Whenever a celebrity announces a venture into a new field, I instinctively roll my eyes. So when Lonzo Ball announced his debut mixtape, “Born 2 Ball” under the pseudonym “Zo” I was immediately skeptical. After listening to the 17 track, 53 minute offering from the Los Angeles Lakers point guard, I am both pleasantly surprised and thoroughly irritated. The mixtape is in no way a disaster, meaning it exceeds all my expectations. It also offers exactly nothing that could be called artistically or musically satisfying. The end result is an overly long, lyrically inane advertisement for Big Baller Brand.
Lonzo’s secret to success? Repetition.
They say that to be the best at something, you need to practice, practice, practice. Lonzo seems to have taken that to heart. This marathon album features the UCLA product rapping about Money, Hard Work, Basketball, Jewelry, Big Baller Brand, and…well that’s about it. From the very first track until the end, it’s easy to tune this album out as it is one long piece of repetitive Trap music. The beats are all similarly produced at around 140BPM, and feature Zo rapping a triplet rhythm over the top. After the 6th track on the album, “LAML” (which stands for Look at my Life) I knew I was in for a long listening experience. Here’s the chorus to that track (repeated twice):
Look at my life, you see I made it.
Look at my ice, you see me skatin’.
Big Baller Brand, rockin’ the latest.
Look at my life, you see I made it.
Each song features some variant on this theme. Zo announces he’s successful (which no one has ever questioned), he has bought fancy jewelry (unsurprising given the money he makes), and a shout-out to Big Baller Brand. If you were hoping to get an insight into the inner workings of Lonzo Ball, you’ll have to wait for the next mixtape. The very next song on the album, “Super Saiyan” features the chorus (again repeated twice):
Triple B’s I’m the man,
I’m leveled up, I’m Super Saiyan
You said I can’t, but I can
Triple B’s got the plan.
This is the lyrical rule, not the exception, for the entirety of the mixtape.
There is nothing of note across the entire album
You’d think a new artist with lots of money would fill out their album with features to diversify the content. Zo, however, has doubled down on himself and his friends. 2 of the tracks feature DC the Don, and 6 feature Kenneth Paige. That’s it. Not even the other Ball brothers or their outspoken father make an appearance. Perhaps Lonzo was worried that he would be outshined by other artists, but he ended up shooting himself in the foot. Bringing in other Trap artists to legitimize the album would have gone a long way towards making this a more bearable project. Neither KP (as he calls himself on multiple tracks), nor DC showcase any kind of talent to justify their predominance on the album.
There’s only so many times we can listen to Zo talk about how much money he’s making before we realize that’s all he is, his money. His press conferences have always been lacking in personality, but I always figured that was because he let LaVar do the talking for him. After listening to “Born 2 Ball” I’m realizing that Lonzo is just a bland individual. Which is 100% fine, but isn’t someone I want to hear putting out albums. I was hoping to get an insight into the man behind the persona. Instead we get an image of an utterly dull millionaire. Let me be clear, this is a perfectly fine thing to be but if you’re going to release a 17 track album about yourself, then you should strive to be something more than banal.
An extended advertisement for Big Baller Brand
By my count, some reference to Big Baller Brand happens 102 times across the album. Whether it’s calling it out by name, referencing “the brand” or even an entire song dedicated to his $495 shoe line, “Zo2”, Zo is making sure you know where to buy what he’s selling. Given how under spoken Lonzo Ball tends to be off the court, it makes the whole album feel like it was ghost-written by LaVar Ball. It’s ironic that it shares initials with the Better Business Bureau, given that the marketplace trust non-profit has given the Ball brand an F rating. Many pundits expected Lonzo Ball to try to distance himself from his father as his NBA career took off, but this album has proved an intertwining that shows no sign of slowing down. It’s not hard to imagine this could hurt his basketball career.
Even the album art features a Big Baller shout-out, with a horrifyingly badly photoshopped Crayon with “BBB” emblazoned on the side. It’s hard for me to understand who approved the image without a better job. It feels like a temporary layer that everyone forgot to finalize, or remove in the end.
A surprising amount of talent and production
Despite the many, many negatives of “Born 2 Ball”, Zo’s talent as a rapper thoroughly surprised me. He has a great sense of his flow (even if it’s the same one over and over again), and is understandable no matter the speed. His deep voice and diction show a remarkable ability to handle lyrics, even if the lyrics he wrote are utterly inane. It’s too bad that this album is so devoid of content worth putting out.
While most of the beats feel similar, they all have an impressive amount of polish to them. They are not your standard run of the mill Soundcloud beats he downloaded from a server. Someone took the time to layer in melodic lines, and used a surprising variety of instrumentation. The mixing on the bass is great, and no matter which track you listened to, it’s easy to listen to and is even catchy at times.
When all is said and done, Lonzo remains a basketball player
If you thought Lonzo might be officially branching into music, this album makes sure you know he’s an NBA player. He raps that he’s proud to be a Laker, about his work on the court, he even says, “pass me the ball, and I’ll shoot it” as a metaphor for his work ethic. It becomes wearisome to hear across the 17 tracks, as though we might forget what he’s known for. We know he’s a basketball player, we’re hoping he’ll prove himself a musician as well. Unfortunately he’s too wrapped up in the former to ever commit to the latter.
“Born 2 Ball” is, without question, better than many of the other “athlete turned musician” albums out there. It’s certainly better than Deion Sanders’ “Prime Time” or Chris Webber’s “2 Much Drama”. However once I publish this article, I will never listen to it again. It has no replayability, no originality, and nothing that makes it “good”.
If Lonzo’s goal was to be something other than a flaming disaster, than Zo’s “Born 2 Ball” is roaring success. If he had any other goal than this album is solidly bad.