Spectrum Center, Charlotte

Sounds from the 704: The 2019 NBA-All Star weekend Ultimate Playlist

By Andre Toran
Medill Reports

CHARLOTTE, N.C.– The NBA and hip-hop are two streets that have formed an intersection as the league has become more accepting of the hip-hop community.

The two have become intertwined, especially during All-Star Weekend, as rappers, performing artists and other celebrities flock to arguably the biggest sporting event of the year.

As J Cole and Meek Mill are slated to perform on Sunday night at halftime of the 2019 NBA All-Star game, here’s a look at some of the players’ selection of ‘go-to’ songs for their pre-game warmups and this weekend’s events.

6 Man like Lou Will

One word: Drake.

The Canadian rapper, singer and songwriter headlines this weekend’s playlist. As Spotify’s most streamed artist in 2018 – according to Spotify Newsroom — Drake can be found on the phones and playlists of many NBA stars and All-star weekend participants.

Or, you can find the four-time Grammy winner gracing the Toronto sidelines, as the Raptors’ global ambassador. Or, in the barber shop chopping it up with close friend LeBron James. Or, wherever the closest winning team is playing, as he will surely be dressed in that team’s attire.

Nevertheless, he’s around and heavily involved in the NBA.

In 2018, Drake racked up 8.2 billion streams, making him Spotify’s most-streamed artist ever. His album “Scorpion” was the year’s most streamed album, with “God’s Plan” leading the way with one billion streams.

When asked what some of their ‘go to’ songs are as they enter the arena or warmup on the floor, players such as Marvin Bagley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander responded with one word. Not a song title. Not an album name. Just one word, one name: Drake.

“I listen to a lot of Drake,” Bagley put it simply.

And even though, Gilgeous-Alexander prefers not to bump music prior to tipoff, if he were to turn someone on it would be OVO’s finest. That says something.

“Anything Drake rocks with me,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.

Enough said. Here’s a Drake essentials playlist to get your vibe started.

Bring em’ out: No question ‘go to’ tracks of the weekend

In the NBA, consistency usually prompts longevity. Often, players follow certain routines on and off the court that they feel help their game to grow. This applies no differently to the music that they listen to on the regular, whether they’re walking into the arena, during shootaround, or in the locker room before they run out the tunnel.

“For me I listen to the same stuff,” Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young said. “I’m very OCD. I like listening to the same things. For me, ‘What more can I say’ by Jay-Z is my favorite. It’s the last song I listen to before I go out on the court.”

Who better to listen to than HOV?

The rapper has transcended the rap game and become a business mogul and social influencer in so many ways and grizzled (no pun intended) 11-year vet Mike Conley of Memphis won’t stray too far from the influence of Jay.

Conley prefers to stick to Kanye West’s 2004 album “College Dropout” with “Never Let Me Down” –featuring Jay-Z — being his primary song of choice.

For fellow Young’s teammate with the Hawks, John Collins’ no-question go-to track holds sentimental value, and dates back to his AAU days. Two Atlanta artists changed the game for Collins: T.I. and Young Thug

“If I had a ‘go to’ (song), it’s ‘About the Money,’” Collins said. “I remember hearing that song in one of my best AAU tournaments back when I was a kid. T.I., Young Thug, the track, the beat, everything – I think Young Thug sets the tone on that track, how he comes off the track and then after that T.I. comes in; it’s my favorite song.”

A little change never hurt nobody, they say. But for these stars I’m sure they’d counter with, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Music in the Middle: J Cole and Nipsey Hustle

Jermaine Cole, otherwise known as J Cole, will headline Sunday’s All-Star game halftime show with fellow performing artist Meek Mill. Cole is near and dear to the North Carolina community, hailing from Fayetteville – about 100 miles from Charlotte.

Just as Cole occupies a place in the heart of North Carolina’s hip-hop community and beyond, Cole is another mainstay, alongside Drake, on the pre-game playlist of Bagley.

J Cole’s “Middle Child” can be added to this weekend’s list, and as Bagley put it, “if it’s hot, im’ma listen to it.”

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma suggests the addition of Nipsey Hussle’s recently released “Racks in the Middle.”

Hussle released the track on Friday and it will serve as the lead single for his upcoming LP, which is expected to arrive later this year.

This is the making of a banger alert, and Kuzma is here for all it.

Wildcards: The weekend’s most unexpected selections

Though hip-hop dominates the music culture of the NBA, some players have made an exception to the trend by listening to other music.

Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen said he is “not a big fan of hip-hop,” and prefers to warm up to the 1999 platinum-selling EDM hit “Sandstorm” by Darude.

Also Joining this group is Sacramento guard De’Aaron Fox. Though he favors hip-hop artist Saba and often listens to his hit “PROM/KING” before games, Fox will also pull out some Beethoven prior to game time.

“In high school, my algebra teacher would always listen to classical music.” Fox said. “So, I started listening to Beethoven, and still do it to this day.”

No matter the genre or collection of songs, NBA-All Star Weekend will always be a vibe.

Photo at top: Charlotte’s Spectrum Center is the primary venue for NBA All-Star Weekend 2019. (Andre Toran/MEDILL)