Reality Changing Through Sound: An Interview With Sporting Life

“I realized I can change my reality through sound,” Sporting Life tells me.

The boundary-less producer tends to speak in ebbs and flows, chasing an idea, pausing, seemingly suddenly self-aware that he might be saying something you’ve never heard before, and then continuing on, too compelled by the idea to stop.

His energy is contagious, captivating in a quiet way, and so when he continues, you listen.

“Music can change where you physically are,” he explains. “For instance, you can make an album influenced by baille funk, and that might bring you to Brazil. It’s planning your sounds out to take you somewhere, and we’ve actually done it. RATKING was an expression of that idea, and now I’ve been all over the world because of music. It means more than what you’re hearing. Nothing was by chance.”

Anyone who’s felt a pang of nostalgia when hearing a song they once awkwardly slow-danced to in middle school is familiar with the idea of music as a time machine, but I’d never thought of music as a teleporter before speaking to Sporting Life, and he’s living proof of that idea’s truth.

Whether it’s a good kid from Compton or a Harlem producer who’s now toured the world because of the realities his work with Letter Racer and his compatriots have manifested, music does have the power to alter lives in ways unimaginable by other means. Now Sporting Life’s teleported himself inside his Slam Dunk EP, a multi-media world he’s created by merging marrying his dual passions, music and basketball, with the Japanese manga Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue serving as the bridge. It’s a project about connection, and ultimately about movement.

It’s my version of some Wu Tang shit. They had kung fu, if I could have manga that would be totally ill. It’s like the Wu shit, but not. It’s breaking new ground with an old idea.
— Sporting Life

Sporting Life can’t recall the exact moment he first came across Slam Dunk, but in some ways it’s clear he considers its arrival in his life much more than just inspiration, it was a ticket to create a new reality. Or, as he puts it far less grandiosely, “I mean, a manga about basketball? Come on, how ill is that.”

Melding worlds through art reveals Sporting’s global aesthetic, but it’s also a distinctly New York mentality. In a city of millions that houses residents speaking over 800 languages, the idea of blending worlds and cultures isn’t an idea at all. It’s the natural result of walking down the street, and that’s not even factoring in the interconnected teleportation device that is the internet.

“I’m plugged into New York because you have to be, but I try to be in it, not of it,” he says. “New York rappers don’t even have as much of a new York rap identity. Wiki does. But when I think of emcees, and producers, from New York...that means something different than what it once did.”

So while Sporting Life is unmistakably a New Yorker, a kid who grew up in Harlem listening to Dipset tapes and The Heatmakerz, he’s also insistent that he’s consciously avoiding becoming attached to any particular identity. Along with those Dipset tapes he also grew up listening to Soulja Boy and Young Jeezy, and similarly he’s careful not to become trapped in the “produced” label.

You’re a producer, you’re a guitar player, whatever identity you’re taking on. If you’re not careful, you can do down with that identity too. A lot of producers with that mindset, they only see themselves in relation to rappers. That’s cool, but there are so many ill producers who never do more because they think they have to abide by the trends of the rap game.
— Sporting Life

It’s clear Sporting Life will not abide by any trends. In addition to the cultural world-spanning he’s done within Slam Dunk, the project itself also crosses media lines. Along with a close team of collaborators, in addition to the music he’s also created art work, video that also serves as a sound collage of sorts and is producing a line of basketball merch, beginning with a sweatband. “I’m trying to exist on a few different levels, apply my work to a few different meanings,” he explains, and he’s succeeded.

Only time will tell what new realities are created from Slam Dunk, reality building is by its very nature a slow process, but Sporting already has his eyes set on the horizon of a new chapter while he simultaneously continues to expand on this one.

Maybe that will mean artistic travels to Brazil, or Nigeria, or lands so far unseen. Maybe that will mean more solo work or new projects with his Letter Racer or R&S Records label mates. But no matter where his next move takes him, you can count on constant movement from Sporting. He’ll follow where his music takes him. He'll have to, it's all part of his plan.   

By Nathan Slavik, @RefinedHype