Hater, player

Ron Artest’s latest hits are on his hip-hop album

Ron Artest on the <span style=Today show’s Matt Lauer: “You look like a girl, don’t talk to me.”">

Ron Artest on the Today show’s Matt Lauer: “You look like a girl, don’t talk to me.”

Ron Artest will sign copies of his new album on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Best Buy in Natomas, 3690 N. Freeway Boulevard.

Ron Artest is one of the top-10 players in the NBA and is one of the most contentious. He’s broken Michael Jordan’s ribs, has flipped off Miami Heat fans, and even has pantsed the Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce. In 2004, Artest was suspended for 86 games for his role in Pandemonium at the Palace, the infamous brawl at a game in Detroit. In 2005, he asked the Indiana Pacers trade him, which brought him to Sacramento and transformed the Kings into contenders. Artest is a fireball—and now he’s got a rap album.

My World arrives with baggage. For starters, the album drops on October 31, the same day the NBA season begins. “I called it My World because I got a lot of criticism for the album,” Artest told SN&R last week via telephone from Las Vegas. “I had a lot of people who claimed they know me, like [I] shouldn’t be rapping.”

Granted, CDs by athletes turned rappers fill the secondhand racks at music retailers, but there’s more at work here than a megastar fulfilling an MTV fantasy. “They can’t question my passion for making music,” Artest declared. “They can’t question it.”

Diddy, Juvenile and others make appearances on My World, but the inconsistency of tracks like “Hood Love,” a sophomoric ode to pubescent skirt-chasing, and “Fever,” a wicked-hot track reminiscent of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” reveal an obvious learning curve for Artest. “I was headed in the right direction, but I had no identity,” he said of his rap beginnings seven years ago.

His rap chops have since advanced from gaffe to gravitas. The doo-wop bridge on “Fever” suggests an understanding of melody and phrasing unexpected from a man notorious for slugging fans. He chants “Do your thing, girl” to a conga- and bongo-drum backbeat, and the seductive rhythms reveal not Artest the loose cannon, but Artest the mastodon of groove—a ravenous beast who will not only whip your ass into a gyrating frenzy, but also knock you on it.

The track “Haters,” which disses everyone from NBA Commissioner David Stern to the Today show’s Matt Lauer, lays it all out on the table—including a verse on the aforementioned brawl in which he argues he was a victim and a martyr, like Jesus Christ. “I think that if it was up to certain people, they probably wouldn’t want people like me in the league,” Artest said of his critics. “I understand that, though. … I’m not afraid of the criticism.” He raps about his keep-your-guard-up youth in the Queensbridge neighborhood of New York City, and how he used to smoke out before games and hit up the liquor stores at halftime. “Maybe I should just play ball and not be a rebel?” he ponders mid-verse.

My World also reveals a surprisingly insightful Artest. The track “No Good” comes out of left field: an anti-establishment rap that questions sports stars who endorse products for the benefit of greedy capitalists. In lesser hands, the track might have been a banal Tupac rip-off, but Artest conveys both the sincerity and chill vibe of songs like Shakur’s “Dear Mama.” For that matter, most songs on My World are tight, smooth and affecting—which is more than you can say for Shaquille O’Neal’s and Kobe Bryant’s musical endeavors.

“People really aren’t being creative that much anymore,” Artest said of the industry. “There are no albums out there that people really love like back in the days.”

And, apart from hip-hop, what does Artest really love? “I like Celine Dion a lot,” he confessed. “She’s one of my favorite musicians.”

When the NBA season starts, Artest will have less and less time to focus on his music career. “I know I can balance the two,” he said of ballin’ and rappin’, “’cause I stick to my game plan.” He wouldn’t reveal specifics, but it appears basketball is his first priority. Artest is the consummate team player on the court, but don’t ask him for any kickbacks. “I haven’t given them the album yet,” he said of his teammates. “I told them they’ve got to go buy it.”