In 2006, Nas released his eighth studio album, Hip-Hop Is Dead, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart and went on to be nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album. The project featured a superstar producer lineup that included Kanye West, Dr. Dre, Salaam Remi and Scott Storch. But the name in the liner notes that turned the most heads, wedged between some of the biggest names in rap, was that of an NBA All-Star.
Chris Webber, who was playing for the Sixers when the album was released, produced and co-wrote the song “Blunt Ashes.” For the beat, C-Webb sampled Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).” On the writing side, Nas and Webber namedropped music legends Prince and Bobby Womack, as well as famous writers Langston Hughes and Alex Haley.
“We was in the studio in Kelis’ session,” Nas said of the making of “Blunt Ashes” during a 2006 interview with MTV News. “One of my mans told Chris to put on one of his [beat] CDs. We was in there freestylin’. I started freestylin’ to one joint about shit we just be talking about, and I was like, ‘This is my shit right here. This is my joint.’ But Chris is my homie though. One of my closest homies.”
“After being drafted in the NBA No. 1, that’s the best feeling I had since that day,” Webber told Sway Calloway of working with Nas in a 2007 interview.
The beat placement wasn’t just a product of being homies with Nas; Webber was, in that era, a real part of the hip-hop culture and someone who had paid his dues as a writer, rapper, producer and record label owner for over a decade.
Shortly after he was traded to the Wizards (then the Bullets) in November of ’94, Webber appeared on BET’s Rap City and revealed that he was starting a record label with DJ Kay Gee from Naughty By Nature. Before long, the super-talented power forward began to pop up on major label releases.
In 1995, Webber appeared on Naughty by Nature’s Poverty’s Paradise on the “Webber Skit,” where he alludes to his beat-making by saying that he’s “been in the lab, tryin’ to come out with something different.”
In 1997, the same year he was named an All-Star for the first time, Webber launched Humility Records. Webber spent the next two years working on his debut album, 2 Much Drama.
Released under the name C. Webb in March of 1999, Webber’s 21-track project featured appearances from Kurupt and Redman. His single, “Gangsta, Gangsta (How U Do It),” with Kurupt, peaked at No. 75 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
“I went to Chris’ house—this was when he was living in Maryland,” says Redman. “It was quiet. There were a couple homies there, but it was strictly work. He took it as serious as much as a player can. One thing I can say, his garbage was overwhelming. It was always full, spilling from so much shit.”
Webber shot a video for “Gangsta, Gangsta” that included cameos from Big Daddy Kane, Ghostface Killah, Redman and Erick Sermon. The video itself was a classic ’90s clip, full of dancers and oversized clothing, all set to a house party backdrop.
As Webber’s play on the court continued at an All-Star level, his career as a rapper was becoming more than a hobby.
Following the release of 2 Much Drama, Webber put his efforts behind Detroit-based rap group and Humility Records’ own Nocoast, a duo consisting of MCs Glock 9 and Low Life. Their 2000 release Coastales also featured guest spots from Redman and Kurupt and production from DJ Scratch of EPMD fame. It was the last known release under Humility.
In 2003, Webber popped up on Rebels of Rhythm’s Chunky album. Credited as “Chris Webber (Da Beatmaka),” the Sacramento King produced “Gettin’ Home.”
Webber’s public activity in music seemed to slow by 2004, but in an interview with DIME, he revealed that he was making beats under a pseudonym. . “I make beats under an alias,” he said. “It’s some well-known cats coming out using my stuff right now. But it’s under an alias and hopefully the music will speak for itself because it won’t have my name on it.”
In 2005, he popped up on local Sacramento rapper Big Slep Rock’s State Raised: The California Project Vol. 2 album, spitting a verse on “Earl Flynn,” a song that was named after a dance that originated in Webber’s hometown of Detroit.
In 2007, he once again teamed up with Nas for “Surviving the Times,” the first cut on the legendary rapper’s Greatest Hits album. The track didn’t come without some controversy. Following its release, underground rapper Wordsmith accused Webber of jacking the sample (“What Would I Do” from the 1978 musical adventure film The Wiz) from his 2006 song “As The Art Fades Away.” Wordsmith later retracted the statement.
Shortly after the release of Hip-Hop Is Dead, Webber sat with Sway for an extended interview on MTV. During the sit-down in his home studio, Webber talked about his love of music and explained how much he looked up to hip-hop stars as a teen.
“I grew up on hip-hop,” he said. “It’s so much different now. It’s cool to be a black man, it’s cool to impose your will. Back then, I had to have Public Enemy be who they were. It’s such a part of me and it fills me with pride to see Rakim ice grillin’ and not smilin’. I took that strength and took it to the basketball court. They gave me heart, like, OK, it’s cool to be you. I’m one of them because at the time they were the only ones I saw shinin’. Either them or guys in the neighborhood and at that time, I didn’t want to go that route—I wanted to be [one of the musicians].”
Based on his history, the rappers he collaborated with and his decision to make music under an alias, it’s clear that Webber—who declined to be interviewed for this story—wasn’t trying to be a part of the hip-hop culture as an artist strictly because he had the means to. C-Webb put in the work and showed utmost respect to the people he worked with.
“If I was a rapper who wanted to play ball, I would respect my legends,” says Redman. “I would learn to dot my I’s and cross my T’s, and that’s going to help my game better. He definitely had that kind of respect for us. One thing I can say about Chris Webb is he definitely didn’t use his money to get an album done, just to say, ‘I’m a rapper. I got money, I can get anyone on my album to prove that I’m a rapper.’ Nah, he really took this shit serious. He took the platform serious and he took the craft serious. When he came around legends and worked with myself or Nas, he wanted to know as much as possible and he wanted to be on his A game.”
Photo via Johnny Nunez/WireImage