JaVale McGee is conspicuous. In a league full of human giants, he still hovers over most NBA opponents at a staggering 7 feet high as the center for Oakland’s Golden State Warriors. He pairs that towering height with a three-part rat tail on the back of his head, and then matches that all up with an off-the-court persona that has landed him his own YouTube series, where he simply flexes his hilarious personality via DIY parking lot interviews with other players. Again, McGee just stands out.
But even as a crowd favorite as the starting center for the league’s reigning champs, McGee is not looking for attention. At least, attention he doesn’t deserve. JaVale is not only a ball player, but a budding music producer. Though he’s not using any of his basketball chops for buzz on the music side of things.
As a producer, he goes under the pseudonym Pierre — a hip-hop, trap, R&B and techno beatmaker who quietly uploads his creations to the back page of Soundcloud, offering them up for free to rappers, singers and MCs who he feels are deserving enough to have them, or close enough friends who would want them. He goes out of his way to not bother potential collaborators.
“I spoke to Drake about it before, but I really just don’t think people take me serious,” he says. “And I’m not the guy to keep hitting people, like, ‘You want to? You want to?’ Just nah. I’d rather have it come out and everybody hears my music, and now they wanna work with me. It’s better to build a relationship that way.”
Along with building the beat catalog, McGee is also forming his own label, Pierre Music Group, a conglomerate currently composed of himself and Rome Castille, who’s frequently featured on the album. As for the direction of the label, he say there are no limits as far as the genre of his signees.
“I always look at Akon as inspiration, and the fact that at one point Lady Gaga was signed to Konvict Muzik,” he explains. “That’s just crazy — I would have never thought of that. That Lady Gaga is under T-Pain and Akon? That’s visionary stuff. I would never want to close off an area or a genre in PMG because it’s not what I listen to.”
Now, as his team edges towards playoffs that start in about two weeks, McGee is about to drop Pierre, a 16-track album with carefully cut high-quality beats, each curated in a way that sounds about radio-ready. Before the album’s full release, he’s debuting the project exclusively through Billboard, below.
Billboard: What has the reaction been like to the singles thus far?
JaVale McGee: The reactions have been pretty good. I feel like people don’t really know that it’s me and they think that I just funded it or something. I don’t think people realize that I produce like 90 percent of all my music, except for the songs that I co-produce with people. That’s really me going to the studio with the artists and all that stuff. Once they realize that they’ll be a little bit more surprised — pleasantly surprised.
I also wanna know a bit about how people perceive you as a producer, because you’re widely known as one of the funnier guys in the league. Do you worry that people won’t take the music seriously?
Yeah, I do. Every time I go to the studio with artists it’s kind of hard to get past that facade of, “Oh, he’s just a basketball player.” I like to play the music and then they’re usually like, “Wow. I’m not gonna lie I thought I was just gonna come in here and hear some bullshit, but it’s really some good music.”
And then obviously the minute the Warriors lose a game, the press, or just the Internet in general, will be like, “Less time on mixtapes, more time on practice.”
Exactly. You have that perception, too. And I’m like, bro, the most I can practice in a day is five hours. You have 19 hours to do nothing.
Can you take me through a normal day?
I wake up at like 9 a.m. Get to practice at like 10:10. Eat breakfast for 10 minutes, then get my lift in, then go to practice, then work out after practice, get my second lift in. Then some treatment, then lolly-gagging around the locker room around 2 p.m., then shower and get home by 3 p.m. So from 3 p.m. to when I have to go back to practice in the morning, I have nothing to do. When I have nothing to do, I have ADHD, so I’m really bored. So I have an office that I made into a little studio with two monitors and a laptop and mini keyboard and I produce there. I’ll go in there for a good two hours and just make beats and do random things concerned with music, of course. And then from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. play some Call of Duty. I mean it’s a lot of free time, but you’re supposed to have a lot of free time as an athlete.
Are you self-taught as a producer?
I’m in Logic X. I’m basically self-taught; I taught myself how to to use Logic through YouTube. I found out how to sample music through a YouTube tutorial of Just Blaze doing it. This was like 2009, too. I just figured it out. I feel like it wouldn’t be as easy for me to do it if I really needed to, like, read music. It means more to me for producers like Kanye, when they were back in the day using tapes. They didn’t have hard drives or emails where they could just pass sounds off. I have so much more respect for producers back then than I do now.
Initially you weren’t selling beats for money, right?
No, not at all. Because I don’t really want to sell my beats. It’s just like, I don’t need to be selling them right now. I just give them out to the artists who want them, or put it out myself. I feel like I don’t need to sell the beat unless I’m selling them to somebody’s who’s major. It’s more about relationships for me. I’m not worried about upfront sales.
Are people ever surprised when you approach them with a beat?
Yeah, that’s like every time. Like literally, every time. They never really get it until I play the music. I’m like, “Yo, I produce,” and they’re like, “Yeah, okay, and I play in the NBA.” Every opportunity I get to take somebody to the studio, I do it, so they get it.
I read in another interview that you don’t rap because you have trouble keeping your lyrics non-explicit.
That’s true, that’s very true. It’s like, I don’t make money from music right now, I make money from basketball. So I can’t be out here saying reckless stuff on music that can affect my basketball — like perception, just the perception of me saying stuff on rap songs could lose me money on contracts in the long run. So that’s why I stick to strictly producing. I didn’t write these lyrics. These are the artists. I view music as art, so if I draw a naked body with paint, that’s art. And that’s how it is with music. It’s art.
So you’re not rapping on this album, but if you had to rank yourself, Dame Dolla, Swaggy P, Lonzo and Shump — where do you think you line up?
I would probably same Dame Dolla, lyrically, and then Shump. The only thing about it is I don’t know any basketball player that makes club music. And that’s what I want, and I don’t think there’s a lane for that in players who are doing music. That’s the lane I’m in. I just want to make popular music; I don’t want to make heartfelt stuff.
Who are your favorite artists right now?
My favorite artists would be Drake, Future. There’s so many — I like the young guys like Lil Pump, Lil Yachty. I feel like I grew up right in the era where Vine came around, and social media, and tried to distribute it all. So I have an ear for younger music, older music and much older, older music. I’m really just influenced by everybody. I hear a beat by Metro, and then I go try to make a Metro Boomin beat. Or I’ll hear a song that Lil Pump is on, and try to make that kind of sound. It’s inspiration from music, hip-hop, in general, in its current state, I guess.
I heard you were getting into country a little bit.
I would say like a month ago, I went to a Spotify playlist and it said country. And I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna go to this playlist because it’s obviously the best country songs.” So I listened to like 12 of them, and I really liked seven of those, so I made my own country playlist. Whenever I’m having a day where I wanna listen to country, I listen to that playlist, and I know the lyrics and everything. I didn’t realize how intricate and how good country lyrics were. They’re amazing.
There’s a song with Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line, and Chris Lane and Tori Kelly, Kane Brown. It’s just the popular ones. Sometimes you listen to a whole bunch of songs, and you’re like, “No, I just want the hits.”
What other genres are influencing you right now?
Do you think you’d try to collab with one of them?
I’m actually good friends with Diplo, and we’ve talked about collab’ing. I already know Diplo’s schedule is crazy, so I don’t want to be that guy who’s like asking him to get in the studio all the time. That’s like asking me to get in the gym. Like, “Oh, you wanna go shoot some hoops?” Like, no, bro. That’s my job. It’s a different mode when I’m at work, and I’m doing what I have to do. I just know that it will happen eventually, but I’m not forcing it.
As for the Warriors, who is in charge of music in the locker room?
Usually it’s either me, or like Kevon Looney with the weight room. And then Zaza [Pachulia] gets to it and he plays house music, and that’s the only bad part about it. And it’s like deep house, not the kind with the vocals. The deep kind.
Are there any songs/genres that are completely on the no-list in the locker room?
Country music. I tried it one time and they were definitely not rocking with it. They were like, “Yo, you gotta chill out.”