The Story Behind the Music of 'Sneakerheads'
If you're going to make a show about sneakers, the music needs to be right. Here's the story behind the music in Complex's new Netflix series 'Sneakerheads.'
Image via Netflix
In the summer of 2019, music composer Haim Mazar found himself in a room with famed director Dave Meyers.
“Make it weirder,” Meyers kept telling him, giving advice about how to create a television score that paired hip-hop sensibilities with a comedic tone.
At the time, Mazar had been listening to Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD on repeat as he immersed himself into his role as music composer of Complex’s new Dave Meyers-directed Netflix series, Sneakerheads, a show about an ex-sneakerhead who is lured back into the game. And as a longtime fan of Meyers’ music videos for artists like Kendrick Lamar and Missy Elliott, Mazar admits to being a little intimidated by his new collaborator at first.
“I remember sitting there, and Dave was like, ‘Oh, one second, Travis [Scott] is calling me,’” Mazar says, pointing out that Meyers was working on the music video for “Highest in the Room” that summer. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ That was a little daunting. But he's such a sweet guy, and it ended up being so easy to work with him.”
If you’re going to make a show about sneaker culture, you need to get the music right, and the producers of Sneakerheads made sure they had the right team in place to create an authentic soundtrack for the series. In addition to the film scoring expertise of Mazar, veteran music supervisor Andy Ross was brought in to help pick songs that matched the energy of the show.
Ross, who has worked on films like Whiplash and shows like El Chapo, devised a plan to build the Sneakerheads soundtrack around hip-hop music from emerging talent. “We found a lot of unknown and up-and-coming artists, which for me is a dream come true,” he notes.
Describing the tone of Sneakerheads as “hopelessly optimistic,” Ross says he worked with a network of collaborators to scour the world for under-the-radar music that would help bring the Jay Longino-created show to life. What they found were hidden gems like Essentrick’s sneaker-centric “Good Vibes,” which is the very first thing you hear in the opening seconds of the show.
Another standout musical moment is a song called “I Need a Coupe” from New Jersey-born rapper pineappleCITI, who also has an acting role in the show.
“The Sneakerheads team reached out after hearing ‘I Need A Coupe’ and flew me out to be a part of the show,” pineappleCITI tells Complex. “After hearing the concept behind the show, it was a no-brainer. I love sneakers and wouldn’t pass up a chance to get my acting skills on.” She adds, “To me, Sneakerheads represents chasing your dreams by any means necessary—taking risks and leaps of faith. Although I’ve never hustled shoes myself, the hustler’s mentality is universal. ‘I Need A Coupe’ speaks on manifesting your own success, and I think the concepts go hand in hand. ‘I Need A Coupe’ was the perfect fit.”
“I remember sitting there, and Dave was like, ‘Oh, one second, Travis Scott is calling me.’” - Haim Mazar
The highest-profile song in Sneakerheads is Aloe Blacc’s “The Man,” which plays a key role in Episode 1, but the rest of the soundtrack doubles as a music discovery tool. Pointing out that getting a placement on the show acts as a marketing tool for emerging artists, Ross says he’s worked with some of them to make sure they’re set up to properly capitalize on the exposure.
“I've been contacting artists to say, ‘Hey, I'm getting messages about your song,” Ross says. “Nobody can find your music online. You need to get it out.”
“Sneakerheads is a great opportunity to get more ears in my corner,” pineappleCITI affirms. “It's dope when you’re a part of something that you really connect with. The show fits my whole essence so I know it’ll bring more fans in for me to connect with, too.”
Beyond the songs licensed by Ross and his team, the sonic glue that holds Sneakerheads together is the score created by Haim Mazar. The composer, who has a background making original music for films like The Iceman, jumped at the chance to work on a project that revolved so closely around hip-hop.
“With Sneakerheads, I got a chance for the first time to really dive deep into hip-hop and use the same sensibilities as a Travis Scott or Mike Dean production, but then use it to score material,” Mazar tells Complex. “In a traditional situation, I’d be using strings, piano, and a bass guitar, but on Sneakerheads, I’d use a hi-hat and an 808 to do the exact same thing.”
Throwing himself head-first into the culture of the show, Mazar says, “The first thing I did was go into Flight Club and hit up all the stores and listen to what’s playing. It’s always trap. It’s always 808s. Anywhere you walk on that street, that’s all you hear.” He also closely studied the music-making habits of hip-hop producers like Mike Dean and Wheezy. “There’s a lot of great videos if you look at Wheezy making beats,” Mazar says. “You can actually see him working in FL Studio. You can see what he’s doing. And there’s other videos where you can see how people make beats on the fly.”
Fully engrossed in the world of Sneakerheads, Mazar reveals he even became a bit of a sneakerhead himself. “I got really into the sneaker culture,” he says. “I didn’t know who The Perfect Pair was, but now I’m friends with Kenny Gonzales and we talk on Instagram.”
When it came to finding the right tone for the series, Mazar says he was inspired by the soundtracks of shows like Atlanta and Entourage, as well the music that plays in the background of sneaker videos online. “Part of my research was to watch a lot of content on Complex and sneaker videos on YouTube,” he says. “These videos have their own sound.”
“With Sneakerheads, I got a chance for the first time to really dive deep into hip-hop and use the same sensibilities as a Travis Scott or Mike Dean production, but then use it to score material.” - Haim Mazar
Pulling all these influences together, Mazar created music that matched the off-kilter comedic energy of Sneakerheads. “Dave Meyers kept encouraging me to make it feel like everything is disjointed,” he says. “On the show, there’s this clunky group of people trying to work together and it's awkward. Everything is moving forward, and then Bobby says something so ridiculous that makes it fall apart. Or Stuey comes in or Nori, and they’re just this awkward bunch.”
Beyond setting the right tone, one of Mazar’s biggest goals was to use his score to help bring a feeling of humanity to the show. “I wanted to avoid being one-dimensional, and that’s what Dave also pushed me to do,” he recalls. “I’m proud of how the music was able to insert heart and a little bit of sophistication, even though it’s so ridiculous. I’m happy that I got a chance to bring in something to the table that wasn’t just silly fun beats.”
Mazar is the first to admit that he couldn’t have accomplished this alone, however. Throughout the project, he worked hand-in-hand with a collaborator who knew all the ins and outs of hip-hop production. “One of my secret weapons that I brought in a good friend of mine,” Mazar says. “His name is Paul Ottinger, also known as knownwolf. Paul doesn’t have experience in film scoring at all, but he's a great pop and hip-hop producer, and we work together.”
He also credits the show’s editing for enhancing his score. “David Blackburn, one of the editors, did such a great job,” Mazar says. “A lot of it is the timing. One of the biggest contributions the music had was to push everything forward. Everything in the show moves very quickly, and I think that's because of the snappy editing that David did and the music supporting that editing. It’s all like a giant drum machine. That’s the instrument of the whole thing: the songs, dialog, underscore, rap, themes, and editing.”
Reflecting on the experience, both Mazar and Ross say there was a family-like bond that existed among everyone who worked on the show together. “Everybody really believed in the stuff,” Ross notes. “Every time we went in, the guys that were mixing it were saying, ‘This is so funny, we can't stop laughing.’ It really felt like a family of people, and they welcomed me in. It was one of those situations where if there was a problem, everybody tried to solve it, rather than pointing fingers and shouting at people.”
Now that the first season is streaming on Netflix, Mazar’s original soundtrack has been officially released on music streaming services. “I think just kind of have fun with it in the background while you do something,” he says, describing the ideal setting to hear the music. “It's designed to be played in a car ride or when you work out.”
Ross, meanwhile, is already excited about the possibilities for the future of Sneakerheads.
“If we get to other seasons, I’d love to play with the characters and find out what they would listen to more,” he says. “Like Stuey, is he into hip-hop? Maybe not. What are they into, and how can we mess with it? What’s a funny sort of song to play? You can have a lot of humor in music if you study it enough, and if we really get into the characters.”