Rhymes, Riffs and Ball

by November 15, 2011

by Matt Domino / @PuddlesofMyself

As the lockout continues to drag on, us NBA fans have a basketball fix that we need to satisfy, not to mention a lot of pent up aggression and energy that we need to release. Without any games on TV we don’t get the chance to sit down every Thursday, Friday or Sunday to a slate of televised games where we can scream and yell at the screen. We don’t get the chance to throw our remotes against the wall, sending the batteries flying, after an errant pass; we don’t get to slam open the refrigerator and smash all the bottles and jars of condiments on the floor when our star player misses a free throw; we don’t get to rip our pillows apart with a swiss army knife and light the stuffing on fire (oh, wait, maybe I’m the only one who does that?).

The best way to satisfy your basketball craving as well as get out all of that aggression is to take to the court yourself, whether it be street ball at the local park or schoolyard, out front on your driveway or street, or at the indoor gym. There is nothing quite like playing an actual game of basketball. For a failed athlete like myself, and as a basketball fan in general, there is a certain sanctuary that the court provides. The motions of the game—the sprint of a fast break, the extension of a well-thrown bounce pass, the spring of a layup (I’m a 5-10 white guy alright?)—have a beauty and grace to them that you don’t find in any other sport. The motion and the excitement are the reason we watch and they are also the reason that we enjoy playing.

And there is nothing like playing basketball to music. To match the motion and emotion of the game, you need music that is melodic and heroic, music that sounds like victory at every measure and beat. I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a little playlist that you can set up the next time you go to the court to get your elbow extended jump shot on, or deliver a jump-stop bounce pass to your man cutting to the rim. Now, I am going to give you fair warning, I’m a 20-something guy who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My taste is informed by an over-analysis of music history as well as a propensity to enjoy over-produced 1970s rock with heavily compressed drums. So, if you find yourself disagreeing with my list, you are probably right. But it’s my list so I don’t care about your opinion—I’m just going to steal the ball from you, take it down the court, and LAY IT UP! I’m welcome to any challengers.

Alright, with all that being said, here’s the list:

“Victory” by Puff Daddy and the Family (featuring the Notorious B.I.G.)

This is really more of a Biggie song than it is a Puff Daddy Song. It’s title alone fits my criteria of a good basketball-playing song having something to do with victory. Puffy samples Bill Conti’s “Going the Distance” from the Rocky soundtrack and then Biggie proceeds to lay down, in my opinion, some of the best rhymes of his career. Conti’s original melody was inspiring enough that it would make anyone want to play shut down defense, but you add in Biggie’s lyrical ability and “Victory” takes it to a whole new level.

“Nas is Like” by Nas

I have a soft spot for this one because my ninth grade basketball team used to warm up to it (yes, I had a junior high that went from seventh-ninth grade, so there was no true freshman year). But you can never deny vintage Nas along with a breezy melody and solid beat that are perfect for dishing dimes and sinking reverse layups in stride.

“Hello Hooray” by Alice Cooper

Here’s where we get a little more controversial. I bet you’re asking yourself, “What the hell does a glam/horror-rocker like Alice Cooper have anything to do with basketball?” All you have to do is hear the glorious chorus and coda in “Hello Hooray” to understand. During the coda when Cooper is screaming “I feel so strong!” at the top of his lungs, I dare you not to feel the impulse to slap the ball out of a point guard’s hands and want to take it the other way. This song will give you visions of court glory that you never thought you could have. Trust me.

“Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin

Again, you might think I’m crazy with this pick. But the prime deities of heavy, riff-rock will not lead you astray. With its rapid-fire guitar strums and insanely hard drumming, “Communication Breakdown” is perfect for running the fast break with your buddies against a group of high school kids who you challenge in order to still maintain the feeling of youth. Wait, did I reveal too much?

“I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5

I don’t know if I even need to explain why this one is on the list. You have prime Little Michael vocals, a fantastic melodic bass line for moving around the paint and then those driving piano chords that are perfect for the dribble-drive into the lane, the pause and then the tear drop floater. Plus, you get images of vintage Dr. J with a transcendent fro whenever you put this song on and step on the court. That’s a bonus you can’t overlook.

“Keep On Keeping On” by Curtis Mayfield

This is the ultimate coach’s song as well as the ultimate out-of-shape man’s song. When you are feeling tired in a pickup game and thinking that you shouldn’t have smoked that last cigarette after you left the bar or that you should really start running after work, just take a deep breath and listen to Curtis’ sweet voice and that inspirational brass section and you’ll get that second wind you’re looking for. Hell, when Curtis hits those high notes, you might even find yourself rejecting shots you never thought you could reach.

“Roundball Rock” by John Tesh

The NBA on NBC. The 1990s. This is a staple. Enough said.

“Baby I’m a Star” by Prince

This is on the list because it is one of my favorite Prince song’s and also as an homage to Dave Chapelle’s sketch about Charlie Murphy playing basketball at Prince’s house in the ’80s. The keyboards on this track are electrifying and the drum beat will never let you stop running. It’s a song all about being the best and never stopping until you are. It’s braggadocios, confident and amazing, which are all the things you’ll need on the basketball court.

“Funeral for a Fried/Love Lies Bleeding” by Elton John

This song is where I may lose a lot of people, but hear me out. “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” is the first song on the first side of Elton John’s double album Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road and it is E-P-I-C. It starts with a piano instrumental that slowly builds and builds with synthesizers until it explodes into propulsive glam-rock that will inspire you to throw that perfect outlet pass, hitting your man in stride as if you were Bill Walton or Kevin Love. I actually think Bill Walton would approve of this entry.

“Through the Wire” by Kanye West

The obvious key to this track is Kanye’s sample of Chakka Khan’s “Through the Fire.” The sped up vocals give the beat that something extra. Everything is just so fluid on this track, even Kanye’s shut-mouth flow. The whole atmosphere of this song lends itself to a free-flowing offense like the Triangle; though you might find it tough to organize your friends into an advance offensive system that only one coach was truly able to master. Even if you can’t at least you’ll have a great track by one of our greatest current rappers to listen to.

“Just One Victory”

Now we’ve come to my favorite track to play basketball to. “Just One Victory” is perhaps the definition of overproduced ’70s studio rock, but I love it. It’s probably one of the most inspiring songs ever written. The thundering drums and the glockenspiel in the background give it a (excuse the redundancy) victorious tone. The whole song seems like one great triumph. The beat of the song is solid and I’ve always wondered why no rapper ever sampled this track. I watched a lot of the 2007 NCAA Tournament on mute while listening to this song and it has forever struck me as the best song to play basketball to. If you listen to this song and can’t picture yourself hitting the game-winning jumper, then I think there is something wrong with you.

There you have it; that’s my list. Now feel free to call me crazy and disagree vehemently.