TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER, the commemorative platinum-record plaque awarded for “Jock Jams, Volume 1” still hangs inside the New Jersey recording studio of KayGee from Naughty By Nature. It doesn’t occupy the same prestigious wall space as the group’s other hit records or even the large custom portrait of former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, but after all this time, Jock Jams remains nearly impossible to ignore — no matter how hard we all might try. “Not to toot my own horn,” says KayGee, while locating Naughty’s “Hip Hop Hooray” (Track 11) on the original compilation of stadium anthems. “But I don’t think I’ve ever been at a sporting event and not heard our Jock Jams song.”
He’s not the only one. Released on July 25, 1995, the collection opened with Michael Buffer’s now ubiquitous “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble” boxing howl and was overstuffed with an infectious, borderline-obnoxious mix of arena earworms such as “Get Ready for This,” “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and “YMCA.” And while many sports and music fans are familiar with the carrot-colored CD case covered in airborne cheerleaders, or the seminal collection of stadium anthems once described as an “orgy of chantable hooks” and “adrenaline-fueled schmaltz,” few know the actual creation story behind the project, the vision of the two women executives who made it all possible, or the stories behind the songs that have been echoing inside arenas and our collective sports brains for decades.
And so to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original Jock Jams release, ESPN tracked down the key executives and artists and asked them to retell inspirations behind the greatest — and strangest — compilation of sports anthems in music history.
The odd couple
After gigs as a model and go-go dancer in her hometown of Chicago, Monica Lynch moved to New York, where she answered a want ad in The Village Voice in 1981 to become the first employee of the fledgling Tommy Boy record label. Four years later, after developing De La Soul, Digital Underground, Queen Latifah and others, earning her the title “The High Priestess of Hip-hop,” in 1985 Lynch became president of Tommy Boy, which earned her access to the company’s luxury box at Madison Square Garden. And it was in that luxury box, watching — and listening to — the Knicks and Rangers, that the idea for Jock Jams was born.
Inspired by childhood nostalgia for her hometown Chicago Blackhawks, and encouraged by Ray Castoldi, MSG’s director of music and hybrid organist/DJ, Lynch set out to create the ultimate compilation of sports anthems — a collection that would expand the genre beyond old-timey organ music and yacht rock. “It was a very simple idea, but sometimes those are the best,” Lynch says. She already had the anthem part figured out. What Lynch and Tommy Boy needed was a business partner that could help with the sports side.
Monica Lynch, former president of Tommy Boy Records: Culturally, [ESPN and Tommy Boy were] very different operations. An independent record company in the mid-’90s, we were doing our own thing, running fast and loose, and didn’t have to answer to anyone. Sharyn was just kind of bemused by us.
Sharyn Taymor, former director of ESPN Enterprises: In the 1990s, the ESPN brand was starting to be everywhere. ESPN2 had just started and there was talk of ESPN News and Classic, and we wanted to start licensing the ESPN brand to products and services. It was like the wild, wild west. We worked on dot-com, The Magazine, video games, fantasy sports, merchandise and music. We didn’t even have to seek out that many opportunities; you just had to sit back and see what people brought to us. I remember having a fantasy football meeting with the NFL. I had no idea what I was talking about. It hadn’t existed until then. To give you an idea of what it was like, the products and services we worked on are now entire divisions within the company.
And ESPN was kind of straight-laced and Tommy Boy Records was not. We weren’t into being provocative at all, and Tommy Boy was totally the opposite. [But] it was an area that made sense for us because we hadn’t done anything in that genre and music and sports are so closely tied together.
Lynch: My uncle was in charge of the ticket office at Chicago Stadium, so as a kid I got to go to a lot of Blackhawk games and sit in the front row right behind the goalie. I had the biggest crush on Keith Magnuson because he was the bad boy of that team and he was always spitting his teeth out on the ice, which I just thought was the sexiest thing ever. My uncle arranged for Bobby Hull to introduce us after a game. And when Bobby said, ‘She’s your biggest fan, Keith, and she wants to give you a great big kiss,’ I was so mortified I turned around and punched Hull right in the stomach. I guess that’s where this all started. I just loved hockey, the sights, the sounds, the energy; it was so violent and visceral.
From left, some of the many stars of Jock Jams: Naughty By Nature, Michael Buffer, The Village People and Rob Base. ESPN
KayGee, Naughty by Nature, “Hip Hop Hooray” (Track 11): A lot of musicians call themselves sports guys, and a lot of sports guys call themselves musicians. So there’s a community between us, a natural connection that’s embedded in all of us. When we first came out, one of our favorite teams was the Fab Five. We [KayGee and fellow group members Treach and Vin Rock] all started wearing baggy shorts on stage, and when we played in Michigan, they came to our show and I became lifelong friends with those guys.
Freedom Williams, singer, C+C Music Factory, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” (Track 10): Sports is nothing but a dance. It’s rhythm, right? Baseball is a slow dance. Football is a violent dance. Basketball is a quick dance. When you hit a ground ball to the shortstop and the shortstop hits the second baseman and the second baseman throws it to first, that’s poetry, that’s a dance they’re doing.
Taymor: The first [sport-compilation project Tommy Boy did] was “Jock Rock,” and it was all about rock and established sports anthems, you know, Queen, “We Will Rock You,” that kind of stuff. It came out in 1994 and charted No. 79 on Billboard, and we knew we had something terrific. There was a record label called K-Tel, and they did compilations for many years, and we just kind of took their place. Tommy Boy was more of a hip-hop, rap and dance label, though, and they wanted to go more in that direction. That’s where Jock Jams came from. We wanted to be the influencers of this kind of sports music instead of being influenced by it.
Castoldi: Hip-hop as a pop music form, that idea was still pretty new. My first bosses at MSG told me “Ray, we’re not running a nightclub up there. These hip-hop records — are they really the kind of music our audience is gonna groove to?” And the answer was: Of course! Absolutely! “Jock Rock” was almost entirely oldies. With Jock Jams, it was all about: Let’s talk about the new stuff.
Did you know?
On top of his MSG organist gig, Ray Castoldi also worked as a DJ under the name Frequency X alongside Joe Turri and Nicolai Vorkapich. He performed at the Limelight nightclubs and was signed by Radikal Records, which distributed the first import of 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This” (Track 2).
Naughty by Nature members KayGee, Vin Rock and Treach (from left) in 1991. The trio produced Jock Jams song, “Hip Hop Hooray.” Anna Krajec/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Setting the lineup
With the project approved, it was now up to Taymor and Patrick Edmonds, from Tommy Boy — with an assist from Castoldi — to curate the collection.
Taymor: Castoldi had a lot of influence on that list because he knew what songs were already being played at sporting events. Patrick would then give me a CD with 30 to 40 tracks on it and then we’d try to figure out what to put on the album. That was the really fun part. I’d listen to them in the office, at home, in the car, and go back to him and say, “OK, how about this group?” Or “I don’t like this one.” There was a lot of back and forth — a lot.
Castoldi: One of the only debates we had was: Do we put KC and the Sunshine Band “Get Down Tonight” or the Village People’s “YMCA” on Volume 1? I mean, they’re both classics. But “YMCA” had the dance, so that’s gonna win. KC ended up on Volume 2. Rock tracks like “Welcome to the Jungle” were hard to get, those bands just wouldn’t do the licensing. I remember later on we wanted “Song 2” by Blur and they were like “Uh, no, we don’t want to be on a sports-oriented record.” More power to them. And now, it’s weird, it’s almost hard to hear that song anywhere else but in an arena.
Taymor: Monica and I had to work at always finding the right balance, and there was a lot of tugging and pulling from each side, whether it was a song, or a lyric, or the artwork or the commercials. That was always the issue: They wanted to go in that direction, and I was very, very paranoid and protective of the brand. There were just a bunch of things we had to say no to. I don’t think a project like this would happen now. Now, things are just out there and blatant. Back then, it was all innuendo and double entendres, it could mean this or it could mean that.
Jay “Ski” McGowan, Quad City DJ’s member and 69 Boyz producer: We just decided, Hey, if anyone from ESPN asks about 69 Boyz, just say the guys were all born in 1969 and “Tootsee Roll” (Track 5) is a candy and a fun dance and just leave it at that. A little bit more, we would have been in trouble with ESPN, but we stayed right there on that line. … Yes [laughing], I do expect you to believe that! That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it. [Editor’s note: McGowan and the 69 Boyz were not all born in 1969.]
Lynch: I love the 69 Boyz, that’s the perfect answer. I guess a song like K7’s “Come Baby Come” (Track 7) had a naughty tone to it. I suppose it’s the double entendres that matter. But it was already a popular record, so it was the kind of thing, in a meeting at ESPN, you could say, “But I sing that song to my 2-year-old.” And if the feeling was that “it’s mom-friendly,” it would be OK.
Taymor: Tommy Boy once brought us a Coolio song, and I kind of read too much into it and pushed back. It was “one-two-three-four, get your woman on the floor…” I told them what I thought he was saying, and they all said, “That’s not what it means!” So we put that song on Jock Jams 2.
Lynch: The throughline in the selection of the songs was these were all hits or were all about to be hits. We looked for high-energy records that had crossed over and were either being played or just starting to get played in sports arenas. Some of these records, like “YMCA,” were already chestnuts in the stadiums, and with some of our artists, like K7, we wanted to use Jock Jams to usher a song like “Come Baby Come” into anthem status.
Did you know?
When contacted by ESPN, a rep for the Village People’s original lead singer Victor Willis, 69, responded: “What is Jock Jams?”
Castoldi: The lineup is all killer and no filler, like they used to say on the radio. Because it was the first one, there was so much low-hanging fruit that you could just pick the best of the best, the songs that we’d all consider late-game go-to songs, big anthemic songs that you want to play at key moments of a game. And these are all there on Jock Jams 1. You gotta remember, there was no iTunes, no YouTube, no internet, no Shazam, so part of the reason why this was so successful is Jock Jams put all of this stuff in one place for you. Otherwise, at the time, you would have had to go out and buy, like, 20 CDs to collect all these songs.
An immersive sports experience
As the lineup began to take shape, Taymor still found herself facing a challenge.
Taymor: The challenge was how do we put an ESPN spin on it? How do we brand it with ESPN? That’s when we came up with the idea of what we called interstitials, little sports-related sound bites you’d hear between songs.
Castoldi: The goal from the beginning was to make it an immersive sports experience, like you were actually at the game. I recorded my little “The Old Ballgame” organ riff (Track 19) at the Garden or maybe just in my apartment. We recorded cheerleaders, hot dog vendors at Yankee Stadium, marching bands, as well as personalities like Michael Buffer. I mean, how many people got married that year with Michael Buffer and 2 Unlimited kicking off their reception?
Lynch: That was not an inexpensive undertaking to get Michael Buffer and “Let’s get ready to rumble” on the first Jock Jams. I don’t remember what the number was, but I remember a gulp when I saw the number. He didn’t come cheap. We decided to do it, and in hindsight I’m really glad that we did. He was “the” guy, the voice of sports, the voice of god. Having that as the opening was absolutely perfect. When you hear “Let’s get ready to rumblllllle” within the first few seconds, everybody knew what this was.
Did you know?
Buffer tried out “Man your battle stations!” and “Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seat belts!” before settling on LGRTR, which was inspired by Muhammad Ali. Buffer trademarked the phrase in 1992, and it was estimated to be worth $400 million as of 2009.
Behind the music
The backstory of Jock Jams doesn’t end, though, in New York City and Bristol, Connecticut — where ESPN is located. The stories behind the songs are as compelling as the tunes themselves — and reveal much about the music industry, and the culture, 25 years ago.
Rob Base, vocals, songwriter, “It Takes Two” (Track 8 | LISTEN):
We had to be in the studio that same night [in early 1988], so me and E-Z Rock went over to a friend’s house, and we were just going through a bunch of different albums and he found a beat he liked and I found this Lyn Collins record I liked. That’s where the “woo, yeah” comes from. We just blended them together, and that’s how we came up with the song. It was quick. In that era of hip-hop, we were all digging through crates of old records trying to find beats and samples no one had used before, so that was the key — if you found something that was hot, that no one had used, you pretty much had something, for sure. It worked out really well for us waiting to the last second. We had no idea what we were going to do in the studio that night, but the music just came together. I had the rap part already written, and it just all fit perfectly.
I was met with heavy resistance at the time about all the “woo, yeah”s, and I had to really fight for that. At the time Public Enemy had a record that had a siren that rode all the way through. That made that record stand out so much, and I was thinking to myself, If I leave the “woo, yeah” in the whole record, that’s gonna make this record stand out too. They wanted to take it out at the beginning of the verses and bring it back in at the end. I put my foot down with management: It gotta stay. And I won.
Did you know?
Rodney Bryce, aka DJ E-Z Rock, who became friends with Base in the fourth grade in Harlem, died in 2014 from complications of diabetes. … Rolling Stone christened the repeating “woo, yeah” the “single greatest use of a looped drum break in rap history — the hip-hop equivalent of the guitar solo in ‘Stairway to Heaven.'” (Track 8).
And the beat goes on — Van “Thrill Da Playa” Bryant and Barry “Fast” Wright of 69 Boyz performing their hits, like “Tootsee Roll,” in 2019. Jay “Ski” McGowan co-produced the stadium anthem. Paras Griffin/Tee Up ATL/Getty Images
Ian Dench, songwriter, guitarist, “Unbelievable” by EMF, (Track 15 | LISTEN):
When the record deal with my first band [Curse] came to nothing, there I was back in Gloucester, England, living in a little bedsit. My mum had a nice piano, and so I used to ride my bike over there and write songs. She was distraught. If my own son gets into Oxford and then gives it all up to play in a rock ‘n’ roll band, I would burst into tears as well. Anyway, I was riding my bike through the park, thinking about all these songs I was working on about my ex-girlfriend who dumped me. I was always looking for words and ways to say what I was feeling, and that’s why “unbelievable” was such a great word because it had that double meaning to it where you’re amazing but perhaps there’s something underhand to you as well. I was on the bike trying to think of a way to say it, and that’s when it just popped into my head — “The things, you say; Your purple prose just gives you away; The things, you say” — followed by that phrase and that stop: “bawm, badada-da-dat-dadadaa … You’re unbelievable.” My place was not too far, five minutes away, so I just kept riding and humming it in my head, round and round, got back to my bedsit, pulled out my guitar and cassette, and there it was.
I do have to give a shoutout to Andrew Dice Clay [too] because that “Ohhh” is a wonderful sample and it’s quite a funny story. Def Jam released his record — It was really terribly misogynistic, wasn’t it? — and before our record came out, we kept trying to get ahold of Rick Rubin to clear the sample. But he never got back to us. Well, we were in L.A. for meetings before the release of the record, and we went into The Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset, which was quite the big heavy-metal hangout at the time, and there was [Def Jam co-founder] Rick Rubin. So I just went up to him and said, “Sorry to interrupt, big fan; we just made a record, and we’re trying to clear this sample.” And he said, “No problem, fax it to me in the morning.” Sure enough, we faxed it to him, and he cleared it. I mean, talk about the stars aligning on a record.
Did you know?
In 2009 Dench earned two Grammy nominations for collaborations with Beyonce (“Once in a Lifetime” and “I Am… Sasha Fierce.”). … A few years ago, he got a message from a student in Wales who said his teacher was claiming she was the inspiration for “Unbelievable.” Dench did some checking and wrote back to the student “Yes, yes, that’s absolutely true.” (Track 15).
McGowan, Quad City DJ’s, producer on “Tootsee Roll” (Track 5 | LISTEN):
We had just come off the road, back in Jacksonville, and I was with my son, who was 5, and we were in a Cracker Barrel — or, in the store next to the restaurant walking around. I mean, we’ve all been in a Cracker Barrel with our kids, and they aren’t as super excited about the meal as they are about running through that store. Well, I come across this thing, this piggy bank that was a long roll, painted like a Tootsie Roll and I thought, “This is cool, I’ll get this for my son and have him start saving some coins.” As I’m walking through Cracker Barrel, my son in one hand, the Tootsie Roll bank in the other, it just hit me: This would make a perfect concept for a record, a dance that’s a play on the candy.
We always wanted to create the party and the club feel on record, so that’s why we’d add those whistles and all that background crowd noise; we wanted them to be a signature. We came from the skate-rink era and they had whistles, and we’d grab our friends and say, “Hey, we’re doing crowd vocals” and put everybody in the vocal booth, pitch down an octave or two, and mix it together and add effects, and before you knew it, it sounds like a party in there. And that’s why our records worked so well on Jock Jams and in stadiums because it almost felt like, with all the crowd noise already on our records, all people in the stands had to do was just join in.
Did you know?
Quad City DJ’s was nominated for a Grammy for “Space Jam” off the 1996 “Space Jam” movie soundtrack, and McGowan now works as “Jay the EnterTrainer,” speaking on leadership and innovation. … The original Tootsie Roll bank is still at his son’s grandmother’s house.
Martha Wash, singer, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” (Track 10 | LISTEN):
I was in a studio in New York, and one of the producers, who had worked with Mariah Carey, was on the phone explaining what he wanted me to sing, and I said to him, “That key is really high for me.” I remember on The Weather Girls’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” album there was a song with a really high obbligato part at the beginning, and so we put the microphone on the floor and I bent over to sing on top of the microphone. We all laughed about it, how no one would have believed it, but that’s how I got that note out of me. With “Everybody Dance Now,” to get the power of those three words, I had to really, really almost scream it out. So I was in the booth reaching my hands up to the ceiling to try and see about getting those notes out correctly and in the right key without it sounding crazy.
People love that screaming part, OK? Yeah, it’s hard to sing live. Can you do the same thing you were doing 30 years ago? OK then.
Did you know?
In 2017 a Canadian man singing “Gonna Make You Sweat” in his car was issued a $118 ticket by police for “screaming in a public place.”
Martha Wash sang the lead vocals on Jock Jams anthems “Gonna Make You Sweat” and “Strike It Up.” However, the vocalist wasn’t properly credited for her contributions. Monica Morgan/WireImage/Getty Images
Wash, singer, “Strike It Up,” (Track 4 | LISTEN):
Believe it or not, that was never one of my favorite songs. What makes it so interesting is the music on that song. I won’t say it’s necessarily my vocals; it’s more so the music for that particular song. When you put that together with an athletic situation and a game and you hear that bass line come in and it goes into that baump baump baump ba ba, the audience gets into that because it’s a sports chant.
Did you know?
Although Wash’s thunderous, distinctive voice was easily recognizable from her No. 1 dance hit “It’s Raining Men” with The Weather Girls and a dozen other No. 1 dance songs, she was not properly credited for her vocals in the original versions of “Gonna Make You Sweat” and “Strike It Up.” In the age of Milli Vanilli, C+C Music Factory and Black Box attempted to cast slimmer, younger women to lip sync Wash’s vocals.
Says Wash: “I had just checked into a hotel, had the TV on, channel surfing, and I landed on this station that was playing the video for ‘Gonna Make You Sweat,’ and I’m seeing this thin, thin woman lip-syncing to my vocals, and I’m like, ‘What is going on?’ I was not happy about that.” The ensuing legal battle inspired federal legislation mandating proper vocal credit on all published music. “Lots of people know the voice, know the songs, they dance to those songs and sing every word to those songs, but they don’t know my name,” she adds. “It’s not fun. They know Beyonce, Ariana Grande, Lizzo. My goodness I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve had a hit in every decade since the ’80s, and John Q. Public still doesn’t know my name.”
Jean-Paul De Coster, producer, songwriter, “Get Ready for This” (Track 2 | LISTEN) and “Twilight Zone” (Track 18 | LISTEN):
In 1983 I was still in school, teaching mechanics and electricity, and I was wanting to quit to follow my passion. I knew Patrick [De Meyer] from Technotronic (Track 17: “Pump Up the Jam”) for ages because I was coming into his record store in Antwerp [in Belgium] and asking him, “Can you explain to me how a record store works?” And he says. “How do you know?” And I said “How do I know what?” He was selling the record store because he was so busy with his own music and record company, and so I said, “OK, I’ll jump in and have a coffee.” And I bought his shop.
In 1987 we had the first Belgium music wave, which was inspired by New Wave, and they called it New Beat and they played records and slowed them down from 45 rpm to 33 rpm, with bpm 100 to 105, very dark and mellow and moody, like a fashion scene. When New Beat was over, I saw in my record shop and in the clubs when I was DJing that people were going crazy on this new Belgium House Sounds that had evolved from New Beat. I said to [Belgium DJ] Phil Wilde — he is the computer wizard and studio guy — “Something’s happening with this sound, we need to make a record.” And he said, “Fine, come in.”
So on a Wednesday, I took a day off from my record shop. He would play riffs, and I would say, “No, no, play it more like this.” We wanted more energetic, more pumping, and so we were twisting sounds together, layered and mixed. It was very important that we made sounds that were different from the rest. An early review called it an energetic, powerful, crispy sound.
KayGee, Naughty By Nature, “Hip Hop Hooray” (Track 11 | LISTEN):
We were on tour and Tommy Boy was putting pressure on us to hurry up and finish our second album. After the success of “O.P.P.,” it was like, you guys need to keep it going. I had made a bunch of beats. But on our tour bus, Treach was just blasting that one beat over and over. It’s the Isley Brothers, it’s just playing on 45. Their song is slow, and I just sped it up real fast and that gave it a different sound and a new feel. That’s the process of a producer: We chop stuff up, speed it up, slow it down, filter it, do a lot of things to it, because when you mess around with it, it turns into something different.
So we’re on the tour bus, with Treach writing, and the whole concept of the chorus, they did that in parties back in New York when a good record would come on, they’d say “Heeey, hooo,” like to say, “That’s my joint.” Treach remembered that, and he was like, “It would be dope to use that heeey, hooo they do in the clubs, but I’m gonna call it Hip Hop Hooray-Hooo and I’m gonna talk about the love of hip-hop and how we advanced as hip-hop artists.”
We wrote the whole thing on the tour bus and we recorded it, and Tommy Boy didn’t even know about that song. We performed it at KMEL [Bay Area] Summer Jam. It was packed; there must have been 25,000 people out there, and the very first time it was introduced, Treach and Vin put their hands up in the air and the whole crowd, I mean everybody, started waving side to side with the beat. We started in talent shows, getting the crowd involved to win those talent shows. It was so spontaneous the way the crowd followed along. So we knew not only did we have a song that connects we have a visual that connects with our audience too. The program director called Tommy Boy and said “Naughty performed a song last night, and if I don’t have a copy of it on my desk Monday morning, I’m playing the live version.” So Monica was calling me, yelling at me, “What song are they talking about?!”
Did you know?
As a mental exercise while recovering from COVID-19, actress Rita Wilson posted an Instagram video of her near-perfect rendition of “Hip Hop Hooray,” which she memorized while preparing for a 2019 movie role. After the video got 2 million views, Wilson teamed up with KayGee and Naughty for a remix to benefit MusiCares Covid-19 Relief Fund. “It’s incredible,” KayGee says. “She did better than I would have done trying to sing Treach’s lyrics like that.”
Singer Zelma Davis, left, seen with Freedom Williams, was marketed as the lead vocalist of C+C Music Factory. However, Martha Wash was the actual voice heard on the group’s hit song “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images
The most important album of the 20th century?
“Jock Jams, Volume 1” went platinum in just over a year and peaked at No. 30 on the charts. By expanding the definition of stadium anthems to include Eurodance, Latin music, pop, hip-hop and rap, Lynch and Taymor had ensured that Jock Jams would have an impact at the cash register and across the culture. (Despite all of Taymor’s precautions, Jock Jams 1 was not completely controversy-free. The 20th and final track on the original compilation, “Rock and Roll Part 2,” is by Gary Glitter, who, in 2015, was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing three young girls.)
“Jock Jams, Volume 2” was released in 1996, and thanks to the “Macarena” by Los Del Rio, it managed to crack the top 10 — an extraordinary feat for a compilation album. But the series truly hit its Jock Jam peak with Volume 3, which included an “It’s Awesome, Baby!” intro by Dick Vitale, “official” Jock Jams Cheerleader chants, a rendition of “The Chicken Dance” by Castoldi and a brain-searing sound salad called the “Jock Jam Mega Mix,” featured in a classic series of infamous commercials that fused a public-access cable milieu with the low-key approach of a carpet liquidator.
The final Jock Jams was released in 2001, just as Napster, the online music-sharing (and piracy) service hit its peak. All told, the series sold more than 4 million copies and — for better or worse — helped pave the way for modern-day bands such as Fall Out Boy to integrate their songs into sports culture. “There is nothing like your song being played in a stadium; you get this whole different kind of shiver,” FOB’s Pete Wentz told ESPN in 2014. “Integrating your music into the texture of a larger experience, like a sporting event, is important. ‘Empire State of Mind’ and Jay-Z and the Yankees are a thing. Forever. The music and the experience become interwoven. That’s powerful.”
Castoldi: I ran into Naughty a few years ago at the Garden, and I was like, “You guys remember Jock Jams?” And they were all like, “Uh, yeah, we made some money off that one.” Today recording artists are looking for any avenue, any outlet, to get their music out into the world and get it heard. And I think sports was on the leading edge of that, as an alternative outlet for artists to break new music and promote their material.
Lynch: Jock Jams had this enormous audience of women. It started getting used as a soundtrack for exercising and aerobics and cheerleading dance routines. At the time, we had no idea it was going to take on this whole other audience. The high school girls and the female component of the audience, we did not anticipate that part of the audience was going to explode that way.
Taymor: I would go to the Tower Records [near] Union Square — this was not a not once-or-twice thing, I did it all the time — and I would take all the Jock Jams and move them to the front of the stack so they would be more visible. We used to get Billboard magazine delivered to the office, and the first thing I’d do was go to the page with all the listings and see where we were that week. I used to rip out the page and tape it to the door of my office, and it was so much fun watching them climb the charts each week.
EMF songwriter and guitarist Ian Dench, far left, wrote “Unbelievable” after being dumped by his then girlfriend. Paul Natkin/WireImage/Getty Images
De Coster: Jock Jams introduced a lot of different music cultures to a big audience. In those days, in the 1990s, it was all rock music, Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, and we were struggling and fighting to have our records on the radio. So compilations like Jock Jams were very important to us because it introduced us to an audience we never could reach.
Freedom Williams: The first time I ever realized the song was gonna be big, I was walking down the block and everyone was jamming to it on the JumboTron on 42nd [Times Square]. They were playing the song — “Jump to the rhythm, jump-jump” — while NBA players were dunking and jumping to it. That’s when I knew it was gonna be a big record.
KayGee: Before the COVID situation, I had to drive and pick up my daughter at Purdue, and on that ride we took her car, so she’s the DJ, she’s controlling everything, and I’m hearing a few of my records come on. That’s pretty cool, and she’s like, “Come on, Dad, you know you want to sing along.”
McGowan: Jock Jams gave us more life. We played on the field in Philadelphia, at the top of the fifth inning in Game 3 of the World Series. That was mind-blowing. We played “Space Jams” as the intro for Zach LaVine when he won the NBA Slam Dunk contest. I just read in a book about Tiger Woods that after he won his first Masters at 21, he rode off down Magnolia Lane with the SUV windows down blasting “C’mon N Ride It (The Trainz).”
Base: I played some baseball growing up, a little third base, shortstop, outfield, and I always wanted to be a baseball player, but that didn’t happen. I’m a big Yankees fan. I remember sitting at home watching my Yankees and they got a double play and they started playing “It Takes Two,” and I jumped out of my seat and I started running around trying to call everyone I could, but they were all calling me at the same time going, “Yo, the Yankees just played your song!” I thought it would be a big record in the tri-state area. Once sports started playing this song, I was like, “That’s it, this is a mega-song. Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Rob Base?” Yeah, yeah, I like that.
Did you know?
The NFL used “It Takes Two” in its 100-year celebration commercial during Super Bowl LIII, where a pickup football game breaks out in the middle of an anniversary banquet. And as for Base’s commonly misheard “can’t stand sex”? In the song, what he actually says he can’t stand is “sess.” “Don’t smoke buddha, can’t stand sess.” It’s a reference to sinsemilla, a strain of marijuana. “A lot of people have been singing that wrong for the last 30 years,” Base says. Although it’s frowned upon by die-hard fans in New York, Base roots for both the Giants and the Jets. “People get on me for that, but I’ve been like that forever,” he says. In his defense, these days, for NFL fans in New York who want to watch a normal amount of success, it takes two (franchises). “It takes two? Oh, right, I’m gonna use that, thanks,” Base says.
Rob Base, left, performed at halftime during Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAEGetty Images
De Coster: [During the] Winter Olympics in Russia, they used one of our songs in the closing ceremonies. That was goose bumps. DJ Steve Aoki remixed it at Tomorrowland, and the whole festival went bananas. My daughter is 24, and she had her birthday party in the garden and I told her I would DJ for her. But I am an old guy, and in the beginning it felt very uncomfortable. Then I started playing some ’90s music and they all knew all those records. So now when my daughter has a party, her friends want to know: Is your dad playing? It’s all hip again. Very strange.
Lynch: At Tommy Boy, I always called Jock Jams “the love that dare not speak its name.” It was funny because for a period of time, we were a label that had distinguished itself in hip-hop, and Jock Jams was like this big mainstream pop project, this juggernaut that was a huge record that didn’t really have street cred. For years after, you’d say Jock Jams and people would laugh and say, “Oh, my mom loved Jock Jams.” And then, funny enough, just a few years ago, for some reason, people were like, “Oh, Jock Jams was so cool.” I think it was just one of those things that was so uncool it became hip.
Taymor: The Jock Jams franchise eventually went away because record labels got wise to it and said, “Why don’t we take our own music and put out our own albums?” And those were the compilations called “Now That’s What I Call Music!” But the first Jock Jams, you go to a game now and 75 to 80 percent of the songs you hear are from that era still. And those aren’t going away. I still go to Madison Square Garden and brag, absolutely.
KayGee: We didn’t understand the significance of being a part of Jock Jams at first, but as time went on, we got it. Our ultimate goal, we wanted to be able to rock sports arenas and rock stadiums, and that’s what Jock Jams represented.
McGowan: You catch me riding in my truck, you’ll catch me listening to those Jock Jam records. I could ride and listen to Jock Jams to this day, start to finish, from Track 1 to the end, because I genuinely still love that vibe. And I think a lot of people still do.
Dench: We’ve all grown up together, I suppose, haven’t we? I’ve never been super sporty, so it has been wonderful to contribute to sports in some way, without ever having to actually break a sweat.