This list is ranked in order of athletic proficiency, not skills on the mic.
1. Master P
Probably the most famous of all rapper/ballers, Master P was also the best. Most fans recall his attempts to catch on in the NBA (with the Charlotte Hornets and the Toronto Raptors, both in training camp), and some may remember his run in WCW as leader of the No Limit Soldiers, but less well known is that he actually got a scholarship from the University of Houston, just a few years after the Phi Slama Jama era. However, in what you'll soon notice as a recurring theme here, Master P left school only a few months into his first year.
Despite the evidence presented in the video above, Nelly actually used to be a really good baseball player. As a two-sport athlete, Nelly impressed on both the football field and on the diamond. Baseball was his best sport, though, and he was pursuing a professional career before his music took off. He played in the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association, won MVP of the league's all-star game, and was on the radar of a couple of MLB teams as a prospect. Eventually he saw that there was more interest in his music than his work at shortstop, though, so he quit baseball.
Believe it or not, the name Plies is probably an improvement on the one his momma gave him: Algernod Washington, or Nod as he went by in his playing days. He was a fairly decent wide receiver in college and played sparingly for three years at Miami of Ohio before transferring to the University of Southern Florida. (That's my best guess. Plies apparently lied a bunch about his past and probably isn't as dumb as he sounded in that Vibe interview. Lying will be another recurring theme here.)
While lacking the upside of some of the other rappers, his sustained college career that included actual playing time earns him the number three spot.
Stalley is one of those upside guys whose place here is a bit of a projection. Coming out of high school in Ohio (where he went up against a young LeBron James), Kyle Myricks earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan for basketball. Unlike many of the other rappers whose general knuckleheadedness cut short their college careers, Stalley retired due to injury. Early in his Michigan career he got hurt, leading him to transfer to Long Island University on another basketball scholarship. However, the injury bug would follow him there, preventing him from ever seeing any game time.
Even so, getting a scholarship from a big-time program like Michigan—and as a self-proclaimed "always and forever" Buckeye fan, no less—says a lot about his athletic acumen, as does getting another one even after the injuries. For those reasons, he's at number four.
Above is a picture of Olubowale Akintimehin, running back for Robert Morris University. According to an interview Wale did with Jalen Rose (his college career talk begins about 10 minutes in), he was forced to redshirt his freshman year after issues with his high school transcript. Going into his sophomore year, he fell out of favor with the coach and transferred to Virginia State.
If you know anything about Wale today, you won't be surprised to hear that his ego soon got him in trouble with his new coach. After an 80-yard touchdown run in practice one day, Wale started shouting "I told you! I told you!" at the coach, who apparently didn't believe in him. Their relationship soon soured, leading him to seek another early exit. When his preferred transfer was held up, he gave up on his football dreams and dropped out. He still got multiple shots to play in college, though, which is impressive.
6. 2 Chainz
2 Chainz aka Tity Boi aka Tauheed Epps has probably the best highlight tape of all the dudes on the list. We've posted this clip before, but it's too much fun not to watch a high school 2 Chainz ooze swag before swag was a thing.
The high school gyms of greater Atlanta were not the last venues 2 Chainz blessed with his basketball skills. He played a season at Alabama State before bailing on school and capitalizing on his swag full time.
7. Phonte Coleman
Phonte, one third of Little Brother and one half of The Foreign Exchange, began to pursue his rap dreams in earnest in college, at North Carolina Central University. However, he didn't have too much free time to hone his craft, being a lineman on NCCU's football team and all. Thus, he quit the team (didn't drop out though!) and started rapping more, eventually forming Little Brother with fellow students 9th Wonder and Big Pooh. See, Jay Harris, there is hope for you yet!
8. Rick Ross
I couldn't find a picture of the young offensive lineman version of William Roberts, so instead I used the earliest one I could find. At least he's in uniform.
But yes, the Bawse was once a college football player. Briefly. He was a scholarship offensive lineman at Albany State for all of a couple weeks before, like so many others, dropping out. Is it a coincidence that Stalley, so far the only guy who stayed in school, is probably the least popular of all these dudes?
Alright, now we're getting into more speculative territory. Game, like Rick Ross, is infamous for the tenuous connection facts have to his self-styled history. To hear him tell it, he was a baller in high school and got a scholarship to Washington State. His career was cut short, though, when he was kicked off the team first semester after being caught with drugs.
Allegedly. In a now-dead link on Wikipedia, Washington State denied ever enrolling a Jayceon Taylor. It didn't deny the offer, though, so who knows what really happened. At the very least, he was good enough to start for a Dominguez High team that fielded Tayshaun Prince and Tyson Chandler, and from videos of him hooping today he still has game. All of that plus his size has me believing he could have been a Division I-quality player.
Killa Cam's story, too, is part fable. The video you see above is the beginning of Killa Season, a hood classic semi-autobiographical account of Cam'ron's life. The basketball footage (skip two minutes in if you don't want to watch Dipset brandishing their armory) is real. It features a young Cam'ron alongside Ma$e playing in the Public Schools Athletic League Class A championship, where Cameron Giles's last second 3-pointer to win just rimmed out.
Now we get to the likely bullshit. Cam has claimed that he was ranked in the top 25 players nationally going into his senior season, and was looked at by Georgetown and the University of Miami. However, he never graduated and instead got his GED. After high school he went to Navarro Junior College to play with an eye on transferring, but didn't stick with it.
A lot of that is likely untrue, though. According to recruiting site HoopScoop (yeah, I do'nt know either, but it's better than nothing), there is no Cameron Giles found in their top 100 prospects. There's also random forum fodder calling into question his version of events.
So while large parts of his story are likely exaggerated, he probably was a really good high school player who was able to catch on at a junior college. If there's any degree of truth in the rest, he probably was a pretty good athlete.
11. J. Cole
Up there is J. Cole in the NBA's Celebrity All-Star game showing off some of his old skills. He joins the Stalley club of guys who actually wanted to go to college for academics, and to do so he attended St. John's. Cole was not ready to give up totally on his basketball career, though, so he went to walk-on tryouts his sophomore year.
According to him, he was one of about 10 guys from the original 70 or so hopefuls who was asked back for a second tryout. However, knowing some other walk-ons and how time-consuming that life was, he never went back. Instead, he focused on school and rapping, graduating magna cum laude and eventually becoming a famous if mediocre rapper.
12. 50 Cent
Yeah, those are Floyd's belts 50 is holding for him above (their relationship involved a lot of 50 holding stuff for Floyd) but he actually (maybe allegedly) was a decent boxer in his own right. He has said in interviews that as a young kid, he started boxing and was even a Junior Olympian when he was 14. But then, you know, the pull of the streets, fast money, getting shot, yadda yadda. With his size, though, it's not too farfetched to think Curtis could whip some ass.
13. Lil Romeo
Lil Romeo's basketball career is probably the second most notable of any rapper, taking a back seat only to Daddy Miller at the top of this list. However, where his dad made his own way as both a rapper and an athlete, Romeo has been a piggybacker for both.
Without his dad putting professionally-written rhymes in his son's 11 year old mouth, we likely never hear a verse from C-Murder's nephew. And without the immense talents and friendship of DeMar DeRozan, the teenaged Romeo would've never gotten even a glance from a program like USC.
14. R. Kelly
Normally I'd be annoyed by people classifying "The Kaing of R&B" as a rapper, but for purposes of talking about his basketball career, I'll allow it here.
As he explains in the interview above, The Arruh's first love was basketball. He decided to focus on music when he saw the reaction from the girls after a talent show performance, but the itch to ball always remained. He finally got to satisfy his basketball jones when he signed on to play in the USBL, a basketball minor league, in 1997.
15. Lil B
Lil B's most famous basketball-related exploits remain his beef with Kevin Durant (watch out Thunder fans, the curse is back on!) but he also likes to get busy on the court himself. As you can see from the video above, he was invited to try out for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State's D-League team. Check out this video for even more awesome skills and rare moves from the Based God.
16. Ice Cube
This is more of an honorable mention ranking, but how can you talk about rappers and sports without bringing up "Today Was A Good Day"? And anyways, I don't care if it's on the playground, anybody playing a game serious enough to not only count stats like assists but to amass a triple double has to be pretty damn good.
It's possible we overlooked someone, so if you have information on Big Daddy Kane's secret past as a Yankees farmhand or the like, let us know in comments.