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Steve Stoute’s BASE:LINE is the NBA’s new soundtrack

The weekly Apple Music playlist will grant exposure to emerging and independent artists

Advertising and music industry entrepreneur Steve Stoute has an addiction. Relax, it’s nothing negative. Any fan of hip-hop likely boasts the same condition. Stoute loves finding new artists, the stars of tomorrow — and even more so he loves putting people onto them.

A year of working closely with the NBA and Apple Music has produced Stoute’s newest venture, BASE:LINE. This is a new music playlist that is, in the words of its marketing material, “committed to searching the Earth” for new hip-hop talent. So, I ask Stoute, is this basically an evolved version of The Source’s famed Unsigned Hype column?

“Exactly,” the UnitedMasters founder and CEO says with a sense of fulfillment in his tone.

Travis Scott (left) and Steve Stoute (right) attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on Nov. 13, 2019, in Los Angeles.

Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

The first weekly installment, which dropped Thursday, features Baby Keem, Dame D.O.L.L.A., Princess Nokia, Mozzy, Young M.A., Tobe Nwigwe and more. Apple’s director of hip-hop and R&B, Ebro Darden, curated the vibes and the NBA will feature BASE:LINE in the soundtrack for its highlights. That’s quite the exposure for artists looking to take the next step in their careers.

“The partnership with Apple Music will engage the NBA’s global audience around music that resonates with our players and fans,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “Working together with Apple Music and UnitedMasters, we are excited to provide a massive digital stage for their extensive list of top and emerging artists.”

The Undefeated caught up with Stoute to discuss his latest project.

If you had to pick a favorite rap and basketball intersection, what would it be?

Easily, the Jadakiss and Allen Iverson Reebok commercial! And it has nothing to do with [me putting that together]. It was on the radio!

We always hear rappers want to be ballplayers and ballplayers want to be rappers. How deep does that respect between them run?

The art form of rap is so mature as a popular art form that either the artist grew up on the basketball player or the basketball player grew up on the artist. Once it became mainstream and big, you realize, over the last 20 years, there were athletes now who grew up listening, not only to Jay-Z, but Drake’s been around 10 years. For a kid that’s 14 years old who’s now in the league at 24 who was riding around listening to Drake’s mixtape, that’s a big thing! You got a young rapper coming up like NLE Choppa or Lil’ Tecca and they grew up looking up to Trae Young, Luka [Doncic] or some young superstar. Or somebody going through high school listening to rap like Zion [Williamson] and a rapper that’s the same age.

These things run in parallel paths or they’re inspiring each other. They’re dropping the athletes’ names in raps. You see what the athletes are doing on their [Instagram pages] — working out to these rap songs. Posting these rap songs and all of a sudden the songs are taking off and finding new audiences. This is what it’s all about! The respect for their respective art forms is real. LeBron A&R’d 2 Chainz’s last album. That should tell you everything.

“The partnership with Apple Music will engage the NBA’s global audience around music that resonates with our players and fans. Working together with Apple Music and UnitedMasters, we are excited to provide a massive digital stage for their extensive list of top and emerging artists.” — NBA commissioner Adam Silver

How many drafts did you, Ebro and the team go through before the final product we see here?

The team at UnitedMasters worked really closely with Apple and Ebro’s editorial team. To get to 40 songs, we went through hundreds. This is going to be dynamic and change often. The thing that’s really important is that we need to get these young artists an opportunity to be heard. When you talk about the barbershop and mixtapes, that was every rapper that was trying to get on. You heard them and you was like, ‘Oh, that’s it! That’s the kid!’ It made you feel a certain way. It made you feel like you were always on the front end of discovery. And being on the front end of discovery was cool because if you asked somebody did you hear so-and-so — that had value, right?

I don’t ever want that to stop. I’ve always said that [with] UnitedMasters I wanted to build a record company in your pocket. I always felt like when guys were independent artists running around selling music out the trunk of their car — the phone is now the new trunk of your car. If I can work with such prestigious organizations with the scale of the NBA and the scale of Apple to be able to give a voice to the voiceless and give these independent artists who are “selling from the trunk of their car” an opportunity to be heard by fans around the world and give everybody that barbershop moment — why wouldn’t I do that? That’s where I come from. I expect the next group of rap superstars to come from this list.

When you look back in three to five years, what will success look like on this project?

You had a reference to Unsigned Hype. If some of these artists say, ‘I’m on the stage here tonight winning some award, getting some accolades or some piece of hardware.’ And they could say, ‘I got my first start because of BASE:LINE, because of UnitedMasters and Apple Music and the NBA.’ That would be another feather in the tassle of a mighty long list of working with some of the greatest artists in the world. This a way to help these new artists, these men and women who have been working on their craft and be able to find their voice, find an audience and find success. This is their launching pad. That’s what makes me excited.

Liner Notes

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.