Offset Jim statue

The NBA Draft assumed its current form, a weighted lottery, in 1990. That just means it’s unequal randomness. The higher draft picks are more likely given to teams that missed the playoffs and posted horrible records last season. It’s not meant to be chaotic, though the first few years of the system tested the limits of its own probability. In 1992, three years after the franchise played its first game, the Orlando Magic drew the first pick and drafted the seven-foot-one-inch center from Louisiana State University named Shaquille O’Neal. Still considered one of the most coveted draft picks to date, he added twenty wins to the dismal team’s record and broke two regulation-size goals in his rookie season. At 41-41, they had the best record of all teams that missed the playoffs and about a percent and a half chance of winning the 1993 first pick. Somehow, they drew it again. The Magic front office did a couple of switcheroos and, after officially drafting Chris Webber of Michigan, landed Memphis guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway for the following season. The next three years with Shaq and Penny were the best basketball in Orlando Magic history.

Rappers like to use sports metaphors and that Magic team was known far beyond the Sunshine State, even to a kid named James in “The Twomps” neighbourhood of East Oakland’s San Antonio district. The area stretches the 20s streets and in the last couple of decades, assumed the name “Murder Dubs” because of a rise in violent crime. There’s no draft or lottery for rap, but good music seems to cluster in regions and the Bay Area is one of them. It’s hard to overstate how vital the area’s rhythmic lawlessness has been in the art form’s history—unlike the Orlando Magic to the NBA—but the Bay has been revealing potential stars back-to-back like the ‘92-93 draft. James grew up to be a player in Oakland’s current rotation of hustlers who rap on occasion, except now we call him Offset Jim, and he released a short project at the beginning of February called No Pressure.

Offset Jim holding a microphone and smoking a backwood

The twenty-six-year-old rapper’s career was spurred by his childhood friend and fellow Oakland representative, AllBlack. At what was supposed to be a late 2016 listening session for his NOSHAME 2 tape, AllBlack told Jim he wanted him on a track. Jim had been rapping since a teenager, but he says his verse added to Black’s “Noshame” that day was when it got serious. Realizing they have a natural chemistry, the two expanded their friendship and collaboration to include rapping. In April of last year, they released a song called “Penny & Shaq”, codifying their parallel to sports lore. When asked by Thizzler, Jim said that he’s the Penny counterpart and AllBlack jumps on the screen to ask back, “Y’all can’t tell I be dunkin’?”

While AllBlack is known for alert, bullish flows that jut out against the production, Offset Jim glides into the pocket boasting and insulting so casually you don’t even notice he’s actually talking about you. He often sounds disinterested over the No Pressure’s 23 minutes, like he doesn’t have time to tell you to eat at Weenie Hut Jr. or that you snitch like Randall from Recess or that the Runtz is better than the Trainwreck. It’s obligatory bullying—“bullying the bullies” he calls it—that’s only happening because his targets have stepped that far out of line. Producer David Teel, known as DTB, is versatile and gives Jim space on the project to throw his nonchalance over guitar samples (“Same Shit”) and swarming drums (“No Disrespect”). This makes No Pressure equally suited for freeway killing speeds or that playoff push in Madden ‘19. Whether Jim is refusing to “tap in” with your authority (“Tap In”) or riding with two glocks like Max Payne, his honesty and subdued pacing pull your attention and move his music to the foreground when played. He’ll get you to smile at his profit margins and then lean in when he mumbles, “God, forgive for my ways I’m just a victim.” At the end of the title track, Offset Jim synthesizes his rapping and confirms what we knew all along, “this shit easy.”

Offset Jim on stage with microphone and cup