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Regional Interests

How the Bay Area Reshaped a Classic Soundtrack

After lobbing a baseball over home plate for the ceremonial first pitch at the San Francisco Giants game last week, rapper and producer P-Lo was on the red carpet Monday in Los Angeles for the world premiere of Space Jam: A New Legacy. 

The film, in theaters and on HBO Max this Friday, is produced by the Bay Area’s own Ryan Coogler. Alongside appearances from LeBron James, Bugs Bunny, Diana Taurasi and Porky Pig, Oakland-raised superstar actress Zendaya voices the role of Lola Bunny and Oakland-grown NBA superstar Damian Lillard voices the character of Chronos– a play off of his “Dame Time” moniker. 

And the Bay Area connection hardly stops there: the soundtrack to what’s expected to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer boasts a handful of Bay Area names, including P-Lo, who produced and is featured on the track “About That Time.”

P-Lo and G-Eazy (L-R) attend the ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ party at Six Flags Magic Mountain on June 29, 2021 in Valencia, California. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

The way it came to be was really quite simple, P-Lo tells me. 

Proximity Media’s co-head of music and marketing, Archie Davis, contacted P-Lo’s manager Stretch. Soon after, P-Lo was shown the rough version of a scene in the movie with Damian Lillard’s character, and was told, “We need a song for this scene, and we want to sample a classic Bay Area song.” 

The sample he chose for “About That Time” was from Too $hort’s 2003 hit, “Burn Rubber.” “It’s probably one of my favorite songs of all time, top five songs,” P-Lo tells me. “When they’re dropping my casket, I wouldn’t mind them playing ‘Burn Rubber,’ know what I’m saying?”

A certain amount of pressure comes with reworking such a beloved track, but for P-Lo, the moment deserved that amount of pressure. “To bring back a classic song that means so much to us—and it’s actually in the movie, not just on the soundtrack—being able to bring that sound into the movie, with Dame being from Oakland, means something,” says P-Lo.

G-Eazy, P-Lo and Kossisko attend the premiere of Warner Bros “Space Jam: A New Legacy” at Regal LA Live on July 12, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

“We Win,” a track featuring Lil Baby and Kirk Franklin is the lead single from the album. National artists like the Jonas Brothers, Salt-N-Pepa and Lil Uzi Vert are included on the soundtrack’s roster. But a conspicuous amount of Bay Area artists are sprinkled throughout the lineup, including Saweetie, 24kGoldn and Duckwrth, who all spend time between L.A. and the Bay. The East Bay’s Symba appears on a track with John Legend and Chance The Rapper, while Richmond’s White Dave handles the final verse on the aforementioned P-Lo produced “About That Time,” which also features G-Eazy and Damian Lillard, who records under the name Dame D.O.L.L.A.

“It shows how many great things are happening in the Bay,” says P-Lo. “I don’t make the same music that 24KGoldn makes, or 24KGoldn doesn’t make the same music that Symba makes, or G-Eazy, or Saweetie, or whoever. It just shows that we’re hitting them from all different angles, and I’m just super excited that the Bay was able to show their ass on this, you know?”

White Dave says the Space Jam: A New Legacy soundtrack feels like “a coming out party” for the artists on the album, even though there are a lot of seasoned veterans on it.

White Dave (real name Noah Coogler, the brother of producer Ryan Coogler) says his involvement happened fairly simply: P-Lo sent the beat to his management team, White Dave reviewed it and laid something down. After White Dave filed his verse, he received a semi-finished copy of the track, and “I was like, ‘This song is going crazy’,” he says. A couple weeks later, White Dave got paperwork letting him know it was going to be in the soundtrack. His mind was blown. “I had no idea that I was contributing to something that was going to be that major,” he tells me during a phone call earlier this week.

White Dave, whose song “Grizzly” is featured in a Jabbawockeez video that’s received over a million views since February, still hasn’t processed being part of the Space Jam sequel. “I don’t make a big deal about things, I just try to keep things in perspective and move on to the next job,” he says. “But!” he emphasizes, “It feels remarkable. Obviously Space Jam has had a huge impact on my life growing up, to be a part of the reboot is bigger than big.”

Symba and LeBron James at the ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ premiere at LA Live in Los Angeles. (Courtesy Symba)

Symba says he struggled with holding in his excitement.  

“You don’t want to tell nobody, in case the song doesn’t make it or if there’s clearance issues, or whatever. So, it just feels good for it to be out,” Symba tells me over the phone.

Despite revamping one of the most memorable soundtracks of a generation—an album that brought nearly 10 songs to the Billboard’s Top 10, sold 4.7 million copies, and had millions of American kids singing about believing in the ability to fly at elementary school graduations—Symba says he didn’t feel too much pressure. 

His friend and producer Oak was working on a track with Chance The Rapper, and needed someone to fill-in the gaps of the hook. “(Oak) was just singing the hook, ‘Pull the ground from out under me, if you want to see me fly,'” says Symba. “And I’m thinking: it doesn’t need to be something that rhymes, it’s something that needs to be a statement.”

He thought about the story of LeBron James, his friend and business partner Maverick Carter, and their business, Klutch Sports.

The words “Look in the sky, the air up here is so clear / We clearly on top” came to Symba. From there, he says, “I started thinking, ‘What would I say next if I was LeBron? How did I get to the top?'”

“We built this thing from where the ground’s at, it’s our time to take flight. We cleared for takeoff,” wrote Symba, who late last year garnered attention for his LA Leakers freestyle (which LeBron James shared on social media). “Oak looked at me,” he adds, and “he was like ‘Bro, you might as well do a verse too.'”

Symba got a surprise when he heard the final track. “About four months later they sent me a version of it with John Legend,” says Symba. “And that’s when I was like ‘Ohhhhh shit, John Legend!'”

This is a big moment for Bay Area talent, Symba says, because he’s seen artists who came before him hit a ceiling. A local lack of entertainment industry infrastructure, mismanagement and a shortage of resources have all led to artists not being able to reach higher platforms, he says.

“You do the Petaluma show, you go to Fresno a few times, up to Chico and you pretty much done it all. You do the same shows over and over and people get tired of seeing you,” says Symba, noting the importance of Bay Area artists being in L.A. where there are much bigger opportunities. 

“There’s a lot of us (in L.A.) pushing the Bay Area forward,” says Symba. “That’s why we go so hard, we always dance the way we do, and yell ‘Bay Area’—because we know how hard it is to get here. We scream that to let everybody on the other side know it’s possible.”

Archie Davis, who co-executive produced the music and soundtrack to the film alongside Ludwig Göransson, tells me to look at all of Ryan Coogler’s work: “There’s a Bay Area ode in all of his films.”

So it was a no-brainer to include the sound of the Bay in this film—especially for Dame Lillard’s part.

Over the phone, Davis, who is from Fresno, tells me the specific moment the seed was planted for the “About That Time” song. “I was watching Dame play in the bubble,” Davis says, in reference to the 2020 NBA season. “‘Blow The Whistle’ came on, and I watched him go dumb on the court.” 

He knew he needed to emulate that in the film, so he reached out to P-Lo.

Davis adds that Saweetie, White Dave and others were natural fits, and Symba has written for so many soundtracks he couldn’t pass him up.

“Once we looked up, we had racked ’em up,” Davis says about the amount of Bay Area artists on the soundtrack. 

In terms of what this says about the marketability of current Bay Area artists? Davis says it’s like that Andre 3000 quote—”The south got something to say”—except this time, it’s the Bay.

Copyright 2021 KQED