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A Conversation With 3 NBA Players Who Are Also Musicians

Mr. Nimbus | 02/16/2024

The odds of anyone making it into the NBA are slim to none. You have to be one of the world’s most skilled individuals to even dream about being drafted into the league — so when pro basketball players turn out to have additional talents on top of their sport, it’s almost not fair.

And yet, such is the case for Memphis Grizzlies teammates Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr., who both release music under rap alter-egos, as well as the Denver Nuggets’ Zeke Nnaji, who just so happens to be a gifted pianist. These athletes are just three of several b-ballers with a penchant for the artform, carrying on an unofficial tradition of music in the NBA that’s lasted decades.

A 27-year-old Vancouver native, Clarke records music under the alias BCVS and dropped a pair of albums over the summer, the latter of which is a 14-track set titled Ride the Lightning. Jackson, 24, features on one of the LP’s songs, “How U Know?” under his stage name, Trip J. His newest album arrives Friday (Feb. 16), and he proudly tells Billboard that it’s his “best project to date.”

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Then there’s Nnaji, who’s been playing piano since he was first-grader. While his colleagues see music as a separate entity from their basketball careers, the 23-year-old power forward finds a surprising harmony between the two.

Ahead of 2024’s All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, Billboard caught up with Clarke, Jackson and Nnaji about their musical pursuits off the court. See what they had to say below.

How long have you been a musician?

Brandon Clarke: I’ve been making music for about 2.5 years now. I got involved with it from just messing around in the studio with my teammate, Jaren [Jackson Jr.], a while back.

Jaren Jackson Jr.: I have been making music for over five years, but it all started in high school and college when I would rap with some of my friends and teammates. Early in my career in Memphis, I met one of my now producers who showed me the ins and outs of music engineering and how you can find your sound.

Zeke Nnaji: I’ve been playing piano since I was six years old. Growing up, I had a little toy piano I’d play a lot. My parents saw how much I enjoyed playing on that, so around the age of six, they enrolled me in piano lessons. From then on, I’ve been playing on my own and teaching myself new things.

How would you describe the music you make?

Brandon Clarke: The music is just me having fun and storytelling. I try not to take it too seriously, but it’s just fun to do.

Jaren Jackson Jr.: I would describe my music as effortless and authentic. It’s very versatile. You can listen to it while riding in the whip, walking around with your headphones in or at the house.

Zeke Nnaji: I like playing different genres of music, from ragtime to classical, jazz to modern music. I just like being able to hear a song, and if I enjoy that song, sit down and learn how to play it on piano. I do also compose some of my own music as well, I’ve been doing that since I was in fourth grade — it started off as little one-note songs here and there, and as I’ve gotten older, the songs become more complex and intricate.

How do you make time for music in your busy schedule as an athlete?

Brandon Clarke: It’s become something I love doing. It’s my No. 1 hobby outside of hoops. I have a studio inside of my house now, and I’m good friends with my engineer. I love to be able to find pockets of time to sit down and make a couple of songs. I listen to beats and write lyrics all the time on flights to and from cities we play in.

Jaren Jackson Jr.: When I first started making music, it used to take a lot longer. As I’ve developed in my career, I have gotten to a point where music feels effortless. Typically, it takes me around 15-30 minutes to make one song. I also find that I don’t have a ton of time on my hands during the NBA season. A lot of my work is done in the off-season.

Which artists are you most inspired by?

Brandon Clarke: Favorite musicians are Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert, and they are definitely who I take inspiration from. I love the careless vibe of their music.

Jaren Jackson Jr.: Some of my favorite artists and influences in my career are Ken Carson, Baby Smoove, ICYTWAT and Midwxst. Living in Memphis defines a lot of my style and how I view making music. I’ve been fortunate to work with incredible artists that I have helped identify and put on, including Daicia, RAGEHARAJUKU and Fububanks.

What music goals do you have currently?

Brandon Clarke: I dropped a couple of albums in the summer, both just for fun! I don’t really care to advertise it much, the drop is just for me and the real locked-in fans, really. I’m currently not really working on any project, I’m just having fun discovering new sounds and seeing what I can create. Music-wise, I hope to just keep adding to my range of music I can make. I almost wanna start making some rock songs. I love rock, so that would be dope.

Jaren Jackson Jr.: Personally, I want to continue to find my sound and continue to get better in the space. I have learned so much in five years and know I will keep learning as time goes on. Aside from my personal goals, I also want all of my artists that I support to get record deals and awards and truly be the best they can be. The music industry is all about getting better and I want to continue growing with those who have been around me since day one.

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How, if at all, does your music overlap with your basketball career?

Brandon Clarke: For me, it’s just a great hobby. I try not to take it seriously like I take basketball, or else I start to lose the fun in it a little bit. I am my favorite artist really, so whenever I make new songs, it’s new music for me to bump.

Jaren Jackson Jr.: Making music is a huge stress reliever for me but also something I keep separate from my basketball career. I try not to let the two blend into one another.

Zeke Nnaji: Early on, I noticed a lot of correlations between practicing piano and playing basketball — the same dedication, the same practice that you have to put into your craft. The same hours of repetition you put on the keys to master a song can be applied to basketball when you’re trying to craft your shot. I noticed that the same kind of discipline I had on the piano, I could apply to basketball. It made both of them that much easier, being able to see how each helps the other.

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus

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