Phonte Coleman will tell you that his rap skills easily surpass his math skills and sports aptitude, but you can always count on him in the clutch. The multi-hyphenate talent best known for his incredible work with Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange added Brand Jordan voice-over artist to his extensive CV when the 60-second spot Why Not 0? celebrating Russell Westbrooks NBA MVP win, dropped on the night of the NBA Awards.
The homage to Schoolhouse Rock featured an animated rapping trophy crunching the numbers on why the Oklahoma City Thunder guard was the only logical answer for MVP in a hotly contested race. A seasons worth of stats were jammed into one phonetically feverish formula adding up to what else? Zero.
The clip has racked up over 900,000 plays on the Jumpman23 Instagram page alone and was a layup for the MC who has done voice and music work for animated series’ like Black Dynamite. It all became possible thanks to an assist from producer 9th Wonder, who suggested Phonte to Reggie Saunders, Senior Director of Entertainment Marketing at Jordan.
The math adds up. Russell Westbrook is the league’s 2017 Kia NBA MVP.
He hit me and was like Yo we have this commercial were doing, can you do some voice over stuff for us? I was like cool, just send it to me, Coleman says of the call he got back in April. He sent me the script, the ad agency Wiedon+Kennedy actually wrote it. The biggest irony in all of this is that Im not a sports fan at all. But it worked to my advantage because it made the ad better. I kept reading zero and I asked What is that? He said Thats his jersey number. I was like oh ok, because I really dont follow sports like that. I have a cursory knowledge of who [Russell Westbrook] is. If I saw him in the street Id recognize him but I didnt know his jersey number or his stats like that. So they said lets go back and rewrite it. By me not being a sports person, it made them realize they had to write it more for the lay person than for a die hard fan.
Phonte then took the reference track and re-recorded the vocals in his home studio, doing several takes of each line while adding inflections and ad-libs. For someone who is usually providing the lyrics for others on TV shows like The Breaks, reading someone elses words was a different exercise.
It was their words but I put my flavor on it with the ad-libs and stuff that would make it pop, he said. Kind of like what I did with Hold Tight (from his album Tigallerro). It was fun. I got to play with the words like a vocalist. How can I make this as Black and n*ggerish as possible without F’n up my check.
While he added a few playground flourishes to the treatment, he knew the importance of respecting the fundamentals of the game.
This is instructional and informational, Phonte said. As a rapper, you might slur your words and mispronounce something and itll make it sound cool. But for something like this, thats meant to be informational, youve got to stick those Ts and really enunciate.
The delivery may have been easy, but the script was a living document with revisions coming in periodically based on changes to Westbrooks stats. The 6-foot-3 All-Star broke Oscar Robertsons record for triple-doubles in a season, among other feats.
In the last line of the second verse the number of triple doubles was originally 43. Then they came back and said the NBA is only counting his regular season triple doubles so technically its only 42, not 43, so can you change that? Then from the time we started to when we finished, one of his stats changed. It was 62% [usage rating] but by the time we finished it was 66%. And having to say sixty-sixty percent at 112 BPMSIm like of ALL the percentages it had to be that? Its 3 oclock in the morning and trying to nail the sixty-sixty-percent line was a motherfucker. That was definitely a test of my enunciating skills.
But if you had a thought about testing Tes stat knowledge or hitting him up on Twitter for some free kicks, think again.
Ive only owned like two pairs of Jordans in my life and one pair I have on right now, he said from a cab to the airport. Im not a sneaker head at all. I only know they the [Jordan] IVs because I read it on the box.
While the rap games polymath can school you on counting bars and BPMs, hes only worried about the zeros on the clock and on his checks.
I know how to pay all my bills, count my money and calculate interest. Thats about where it stops, he says of his math prowess. Once they started putting the Alphabet in math, it was all over. My math is shaky.
The marriage between rap and basketball goes back farther than Kurtis Blows homage in 1984, so this is a dream gig by Hip-Hop standards. But Phonte keeps it all in perspective.
Im the Walter White of this shit. I dont give a f*** about meth, its just chemistry to me. Im just mixing, he says draining a Breaking Bad reference from the corner. I respect these brothers for what they do. What theyve accomplished is amazing. Im really proud of Russell Westbrook because I did some research on him and how he came up. But at the same time [not being a basketball fan] gave me some distance to just focus on the work and make it the best I can. If its between going to the game and being on my couch, the couch is gonna win every time. The couch is my MVP.
Nevertheless, the reaction to the spot has been beyond encouraging and you can definitely expect more voice over work from Phonte in the future.
The response to it has been crazy. People really dig it and they GOT it. Its always good when the plan you have in your head really matches the execution of what actually comes out. Thats always a beautiful thing to see.