Though it might not get the same amount of love as Nashville does, Memphis oozes music from its pores. The River City has some fairly convincing claims as being the birthplace of blues and rock and roll, as well as the hip hop subgenre "crunk." From the bluesman W.C. Handy to rappers (and Oscar winners) Three 6 Mafia, many have hit their sonic stride in Memphis.
Music is only one of the city’s passions, though. Twelve years ago, the city received what is still their only major professional sports team when the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis. And the basketball-obsessed town has embraced the team only as Memphis could, with a novel twist on arena audio that celebrates the diversity of the city's musical history.
“Basketball -- along with blues and barbecue -- is in our DNA here,” says Justin Baker, the Click Effects operator for the Memphis Grizzlies.
As the blog The Basketball Jones reported last week, Baker and head sound engineer Nathan Black have created a new sound for Memphis basketball with their thoroughly local compilation of musical selections that Grizzlies fans can get behind. They feel as comfortable calling back to a soulful Otis Redding hit as they do banging out Al Kapone’s “Whoop That Trick,” the crunk anthem made famous in Hustle and Flow. It’s a refreshing change to what we're usually subjected to in arenas: Played out pop and "jock jams."
Here’s how it works: Baker operates a live audio program called Click Effects -- which he describes it as "basically, a glorified soundboard" -- during all moments when the ball is in play. Black controls the music during timeouts and other breaks. They split duties so that Black, who oversees all sound in the arena, doesn't get too bogged down. The duo work well together, which could be a function of both being raised in Memphis. It also helps them select the music.
"Growing up in Memphis, everything was always very diverse,” recalls Black. “So that had an effect on what I would listen to -- a little of everything -- which in turn helps me play to a diverse crowd and give everyone a little something of what they want."
A typical Grizzlies game includes choice cuts from Memphis favorites like Stax legends Sam & Dave, funkmen The BarKays, and local hip hop hero Yo Gotti. But Baker and Black also look outside of city limits for inspiration and also include clips from artists like Jay-Z (Brooklyn) and Clipse (Virginia). Baker and Black don't completely break from tradition -- you'll still hear tried-and-true stadium staples like "Whoomp There It Is" and "Welcome to the Jungle" — but those tracks are surrounded by more creative, less obvious picks. For example, Baker, who DJs locally, plays songs from his friends in the Memphis scene.
“I love that my peers can be sitting at home watching with their families and their song might come on as we make a big play,” he continues. “What better way to show respect to my city, involve everyone, and make sure our games are super crunk?”
Baker also provided us with a list of some of his favorite songs to play at Grizzlies games.
Future, "Go Harder"
"I often wonder if the players even take notice of what’s playing or if they care. But one night I played Tony Allen’s jam, “Go Harder” by Future. A [member of the] Claw Crew (our pep squad) had hit me to the fact that Tony loves some Future. Sure enough, as soon as it dropped, I saw him call for the ball, two-handed stuff it, then dance down the court. So maybe they do notice."
Tsutchie, "Loading Zone" (from the Samurai Champloo soundtrack)
"A buddy turned me on to this soundtrack from [Samarai Champloo] about ten years ago. Rather obscure, but it all has a nice Wu-Tang, swords and throwing stars kind of vibe."
Vinyl Syndicate, "Man of Steal"
“This was my jam when I was a teen in the late 90s. Its hard not to get pumped up over the first two minutes.”
Al Kapone, "Whoop That Trick"
“This one is straight Memphis. Al Kapone is a local legend and this song is a local anthem. When this one drops in the third quarter, expect somebody to do something awesome.”