THE BELIEVER: You recently released your third album, Tunde, which explores your Nigerian heritage through Afrobeats. I can’t think of any other NBA player who can sing—like actually sing sing—the way you do. Where did you get it from?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I started singing when I was small. My family was very religious. A go-to-church-every-Sunday-type family. I wasn’t forced to sing, but I was always curious about joining the choir. I started singing in the church around the second or third grade. Before you knew it, I was leading the choir. Eight, nine years old. In high school, I tried out for the school chorus and I was so good that the teacher asked me to do that instead of basketball. I decided to quit chorus the next day because I didn’t want it to interfere with my basketball. But yeah, man, a few of my cousins sing and play instruments. I have a cousin in the opera. I have an uncle who sings. We’re a music-oriented family. My talent isn’t super unique, but maybe it’s unique to be able to do both at a high level.
THE BELIEVER: What influence have your parents had on your music?
VICTOR OLADIPO: My dad always played music in the car. My mom too. Always to and from school, church. Honestly, I think the whole world engages with music in some fashion. There’s so many songs, a song for everything. I think everyone has music in their life. My mom introduced me to Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Lionel Richie. That kind of stuff. It’s what I heard growing up. It was hard not to get into it.
THE BELIEVER: You’re a professional hooper, so you probably don’t have a bunch of free time for creative exploration. Who has been a major support in helping you develop your skills and passion as a professional singer? Did you train formally at any point?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of people who are respected in music. But I’ve never taken a music or vocal lesson. I’d love to start. That could be the next step for me. Learning how to control my voice better. I think I could really take my talent to a new place when I find time [to take a vocal class]. I’ve never taken any lessons, though. It’s just what I feel. I just sing what I feel. And I’ve collaborated with vocalists, songwriters, musicians.
THE BELIEVER: What other vocalists have you been inspired by?
VICTOR OLADIPO: Jamie Foxx. Maybe surprisingly. Some might not consider him a musician, but I look at him as a role model because of his versatility. He’s someone I’ve admired for a while, and I met him at [the NBA] All-Star Weekend in LA [in 2018]. I was walking out, he was walking in. We stopped and talked and I actually sang one of my songs to him and he started to sing it with me. That was amazing. Vocally, I’ve also been influenced by Usher, Chris Brown. It’s hard to pick just one. That’s tough. Also, people automatically think that, as a male, I only listen to male R&B, but I gotta show my females love, too, dawg. H.E.R., Jazmine Sullivan, Whitney. Tremendous influences and I’m grateful for their music. From the Queen, Beyoncé, to whoever is [just starting out], I’m listening to it.
THE BELIEVER: At what point did you realize music could be something to pursue more seriously? I read about how you were encouraged early on by Quinn Cook, who you grew up with. But beyond those fun times with friends and teammates, when did you have that “I want to do this” moment?
VICTOR OLADIPO: It’s funny because Quinn was one of the first people outside my family to know I could sing—as a teammate, as a friend. I used to go to his house in sixth grade. We spent countless hours in his room looking up music videos on his computer, making beats. We have “Go-Go” music down here [in Washington, DC], and I would sing and he’d play the audio. He has bragging rights to initiating my singing career. [Laughs] He’s a brother, family. It runs way deeper than friendship. He made me comfortable enough to sing around my other teammates. Eventually it trickled down and people found out in college, and I performed at my university. In 2013, my first year in the league, players weren’t really sharing their gifts like that. The norm wasn’t really about sharing all your other passions. It was just playing basketball. That’s what you did: you were a basketball player. I sort of second-guessed myself. Basketball swag is high, aggressive—it’s sports. Would people relate to me and be cool if I wasn’t rapping? Rapping is hard—it’s taken seriously. But singing is seen as soft. After I released my first album, Songs for You, [in 2017] and then won the Most Improved Player Award [in 2018], I realized I could kill you with both. It was like, OK, you just got bodied by the singing guy. Early on I used to question myself: Will people take me seriously? But you just gotta do it ’cause you love it. I learned that as I got older. Just keep sharing your message.
THE BELIEVER: As a musician, who’s your favorite NBA counterpart? All-time, there’s dudes like Shaq, Rony Seikaly, Allen Iverson. And right now there’s Damian Lillard, Aaron Gordon, Iman Shumpert.
VICTOR OLADIPO: I love Damian Lillard’s music. He’s reaching the world on a much larger spectrum. He’s been so successful with both rapping and basketball. He’s really good. But there’s a few others I listen to as well: Marvin Bagley, Lonzo Ball. There’s lots of guys who have entered this space with talent. JaVale McGee produces. Lou Williams raps. There’s such a plethora. Shaq. A lot of us really love music and sports. Not just in the NBA either. There are upcoming artists who are athletes. like Flau’jae [Johnson of Louisiana State University]. We’re just showcasing our talents more than ever.
THE BELIEVER: Perhaps your most notable solo was at Madison Square Garden during the 2015 Slam Dunk Contest, when you sang Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” in front of a packed arena—then threw down a nasty reverse 360-degree spin. What was that night like for you, to showcase these skills on the same stage? And how do you maintain your ability to work at both of them?
VICTOR OLADIPO: Honestly, I was nervous about the whole thing, to be real with you, bro. The dunk—that was the first time I’d done it. That was also my first time singing in front of people like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Meek [Mill], Spike [Lee]. It was crazy. That was my second year in the league, so I was young and super nervous, but it turned out really good. The singing might have been better than the dunk for me. [Laughs] Recently I put a studio in my house. That’s exciting because I’ve never had that. I can just go and make a new song. That’s monumental. Home is my base. God willing, it’s where I end up every day. So to have that opportunity to be able to just go to my house and create a song? That’s different. A stronger connection. I don’t have to go far to find that release. I can just go to the back room.
THE BELIEVER: What does Tunde represent for you at this stage in your career?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I’ve gone through a lot dealing with injuries. You go from people loving you and you feeling that love, and when you get hurt it can go away a little bit. You pay attention to who really loves you the way you want to be loved. I’m hyperaware that I’ve always gotten love from my people: Nigerians, Africans of every descent, culture, background. I want to give them that same love and respect. So I did an Afrobeats album and I named it Tunde because my name [in Yoruba] is Babatunde, which means “dad come back.” It was my first album since 2018. It felt very fitting. Afrobeats is like a new version of R&B, a new wave. I was in the studio with one of my producers and he said we should create a new genre called Fro’n’B [a mix of Nigerian Afrobeats and American R&B]. It seemed like a perfect fit. My project was going toward that. Showing love to my people, my country, the continent of Africa.
THE BELIEVER: What drew you to Afrobeats as a genre?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I have a deep connection to Afrobeats. I remember when Afrobeats wasn’t even played in America. I only heard it at African parties with my family and our friends, on the weekends when my mom would take us. To see how it has evolved, with people doing Ancestry.com to learn about their native backgrounds because of this music—it’s crazy. But it’s not a shock either. If you step back, Africa is the heart of the world. The way it keeps pushing the culture, the style, the sounds. The world is a better place because of Afrobeats. It’s feel-good music. It’s a vibe. A lot of people might be intimidated at first because they might not know what’s being expressed or explained—but you don’t have to understand it to feel it.