JaVale McGee on His Music Career: 'I Want a Gold Record'
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JaVale McGee on His Music Career: 'I Want a Gold Record'

The multifarious NBA champion and Golden State Warriors center opens up about his beat-making passion as he weaves his way into a different field.

The last couple years of JaVale McGee's career have felt like a cashed lottery ticket. After a few injury-plagued seasons in which he bounced around the league—nearly washing out as a casualty of Sam Hinkie's Process before a brief stint with the Dallas Mavericks—McGee found a role on the greatest basketball team ever assembled.

He won a championship with the Golden State Warriors last year (when he recorded the highest field goal percentage among all players in the playoffs) and is currently on track for another lengthy title run. But McGee has interests and passions that extend beyond the game of basketball, most notably a budding music career that's already yielded the production of several songs under his alter ego "Pierre."


Last week, at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, VICE Sports sat down with McGee for a wide-ranging conversation on how he plans to alter his perception, which artists he most wants to collaborate with, why the Warriors look bored, and so much more.

VICE Sports: You started making music about 10 years ago when you were in high school, right?

JaVale McGee: I’ve always liked music. I got my first computer and it had FruityLoops. I’m really like a geek so that’s really more like a program than a beat maker. People don’t really realize, they think they’re making music but FruityLoops is different because it’s a little thing that goes across there and makes a noise, so it’s like you’re coding or something. It’s not like you’re just making a beat. So that’s what I was more interested in. So I was like "Oh, I can make cool sounds." And this was like 18.

So as I got to college, I literally made an album with me and my homie, but it wasn’t anything crazy. Just something fun because we were bored. When I got to the NBA, I got a Macbook, and the first thing I did was buy Logic. So that was, what, 2008? So I’ve been using Logic for 10 years. I probably got good three years ago. I met some producers and they gave me some sound packs and it enhanced my beats a lot. I thought people were using the Logic stock sounds [but] people are getting sounds from everybody. They collab with different producers and everything. And I didn’t really know that aspect of producing, so it was definitely a blessing to meet those people. And I definitely feel like the last few years I’ve really gotten more passionate and my craft is getting good.


Who are you meeting?

I live in L.A. in the summer, so just being around places and just "Hey, you wanna come to the studio?" "Yeah, sure."

Is that you seeking people out, trying to make connections?

It’s not necessarily me seeking people out, it’s just I play basketball so people gravitate towards me automatically, and then you start realizing things about people like "Yeah, I produce" [and they respond] "Yeah, okay." Then you actually show them some of your beats and they're like "Oh, you’re serious. We need to get in the studio some time." One of my friends, Alvin, I forgot his producer name. I think it’s A-life or something, but that’s probably the first producer that gave me a pack of beats that really enhanced my beats. And after that it was just downhill and I just decided to put out music.

How would you describe the style of music…

That’s the good thing about being a producer. I’m a producer and not a rapper. So I can make any style of music I want. I can make an EDM beat. I can put an EDM track out one day and I can put a grungy hip-hop track out the next day, like, it doesn’t matter. So I feel like I don’t have a category. But mainly hip-hop, I wanna say that. I’ve got an R&B song out, I’ve got a hip-hop song out. I might put an EDM song out, but it’s mainly hip-hop and more urban music.

When you were first starting out, which producers did you have an ear for. Who's an influence?


Kanye. Listening to College Dropout and all the samples that he used, and going on YouTube and looking at how he made the beats and stuff like that, which was a lot harder than just using a computer. It was crazy just looking at it. He was taking records and recording a little part of that, putting it on tape and, like, I don’t even, just, it was amazing. That’s what really interested me in producing because it’s like really a process and really you have to produce a track that someone can rap or sing on. There are people like Hippie Sabotage who make beats all the time, and put them out and they’re just songs that really don’t have anybody saying anything on them. But yeah, that’s what I’m really passionate about.

Photo by Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

You once described yourself as "not really a high hopes person." Knowing how difficult it is to alter how you're perceived or what you’re known for, what are your expectations as someone trying to plant themselves in an entirely different industry.

I don’t really want to change the perception of who I am because I’m me. I’m JaVale McGee, the basketball player, funny guy, whatever, whatever. But I’m just really passionate about music and I don’t want people to look at it like "Oh he’s just doing it to get famous." I’m already pretty famous as is, so I’m not really trying to do it for the money. I’m not really making any money off of it really because I don’t have a music fanbase.


But you’d say you want it to be more than a hobby?

I definitely want it to be more than a hobby. But right now I'm doing it out of passion. I’m not doing it for financial gain. I’m not doing it because I need money. I’m doing it literally because I like doing it, and it’s something that I really enjoy doing. I’ll stay in the studio for 12 hours at a time, just producing music and making records. It doesn’t feel like "Oh man I’ve got a job to do." It’s more like "Oh man I didn’t even realize I’ve been there this long."

How much time do you spend working on music?

When I do it, I like to…it’s a process to where I don’t like, like if I have an artist in the studio, I don’t really like making beats with the artist just because it’ll take forever if you don’t get the right beat. I would rather, like, I have so many beats, I’d rather just play beats for the artist and they can say "I like that one, I like that one, I like that one." Alright pick three. Alright pick one of these and let’s just do it. Because then if you do it that way you can knock out three, four tracks if you’re on a roll, if you’re really flowing. But if you try to sit in the studio and just make beats from scratch you just never know.

How long does it take for you to make a beat?

It depends on how I’m feeling. I get in modes where I can make like five beats in three hours. And hard beats. And then I get in modes where I’m like "Ah, I’m bored, let me go try to make a beat." I try to make a beat and am like "Nah let’s scratch that." I just close my computer. You get in those zones. So I have to really take advantage of the zones when I’m like, on it. That’s why I’m more of a "play the beats for the person" type of person. But I’ve definitely made a beat before but it’s just a way longer process, and you can get so much more done if you just pick them out.


Where do you record? Is there a studio in your house?

I have a studio in Inglewood, and I go to other studios also in Oakland. I also have a set up in my house where I can make beats just so I don’t have to go to the studio to make beats.

You're obviously on the road a ton. How does that work?

Beats headphones. I have a little portable keyboard. That’s the good thing about technology, like, it’s all on my computer. Every instrument I could ever want is right here on this hard drive on this computer, and all I need is this little mini keyboard and headphones, and I can make a whole orchestra if I wanted to.

How do you find artists to collaborate with?

Instagram. Instagram. I slide in people’s DM’s [Laughs]. No, but seriously, like sometimes I’ll make videos on my Instagram and I’ll put people’s music that I like and then I’ll tag them and they’ll like hit me back, "Yo, all love." I’m like "Yeah for sure we should work." And then it just works out like that.

Photo by Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

What’s your dream collaboration?

I probably have like three. And they would be Pharrell, Kanye, and Drake. It’s like a triangle.

Those are certainly heavyweights.

By far.

Dr. Dre was up at the Warriors practice facility last month. Did you have a chance to talk to him?

We definitely talked. We chopped it up. He said I should come through to the studio. I was seeing what he was doing All-Star Weekend but I think he told me like it was his birthday or something.


I feel like he might have a super busy schedule.

Man, that’s what I’m saying! I’m not the type of person who’d just be like "Hey Dr. Dre come to the studio with me." He probably has a thousand things to do.

Did you see The Defiant Ones documentary with him and Jimmy Iovine?

Yeah, when they came to the arena, Dre and Jimmy Iovine, they were just talking to us about that process and everything that was going on at that time. And it was definitely an amazing experience.

Have you ever considered rapping?

I can rap. Extremely well. I just don’t.

Why not?

Because I don’t have a, like, an edited rap.

What does that mean?

All my raps are really ratchet for some reason. But it’s not just because of life experiences, it’s just because of all the music I listen to. So I can’t, like, do any rap that’s politically correct, so I would never rap in my life.

What about after your basketball career is over?

Nah. It just doesn’t make sense if I’m like 35 and retired and I start rapping at 35 after playing in the NBA. It’d be like "this 35-year-old basketball player wants to rap now." That’s not a good look.

When is your first album coming out?

I want to put it out by the end of the year. I’m working on some songs right now. Definitely some good collabs, and I’m trying to put it out either right before the playoffs or right after the championship.

Oh, right after the championship?

Yeah, time it like that. [Laughs] It’s crazy that you can predict and say stuff like that, right?


You’re in a rare position where you’re able to do that.

Very rare.

Do players ever come up to you asking about rapping over your beats?

Players don’t, but I know players who rap, and have been out rapping before I started telling people that I produce. So I definitely want to collab with them guys, Andre Drummond and Dame Lillard.

Drummond raps? I didn’t know that.

Yeah he raps. He’s got music videos out and everything.

Who do you listen to now?

I listen to everything. I’m the person who goes to the new playlists on Spotify and I just press shuffle and listen to what I can listen to. And if I like it, I add it to one of my playlists. Because I’ve got a really short attention span, so I like hearing all the new stuff when it comes out immediately.

Do you have any musically-related goals?

I want a gold record. You know what I’m saying? You gotta start slow. I want gold. That’s it. I want to put a gold plaque up next to the championship like, that sounds dope. That just sounds like something really dope to do.

Photo by Jason Bautista

How realistic do you think that is?

Nowadays I think that’s extremely realistic just because everything goes viral so fast. One song could just…I could make a song about popcorn that has a nice beat. It could really go off. And not to downplay people’s music or anything, but it’s like nowadays, the way the internet works, the way information spreads so fast, you never know what you could do. You could make a song that has nothing to do with something then someone makes a viral dance off it and it goes. It’s just crazy how many aspects of music that don’t have nothing to do with music can influence your music.


Are there any other producers whose brain you’d like to pick?

Definitely Dr. Dre. Definitely Pharrell. Definitely Kanye. Drake’s producer 40. The filters that he uses and the way that he just switches the beat around in the middle of the beat so Drake can talk his stuff is amazing.

Anything I didn’t ask you about music that I didn’t ask that you wish I did?

I plan on having a single come out every month. I planned on having two but realistically that doesn’t work for promotion.

Kind of like Kanye’s GOOD Fridays, even though that was every week.

It’s kind of different when you’re Kanye [Laughs]. Everybody is just waiting for your music. It would be the equivalent to me putting out a workout video or a dunk video every Friday. Everybody would go watch that, but no one knows I do music. And I go by "Pierre," so they really don’t know. So it’s different.

Are you ever going to produce under your real name?

No, I just like the vibe. I like the fact that I never put my face in the videos or the album covers. You look at all my album covers they’re just the Pierre head. I really like that and feel like that's a thing, an ambiance that works with the music.

Photo by Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

I want to switch gears for just a second and quickly talk about Parking Lot Chronicles, your YouTube show. How did that start?

My people came to me, asking if I wanted to do something for YouTube, and I was like yeah definitely, but we just didn’t know exactly what it was. And then they went and talked to [Golden State Warriors General Manager] Bob Myers, and Bob Myers said it would be cool if we did it in the parking lot.


And just realize, if this was any other organization, I don’t think it would work. It’s very unique and I definitely had to take the opportunity because if you ask a team that’s not winning, every game and I’m outside in the parking lot, smiling and laughing, they wouldn’t rock with that. It’d definitely be all over Twitter. "They’re losing because they’re worried about Parking Lot Chronicles!" It’s with [Kevin Durant’s] company, and it’s on KD’s YouTube channel, and I produce all the music on it. If you hear all the music in the back, those are all my songs.

How much work goes into making those episodes. They look thrown together, but I'm sure there's more behind them than that.

It’s very raw. That’s the thing I like about it. I’ve been on a reality show before, with my mother on the OWN Network. And I just didn’t like the predictable vibe, like "Alright we’re gonna go to this restaurant and talk to these people about stuff we never really talk about." You know what I’m saying? So the vibe with [Parking Lot Chronicles] is we get someone who wants to come on the show, we have no cue cards, we’re just like "Alright hey, what’s going on? Shout out your Instagram. What do you have going on, any charities? What do you like to do in your off time?" It’s just regular questions. Questions you ask your friends. And I really like that vibe.

Like in the episode where you ask Draymond Green about trash talk, does he have any idea that question is coming?


No, he has no idea. No. And that’s the good thing about it. You get that raw answer. None of this is predictable. Although when you ask Steph [Curry] questions, he always has the right answer. It’s amazing. Always has the right answers.

What’s been different for you in year two with the Warriors, compared to your first go around?

I’m not playing as much, but we’re still winning. We’re staying focused. And we know what the end goal is, which is a championship. We’re looking forward to that.

How would you describe the vibe of the team right now? Are you guys bored, more anxious?

I feel like we’re definitely anxious. I feel like everybody’s going through the season like "Playoffs. Hurry. Up." Because it’s a whole different atmosphere. People think that because we went 16-1 last year, like it was easy. It wasn’t easy. Those teams were playing hard. We were just, everybody was just so in sync and we were all in playoff mode. It was just amazing like, everybody was like "Yo, we’re in the playoffs, like, it’s time." The regular season wasn’t anything. When the playoffs come around it doesn’t matter what your record is, and that’s the thing that I admire about the guys. They don’t care what the record is. They don’t care if we went undefeated. We just know that in the playoffs you definitely have to step it up.

How much longer do you want to keep playing?

As long as I can. Until my pinky toes don’t work. No but I do want to play for another good five, six years at least.


That long?

Have you ever seen me sprint up and down the court? [Laughs] I’m ready!

Nick Young was your teammate back in Washington almost 10 years ago. What’s it been like having him around again?

Oh man, it’s great. That’s one of my good friends in the league. I’ve known him for at least 10 years. He’s a good guy. We go well together. We definitely bounce off each other and it’s just good vibes.

Photo by Jason Bautista

Seven years ago you competed in a dunk contest that's aged extremely well. I like to think of this year’s contest as the seven-year anniversary of you getting robbed from winning it.

[Laughs] The seven-year anniversary. Seven is supposed to be a lucky number.

What’s your general reflection on that performance?

I feel like that was one of the best dunk contests. And unexpected. I don’t think people really thought we were gonna have a good dunk contest because we had so many big men in the dunk contest. Literally three big men and a guard. Serge Ibaka jumped from the free-throw line. I feel like we had a pretty impressive dunk contest.

I want to close with a slightly random question: Given your eclectic taste and reputation, do you feel misunderstood at all?

JM: I don’t feel misunderstood. I just feel like people try to…they know so many people who are basketball players and they try to put you in that [box]. A basketball player acts like this. And they’re supposed to act like this. And say stuff like this. And not supposed to be quirky and not supposed to have good comebacks. They just think you’re supposed to say "Hey how are you I play basketball." But nah, I’m extremely hyper. I’m funny. I like to have fun. I’m just a real smooth person.