Music gives Adam Sandler’s Philly basketball movie ‘Hustle’ its flow
The Netflix basketball movie moves to music that's a mix of Philly hip-hop and composer Dan Deacon's electronic score.
Hustle is a basketball movie, and a Philly movie — but it’s also a music movie.
The film, directed by South Philly native Jeremiah Zagar, stars Adam Sandler as a globe-trotting scout for the Philadelphia 76ers and Juancho Hernangomez as the Spanish street-ball player he hopes will become an NBA superstar. (It’s also a buddy movie.)
In Hustle — which streams on Netflix starting June 8 — the story of Sandler’s Stanley Sugerman and Hernangomez’s Bo Cruz is told with a two-pronged musical approach.
It has a score by Dan Deacon, the Baltimore electronic musician known for high-energy crowd-participation concerts in which he manipulates beats while encircled by fans on the dance floor.
Deacon’s sometimes moody, sometimes frenetic compositions for the movie, recorded with the London Contemporary Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, have been released on streaming services under the title Hustle (Soundtrack from the Netflix Film).
But besides Deacon’s ambient soundtrack, Hustle has another one that — along with a few outliers such as the Miles Davis Quintet’s 1955 recording of Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind” — is made up of hip-hop songs, many of those by Philadelphia artists, recorded over the past few decades.
Those tracks deepen the movie’s sense of place. The thumping “Philly, Philly,” featuring Beanie Sigel from Eve’s 1999 debut album Let There Be Eve … Ruff Ryder’s First Lady, plays as the camera pans over the Sixers mural at Broad and Federal.
Hernangomez — a Madrid native and real-life NBA power forward for the Utah Jazz — goes one-on-one against the Sixers’ Tobias Harris in a crucial sequence shot at Capitolo Playground (the one sandwiched between Pat’s and Geno’s in South Philly) to the sound of Spanish rapper Zarcort’s kinetic ”Partiéndonos la madre.”
And music’s role in establishing mise-en-scene goes beyond Philadelphia. Sugerman’s talent search takes him all over the globe, and away from his wife, Teresa, played by Queen Latifah. The movie opens in Serbia, with the scout looking in on 33-year-old former Sixer Boban Marjanovic, who amusingly claims to be 22.
The first music heard, as Sugerman scoots from Germany to China to Greece, is “The World Is Mine,” a rugged groove from a singer who sounds at first like a more rough-hewn John Legend.
It turns out to be a 2019 track from Samm Henshaw, a British-Nigerian soul singer whose star is on the rise. He plays a sold-out show at MilkBoy Philly on June 14.
There are no brand-new hip-hop songs created for Hustle, and no commercial release is planned for the non-Deacon music.(Though I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of all the songs that you can hear here.)
Zagar and music supervisors Kevin Grady and Brian Bonwell have done an excellent job of culling recent Philly hip-hop history to create a tapestry of beats and rhymes that situates the bromance between Sugerman and Cruz on the streets of Philadelphia.
In the original trailer, which came out in February, the highlights from the film were paired with Meek Mill’s “Ima Boss,” featuring Rick Ross, from the Philly rapper’s 2011 Dreamchasers mixtape.
That song doesn’t appear in the finished movie, but Mill and Ross instead turn up on “Routine,” a 2019 track by Washington, D.C., rapper Wale whose lyrics Philly sports fans will find dated: “I feel like Carson Wentz, I got the wisdom,” Wale rhymes, adding: “Philly women really chillin’ with me, now I really can’t stop sayin’ jawn”.
» READ MORE: The reviews for ‘Hustle,’ filmed in Philly, are in
Other Philadelphia artists heard in Hustle include The Roots, with their rocked-out 2002 collab with Cody Chesnutt on “The Seed 2.0,” Tierra Whack with her haunting 2021 single “Heaven,” Freeway with “Full Effect” from his 2002 debut Philadelphia Freeway, and another cut from Beanie Sigel, who turns up again with “Feel It In The Air” from 2005′s The B. Coming. Eve, Whack, and Sigel have cameos in the movie.
But probably the most creative, subtle nod to Philly is with “Runnin,’” a song by rapper David Dallas of New Zealand. It’s a key track, sharing duties along with Deacon’s score in montages of Sugerman pushing Cruz in grueling workouts à la Burgess Meredith and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.
So what’s so Philly about that? Just this: Dallas’ song is built on a sample of “New World In My View,” from King Britt Presents Sister Gertrude Morgan, a ready-to-be-rediscovered 2005 classic by Philly DJ-producer King Britt in which he sampled late New Orleans street preacher and visual artist Sister Gertrude Morgan. Cool choice!
Zagar and Deacon previously worked together on a 2013 short sports film called Always A Fire, about former New York Giant Chad Jones. For Hustle, Deacon made recordings of dribbles and shots at the Wells Fargo Center and turning them into processed percussive sounds used in the score.
You wouldn’t know that without reading about it; Deacon’s score has a graceful physicality, however he came up with it. There’s a ruminative quality to tracks like “Oak Tree,” but they also swell with triumphant swagger, in ways that recall recently deceased film composer Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire score.
The music is attuned to the improvisational ballet on the court when Hernangomez is running with fellow NBA stars-turned-actors like Anthony Edwards (who plays Cruz’ rival Kermit Wilts)
And Deacon’s lyrical, synthesizer-and-string score is also suitable for the predawn training sessions in which Sugerman stays behind the wheel and chases Cruz up the Manayunk Wall, challenging him to outrun professional-level bicyclists. It’s Hustle’s version of a Rocky steps sequence, and with Deacon’s music urging him on, you know he’s going to make it to the top.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated David Dallas’ home country as Australia rather than New Zealand.