Welcome back to Sounds of the Game: Our series on the intersection of music and basketball culture. In our first installment, we talked to the folks responsible for soundtracking Lakers games. Today we’re celebrating the all-important marriage of music and layup lines.
Warm-up music is an essential component of sports participation.
Look no further than in boxing, for instance, where walk-out songs are not only meant to fire up the competitor and the crowd, but also to intimidate…
Take this past weekend at Wembley Stadium when after a well-hydrated crowd of 94,000 belted “Sweet Caroline,” Dillian Whyte was ushered to the ring as “Black in Black” blared.
Minutes later, the heavyweight champ, Tyson Fury, let “American Pie” serenade the stadium, trotted out to a remix of “Juicy,” then ring-walked to, of all things, “Sex on Fire.” That’s one way to do it.
Of course, fighters have long relied on entrance theatrics to set the tone. At Tyson-Spinks in ‘88, Tyson was the most feared man on the planet; Spinks a polished Olympic champion. Spinks came out to Kenny Loggins (?), whilst unsuccessfully attempting to project confidence through the fear in his eyes. Tyson, sans robe or showboating, donning simply black gloves and black shorts, entered to the eerie sound of chains rattling over ominous tones. The message: he wasn’t messing around.
Iron Mike ended things in 91 seconds.
Basketball is not boxing. The pregame music, especially at the professional level, isn’t necessarily trying to instill fear. However, whether it be in little league, AAU, or a raucous high school gym, the pre-game soundtrack is crucial to enabling players to get in the zone.
Hokey starting lineup intros aside (excluding the ‘90s Bulls or ‘00s Pistons), basketball doesn’t feature ostentatious entrances, especially at lower levels. Nearly every ballgame, however, is preempted with layup lines. This age-old ritual (I actually emailed a historian at the Hall of Fame about the root of the time-honored tradition; he was stumped) can seem frivolous, but it effectively loosens up a squad. Things just don’t feel right without each player getting at least a few turns on each side.
Anyone who played youth basketball can relate to the following scenario: You come out for layup lines and immediately scope out the competition. Who can grab rim or clap? Who looks athletic? Or slow? Or confident? Who’s conspicuously pulling up from the elbow? Inevitably, you jump to conclusions about your opponent.
In amateur ball, the home team is often responsible for supplying the tunes. Frequently, teams will deploy regular playlists and set jams, featuring songs that hold a special meaning, for one reason or another.
I used to have a mega-playlist of “turn up” songs. Not exactly party or pregame (in the social sense) tracks; but rather motivating, boisterous, easily identifiable hits to crank when I needed to get the blood flowing. Aptly, this playlist was titled “Layup Lines,” which I personally fancied as its own subgenre.
In the spirit of our Sounds of the Game series, I thought I would both recreate an abbreviated version of my late playlist while articulating my own guidelines for Layup Line music. So, here’s what makes, and doesn’t make, an ideal Layup Line song — for anyone bringing the Bluetooth to their next pick-up game (RIP aux cords).
- It has to be rollin and energetic, with a steady beat that encourages head- and body-bobbing as you high-five a teammate and wait your turn to shoot or rebound. It needs enough juice to encourage a boarder to go full Ben Wallace, or a layup-er to attack the rim with an ounce more of verve.
- Anything too anthemic (“Public Service Announcement,” “All the Way Up,” even “Alright” is borderline) or classically arena rock-y (“Turn Down For What,” “Welcome to the Jungle”) is a no-no.
- Slower, sing-y hooks/choruses, while wonderful, are not ideal here (“Aston Martin Music”). No songs with weak verses (“Monster” — sorry Jay) or bridges, either. It has to burn wire-to-wire.
- Too smooth can be an issue (“Hey Ma”).
- A club banger (“Work”) is not necessarily a Layup Line song.
- Too fast (see: Rhymes, Busta) or furious (see: N9ne, Tech) is a smidge extra.
- Broadly speaking, production is more important than lyrics.
- Extended intros (“In The Air Tonight”) are not recommended, unless it opens the playlist as the team hits the hardwood (“Da Rockwilder,” “B Boy”).
- The song should be aspirational, yet not cornily on-the-nose or cliché (i.e. “Run This Town,” “Heart of a Champion,” “Remember the Name,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Lose Yourself”).
- It can’t be too turnt. “Sandstorm,” “Whoop That Trick” or “Party Up” are better for a mid-game boost. We’re just warming up, after all.
- Geography is a factor. If you’re hosting an out-of-town team in an area with a distinct sound or music culture, get local.
- No Linkin’ Park (no offense). Also: no Dubstep.
- Swizz Beatz (“On to the Next One,” “Uproar”), Metro Boomin (“Ric Flair Drip”), Mustard (“Rack City,” “Pure Water”) are safe bets. DJ Khaled? You can do better.
- There are no explicit genre stipulations, but rap simply works best due to its energy, production, swag-instilling vibes, and overlap with basketball culture. I’m with LeBron here, who says that while jazz and Beethoven can center him on gameday, it’s gotta be rap in the countdown to tip. (That is where I will cease comparing myself to the four-time MVP.)
With all that in mind, here’s the objective, indisputable, definitive, layup line playlist — for any setting or level of basketball — including some honorable mentions and aforementioned tracks. Of course, there are literally thousands of credible omissions.
“Money in the Way” – 2 Chainz
Other than Master P, 2Chainz may be rap’s finest hooper. His euphoric banger, “Money In the Way” was formerly featured as the theme song for “The Shop.” (I also recommend this song at 8AM as your coffee brews.)
Another Tity Boi deep cut: “OG Kush Diet” — the best song 2 Chainz has ever recorded. It culminates in a booming final verse as the song transitions from gothic horror to triumphant trap-reggae.
“Humble,” “Backseat Freestyle” – Kendrick Lamar
I wish I had video evidence to back this up, but, as someone who attended nearly every Lakers home game and was frequently on the floor for shootaround, nothing got heads bumpin’ — on the court and in the stands — like a Kendrick song, especially “Humble,” which bops along at the pace of a dribble.
On that note, a recent addition to the canon:
“Hustlin’” – Rick Ross
The Teflon Don needs to be included here, and I still think his OG mega-hit is the best choice. Fewer MCs have ever stomped over a beat with the power of 1,000 suns the way Rozay does on his triumphant breakout banger. I’ve never been to a Heat game, but I assume Pat Riley has personally requested this be in the layup line rotation, hoping it will inspire his players to embody #HeatCulture with hustle plays. 22s!!!
“Norf Norf” — Vince Staples
Honorable mention: “Big Fish”
I don’t think the “I was up late night ballin” hook is literally referencing a 1AM scrimmage, but it still gets you in the mood for game night.
“Gotta Have It” – JAY-Z, Kanye West
“Racks on racks on racks, maybachs on ‘bachs on ‘bachs on ‘bachs on ‘bachs.” ‘Nuff said. Simpler times.
“Still D.R.E.” – Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg)
Some songs are undeniable from their opening second. The moment those iconic keys hit, everybody in the room will physically react with approval. Any game in Southern California needs some Dre and Snoop, and this remains the top choice.
“Juice” — AD
The Pistons used to play this before home games at the request of Compton native Brandon Jennings. It’s not hard to understand why.
“Who Do You Love” – YG (Feat. Drake)
YG’s modern G-Funk bounce combined with his signature hard bars is intoxicating and energizing, especially for a bout in Los Angeles.
“Nonstop” – Drake
“Nonstop”— arguably Drake’s hypest pure rap song — includes the lyric “I move through London with the euro-step,” which, if timed correctly, allows a fun opportunity for a player to warm-up the euro-step along with Aubrey’s bar.
As for “Sicko Mode”, the first half of the song works like a charm, but it loses a bit of steam with a beat switch-up followed by a Drake verse primarily about falling asleep on airplanes.
INTERLUDE: Other no-doubters
“Look Alive” – JB Blocboy
“Magnolia” – Playboy Carti
“Bae” — O.T. Genasis
“ZEZE” — Kodak Black (Feat. Travis Scott & Offset)
“Savage Remix” — Megan Thee Stallion (feat. Beyonce)
“Plug Walk” — Rich The Kid
“Flava In Ya Ear Remix” – Craig Mack (feat. Notorious B.I.G.)
“Classic Man” – Jidenna (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
If you’re feeling shaky about the upcoming affair, this song will instantly inject you with some much-needed swag.
“They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” – Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth
Anybody who grew up playing NBA Street Vol. 2 — featuring the greatest soundtrack in the history of basketball video games — will hear Pete Rock’s legendary horns and immediately be ready to hit a gamebreaker.
Another rowdy classic from V2: “Chief Rocka” — Lords of the Underground
“Shooter” – Lil Wayne (feat. Robin Thicke)
A surprise inclusion here, but I find this soulful nawlins rendition of Thicke’s “Oh Shooter” to be haunting and ascendant. Maybe it’ll throw the opposition off, just a tad.
Honorable mention: “Stuntin like my Daddy” (feat. Birdman), which will (hopefully) make you feel like a million bucks.
“Bad Boy 4 Life” – P. Diddy (feat. Black Rob & Mark Curry)
If this song doesn’t make you want to dominate the competition and pull up from deep on your first possession, then you want nothing in life.
“Boss” — Key! (Feat. Kenny Beats)
This track is barely two minutes long and the beat’s a little cutesy, but it’s a) uplifting and b) includes this lovely passage that may inspire you to hone your crossover and below-the-rim finishing:
I’m the boss
I like the sound of that
UPS package, handling
Kyrie Irving handling
Damian Lillard handling
Stephen Curry handling
“Mathematics” – Mos Def
An iconic New York Primo beat buoyed by Prime Yasiin’s unmatched flow. He engages in all sorts of intricate wordplay with numbers and stats, so it’s one for the analytics crowd, too. The song goes hard, all the way around. It’s simple mathematics.
“What’s Golden” – Jurassic 5
I recommended this J5 golden oldie to Lakers music curator Joel Jacobsen, who included the instrumental in the Crypto.com Arena rotation. I’m biased here, but trust me, it jells with basketball.
“The World is Yours” — Nas
The most inspirational song from arguably the GOAT of hip-hop records. After hearing this, you’re ready to take on any challenger by storm. Of course, one could just play Illmatic start to finish and nobody would complain.
“Doomsday” – MF Doom
A bit stonier than anything else on here, but this Doom classic is unassailably cool from the jump. The message is properly foreshadowing, as well.
“Mo Bamba” — Sheck Wes
This song has three things going for it, in the contest of pre-hooping music: It Does Not Give A F (it was recorded in one, raw take), it perfectly crescendos to the jubilant final verse, and the fact that its namesake is a pro basketball player inevitably conjures up hoops vibes.
“Dreams and Nightmares” – Meek Mill
The GOAT of pregame music.