Playing under the bright lights of New York City and in the media capital of the world, RJ Barrett blocks the outside noise that so many professional athletes have fell victim to in the Big Apple.
Whether he’s taking care of his four dogs in the quiet suburbs of Westchester County or getting shots up pre-game, one can bet the even-keel New York Knicks guard is listening to music.
Spotify tapped the 22-year-old to curate the latest installment of their “Taste” playlist before Barrett and the Knicks season tips off later this month in Memphis.
Being from Toronto, it only makes sense for a heavy dose of Drake to be featured on the newly made playlist, as the 6 God has been a superstar for more than half of Barrett’s life.
Nicknamed Star J, the four-year rising wing shrewdly mixed in an array of tracks ranging from 2Pac to YoungBoy Never Broke Again for the playlist — the latter bing a polarizing topic of conversation inside the Knicks locker room — as well as Young Dolph, and Moneybagg Yo’s “Time Today,” which is the final song he hits play on before it’s showtime at Madison Square Garden.
“So those are my hype songs right before the game to get my mind right. This gets me in the zone,” he tells Billboard at Spotify’s “Taste” dinner celebration in Times Square hosted by Grey Goose. “I’m the guy that listens to music hours out the whole time before the game.”
RJ Barrett is ready to call New York home long-term after having his name dangled in trade rumors all summer and inking a four-year $107 million contract extension with the Knicks, which finally killed the Charlie Ward curse.
Find the rest of our discussion with Barrett below as we go long on Barrett’s music tastes, meeting the late DMX shortly after getting drafted, his favorite moment in his career thus far, and more.
Billboard: How did this Taste playlist collaboration with Spotify come together?
RJ Barrett: I heard about the opportunity and I jumped out and said, “We gotta make this happen.” It’s a big thing and an honor for sure so I’m really happy about it.
Who were some of your favorite artists growing up and nowadays?
I always listen to Drake, that will always be No. 1. Recently, I started listening to more 50 Cent. I got some Young Dolph and a lot of Moneybagg Yo. There’s some Lil Baby too. This playlist, specifically, I listen to right before the game. “Time Today” by Moneybagg [Yo] is the last song I listen to right before I go out on the court.
Coming from Canada, how was it having Drake and The Weeknd become the two kings of music? I know you’re a huge fan of Views.
Growing up, Drake was the guy for what he is for Canada as a whole. Views and Take Care, we listened to that growing up. I was still in Canada when Views came out and I remember it was just all over. I know every word to every song.
I have a lot of The Weeknd on my other playlists. He’s really good for sure. Just what those guys mean to Canada is huge. I still think Views is my favorite Drake album. I think my favorite verse of his might be a feature. It’s “I’m on One” with Future. Drake’s verse goes crazy.
Did you enjoy Honestly, Nevermind with Drake making the pivot to house music?
Honestly, Nevermind was a good summer vibe. It was one of those you had to listen to more and understand that it is really like club music. I loved it. You chill by the pool, you go out to the club — he dropped that the perfect time. “Flights Booked” was a good one. “Sticky” was definitely the best song. “Jimmy Cooks” was the second-best song.
With you being an honorary New Yorker now, and this being the birthplace of hip-hop, speak to the marriage of basketball and hip-hop?
Some of the greatest of all-time are from New York. Just the amount of talent and everything they have is really unmatched. In Canada, we’re talking about Drake, but New York has so many people. The talent here for generations going all the way back is surreal.
Is there someone you’re a fan of that you may have seen courtside that maybe you were playing their music pre-game?
I saw 50 Cent courtside and I was going crazy. Funny story, it was my first year in New York and I just got drafted. I love DMX since I was a kid. I’m in P.F. Chang’s and I look in the corner and I see DMX. I’m like, “There’s no way DMX is out here at P.F. Chang’s in Westchester. Like what’s he doing over here?” I’m walking toward him and I’m all geeked up and excited.
When he saw me, he started getting excited and he started going crazy. He’s like, “Man, that’s you, you the one!” He asked me to take a picture with him and stuff. That’s a cool moment for me. One of the greats.
As far as the Knicks locker room, who has the aux cord?
Obi Toppin controls the music. Deuce McBride controls the music sometimes. It’s more the young guys letting it flow playing everything. They’re solid. Everybody has different tastes, but we all vibe in the locker room so it’s cool.
Is there an artist that’s the anthem for the upcoming season?
I wouldn’t say we have a particular person or anthem. Even now, it’s really early. I know the guys like a lot of NBA YoungBoy. It’s kinda split — half the people like him and half the people don’t. There’s a lot of trying to convince everybody to like NBA YoungBoy. He’s always a big topic of conversation. He has so many songs, so he has so many good songs, but you’re gonna have bad ones too. Everybody has misses so it’s 50/50.
What kinda music is Tom Thibodeau rocking with?
I don’t know — he’s probably listening to some country music or something. I don’t know what Thibs listens to. I’ve never seen Thibs listen to music. That’s just a guess.
Do you have anything you focused on improving this off-season?
I really worked on trying to finish better at the basket and making my free throws. Just being more consistent and that might seem small but being consistent in those will go a long way.
How do you like living up in the suburbs of Westchester compared to NYC?
Smooth — it’s quiet. I kinda think I need that, personally. Just because the city is kinda hectic and our lives are hectic with everything. So being able to go to The Garden and then go to dinner if you want or something in the city, but being able to get out and away is peaceful for sure. It’s close enough if I want to go to the city I just go down there.
What was your last conversation with Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski]?
I actually saw him a couple of weeks ago when I went to Duke. It was good to see him. He looked good, man. He’s happy and enjoying his retirement. It was great to catch up, and he’s always been a great person. Just being able to see him was great. Coach K is there for you anytime you need him. He’ll send you little text updates throughout the year. He’s always in communication.
Did you get another tattoo this off-season?
I got one in the middle of my chest. There’s a stopwatch and a bunch of roses around it to obviously take up space. The stopwatch where the 12 is supposed to be is an “M” for the first high school I went to [St. Marcellinus]. Where the three is supposed to be it has Montverde, [which is] where I graduated from and the six has a “D” for Duke. Then the No. 9 I just have in bold in a different font for the Knicks and right now. It was also my dad’s number and it has a big meaning to me. The time is set to 9:00 because I’m No. 9 and it’s nine time. I got it done in Toronto.
Your favorite moment as a Knick has to come down to the game-winner vs. Boston or dunking on Bogey [Bogdan Bogdanović] during the playoff series against Atlanta.
Definitely dunking on Bogey. It was nuts, the world stopped for at least a minute. Everything was just crazy. It was a perfect moment.