It’s a late summer afternoon when two black SUVs pull up to the corner of 48th Street and 7th Avenue in Times Square, New York City. Once the cars park, the doors open and two groups of people pop out. In the middle of the crowd is Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Oladipo, rocking PSNY x Air Jordan 12 Bordeaux sneakers and a matching Jordan x PSNY sweatsuit, isn’t heading to the gym for a workout—instead he is walking into the famed Quad Studios for a recording session for his seven-track EP, Songs For You, which dropped on Friday, October 6.
Quad Studios, as members of Oladipo’s crew quickly point out, is the same place where 2Pac was shot and robbed in 1994, where Bobby Shmurda, Rowdy Rebel and the rest of the GS9 crew were arrested and where, on a happier note, Beyonce has recorded in the past. Once we get off the elevator, platinum and gold plaques from artists from all walks of life adorn the walls. Inside the studio, engineer Morning Estrada greets Vic and the rest of the crew before he begins to set up for the session.
While Estrada preps, Oladipo and his crew, which includes music industry vet Nieman Johnson and producer/songwriter Sam Hook, swarm the cramped recording space and shoot the shit about their time in New York, the afternoon run Vic hooped in—the same run that included Melo, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Chris Paul—and about goings on around the League. The mood is light, jokes are cracked and Victor seems at ease.
Oladipo released his debut single, “Song For You,” a Donny Hathaway cover, in late August. Since he was in college at Indiana, and throughout his time in the League, Oladipo made it known that he could sing—but it still took people by surprise when “Song For You” dropped and it was good. Really good.
“I can’t lie, I was a little shocked,” Oladipo says of the reaction to his music. “Singing was just something that I loved to do, it’s a little hobby of mine and something that made me feel good. To see people want to listen to it and it touching people is an amazing feeling. It’s like when people say that if you have a gift, you should share it. And for me, singing is one of my gifts and to be able to share it with the world it a blessing in itself.”
Oladipo began singing in the children’s choir at St. Joseph’s Church in Upper Marborlo, MD, and quickly fell in love with music. As he got older, Oladipo used his skill just like any other teenaged kid would—to try and get girls.
“In high school, I used to go over to my good friend [Atlanta Hawks point guard] Quinn Cook’s house and just mess around,” he remembers. “I used to sing and he would do the beats and he was like, ‘Bro, you can really sing.’ Then we used to go to these little mixers and used to bet each other who would get the most numbers and my friends would be like, ‘I bet you won’t go up to that girl and sing to get her number.’ And I haven’t struck out yet.”
“I remember when I first made him do it,” Cook says. “We were at the movies and there was this girl and I told Victor that he couldn’t get her and Victor started singing to her. He proved me wrong—he got her. We would go to the movies every weekend and he would always sing to the girls and I haven’t seen a girl deny him yet. He’s probably 95 or 96 percent from the field.”
Back in the studio, Estrada begins to play joints off the EP, starting with “One Day,” “Unfollow” and “Nothin’ Like Your Ex.” The music is a stark difference from the hip-hop we’re accustomed to hearing from NBA players who dabble in music.
“I never tell people it’s me on a song, and they’re like, ‘Who is that?’ And I’m like, It’s me. And they say, ‘Not it’s not!’” Oladipo says. “It’s a great feeling to be good at something. I’m just trying to get better, just like I’m trying to get better at this basketball thing every day.”
Oladipo’s hoops career has taken quite a few twist and turns since he was drafted second overall by the Magic in 2013. For the second time in as many offseasons, Vic was traded, this time from the OKC Thunder to the Indiana Pacers for Paul George in a move that caught everyone by surprise.
“I was on a plane [when the trade went down] and didn’t find out until I landed,” he says. “When you first get the news, it’s a bit of a shock. You build relationships, you build chemistry and you get comfortable in a city. I was just leaving there from my camp—I was running a free basketball clinic for some kids and they were asking me, Are you going to come back next year? And for that to happen, it was tough, and you don’t have any control over it because it’s a business.”
The move to Indiana is a homecoming of sorts for the shooting guard, who has averaged just under 16 points for his career. Oladipo starred at Indiana University from 2010-13 and was an All-American in 2013.
“Over time, I had a chance to digest the situation and I got really excited,” he continues. “I have a great opportunity. I’m going back to Indiana where I went to college so the fans are very familiar with me. It kind of catapulted my summer, and I’ve been working my butt off on the court.”
As things are wrapping up, the crew heads into the lobby of Quad, where they chop it up with staff and other artists who have walked in for their sessions. Oladipo has started playing pool while others get their plans together for the rest of the night.
The project is finished. Now the real work begins.
“I’ve been doing music, but I’ve been on a 9-5 grind when it comes to hooping. I’m ready, man, I’m looking forward to it. I wish the season started tomorrow and I can’t wait to go home to Indiana and play.”
Peter Walsh is a Senior Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @Peter_M_Walsh.
Video by Stephen Roll