He’s no Macklemore, but Portland Trailblazer’s star Damian Lillard is giving new life to the city’s rap scene.

Since that moment in February when Sway coined Damian Lillard “The Best Rapper In The NBA” and uploaded a video of him flawlessly flowing on his radio show, Dame’s bars have forever been associated with flame emojis. While national media converged on the event, folks here in PDX were used to Dame’s rap antics; #4BarFriday is unavoidable if you use Instagram in The Town, and we’ve long known that Damian – like many other pro-athletes – considered himself a rap guy.

Fast forward to July and the All-Star point guard is signing a ridiculously fat contract to keep him in Portland for another 6 years, and then… he drops a single. And then another, and another, and another. #MusicMonday – as he coined it – became a “thing” for the young NBA star, and a much bigger thing than his seemingly altruistic #4BarFriday. The fact is, Damian is a rapper, and a skilled one at that.

Far removed from the gloriously gaudy raps that accompanied athlete-rappers such as Allen Iverson, Shaq or Deion Sanders, Lillard’s bars are down to Earth, introspective and deal with the enviable problem of being a kid from the hood who always chose the hard path and now has to deal with success on his own terms. Growing up in Oakland, going to school in Utah, being told he couldn’t make it big, being snubbed for an All-Star spot… These are some of the chips on Damian’s broad shoulders that breathe life into his raps, and it doesn’t hurt one bit that he’s got a nasty flow to boot.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers

But Dame’s celebrity shines on more than just himself. An unexpected visit (as a spectator) to a rap show in May at Holocene drew a huge crowd to a show headlined by Glen Waco and The Resistance. While we assume he was there to support the guest set of his cousin Brookfield Deuce, the big splash came when he took an IG video of Mic Capes and proclaimed that he was “nice”. 16K views and 150 comments gave Mic’s career an unplanned adrenaline boost.

Even without the co-signs, Dame’s influence is heavy. While previous “cool” Blazers were only known to visit hot clubs, Dame is game to pop up at your rap show. The mere rumor that he had bought tickets to the EYRST label launch was enough to get the cool kids worked up (even though he never showed). His cousin, Deuce, is up here all the time, working with locals such as Glen Waco and Amine. His Adidas connection is also a factor (partnering a rap-friendly superstar athlete with a rap-friendly corporate juggernaut) as are his connections to the Bay Area underground music scene which have taken an interest in our city, regularly promoting local music and events.

Simply put, Damian Lillard is a walking flashlight for Portland rappers savvy enough to find themselves in his presence, and he’s not shy about showing up, frequenting public events like The Do Over and Live & Direct with regularity. His entourage and family are involved in the local scene, creating both buzz and opportunities out here.

Tonight might be a great example. Glen Waco is back at Holocene with Gifted Gab, Load B and Brookfield Deuce (in what almost looks like a #TheTHESIS All-Star show) and rumor has it that he will not only be in the building, but may also take the stage for the first time. He and Deuce have a new song together so it seems like a real possibility.

Whether you’re a huge fan of Dame’s music or not, the superstar exposure he provides clearly has the town on an uptick. We’ll see how real it gets after tonight…