What defines Daniels, though, in all those areas, is that pursuit. However languid he can look on the court or sound on the mic, Daniels retains the tenacity that got him into the league in the first place.

“I'm definitely not perfect, far from that,” he says. “I'm working on some of the main things I need to work on to be a better person. It's a slow walk, it's a slow grind, but it's something I'm doing and focusing on everyday.” In his music, as on the court, the work is the thing. The games in which Daniels makes his living and finds his inspiration are strange. He’s doing everything he can to win at both.


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