When the music stops: How the NBA in-house DJ is coping with no basketball
‘I miss the atmosphere. I miss it all.’
DJ Poizon Ivy and Sir Foster were working home games for the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, respectively, when they got word the NBA season was being suspended. The Houston Rockets’ DJ T. Gray was watching the news unfold on TV. And the Golden State Warriors’ DJ D Sharp, who was preparing to spin records for an empty arena at the team’s next game, found out from a friend.
“I have seen some crazy things happen in-game, but this is by far the craziest,” Ivy “DJ Poizon Ivy” Awino told The Undefeated.
When the NBA season was suspended on March 11 after Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the music also stopped for the league’s in-house DJs, who have lost numerous other gigs.
The Undefeated recently caught up with Awino of the Mavericks and WNBA’s Dallas Wings, the Warriors’ Derrick “D Sharp” Robinson, the Rockets’ Teryl “DJ T. Gray” Gray and the Hawks’ organist Foster “Sir Foster” Carson to talk about how their lives have been affected since the coronavirus shut down the league.
What do you miss about performing at games?
D Sharp (Warriors): The fans. I miss the team. I miss the atmosphere. I miss it all.
DJ Poizon Ivy (Mavs): There is a lot I feel like I took for granted. My fans. My co-workers. The environment. My game-day routines. It felt like we were getting on the most exciting part of the ride, and then the ride just stopped and you had to get off.
DJ T. Gray (Rockets): The energy. The crowd … and being able to help bring them along and help guide that energy with the sound we provide. And then playing some Lil Baby and Nipsey [Hussle] for James Harden and [Russell] Westbrook. Just that warm-up mix playing what James wants to hear. I got so used to doing it and being a part of his pregame warm-up and process getting ready.
Sir Foster (Hawks): The atmosphere. This is the home stretch of the season. Absolutely the fans. The reaction from scoring a basket. The loud music. The dunks. The athletes. Pretty much everything.
How many gigs have you lost to the coronavirus outside of the NBA?
D Sharp: The first gig that canceled on me was a fundraiser the first weekend of March because Santa Clara County put out a mandate that no crowds of 200 or more could congregate. Then I was supposed to do a three-day corporate event. Those were two big checks that hit me hard.
I was still scheduled for a couple [Bay Area] clubs, but I called them asking if they were going to cancel knowing San Francisco had just did what Santa Clara County did. He called back saying they were canceling. And that weekend I had three gigs and all were canceled. At that point, everything was going out of control. … I lost over 10 gigs easily, maybe more.
DJ Poizon Ivy: I was going to have the Mavericks season, the playoffs and help with the launch of the Basketball Africa League [which has been postponed] in Senegal. Most people that know me know my heart is shaped like the continent of Africa. I’m always eager to try to find ways to support what [the NBA is doing there]. …
A lot of private gigs ranging from things happening in a week or two to the next three months due to the uncertainty, people were pulling back, canceling or rescheduling to an unknown date. South by Southwest, corporate events. It’s a lot of stuff, but how big is that in the grand scheme of things?
DJ T. Gray: Houston was a location for the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and the [McDonald’s] High School All-American Game. All of that is gone and suspended. I have four to five bar and club gigs per week that is grinded to a halt.
I have music that we have streamed on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and everywhere that are being promoted more. Those things have an uptick because people have time to listen more. But that money won’t be seen until August.
Sir Foster: I lost seven Hawks games. But I do other sports. I do college baseball. The ink wasn’t dry on all the contracts, but we were in talks to have our busiest March ever. It was going to be a really big month for me. I haven’t counted all the gigs I lost. But I can tell you my March and April calendar was completely full. Obviously, that’s a big financial impact. I went from having my busiest March to no March. I have no April.
Are you hopeful your NBA franchise will make up for the money you’ve lost working for them?
DJ D Sharp: Most definitely. The players and coaches have donated for people at Chase Center. If they’re doing stuff like that, I don’t see why they wouldn’t. I’m a little worried about my industry, but I think we will bounce back come this summer. I’ve been blessed to save a little nest egg. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to using that.
DJ Poizon Ivy: I’m a full-time employee, but at the same time I want to make it count. I activate an arena and I’m also missing out on a lot of speaking engagements. I’m missing out on a lot of community events we had booked. Some of those things may not be able to be rescheduled, and that stuff means a lot.
DJ T. Gray: My concern is more so that the arena is sanitized, the city is taken care of and the country is back on its feet from the virus. We can get to my money eventually. And it will be a concern. But right now, we made some moves to make sure that wasn’t the only basket I was drawing from. In due time, when it gets to that, it’s brand-new. But right now, there is zero money coming in. … We have nine [home] games left in the season. I’m a seasonal employee. It will come.
Sir Foster: As a musician, you have to keep multiple gigs and multiple streams of income. I know my September schedule by July. I know my March and April schedule by November [a year earlier]. I book so far out that you don’t have time to do anything else. So, to lose everything at once is not something you can prepare for. I did have a pretty busy calendar, so I hope they reach out and say, ‘Hey, we obviously understand the impact and we’re going to make up for it.’
DJ D-Nice received hundreds of thousands of viewers on Instagram Live in the last week. What kind of effect does that have on the DJ world?
DJ D Sharp: I thought it was amazing. It just shows the world needs music even in trying times. He’s definitely going to get a gazillion gigs from this. I’m now optimistic that my profession will be OK after all this. People are going to need to dance and come together after this is all over with.
DJ Poizon Ivy: D-Nice has always been a man of the people. It is my strong and sincere belief that social media, if used correctly, amplifies real life. In the case of D-Nice, many of the people who logged on, watched, partied and shared #HomeSchool actually rock with him in real life, showed him so much real love. It’s safe to say he’s changed the game, especially from a VR perspective. Finally, much like sports, music has so much power. It unites and heals, and he proved that yet again.
DJ T. Gray: What D-Nice did was incredible and organic. I’ve always seen him as ‘The People’s DJ’ and he definitely proved it this past weekend. This opens up a new world not just for DJs, but for promoters and partiers, also. House parties with a DJ of your choice and he or she doesn’t have to be there. And that’s just the beginning. Endless possibilities crafted from a hip-hop original’s need to jam and fill a void that the people needed. Salute the brother D-Nice.
Sir Foster: It changes a lot of things. First, there seemed to be a narrative or consensus going around the past few years that basically said R&B has passed its point of highest influence. This past weekend proved that narrative is flawed. D-Nice had 100,000 people all over the world tuned in to a set that consisted largely of R&B music. R&B artists and fans have continued to argue for the genre’s place in modern music. And D-Nice’s set showed everyone that R&B is alive and well and it still captivates people.
Another thing that stuck out to me was this: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen 100,000 watching a [Instagram] Live ever in the history of social media. Long-term, this will be a game-changer, not just for DJs, but for events and social media period.
Name three to five artists we should be listening to.
DJ D Sharp: Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z and Jay Electronica project, Marvin Gaye.
DJ Poizon Ivy: Fireboy DML, Trapboy Freddy, Rapsody, Erykah Badu and Tems.
DJ T. Gray: Roddy Ricch, Lil Baby, Jay Electronica-Jay Z project and D Smoke.
Sir Foster: Sir Foster, me, my album is out. Willie HyN, Jori, Asia Sparks and Kamaiyah.
If the NBA season is to resume in empty arenas, why would you want to perform?
D Sharp: The Warriors were about to do that anyway. [Warriors general manager] Bob Myers and [head coach] Steve Kerr had already made the decision that they needed music for the [players]. Steph Curry even said that we at least need to have music. That would be my argument. The guys want it. You can put me up in the corner of the arena. I won’t be around anybody. …
[The Warriors] sent a list of songs for the players [for the canceled game against the Brooklyn Nets on March 12]. They wanted to make sure I had everything on the list and to make sure it was all clean. I was actually looking forward to playing for the players as opposed to playing for the atmosphere, which would [be] totally different. They were going to have me play to players with no fans. Usually, we are playing to the fans, atmosphere and building up hype.
DJ Poizon Ivy: The possibilities are endless. We can collectively poll players on what they want to hear because they can actually pay attention. But at the same time, I don’t know if it’s not fair because our fans are like a part of the choir I direct. Without them, I would be fulfilling these crazy things I’ve always wanted to occur in my head because those are some good speakers [at American Airlines Center in Dallas].
DJ T. Gray: To create some sort of vibe for the players. They like music and most are music heads. James Harden is a music head. Russell Westbrook, y’all see the pregame dances and what he does. Just to give them some rhythm and flow. It’s quiet in there if you’re just hearing sneakers and the ball. … At least give them some sense of kind of normalcy, kind of energy. I can play some cool instrumentals. I got plenty of beats. And if they air the games, it would sound better than just crickets, whistles and basketballs.
Sir Foster: I would think you want as close to the game experience as you can get, and I’m a big part of that. Obviously, if there are no fans there they won’t be chanting ‘defense.’ But the players are used to hearing that. It would make it different than just a practice or a scrimmage for them. I am definitely part of the unique experience if you play for the Hawks. I am one of the things that let you know it’s game time now.
What will be the first song you will play when you’re back spinning at the games?
DJ D Sharp: ‘Alright’ by Kendrick Lamar. We gon’ be all right. And I really feel that.
DJ Poizon Ivy: ‘Welcome Back’ by Young Jeezy. I love Jeezy’s energy and I feel like his energy in those older records really expresses how I feel. I feel it’s a very liberating song.
DJ T. Gray: ‘After Party’ by Don Toliver. It’s like starting the party again. I like the energy in that record. It’s a Houston record, of course, that I think it’s just fitting for the situation for moving past and rebuilding from all this.
Sir Foster: ‘Homecoming’ by Lil Uzi Vert for a lot of reasons. No. 1, because Lil Uzi Vert just dropped an amazing album called Eternal Atake. I don’t think I’ve stopped listening to it since it came out. Two, the beat is hard. And three, ‘Homecoming’ is appropriate if we are able to finish the season. It will feel good to be back.