ESPN Music: Basketball

Action Bronson talks 'Blue Chips' mixtape

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
Action BronsonJoseph Okpako/Redferns/Getty ImagesAction Bronson is a "die-hard" Knicks fan.
The year is 1994. The MLB Players Association begins its season-long strike; O.J. Simpson takes a long ride in his buddy’s white Ford Bronco; and "Blue Chips," the film about college basketball and its broken recruitment system starring Nick Nolte and Shaquille O’Neal, hits theaters and leaves an indelible mark on one 11-year-old boy in Queens, N.Y.

Twenty years later, that boy is known to rap fans as Action Bronson, who over the course of the last two years has put out two mixtapes -- "Blue Chips" and "Blue Chips 2" -- inspired by the film. While recording his new album in Santa Monica (slated for a late summer release), Bronson talked about the impact basketball has had on his music.

“I love 'Blue Chips,'" says Bronson. "It was one of my favorite movies growing up, and it’s just one of my favorite movies period. It definitely influenced the projects, for sure -- nothing direct, just the whole feel. Nile Rodgers did the score, the guy from "The Exorcist" directed it -- I knew that "Chips" was going to be ahead of its time.”

Bronson’s mixtapes, produced by Party Supplies, have the crunchy swagger of "Blue Chips"-era New York rap, replete with vinyl pops, guitar tremors and shimmering ride cymbals. For Bronson, other similarities come to mind.

“I just feel like it’s similar to the rap game. They give you the bag of money and you go out there and you do what you do. I don’t know if there’s any point-shaving going on, but I’m all about making a quick buck on gambling -- dice games, horse racing, cockroach racing, chicken fights. That could sum up my entire being.”

A self-described die-hard Knicks fan with the word “Knickerbocker” tattooed on the back of his leg, Bronson hasn’t been taking the team’s recent woes well. “They disappoint me a lot. I don’t think we’ll win anything with Melo on that team. The man has never dunked the ball hard in his life! He doesn’t have the killer instinct.”

But even a true die-hard must be thrilled on the recent hiring of Phil Jackson. “The Knicks have made a lot of moves lately that are too little, too late," he says. "Why did we get Baron Davis at the end of his career? B-Diddy is one of my favorite players of all time. If we’d had him at a younger age, what could’ve been? It’s upsetting.”

Despite the emotional ringer the organization has put Bronson through, he still goes to games whenever he can. “Last time I went to a Knicks game was when Kevin Love hit me up and got me his tickets. So I sat right behind Spike Lee.” Love is apparently a fan of Bronson's music and, in the words of Bronson, “a great dude.” As any great fan would, Bronson has attempted to recruit Love to the Knicks in 2015. “You already know I did! I pretty much begged.” The result? “I can’t disclose that.”

You can catch Bronson at the home of one of his other favorite teams, the N.Y. Jets, when he hits MetLife Stadium for Hot 97’s Summer Jam on June 1.

Manchester Orchestra's Hull talks NBA

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
Manchester Orchestra  Andrew Thomas LeeManchester Orchestra's long-awaited fourth studio album "Cope" is in stores now.
Manchester Orchestra singer and songwriter Andy Hull is a huge NBA fan and fantasy basketball is a big part of how he keeps up with the sport on the road. “It’s a very tight, close league,” he says of the league he’s won three years in a row. “Everybody's picking up and dropping every day. It’s really fun and totally mocked by wives and girlfriends.”

But there won't be a championship four-peat for Hull this season. He finished the semifinal round in a tie with lead guitarist Robert McDowell, and McDowell advanced to the finals on a tiebreaker.

"LaMarcus Aldridge was out for seven games -- he missed three or four games during the week, which killed me," Hull explained. "And (Robert) had Kevin Durant. So that's gonna happen."

Hull recently talked about his love of the NBA and the band's do-it-yourself effort that went into their new album "Cope" –- a two-year process in which the band remodeled and soundproofed a suburban Atlanta house as its recording studio, then cut the album themselves.

“I'm definitely proud of this whole album more than anything else we've done,” he said.

How would you sum up the mood of this record from a musical and lyrical standpoint?
The mood is vital, it’s really immediate. It's intentionally immediate. And hopefully impactful. We really went broad on our last record ("Simple Math," released in 2011 ) and tried a bunch of different sonic landscapes. As we did that as a live band over the years we started to become way more aggressive yet still catchy. So we thought let’s create this super-raw, loud monster and have really nice-sounding catchy vocals over the top of it -- not like screaming my head off -- sort of the yin and yang of that.

Did you feel more pressure and expectations this time around?
I think for every record you can assign a part of your career to it. The first one can't suck, because it’s how you're being introduced. Then there's the fear of the second record -- this is what makes or breaks you. And then, when you get to the third record, you've got your fan base and you can test the waters a bit. The expectations I keep on us and band has on ourselves -- there's always a lot of pressure, self-induced, to perform at a higher level and do something that hasn't been repeated. It would be awesome to be the band that doesn't release a bad record.

How do you think pressure and expectations change the way musicians or athletes approach their professions?
It's gotta be tough to be on a losing team. I think that's the biggest difference. I get to go out every night and play and have a blast and at the end no one's booing. It's all "you're great, that was great." You can go and work so hard for three hours as a football player or basketball player, pour your heart out and lose.

When did your NBA fandom start?
It started really young, six or seven years old, and I've always been fascinated with stats and the emotion of the game. My absolute favorite thing to do is talk about it and watch it.

[+] EnlargeManchester Orchestra
Favorite Gentlemen, Loma VistaClick here to get your copy of "Cope" on CD or vinyl.
Did you have a favorite player or team growing up?
That's the weird thing about me and game of basketball. I don't have a favorite team and I don't have a favorite player. I just love it as a whole. It’s like a great movie to watch. I moved to Toronto when I was a kid and it was the year the Raptors started. I was in sixth, seventh, eighth grade when Vince Carter was there and that was exciting. Vince was my favorite player at that point.

Were you disappointed the way that ended in Toronto?
Yeah, it was so sad. There was that incredible series between the Sixers and the Raptors. It was the best basketball I can ever remember watching and then it just fizzled out. The next year they played Detroit in the first round and got beat and they've never been able to recover.

You never became an Atlanta Hawks fan, then?
No, not really. They're always just hurting you. When they were doing all right I was kind of into basketball, but they were always getting beaten by the Bulls in the second round every year. Then there were some really weird years. Like when they had Glenn Robinson and Jason Terry. And Josh Smith was such a frustrating individual to watch.

Do you have a problem with NBA teams tanking?
I guess I'm very flip-flopped on it. If it's a team I think would be awesome to have a great young player, that would be cool. It’s definitely a weird thing to do, but I guess I understand it. It's gotta be tough for some of the guys on the team who want to win.

Who's your MVP this season? LeBron James, Kevin Durant or someone else?
I guess Kevin Durant because he’s playing absolutely out of his mind at this point. Some would say Joakim Noah from the Bulls but I don’t really agree. You could say LaMarcus Aldridge but he’s been kind of injury-prone. I’d give it to KD, he’s averaging 32 points per game and keeping that team afloat. But I don’t think they’re going to go anywhere.

Do you think there's a parallel between the creativity of an NBA scorer like Kevin Durant and the creative process that goes into an album or performing live?
I think there's certainly something to fashioning your gift and working on your talent. And if you spend time on it you'll see that improvement in areas. I definitely see a parallel there. The cool thing about music is you can just go so far out of the box. If you want to enter a totally different world it’s as easy as writing it down. And there’s fundamentals, but I guess it's about improvising on those fundamentals which is what those guys are doing, too.

You've had a pretty big beard for a while. What kind of beard best suits an NBA player?
I love the huge beard. I love the James Harden thing. Even when I'd create players in “NBA 2K” I'd make have them have a beard. And that was before I could grow a beard!

Do you think beards work better in the NBA than in other sports?
I'm going to sound like such a freak. I think they work great everywhere. Plus, if people have a beard it means they don’t have to be at a job where they can’t have a beard. I'm always interested in what they do.

The Chicago Blackhawks have used your music. How did that work and what was it like to see that in person?
The Blackhawks used one of our songs for an entire season. After their second period montage thing they used "Shake It Out." We got to go to a game and they gave us jerseys with our names on them. It was awesome.

What was it like to hear your song used that way?
It was incredible. I just stood up with both hands raised in the air like I just won. We were so stoked. And the fans there -- I had never seen anything like it. And I grew up in Toronto. Those fans in Chicago are insane.

You're heading to the UK and one of your tour dates is in Manchester, England. Was it at all weird the first time you went to play there as an Atlanta-based band named Manchester Orchestra?
It was weird for us. We were worried people would show up and expect something different. But it was actually awesome. People knew who we were and were stoked we were there. Every time we go back it's so cool, sort of like a hometown show.
ESPN The Magazine's senior writer Sam Alipour talks with Justin Timberlake, who stars in the new movie "Runner Runner" (in theaters today), about his poker game and ownership stake in the Memphis

Caveman with a van: Heartbreak

May, 24, 2013
Tyson Chandler, Carmelo AnthonyIssac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesStill mourning the end of the Knicks' playoff run? Read on for some help coping.
Editor’s note: Drummer Stefan Marolachakis is traveling the country in a black van with tinted windows, touring for his band Caveman’s eponymous second album. Every week, Marolachakis will hunt the nation to gather musicians and athletes to discuss the link between the two clans. This week, our caveman reflects on his grief for his beloved Knicks and offers some tracks for respite.

Sometimes it feels like being a Knicks fan is simply the most painful thing a sports fan could be asked to endure, unless you live on the wrong side of Chicago or anywhere in Cleveland.

This Knicks season was, at many points, glorious to behold: they beat the Heat three out of four times; the defense was mugging; Carmelo was an offensive genius, and J.R. Smith was his wild-eyed wing man in the clutch. But the run is over, and I’m left to sit in shock, parsing out what exactly happened.

Sadly appropriate, when the Knicks ultimately fell to the Pacers in the second round, I was in a hotel room in Mississippi, mere miles away from the Delta, the cradle of the blues. And since all know that when the going gets tough, the tough turn to their record collection, I have been using music to cure my NBA-PTSD and creating a soundtrack of new music (and one very old song) as I climb through the classic Five Stages of Grief.

1. Denial

During this stage I blamed the refs, almost exclusively. My dad pointed out to me after the Game 6 that in the final six minutes of play, there were a total of nine fouls called, eight of which were called on the Knicks. Eight! Yes, I realize that the Pacers were too big, they killed the Knicks under the boards, etc. But eight fouls to one? And 46 free throw attempts versus 18 for the Knicks on the game? For shame! It felt like the Knicks had no chance of moving forward in the playoffs with a crew of whistle-happy refs.

Soundtrack: Tame Impala, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”

(Read full post)

Joakim Noah - A Rasta at heart

April, 21, 2013
To say Joakim Noah is multi-cultural is a bit of an understatement. The Bulls center's diverse background has been well documented: his French-African father earned his fame as a tennis star, his mother once reigned as Miss Sweden and his father's father was a soccer player in Cameroon. Arts and sports have long held equal sway in the Noah family.

But it’s reggae, and the roots of the Rastafari movement, that have inspired Noah to broaden his horizons. He was first exposed to the music of Bob Marley as a child. In fact, his parents, Yannick and Cecilia, shared a love of the Jamaican artist. “My house always had Bob Marley music playing in the background," Noah says.

As he grew older, Noah began to appreciate the lyrics of Marley’s songs as much as the melodies, and was motivated to research their meaning. In doing so, he stumbled across the origins of the reggae movement and Rastafarian culture. “A lot of people think of reggae as laid-back and chill, but the words in reggae are very powerful," he says.

Despite his fascination with the Rastafari movement, the soft-spoken, 6’11’ Noah – who holds American, Swedish and French citizenship -- doesn’t consider himself a follower of any one religion. “I’m not a religious person, but I’m a spiritual person," say Noah, whose family members practiced both Islam and Christianity. "I believe in God, but I don’t believe in one specific god. I like to take pieces from everywhere and incorporate them into my life."

“I’m not a Rastafari, but a lot of their philosophy and beliefs make sense to me: being in tune with nature, knowing about your roots, knowing about your heritage, not getting caught up in materialism.” He adds, “I think Rasta teaches you humility.”

It also helps him connect with his roots. Noah’s favorite Marley song is "Africa Unite" and, even though he's never been to Ethiopia or Marley's homeland of Jamaica, he wears an Ethiopian cross adorned with Tibetan beads around his neck to represent Rasta.

"I feel like your jewelry is a big part of you,” Noah says. “I don’t wear diamonds or anything like that, but I wear this every day. This is my peace. When I die, I want to have it on.”

Noah, who is averaging a double-double that includes career highs in points (12.0) and rebounds (11.5) per game this season, also finds peace before games by listening to reggae. "It gives me strength when I play,” says Noah, who also jams to Barrington Levy, Capleton and Sizzla -- and his dad. Now a pop singer in France, Yannick Noah released a Marley tribute album, “Hommage,” last year.

For now, his son is sticking with his day job. Noah says there's no chance of him following in the footsteps of his athlete-turned-singer father. “I can’t sing like that,” he says. “Only in the shower.”

Sam Llanas talks March Madness, new play

April, 5, 2013
Sam LlanasPhoto courtesy of Jessica PerreaultSam Llanas, formerly of the BoDeans, is currently working on his second solo album as well as a play.
Sam Llanas, formerly of the BoDeans, has returned to the music scene as a solo artist venturing into new territories.

Since departing from the BoDeans, Llanas released an album at the very end of 2011 titled "4 A.M. (The Way Home)." More recently, he has penned a slate of new songs, heading back to the recording studio to put together his next, currently untitled record.

"4 A.M." is a collection of acoustic guitar-based songs which Llanas said "deals with a lot of themes of the night."

"I started writing the songs for '4 A.M.' before leaving the BoDeans, and I think the songs on the new record are even more accessible. And, for me, the next one feels like it is my real first solo record."

For Llanas, currently there's a certain buzz that may also be stoking creative fires.

"I love March Madness and, to me, it's one of the greatest things ever in sports," Llanas said.

Llanas, who is from of Waukesha, Wis., said that despite his proximity to both NCAA tournament participants Marquette and the University of Wisconsin, he's not a fan of any one team in particular.

"What I like is seeing a game that's anybody's game when it goes down to the wire," he said.

(Read full post)

The Mag 15 playlist: 2004

March, 27, 2013
This month, ESPN The Magazine celebrates its 15th anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, The Mag will look back and generate exclusive playlists curated by Bomani Jones. The "Around the Horn" panelist will pick and discuss the biggest hits of the past 15 years. Listen to the entire playlist below.

“Yeah!” by Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris
“No need to explain, when this one was everywhere.”

“Hey Ya!” by OutKast
“Since it was hip-hop, but not really, the all-purpose choice for many arenas until they ran this one into the ground.”

“Overnight Celebrity” by Twista featuring Kanye West
“Ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce LeBron James.”

“Numb” by Linkin Park
“And by the time Barry Bonds hit his 700th home run, that’s how just about everyone felt.”

“Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by Jet
“Ever played Madden ’04? Yeah, you know this one too well.”

“Change Clothes” by Jay-Z
“Shaq went to the Heat, A-Rod went to the Yankees, eventually giving each team a ring that might not have been worth the trouble.”

“No Problem” by Lil Scrappy
“Nov. 19, at the Palace of Auburn Hills, there were lots of problems no one wanted, Stephen Jackson chief among them.”

"Lean Back” by Terror Squad
“Roy Jones didn’t like when Fat Joe mentioned him on the remix ... but he really should have leaned back before Antonio Tarver hit him with a second-round knockout.”

“Burn” by Usher
“That’s right, Yankees fans! That ALCS meltdown still burns, doesn’t it?”

“Sorry 2004” by Ruben Studdard
“The sort of song the AP Male Athlete of the Year should have sung then -- and refused to sing even after he confessed.”

Rapper MGK is the new 'King' of Cleveland

March, 22, 2013
Kyrie Irving, Machine Gun Kelly David Dermer/Diamond Images/ Getty ImagesMachine Gun Kelly, left, and Kyrie Irving are part of Cleveland's post-LeBron movement.
July 8, 2010, wasn't very kind to Cleveland Cavaliers fans. Their local hero, LeBron James, not only announced that he would "take my talents to South Beach," but he said those words live on a heavy-hitting scale -- national television.

It was a huge punch in the gut that moved some fans to burn his jersey, which was captured on local TV, and even motivated Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to write an open letter calling out LeBron's disloyalty, among other faults he saw.

The city was reeling, but an underrated hero emerged: One of Cleveland's own, rapper Machine Gun Kelly (MGK), who's a basketball fanatic on and off the court.

The season following LeBron's departure, the Cavs' team DJ, Steph Floss, started playing more of MGK's music during games, which led the rapper to become a staple at the Quicken Loans Arena and a favorite at games, with fans holding up signs in his honor. They appreciated his rags-to-riches story, which mostly unfolded in Cleveland, the city he settled in at 14 years old after living in Egypt, Germany, Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver.

That story initially involved MGK, 22, growing up in a broken home with an absent father and addict mother, and ending up homeless in his teens and raising a daughter, Casie, at 17. Then, a few years later, his musical talents were discovered by rap mogul Diddy, who signed him to his record label, Bad Boy Records. In 2012, MGK churned out a top-five debut album on the Billboard charts, and this NBA season, his song "Invincible" is featured as part of the Cavaliers' pregame introduction video shown on the arena's Jumbotron.

Gilbert has witnessed firsthand how Cavs fans have embraced MGK, who, along with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, is putting the city back on the entertainment map. In fact, Gilbert has befriended MGK and he already has a bigger plan in store for his new buddy related to the ownership side of the team.

Speaking with ESPN Playbook recently, MGK talked about his Cleveland upbringing, connection to the Cavaliers, friendship with the owner, his musical and sports background, and much more.

How's the new year treating you?

I'm really just excited to tour the states with my album, because last year the only time we got to tour with the album was in Canada. And that was insane because it was all sold-out. But I'm just excited to go out and play in front of the states, and kind of give the album the shine that it didn't really get. It's really just like eye-opening because every city we're going to is selling out, which I think surprised a lot of people.

(Read full post)

What happens in Vegas ...

March, 19, 2013
No college band is saddled with a tougher task than UNLV’s. Because no band in the land faces competition quite like the Rebels do.

On a Saturday night in January, UNLV took on not only Mountain West Conference rival Air Force at Thomas and Mack Arena, but also -- within a two-mile radius in Vegas -- Daniel Tosh at The Mirage, Celine Dion at Caesar's, Jersey Boys at the Paris Hotel, Rock of Ages at the Venetian, David Copperfield at the MGM Grand, The Miss America Pageant at Planet Hollywood, and seven Cirque de Soleil performances, not to mention countless Elvis impersonators. So, to give me a firsthand look at how they keep college spirit alive in Sin City, the student-and-alumni band handed me a tambourine and dressed me up as Elvis. This is what I learned.

Start the show off right

First up is the 15-minute "standard opening" before tip-off, a crescendo of non-stop tunes interwoven with fireworks and flying cheerleaders. "We've been doing that since the mid-‘70s," says Dr. Bill Carpi, a charter member of UNLV’s pep band. "We had lights and fireworks before the NBA did. The opposing team used to be so intimidated that they'd hide in the tunnel when our team was introduced." The scare tactic might not work anymore, but the show still has a pump-up effect on the Rebels, who jump out to an 8-0 lead.

It helps to accompany a winner

No matter how catchy the music is, fans won't sit through mediocrity in the entertainment capital of the world. So it’s helpful that the Rebels, after three straight 24-plus win seasons, entered the 2012-13 season ranked No. 18 and finished the regular season with 24 wins yet again. "It's easy to cheer for a winner," bandleader Tony LaBounty says. "The ‘90s were particularly … challenging, shall we say? It'd be the band, maybe a few thousand fans, and some crickets." Not anymore. Listed attendance for this game: 14,723.

Lead by example

The raucous student section known as the Rebellion sits next to the band, waving Frank Sinatra and shirtless Prince Harry fatheads. But nobody in the arena roots harder than the band members themselves. From advising the refs to "get Lasik" to showering the team with "love drops" during free-throws to berating opponents with chants of "slow and stupid," their voices carry almost as far as their instruments. "When it gets loud in here, we’re almost like another team," says horn player Nick Wideman, now in his 7th year with the band. “We can have a huge impact."

Don't miss a beat

The band dictates the pulse of the crowd -- and that’s a big responsibility. Timeouts intended by opposing coaches to stymie momentum must be countered by menacing renditions of the theme from "Jaws” and horns leading chants of "U, N, L, V." Late in the game, after UNLV squanders the lead, LaBounty calls out for the Fight Song in hopes of turning the tide, and when the team brings the game into overtime, it’s time for "Viva Las Vegas."

Think on your feet

A set list is impossible to plan, given the occasional competing arena music, varying length of timeouts and sponsored breaks. To help the band adjust on the fly, Keith Larson, a trombone player and 12th-year member of the band, listens via headset to instructions from the producer. Even so, when the team is down two with 1:02 left and Zombie Nation comes over the PA, the band members are livid. "They just killed a timeout with that?!?" LaBounty screams.

Let the band play on … and on

Few have committed as much to the school as the players in the Rebels' pep band, especially considering 60% of the group is made up of alumni. Several members have been playing the "standard opening" since before star freshman forward Anthony Bennett was born. Many of them logged more than 25 hours a week marching for a two-win football team, were among the few cheering when the Rebels went 10-16 and, win or lose, always have the backs of the Lady Rebels. Tonight, their devotion pays off: The Rebels win 76-71.

For more from Morty's infiltration of the Rebels pep band, check out this gallery.
NightlandsCatharine Maloney Dave Hartley of Nightlands also shares an affinity for silver with Matt Bonner.
Dave Hartley, front man for Nightlands, has a couple of big projects going on right now.

First, Nightlands' new album, "Oak Island," was released Tuesday on Secretly Canadian. The album is a labor of love for Hartley, also the bass player in Philadelphia band The War on Drugs.

Hartley cites influences such as the Beach Boys, E.L.O. and Cormac McCarthy in his musical upbringing. But he has another passion: basketball.

Which leads to his other pet project: Lobbying for San Antonio Spurs sharpshooter Matt Bonner to get a spot in the 3-point contest on Feb. 16 during NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston.

Bonner is a huge indie rock fan, even interviewing Win Butler from Arcade Fire for the Spurs' website, and playing against Butler in a charity game in Toronto. To complete the circle, Hartley interviewed Bonner for Paste Magazine.

Hartley's campaign, using the #LetBonnerShoot hashtag, has drawn support from some of Bonner's favorite bands, such as the aforementioned Arcade Fire and Okkervil River, along with Eva Longoria and former Florida teammate Joakim Noah.

The #LetBonnerShoot campaign has its own Facebook page and Hartley encourages everyone to sign the online petition.

Playbook asked Hartley (who has grown a protest beard to support the cause) why Bonner deserves the honor. Hartley lays it out in his own words below:

(Read full post)

Macklemore on MJ, Pete Carroll & Seattle

December, 19, 2012
MacklemoreESPNTBDThe Seattle rapper recently shot the new intro for College Gameday, which features his track "Can't Hold Us."
There's a reason why college students relate so well to Macklemore. He's like the best, most popular rapper on campus who keeps things on their level: realistic and entertaining.

For example, on the 29-year-old's biggest hit, "Thrift Shop," he cleverly and hilariously talks about rolling up to a club wearing discount clothes.

Now what college student hasn't done that?

Starting in January, kids at universities across the nation will be able to enjoy Macklemore's music whenever they tune in to "College GameDay." Macklemore's track "Can't Hold Us" from his debut album, "The Heist," is the brand-new theme song for ESPN's college basketball show. The rapper recently filmed a special video for the show intro, which will premiere next month.

As it turns out, Macklemore has previously dedicated two full songs to sports themes.

In "Wings," he discusses his childhood affinity for Air Jordans, while also addressing themes of materialism and commercialism.

Then, in "My Oh My," the Seattle native pays tribute to legendary Mariners sportscaster Dave Niehaus, who died in 2010.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was so moved by it that he tweeted, "Really loving 'My oh my' by @macklemore! What a cool song for Seattelites!"

Since then, the two have become good friends.

Most recently, Macklemore and his longtime producer, Ryan Lewis, headlined their nationwide "Heist World Tour," which just wrapped up this week.

After they unwind for the holidays, they'll continue making their campus rounds, and then travel to perform in Australia and New Zealand for the first time.

Before they get even busier, Macklemore spoke with ESPN Playbook to reminisce about Michael Jordan and reflect on his current endeavors in sports and music.

(Read full post)

Is Iman Shumpert the best athlete-rapper?

December, 18, 2012

In 1993, a young Orlando Magic All-Star by the name of Shaquille O’Neal broke new ground when he dropped the first studio rap album by an active pro athlete. Driven by novelty, as well as Shaq’s star power and goofy personality, “Shaq Diesel” went Top 30 on the Billboard charts, eventually earning platinum certification.

Media Blitz logo
And it changed everything.

Before long, a slew of jock MCs, inspired by Shaq’s success, swapped the rock for a mic, among them: Deion Sanders, Chris Webber, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Troy Hudson and Tony Parker.

They, and darn near all of their one-and-done kind, stunk.

Even the most prolific of the sports world’s active MCs, Metta World Peace hasn’t quite cracked the code. According to one of Metta’s rhyme-spitting peers, the Lakers forward’s most recent offering, “Represented,” leaves plenty to be desired.

“Oh, he’s horrible. He is horrible,” says Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks.

“’Represented’ is brutal. Just brutal. I feel him on, ‘I’m not letting anybody tell me anything, I’m just going to do my music.’ More power to him. But it’s not my type of music.”

While it’s unusual for an athlete-rapper to dis another, Shumpert might’ve earned the right to talk some trash: On Dec. 21, the Knicks’ second-year guard, through his website, will drop his first mixtape, “Th3 #post90s."

And get this: Shump has skills.

Rapping under the pseudonym “2wo 1ne” -- a play off of his jersey number -- the 22-year-old Oak Park, Ill. native and Georgia Tech product began laying down tracks in the offseason while recovering from the torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee that have kept him sidelined all season.

What emerged from recording sessions in Atlanta, Chicago and New York are twenty-one tracks -- some good, some not so hot. But taken as a whole, “Th3 #post90s” might very well herald the arrival of the sports world’s first good rapper.

In a phone chat with Blitz, Shumpert talked about his music, his inspirations and why he’s different from the guys who came before him.

(Read full post)

Spoon's Daniel talks new band, NBA love

December, 12, 2012
Britt Daniel and The Divine FitsRick Kern/Getty ImagesBritt Daniel, a longtime Dallas Mavericks fan, is now on tour with his new outfit, The Divine Fits.
On Wednesday, The Divine Fits -- a super group composed of Britt Daniel (Spoon), Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs), Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) and keyboardist Alex Fischel -- resumes its touring schedule in Aspen, Colo., in support of their new album, “A Thing Called the Divine Fits."

The best part, singer Britt Daniel said of this new project, “is that we’ve become real good friends.” Daniel also had a lot to say about what is for him a totally new routine to making music.

“The major difference is that there’s another songwriter doing half the work and singing half the songs," he said. "That’s different for me because when I am putting together a Spoon record, that’s a lot of songs to fill out an album."

Daniel indicated that the new process of working with other accomplished musicians is not only refreshing but exhilarating, and the tunes show it. Their songs, such as “Would That Not Be Nice” and “Baby Get Worse” encompass a renewed cool vibe, still bearing familiarity to each artist’s earlier works. Brown’s strong, calm patter of drums sets a pace that lets the guitars and vocal talents of both Boeckner and Daniel cruise to newfangled heights. Meanwhile, the Divine Fits’ first take also features an eclectic mix, combining elements of the 1970s hard rock of T. Rex and David Bowie with hues of 1980s new wave music.

When it comes to conjuring up new songs that feel and sound good, the longtime Spoon frontman and songwriter talked about the control that most driven musicians possess.

(Read full post)

How good was 2 Chainz at basketball?

September, 12, 2012
2 ChainzIlya S. Savenok/Getty ImagesThe rapper formerly known as Tauheed Epps played Division I basketball at Alabama State.
Editor's note: Welcome to the second installment of "How Good Was He?" It's an occasional Playbook series in which we delve deep into the athletic pasts of celebrities.

2 Chainz has already lived multiple lives in the music industry, from his origins in the duo Playaz Circle to a stint with Ludacris' Disturbing tha Peace crew under the name "Tity Boi" to his current status as one of the hottest rappers in the game. His solo debut, "Based on a T.R.U. Story," topped the Billboard 200 when it was released last month.

But before all of that, 2 Chainz was Tauheed Epps, basketball player. As a 10th-grader, Epps was the star sixth man for North Clayton High in College Park, Ga., which ran the table for the Class AA state title after a 10-10 start in 1992-93. By his senior year, the 6-foot-5 Epps was a legitimate Division 1 recruit who got some attention from the University of Memphis, which was then looking for a silky, tall guard to replace Penny Hardaway.

(Read full post)


Well, geez, it took long enough.

For those who have been giddily anticipating the inevitable marriage of indie dance punk and street hoops, the wait is finally over.

In the video for their new song, “Let’s Go,” synth duo Matt and Kim have teamed up with venerated street baller Pat The Roc to showcase four minutes of hypnotic ball-handling, along with one of the most infectious melodies of 2012.

Matt Johnson, who represents an undetermined half of the Matt and Kim equation, explains that they first met up with Pat at a charity event called Band of Ballers, where celebrities and musicians are pitted against each other in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament.

“It ended up being all ringers, real ballplayers, essentially,” says Johnson. “Wiz Khalifa and Jim Jones had all these college players, but we also got some incredible players, and one of them was Pat.”

After writing “Let’s Go” for their new album, "Lightning," which comes out later this year, Johnson and his bandmate realized that Pat’s distinct style of ball-handling synced up perfectly with the song’s bouncing energy. So they gave him a call.

“It was crazy, we did four takes overall, but Pat nailed it every single take. The only reason we did it a few times was to mess with lighting and stuff,” says Johnson.

(Read full post)