Jacob Yoffee and Roahn Hylton
Music Of LeBron James' "Best Shot" Aims To Make You Lean In
When director Michael John Warren needed music to help tell the story of an inner-city basketball team mentored by former college ball player Jay Williams, he found a collaborating duo to deliver the soundtrack who, on the surface, could not be more different from each other.
The docuseries, executive produced by basketball superstar LeBron James, called for a mix of hip-hop and film music. Composing duo Roahn Hylton and Jacob Yoffee had only known each other since 2016, but together they fit the description perfectly.
On their own, their style and musical background could seem like a world away from each other. Hylton started as an engineer in Atlanta and comes from a pop background. Yoffee got his start in the classical world and studied orchestral writing. Inspired by his favorite artists growing up, Hylton wanted to change the world through music. Yoffee knew he wanted to work in music after seeing GRAMMY winner Michael Jackson do the moon walk.
The pair first met at a music conference in Israel and since then have created Billboard chart hits with the likes of GRAMMY-nominated artists Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Keyshia Cole. They have composed music for movies that include Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pirates Of The Caribbean and Ready Player One.
"Our backgrounds are so different, right? But they are both musical," Hylton told the Recording Academy. "His classical background really compliments my pop background and my pop background really compliments his classical background."
Recently having worked with GRAMMY-nominated artist Janelle Monáe and a 50-piece choir, the duo was ready to use their differences to complement each other once again. Enter "Best Shot."
With "Best Shot" the producers/composers had more freedom with the music creation process than some of the other projects they have worked on in the past.
"It was a very, very collaborative experience. That's what we loved about working with Michael John Warren," Hylton said. "He allowed the music to tell its own story and he used that story with the picture and created its own unique thing. It was this perfect marriage of music and exposition."
In some instances, Warren had the episodes structured around the music. The second episode is named after one of the duo's songs and it became the theme of the entire episode. With a background in film and television, this was a different experience for Yoffee, which made him feel more a part of the team than just a music supplier.
"I come from working on film and television where the episode is done and then you score to it and it's locked in place," he said. This was like water — everything was malleable and moving. This is a much more satisfying artistic experience."
To create the soundtrack, the duo used the songwriting camp process familiar to the pop world. Rappers, singers and musicians come through the camp to talk about ideas and create music. Among the artists who helped make the music is singer/songwriter Mereba, who ended up contributing to a few songs on the project.
"I kept telling him, we're getting away with so much that I wouldn't normally get away with because a lot of times when you work on film you have to sit really low and be very subtle," Yoffee said. "It's like you try to say something without saying anything 'cause you don't want to overtake the picture. But because everything was living and breathing in this pop music world, we could do things that were much higher level of energy without overtaking."
Though Yoffee said a docuseries can have wall-to-wall music that changes wildly, Warren and many other modern docuseries directors are going toward a more cinematic direction when it comes to the music.
"In this particular story, we wanted to make sure that we didn't use overused tropes, like things that you would automatically say, 'Hey, this is basketball, hey this is this,'" Hylton said.
The end product was so well received by Warner Brothers that they've decided to release the soundtrack as a standalone project, something that isn't so common anymore.
Throughout the eight months it took to make the soundtrack, the composers/producers depended on each other for material outside of music too. Hylton, who also sings on the soundtrack, is a big basketball fan — even receiving a couple scholarships as a high schooler —and helped Yoffee, who was more into basketball at a younger age, catch up.
What does Hylton think of James' recent move to Los Angeles? He's excited.
"LeBron has transcended basketball, obviously. We're working on a docuseries that his company's produced," he said. "I think that is a big theme, that basketball, again, it's a central idea, but it's also a peripheral idea that this story transcends basketball and is a story idea that everyone can relate to as far as the human condition."
At the end of the day, the duo wants the music to get audiences more into the eight-part docuseries, which premieres on the NBA's YouTube channel starting July 18.
"One thing we kept saying to each other throughout was, 'Does it make you lean forward?'" Yoffee said. "When you're watching, if you want to lean in, you're paying more attention to what's happening rather than the music taking you out."