From September through December SI will be speaking to musicians of all genres about the intersection of music and sports.
This week, SI sits down with electronic group WatchTheDuck.
The origins of WatchTheDuck date all the way back to the early 2000s, when they produced tracks together for Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé and a number of other artists in Houston. In 2010, they moved to Atlanta and formed their own group, and their first single, “Poppin’ Off,” quickly became a favorite on mtvU. They’re also massive NBA and college football fans, and SI.com got a chance to talk to Jesse Rankins and Eddie Smith III, the two founding members, as they put the finishing touches on their upcoming EP The Trojan Horse.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
SI.com: Where did the name “WatchTheDuck” come from?
Jesse Rankins: It came from our inside joke. It’s something we always talk about: everybody sees the duck swimming on top of the water, but nobody pays attention to how hard his feet have to work to stay afloat, since he’s moving so smooth. So, to us, the industry is watching the duck. Everybody is watching the duck. Everybody is working hard and staying afloat, but it’s hard work.
SI.com: So it’s not a reference to Watch The Throne?
JR: Nah, it has nothing to do with that. It has nothing to do with Watch The Throne, nothing to do with Duck Sauce, none of the things it probably sounds similar to. It was always just an inside joke that goes back to about 2006 or 2007. When we first did “Poppin’ Off,” we actually didn’t have a name for ourselves. The song was just a house party, it was some organic stuff that we were doing. Once we had to label it, we would just look at each other and bust out laughing about watching the duck. So that was our name.
SI.com: When did you start producing music together?
JR: Professionally, 2003. Our first thing we did was the remix to Beyoncé’s “Me, Myself and I.” It was actually the remix to “Crazy In Love” that really sparked our professional career. We were promoters, but we wanted to be able to go to someone and say, we’re producers, we’re writers. But everybody does that, and no one really cares. We finally got an acapella and made a remix, and we took it to our then manager, which really opened studio doors for us and allowed us to start making original music.
SI.com: You guys worked with a lot of interesting people for the new EP. Who was your favorite to work with?
Eddie Smith III: That’s such a tough question. Each one of them was a different experience. Little known secret, we played around with the idea of calling the EP “WatchTheDuck and Friends,” because these were our actual friends, people we met along the way of our artistic journey, and people that we looked up to. Our collaboration with [Steve] Aoki is a whole other journey than our collaboration with T.I. Tip is the guy we collaborated with the most–we probably have a whole album worth of music with him. Pharrell, he taps into a whole other frequency, and watching him pull you to that frequency is crazy. Schoolboy Q, he’s got so much you’ve yet to hear, and we got to hear some of the new stuff he’s working on. It’s crazy. Honestly, that question is like, what was a better trip, London or Amsterdam?
SI.com: You have a lot of different styles, some hip-hop, some trap, some dubstep. What are your biggest influences?
JR: Everything. I gotta be honest, life. I hate to give you an “artist answer,” but it’s the truth. It’s all a progression. We grew up as Alabama boys; we grew up listening to southern hip-hop, the blues, and soul music. My parents weren’t playing Deadmau5, they were playing Earth Wind and Fire, Teena Marie, stuff like that. Me and Eddie actually met in middle school, and at that time we were getting turned on to the Alanis Moresettes of the world, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then we got to Houston and we were really into Houston rap, then we went overseas and we got into grime, which led to the EDM.
ESIII: And booty shake. The middle ground was booty shake. That was the first 120, 130 tempo stuff for us.
SI.com: You guys are big NBA fans. You spend a lot of time in Atlanta, are you guys Atlanta Hawks fans?
ESIII: We’re actually from Alabama, but we lean a lot on Atlanta because, Alabama don’t have anything professional, even though we do consider Alabama football a professional team. (laughs) We do lean a lot on Atlanta, but to be honest, with the NBA, I kind of cheat. I’m a fan of players. I like watching players that give it all. I’m a big LeBron fan, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, people that just leave it all on the floor. You can’t tell them right now that they won’t win a championship. You can’t tell Kobe right now that he won’t win a championship. He won’t believe you.
SI.com: Even though he’s probably not going to…
ESIII: Oh, he’s definitely not going to. But he won’t let that stop him. (laughs)
SI.com: So you don’t follow the Hawks at all, then?
ESIII: I can’t say I do. I don’t have a particular player I’m in love with on the Hawks. We watch every game we can watch, I get NBA League Pass, but it’s been tough for us. We were making the EP at the same time the season started. We’ve had it on in the background, but I guess it’s good we couldn’t focus as much as we did last year. We were a lot busier. Last year, out of 82 games, I probably watched 70. This year, we’ve definitely been behind. When we’re in Atlanta, we go to Hawks games as much as we can. I’m not a big Hawks fan though. It’s sad to say, but I’m not.
SI.com: Who do you think is going to come out of the West?
ESIII: Eddie: Steph Curry, man. That Golden State. He doesn’t look like he had a season off–he looks like he just picked up right where he left off. It’s going to be interesting, there was a lot of controversy out of winning that championship, because of the injuries and that weird Clippers–San Antonio game. I think seeing them really face off against San Antonio will be awesome. OKC’s got a healthy Durant and Westbrook, too, so they’re not going to go quietly. The West is going to make the NBA fun to watch. From what I’m seeing, Curry’s still cooking.
SI.com: Where do you think Kevin Durant is going to end up next year?
ESIII: Man. That’s such a good question. You know what would be fun–I don’t know if he would do this–but it would be fun to see him in New York or with the Lakers. That would be fun. Whether he’d do it, I don’t know.
SI.com: Could make sense, I mean, they’re both big markets, both could have money to spend…
JR: You know what, I don’t think I see him doing that. I think if he’s going to leave, I think he would pull a LeBron, and go to a place he know he’s going to get a ring, instead of going somewhere to do what he’s already done, to try and build a team.
ESIII: I just want to point out, though, that at one time, OKC had a big three. That was Harden, Durant and Westbrook. They had a big three. So I’m curious. I know LeBron wanted to get help, where Durant is in a position right now where it’s been a battle between him and Westbrook over who runs the team. I’m curious if he will go to a place where he can get that isolation, whereas LeBron wanted to get help.
SI.com: Yeah, I don’t know if the Thunder’s new coach has figured that out yet with him and Westbrook. Speaking of which, lot of new head coaches in the NBA: the Thunder, the Bulls, and others. Who do you think is going to be the most successful?
ESIII: I would go with the Thunder. With the Bulls, Derrick Rose is scaring me with the way he talks in interviews, and the way he shows up. He’s been talking a lot about life after basketball at such a young age, which is kind of weird. Chicago had a great coach, let’s be honest. Thibodeau was a great coach. So I don’t really think Chicago has a coaching issue.
JR: The coach can only do so much, man. You got to work with the players you got. That’s the thing with sports. A great coach could be a great coach, but you need a Kobe. You need a Durant. And I don’t mean a superstar; you need somebody who’s going to push it. That’s the only thing with Derrick Rose. I think he’s a phenomenal talent, I think he’s amazing, but I don’t think he’s that guy who’s going to cuss everybody out.
ESIII: I really hope [Jimmy] Butler takes off this year. I hope he’s like, I’m going to be Derrick Rose. If he embraces it, and says, ‘this is my team,’ I think he can change it. Maybe it can inspire Rose, too.
SI.com: If you had to pick MVP right now, who would it be?
JR: I can’t call it. I can’t.
ESIII: I think you might be looking at a two-peat with Curry. He’s must-see TV. He’s a human highlight reel, all day. Just a sharp shooter. You can’t leave him for a half a second. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and I’m a huge LeBron fan, I’m even a Harden fan. But man, Curry is like watching a magician. You hold your breath every shot. It’s crazy.
SI.com: Who in the NBA would be the best rapper?
(laughs from both)
JS: I would love for LeBron to put out an album. But also, I think a LeBron album would be too positive.
ESIII: I would love to hear a Kobe album, because he wouldn’t hold back. He wouldn’t even have to go into the studio, you could just mic him up and put it to beats.
SI.com: Have you gotten to meet any athletes so far?
ESIII: In Houston we did.
JR: Yeah. In Houston.
ESIII: To let you know the time period we were there, we were hanging out in the party scene and DJing a lot and we got to meet Steve Francis when he was there, [Patrick] Ewing when he was out there coaching. What’s my guys name, who came and excited us, what was his name, Jesse?
ESIII: Yeah. We got to meet him. A lot of it was happening in Houston. The athletes and the party scene were synonymous. Probably why there haven’t been any championships down there.
SI.com: What other sports do you guys like to watch besides basketball?
JR: College football.
ESIII: But specifically, S-E-C. We are totally biased. We do not recognize anything outside of the SEC.
JR: I didn’t even know there were other conferences. I hear about them all the time. I hear about other teams, other players, but I forget ‘em. They don’t come to mind. (laughs) Nah, I’m actually proud of Clemson, though. They’ve always been a sweetheart team of mine, probably for like the past seven years. I always felt they had a whole lot of seed, but never a real structure. I’m actually happy they’re doing what they’re doing, until they play Alabama, of course. I want them to run as long as they can until they run into my boys. I was actually so proud of what Alabama did last week against LSU. I heard my boy Derrick Henry give an interview on Sports Center. He didn’t take any credit. He wasn’t saying, ‘it was all me running the ball.’ I hate when players say that. I like the fact that he said, ‘my line showed up.’ My offensive line blocked and I did my job. His team helped him look good. His team allowed him to be the better running back for the day. I can’t pronounce this guy’s last name for LSU…[Leonard Fournette]
ESIII: It’s not even important what it is.
JR: Yeah…but what I liked about it, both of those guys, depending on the day, could be the better back. But Saturday, Alabama came to play football. My d-line, they showed up, and they showed out.
ESIII: They gave Fournette what, 19 or 21 rushing yards?
JR: And Derrick Henry, that was probably the best game he played all season. I was just really, really proud of him.
SI.com: So no respect for the Big Ten at all?
JR: Nah, I got respect for them. I just like talking trash. I respect them. I just don’t care about them. You know what I’m saying? I wish them well, I like watching them play…until they play my boys.
SI.com: Who do you think is going to win the Heisman?
JR: Another tough question. I’m not the best person to talk about the Heisman because I don’t really watch the other conferences. In my mind, I’m thinking, is anybody else except for Derrick Henry running for it?
ESIII: I will show a tad bit of love, even though we made him look average last week, for Fournette. Everything outside of that game, he’s been amazing. That’s what had everybody nervous about the game. It’ll be interesting to see how he recovers from that game.
JR: That could have been his worst game all season. They’re going to kill me when I go home for saying this, but I’m happy with the way Alabama shut him down. The way he went off in Auburn, I was sad saying I was from Alabama after that game. The reason I have a love hate relationship with LSU is that I kind of love LSU. I love their style of football. This guy [Fournette], he makes people look like they’re playing peewee football against him. This was the first week where I ever thought, oh, he is human! He’s not a cyborg.
SI.com: Closing thoughts?
JR: We got the Trojan Horse EP, which is coming November 20th on Dim Mak and Epic Records. WatchTheDuck, let it into your life!