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Atlanta Hawks tap hit producer Mr. Hanky to liven up in-game music

New tracks will debut during season opener against the Houston Rockets

“True to Atlanta.”

The Atlanta Hawks’ mantra means more than simply winning games — it also means giving fans the best experience possible, and that includes adding one of the hottest producers in hip-hop to their roster.

Mr. Hanky, born Corey Dennard, is joining the Hawks to produce exclusive tracks to be played at State Farm Arena all season, starting Wednesday, when the team will open its season against the Houston Rockets. The East Atlanta native and Southern University alum has collaborated with hip-hop stars such as Gucci Mane, Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Yo Gotti and Young Dolph and is regarded as one of the staples of Atlanta’s music scene.

“We are always looking for organic and creative ways to integrate Atlanta’s world-renowned music talent into our game experience,” said Joe Abercrombie, senior vice president of live experience and production for the Hawks. “Having the opportunity to add unique tracks from one of the hottest producers in Mr. Hanky gives us the opportunity to create an atmosphere that is undeniably true to Atlanta.”

It was Abercrombie who initially proposed during the offseason that the Hawks think more critically about what music to play during games. 

“We are the only sport that actually plays music when the ball is inbounded and in play across all the major sports. In particular the NBA and Atlanta Hawks are a very progressive league and team; hip-hop is at the front and center,” he said. “As Atlanta we feel no one should be able to do this better than us.” 

Enter Mr. Hanky. The producer spoke with Andscape about how he is looking to do just that, drawing on lessons learned from DJing at Southern, his Atlanta roots and his work with the city’s top music artists.

You’ve been very consistent the last seven years, with a unique sound rooted in a deep bass but custom-tailored to each artist. How do you hope to channel that energy with the Hawks?

Just to do the same thing. I used to be a DJ as well, so at Southern University, when I would do a party, and in an old clip from a homecoming party, it went from no one there to over 3,000 people. In those 3,000 people you have the Louisiana area, Houston and all over the country. So you have to be very observant of the crowd and read the room in a very literal sense. I take that same element when I’m creating to see people like this, people didn’t like that, let’s do more of this. So that’s like being a DJ, because you know what they want, which leads to longevity and a lot of great success.

With that longevity, you mentioned going to Southern, where you got your nickname from an upperclassman in the band. How much did Southern influence you, as well as your mom, who had a classical music background, and your sister who is a clarinet player?

All of those things influenced me. My mother recently had a concert at Atlanta United First Methodist Church on the pipe organ. Growing up around all these rehearsals and watching your mom play the pipe organ is something in itself. My sister and I both picked up on music; she even went to Southern with me and got her master’s from University of Michigan in music education. From birth hearing music in the house to in the car, it played a huge role in me getting into music.

You’ve been working with artists such as T.I., Soulja Boy, 2 Chainz, Lil Duval – all people from or who have spent significant time in Atlanta. What’s something you find to be a commonality between these artists?

They’re always so authentic, authentically them. They’re telling their real truth, their real story, at all times. It’s something you don’t find that often. I think that’s what made them and made them stay for so long.

The Hawks are based in Atlanta, which is a mecca for hip-hop and has been one of the most prominent areas for the style in the last decade. How do you think hip-hop and basketball tie into each other?

I think it’s a huge part. Basketball is the only major sport that has a soundtrack during the whole game. You might go to a football game and hear clips of a song every blue moon, but [in basketball] it’s really a part of the fabric of the whole game. The culture of the game – it’s the only sport hip-hop really goes into the overall experience.

Corey, you grew up here. Now you’re a staple of the Atlanta sound and hip-hop history. What does it mean to be “true to Atlanta” to you?

Being native to Atlanta, I am a fan of all the Atlanta sports teams. Whether we win, lose or draw, I’m there. It means everything to me, from being in the band at Southern – that was huge – to all the accolades in the music industry. But to actually be working with the Hawks is huge! It’s like a dream come true, you working with the home team you grew up watching. You put your all into it because you know what it means to be ‘true to Atlanta.’ You know what it means to see the logo, when you see kids with the Hawks gear on around the neighborhood. They built a new LED sign across from Centennial Park, and I remember a kid watching it in amazement like, ‘Wow!’ So to see that and know what it means to that kid reminds me of the nostalgia of me seeing that as a kid. So it’s everything, being true to Atlanta, all things A-T-L all the time and the spirit of the city.

I know in previous interviews you’ve said that sometimes people don’t always know what they want to hear and you have to give that to them. How has social media changed music and how you go through your creative process?

You can’t ignore social media; it has impacted how everything in the world moves. One of the first artists I worked with when becoming a professional producer was Soulja Boy due to us being on the same label, Collipark Music. I remember just seeing him and his team after his first or second show running back to the bus to get on their laptops, which not everyone had at the time. I was confused like, “What are y’all doing?” They said they have to hurry up for the fans waiting on MySpace to see the content. He was the first person I saw use YouTube, and to be a part of that was a blessing to see the old regime of how we do things to a front-row seat of where we are now. In HBCU [historically Black college and university] band culture with the Human Jukebox [Southern’s marching band], we were one of the first HBCU band programs with our own media team. Shout-out to the guys who run the media team. Seeing how that worked and changed band culture to the music side, I take all of it into account when making these tracks. They not only have to be hot for the game but also social media, which is a whole different ballgame.

Scott Lipscomb is a mass communications student from Prince George’s County, Maryland. He does postgame interviews for the Xavier men’s and women’s basketball teams and helps edit and produce for XU Media, Xavier’s student media outlet. He has also contributed content to the WHUR radio station website.