SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Damian Lillard is plopped in a chair next to the engineer board in the recording studio. His new tracks are being played in the room and he's zoned in, listening for segments that could use enhancements.
Away from the basketball court, he's Dame D.O.L.L.A ("Different On Levels the Lord Allows"). And he told ESPN he's working on the follow-up to his highly successful debut album, "The Letter O."
While no release date has been determined and he's not ready to reveal specifics about the content on his second album, Lillard has been in the studio for seven straight days working on the project, which has support from some of hip-hop's most prominent figures, including Lil Wayne and super producer Scott Storch.
"Yeah, it's just been a lot of traffic [in the studio]," Lillard says. "People heard the first album and they respected it. I'm pretty sure they can feel the vibe of this next one and it's going to be better than the first one. So, we're going to get into it. I've been on the phone with other artists to make it big."
Each morning in Santa Monica, Lillard works out for over two hours and then heads to the studio from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. Brookfield Duece and Danny From Sobrante, two artists off of Lillard's record label "Front Page Music," also camp out in the studio, steadily offering suggestions while Lillard softly recites lyrics from the notes section on his phone. Occasionally, he yells, "Run that back."
He's a perfectionist.
This goes on for countless hours. An engineer feverishly moves nobs up and down. Lillard's head is shifting from side to side. He pauses, depending on the sound that generates from an adjustment. If a beat does catch Lillard's ear, he immediately begins writing on his phone and then proceeds to the booth while lyrical content and thoughts are fresh in his mind.
Finally, after a couple of takes, a track is laid.
Everyone in the studio raves about how tight the song is and envisions the impact it might have on the album.
"This boy got bars," says hip-hop legend and Bay Area icon Too Short, who showed up to help assist in the narrowing down of beat options.
But Lillard often takes a more cautious approach. "You just never know," Lillard says. "It could be a top-10 song for the album today, but not tomorrow."
That's what he's learned. They're going through hundreds of beats a day; tomorrow could churn out five top-10 songs. Lillard says from his experience, when putting talented artists and creative producers in a room with music, magic tends to occur. He says there were a few songs he had in mind to record prior to sessions, but, for the most part, songs are birthed in the studio.
"That's the best music, when it comes organically," he says.
"I try to see what direction I'm going with, what message I'm trying to get off and what's the narrative I'm trying to tell. Then after that, I listen to a lot of beats and try to have them fit the story I'm trying to tell. Once I choose all the beats, then that's when I start writing. I try to find as many things I'm sure of and passionate about. That's when I enter the booth and merge it all together."
Many of today's hip-hop tracks consist of only catchy hooks or foot-stomping beats, knowing clubs and radio stations will typically make way for those songs in regular rotations. But Lillard seeks for his music to go beyond that and into the realms of social consciousness. He expounds on his rough east Oakland upbringing, touches on his journey from rags to riches, rebukes hate and encourages the embracing of originality and cultures. There will be some songs where he's just having fun, but overall, he tries to stimulate the consumer's mind.
"I love to do music," Lillard says. "I want to have hit records, but I'm not searching to say, 'All right, I need this to be in the club, I need this, that.' I'm just making quality music. There's things I want to tell, there's things that I want to share and I want to have it in my music. The people that say he needs a club banger, he need this or he needs that, then my music isn't going to be for them."
What makes Lillard's music even more unique is the absence of using profanity while maintaining an edge to his lyrics.
"I mean, it's hard," he says. "It was harder when I first started because when I was writing rhymes before, I wasn't putting it out so I could say whatever I wanted. But when I started putting it out, it was like you can't curse, you can't say nothing like that and I didn't plan on doing it because I didn't want to have that type of impact on kids. A lot of kids are following me.
"I mean, not cursing makes you think harder. I read, I watch a lot of movies, I'm constantly living so I constantly having more to say. So, at this point I think it's harder to do but I think I've just grown to know that that's what it is so I don't even think about cursing anymore."
Nate Jones of Goodwin Sports Management, who also helps run Lillard's record label, marvels at Lillard's passion for music, recalling Lillard's first NBA game in 2012. He registered 23 points and 11 assists, joining Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only players in history to produce at least 20 points and 10 assists in their NBA debuts. But after the game, the rookie was boasting about his lyrical prowess instead of his first professional game.
When his sophomore album drops, Lillard hopes fans will get a deeper feel for how passionate he truly is about his craft off the court.
"It's therapy for sure," Lillard says. "It allows me to put my thoughts on paper and not hold so much inside, whereas I might think about something and put it in a record. So if something is said about me, it will run in my mind and I might address it in a rhyme. Not that I'm taking a shot, but I'm just addressing what I was thinking at the time and it just came out. It allows me to take that angle and to just express myself and to share my feelings and my thoughts. When you listen to my music, you're going to know that you're getting the real me, my real thoughts and feelings. ...
"I want people to be like, 'Oh, he's fresh out with his music for it to be this good.' It's just that. ... I'm done putting a limit on it and worrying about what people say because I know what I've invested in. When I get up, I invest the majority of my time into basketball so, it's nothing wrong with me having the ability to make great music as well. So, I want people to talk about it. During the season, I'm not going to be rapping. I'm going to be hooping and I'm going to be performing as I always do."