The first time Denzel Valentine ever freestyled for anybody was in middle school.
He came home from class and sat with his older brother, Drew, who asked how his day went. The future Bulls shooting guard told his brother he had a few bars to get out.
Seconds later, he had a YouTube instrumental track pumping through their computer speakers and dropped a smooth flow for a kid in middle school.
“I was like OK, man,” Drew said. “I remember telling him he’s gotta put in the work if that was something he wanted to do on the side.”
Drew and Denzel grew up listening to Biggie, Tupac and Snoop Dogg and transitioned to Jay-Z, Nas and 50 Cent as they got older. Their dad, Carlton, had them listening to everything.
The second they jumped in his car, driving through Lansing, Michigan, the music was turned as loud as it could go. The only time it got lowered was when Carlton paused to ask them, “Do you know what that word means?”
Music was an outlet but also a tool, and Carlton never wasted a moment to inspire and educate his sons.
Those were bonding moments, but they were also moments that sparked a passion in Denzel beyond basketball.
“Music was a big part of our life growing up,” Denzel said. “In high school, we used to do beats and freestyle at the lunch table. Then in college, Eron Harris transferred in from West Virginia, and he was making music on his laptop. One day he said, ‘try it.’ ”
Valentine tried rapping on one of Harris’ beats and was hooked.
This summer, he has been in the gym and the studio. He doesn’t have a specific date in mind, but before the 2020-21 season, Valentine will drop his debut