After a run with his second love, Jahidi White returns to his first

It’s not exactly a new trend: athletes who turn to music as a secondary (or second) career. But while the list of jocks turning into musicians isn’t a short one, the accompanying list of critically and commercially successful crossover acts is wafer thin.

Jahidi White knows all about those lists, symbolized by big-budget bombs; take the lightly regarded hip-hop records released by his former competitor Shaquille O’Neal. In fact, you don’t even have to bring up those types of acts for White to respond to the idea of a known athlete moving into music.

“I think sometimes it helps and sometimes it hurts,” White offered when reached by phone in Los Angeles in early May. “A lot of ballplayers have failed at music, and that’s made it more difficult for the others. There have been some really terrible projects out there.”

These days, White, a seven-year veteran of the NBA, seems content to conquer the music industry rather than mount a return to the court. A graduate of Cardinal Ritter High School, White was recruited to Big East powerhouse Georgetown as a center in 1994. He was drafted by the Washington Wizards in 1998 as a second-round draft pick. Though slightly undersized at 6-foot-9 – these are relative terms, after all – White made his living as a wide-bodied rebounder, screen setter and shot blocker.

From 1998 through the beginning of the 2003-2004 season, White found a home as a part-time starter with the Wizards, including a stint alongside Michael Jordan during his final comeback tour. Traded to the Phoenix Suns that season, he spent one year in the Southwest before a partial season with the expansion Charlotte Bobcats in 2004-2005.

Injuries to big men aren’t uncommon in the NBA, and after sitting out the better part of a season, White attempted a brief comeback with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2006 preseason before essentially calling it quits after a release from that team. “I had to deal with a lot of injuries. I took a year off to heal. And that turned into two years …”

That time off, though, allowed him to concentrate his energies on Cuzzo NoiZ, the production company that he’d been pondering forever and now had the time to fully attack. Currently spending time in the studio with the hip-hop outfit Chop Shop Cartel, White’s marking time in St. Louis, the West Coast and even the South, where, he said, “commercial real estate interests” and checking out new talent keep him busy.

While on the road, he employs the same philosophy he used during his playing days: When in a new town, dig into the local club scene, hear what acts are hot and turn those thoughts toward his own productions.

“Any city you go to, you walk into a club and there’s a song that comes on and everybody’s going crazy,” he said. “And I’ve never heard that song before. You see that in Chicago, New York, L.A. Sometimes, in St. Louis, you don’t get exposed to all the new stuff. Or it takes a year or two to get here. But I’ve been hearing [these songs] all over the country.”

White’s interest in music began at an early age, well before his long run in the NBA. “My father had a basement full of records,” he said. “I listened to every song on every record.”

By the time he was at Cardinal Ritter, he was using a small, inexpensive home recording kit – a Yamaha beat machine, a Casio keyboard, a double cassette tape deck – to begin rhyming and creating beats. Among the kids he traded beats with was James Gates, who’s long enjoyed popularity as a club and radio DJ in St. Louis as DJ Needles.

Gates, during a break in his KDHX 88.1 radio show The Remedy, said that White’s interest in music shouldn’t be confused with a pro athlete not knowing what to do with his career. “No, no, no, no,” emphasized Gates. “He made beats in high school. He made rhymes in high school. I was always surprised he didn’t move more into [it] when he got national [in hoops].”

These days, the two, who always kept in touch, are moving their friendship into a business relationship. Lately, Gates has recorded a handful of tracks that White has bought for his company’s varied artists. “They’re sample-based,” he said. “Just raw hip-hop beats. Not necessarily club-oriented, dance-oriented. Just boombox beats, rockin’ beats.”

Gates said White’s interests were based in classic emcees and DJs, and White said that he grew up influenced by the likes of Nas, the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, “mostly East Coast stuff.”

These days, White’s not limiting himself in where he might find talent, whether they’re St. Louis artists or not. And he prefers to spend as much time in the studio as he can with the artists that he’s picking up.

“Yeah, I like the creative part of it,” he said. “All the aspects of it, really. The business end can be shady, but I like all aspects of the music industry. It took me a while to learn all about the business, but I’ve been around all kinds of famous people, famous athletes. That kind of thing can bring pressure on somebody. But it’s great to not be jaded by that.”

With hoops seemingly behind him, he said that the notion he had in high school – riding out basketball, while always keeping a foot in music production – is finally a reality.

“I loved music in school,” he said, “but I knew I had talent in basketball. I should say I loved basketball, too, had two loves all that time.” One love’s in the past, “but now I’m enjoying the beats.”