Rony Seikaly talks transition from NBA player to DJ, the making of ‘Moonwalk’ [Q&A]
The shift from NBA superstar to club DJ has been anything but easy for Rony Seikaly. Born in Lebanon, Rony Seikaly was one of the first internationally born players to have a significant impact in the NBA. Averaging close to a double-double throughout his 11-year career, Seikaly swiftly became a household name. But now, with his days on the court in the rearview, Seikaly has given a different audience new reason to know his name: his house music production and DJing skills.
Rony Seikaly was introduced to disco as a teenager, growing up in the Middle East. He always had a love and passion for the genre, but he was never able to fully explore this interest, owed to the time required to develop his raw athletic ability. But that was then, and this is now, and now looks like Miami, Florida, Seikaly has produced music for 10-plus years—and has plenty to show for it. The former Miami Heat player regularly performs at Club Space, Burning Man, and BPM, among other tried-and-true live music venues across The Sunshine State and ultimately, the world.
On May 6, Rony Seikaly released Moonwalk, his first album since 2012. The 26-song LP doubles as Seikaly’s debut album on his own record label, Stride. Each original on the album has its own fresh, unique sound within the deep-house genre. Always striving to push the house music scene forward, Seikaly has everything from a Michael Jordan tribute to a collaboration with Diddy. Altogether, the eclectic collection that is Moonwalk illustrates Seikaly’s passion for a multi-faceted style of production made by merging commercial sounds with the underground.
Stream Moonwalk below.
Having given Moonwalk a listen, it’s clear that each track is unique, with a different twist on deep house. How did you choose the direction in which you’d take the 26-track album?
Rony Seikaly: “I just make music the way I feel it, the way it’s in my head, what is in my gut. I don’t really try to fit into anybody else’s box. I do what comes naturally to me and what feels good to me. It’s an easy process because I’m not trying to be somebody else. I’m just trying to be me. And putting it out as me is a lot easier than trying to make music that just doesn’t resonate with me. I find it very difficult to make music that I don’t feel. So to me, it was an easy kind of trajectory and kind of a journey of how just going with the flow and going and doing my thing as I know how to do it.”
Would you say it’s a lot easier to release on your own label versus trying to create a sound for a different label?
Rony Seikaly: “The problem that I used to have is the fact that I used to sell a lot of my tracks to labels, and every label would come back to me and say, ‘yeah, so it’s a good track, but this just doesn’t suit our catalog.’ I just kept getting these stiff-armed responses of, ‘it’s good, but it doesn’t fit our catalog.’ And, meanwhile, I was playing these tracks out in the clubs, and they resonated on the dance floor. People had smiles on their faces, they were dancing. I just felt that there was a disconnect between what the labels were saying and what the dance floor was saying. And I went through that process for many years until I decided, you know what, I’m going to make my own label. I want to sell my own label and put out the music that I make and see whether what these guys are saying is true or not. From the first few tracks that I put out, basically every track that I’ve put out has made it into the charts. Maybe 15 or 20 of them have been in the Top 20 and the rest have all made it onto the charts. So, I was like, okay, so we got something here.
Labels just didn’t understand my music and what I was trying to create. Basically, the hardest thing for an artist is to create your own sound, to create your own niche. And my niche was so small that the general public and labels didn’t understand that kind of sound; but in order to take a chance as an artist, you’ve got to step out of that box. If it works, it works, and if it doesn’t work, at least I tried it. That was my whole thing; I just want to make sure that I left it out there. But for me, I don’t want to be somebody else, I want to be me. Whether you like it or not, or whether it’s a niche sound, at least I am being true to myself and taking a gamble and risk of playing music that people might not understand. And whether they get to understand it or not is secondary to me because at least I am doing what is honest. It’s me. It’s not somebody else, I’m not trying to tweak someone else’s sound. I’m just trying to be me.”
There are some cross-genre collaborations on the album, with the Venezuelan, Iranian, urban artist Sasha and with Diddy. How did the nature of collaboration differ from artist to artist?
Rony Seikaly: “I have listened to house music before I even started playing in the NBA. I went from the disco era, which morphed into house music, so I’ve been in this kind of genre of music for many years. I always found it fascinating to throw in something that’s a different genre of music and turn it into more of a house-y sound. That’s what I wanted to do with Diddy and Sasha. Reggaetón is basically what’s hot in the commercial sector for the past couple of years, and I like his vocals on that track. I just wanted to incorporate what was hot in the commercial sector, within my sound. With Diddy, I always wanted to incorporate hip-hop, and I just figured it would be super cool to incorporate a famous hip-hop artist and famous lyrics and stuff like that into a house music track. I called both of them up and I said, ‘can I do this?’ I’ve been friends with Diddy for many years. We’ve been talking about this for a while. Diddy said ‘absolutely, let’s do something.’ That’s how it started with Diddy. I sent him a couple of ideas and he said ‘I love it, go with it.'”
How was the transition for you from basketball to becoming a producer and DJ? What was the most unexpected obstacle or adjustment that you had to make?
Rony Seikaly: “In all honesty, it’s been hell. People don’t know my musical background and that I’ve been a student of house music for so many years. They automatically say, ‘what does this guy know about of house music? He’s a basketball player.’ That’s basically the uphill battle that I’ve dealt with my whole career. I’ve always said to myself, ‘I wish they would just judge me for the music, and not for who I was.’ That was the struggle I’ve always had of people not listening to the music but just looking at me and thinking he’s a basketball player and forgetting about listening to the music because they have already made that decision in their head.
I’m not trying to copy anyone else. I’m completely honest as you can be within creating a sound that sounds right to you. Because, to me, it never made sense to go and listen to DJs who are playing everybody else’s tracks and getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it. When you went to a concert to see The Police, Queen, or U2, they are not playing everyone else’s songs; they are playing their own songs.
I wanted to fit that into my DJing, and say yeah, I’ll throw in a couple of tracks from other people here and there, but you’re predominantly going to get my tracks and my sound. That’s the vision I had. I wanted to play long sets, with all my music, and I’ll throw some tracks here and there of other artists because you can’t play an eight-hour set with only your music.”
What is your favorite song from the new album?
Rony Seikaly: “Every track has a special meaning because I sat in the studio during COVID-19 and just focused on making music that I felt during those days and those times. Every track has a little bit of different meaning to me, but I don’t really have a favorite. I played all of these tracks out in clubs; I don’t really have one favorite, I like them all.”
Featured image: ADINAYEV