Essence Carson is about to start her 11th year in the WNBA. The New Jersey native has been playing sports since she was 11 years old. In the 20 years that have passed, she has been honored as a McDonald’s All-American, awarded a basketball scholarship to Rutgers University, won a Big East title, played in an NCAA championship game, drafted to the WNBA, made it to the playoffs with the New York Liberty, recognized as a WNBA All-Star, won a WNBA championship with the Los Angeles Sparks -- and that’s just some of her accomplishments.
Though the WNBA veteran is known for her skills on the court, she’s actually been studying music even longer than she’s been playing basketball. With the help of the WNBA and Women’s National Players Association (WNBPA), Carson’s been able to hone in on her production and music business skills with an internship at Artium Records.
Billboard caught up with the Sparks shooting guard/small forward to chat about her illustrious basketball career, blossoming music career, and what it’s like to be a woman in two male-dominated industries.
This will be your 11th season in the WNBA. How does it feel?
Going into my 11th year in the WNBA feels amazing. Sometimes, I can’t believe how fast time has flown. As I look back on my career, I assess my accomplishments and set new goals each year. Having been an All-Star and WNBA champion, the door is still wide open for things to grow. I’m extremely focused on leading a great group of women and winning another title here in LA.
You’ve played sports all your life, but how did you start getting into music?
Although many know me for playing sports for the majority of my life, I began studying music when I was nine years old. I started with the piano and progressed to the saxophone. I later attended a performing arts school where my concentration was in piano and instrumental studies. Once I finished there, I went on to study music in college. During my time in college is when I began dig into music production.
What made you decide to pursue the Artium Records internship program?
The WNBA and WNBPA has an internship program that pushes current players to take the time and opportunity to feel out their post-basketball careers. Fortunately, Artium was willing to work with our league and player’s association and offer me an intern position within their company. I was able to learn from the industry’s top music producers, leaders in pre-production, A&R’s, and music executives. Learning the business aspect of music is an area where many fail to either get the opportunity and/or fully understand. It’s definitely an experience I would never trade for anything in the world.
You’ve already released an album and mixtape under the moniker PR3PE. In what ways would you say this internship has helped the evolution of your musical career?
This internship has helped expose me to many artists I probably wouldn’t have come across in my daily scavenger hunt for new music. The more you expose your ears to, the more you can potentially learn sonically. You can pick and choose what you like and mold that into your own concoction of musical Kool Aid. [Laughs]
In what ways, if any, would you compare your musical and athletic careers?
I’ve always said there are many similarities in music and basketball. The focus you have to have musically (in my classical training) is a huge advantage when it comes to focusing in on what plays are being drawn up on the fly. Also, the flow of the game of basketball. When all things are clicking and everyone is on the same page, it flows like a sonata would flow from one movement to the next. The passion you feel when you watch a tight playoff game is similar to the emotions evoked by your favorite song -- no matter the genre. The point is, they both make you feel.
Where does your musical inspiration stem from?
I was once the church pianist and occasionally organist. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the sounds of Gospel, R&B, and hip-hop. I grew up listening to many greats: Whitney Houston, Otis Redding, Temptations, Patti Labelle, Nina Simone, Earth, Wind and Fire, MC Lyte, Fugees, Lauryn Hill, and many more. When I’m writing, I draw much of my inspiration from personal experiences, current events, and/or from the lens of someone else’s eyes. We are all trying to be understood. When you hear that one song that you can relate to it suddenly dawns on you, “Hey, someone understands exactly how I feel”.
You’re a woman succeeding in two male-dominated industries. What obstacles have you had to overcome to make your dreams realities?
To make my dreams reality in two male-dominated industries has definitely been challenging. Each time you step on the court, into a studio, or into a conference room you must come with the confidence that you should be there. You approach it with the understanding that your gender may differ from your counterparts, but your skill-set is the same if not exceeding expectations. There have been many times producers or artists didn’t initially take me seriously because I am an athlete. Give them 10 minutes with me and their initial perception has changed. The same goes for those moments between those four lines on the court.
Where do you hope to see your musical career go in the future?
In the future I hope to grace the Grammy stage. That can be as a producer, executive producer, writer, or artist.
What advice do you have for young women trying to achieve their dreams?
As cliché as it may sound: Only you can stop you. No (within the confines of our current topic) only means "not right now." They may tell you no this time around, but you should continue to push forward, break barriers, kick down doors, and create opportunity. The only way to do that is to hone your skills, exude positive energy, and have a kick-ass killer instinct when it comes to making things happen.