You may not know White Dave by his name, but you’ve likely heard him at some point of the last couple of years. The Bay Area rapper — born Noah David Coogler — has made music for the soundtracks of award-winning films like Creed and Judas and the Black Messiah, in addition to his own albums and mixtapes. This year, however, White Dave appears in the biggest project he’s taken part in so far in his career: Space Jam: A New Legacy.
“I’m overwhelmed. I can’t really wrap my head around it,” Coogler told ComicBook.com in an exclusive interview. “I do this thing where I minimize things to keep them in perspective. But I’m having trouble with this one, man.”
The soundtrack to the original Space Jam is iconic, and Warner Bros. went all out to build the sound for the sequel, bringing on a multitude of artists that includes legends like Salt-N-Pepa and John Legend. White Dave drops a magnetic verse on “About That Time,” the 10th track on the album, collaborating with other Bay Area artists P-Lo, G-Eazy, and Dame D.O.L.L.A. (the hip-hop alter ego of Portland Trailblazers All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard, who also has a role in the film).
White Dave’s brother, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, produced the new Space Jam, while their youngest brother, Keenan Coogler, is one of the film’s screenwriters. Despite the connections, White Dave got the Space Jam gig because of his sound and Oakland roots, but he didn’t even know he was recording anything for Space Jam until after he’d already turned it in.
“Well, the crazy thing is, when they sent the production over, they didn’t specifically tell me that it was for Space Jam,” Coogler explained. “It was just a beat and they were like, ‘We want you to have a couple basketball themes, so we want you to really make it Bay Area.’ They were like, ‘We really want you to put on for the Bay, like really hard.’ So, I was thinking that it was going to be some type of like anthem for the [Golden State] Warriors, or something. Something that they’d play at the games or something.”
“Nobody ever hit me up like, ‘Hey, we need something for XYZ,'” he continued. “And then, after I laid my portions down and sent it off, about a month and a half, two months later, my manager is like, ‘Hey man, we need you to sign some paperwork. That song that you sent over, bro, they’re going to use it for Space Jam.’ And then, when I heard the final cut, I was like, ‘Oh my God. They got Dame and G-Eazy on here!’ I was like, ‘Oh my Lord!’ This is automatically the biggest record I’ve ever been a part of.”
White Dave may not be a household name yet, but he’s been bringing his unique style to the game for a few years now and slowly carving out a space for himself. Blending his flow and sensibilities with a more universal sound has been one of the biggest — and most rewarding — challenges for the Oakland artist when it comes to making music for massive projects like Space Jam and Creed.
“I’ve tried to balance the line between commercial appeal and artistic expression as best as I can,” he said. “When I’m making my own stuff, it’s just all about expression, man. It’s all about what I feel and what I want to get off my chest. And when I do something that as being commissioned, for lack of a better term, or something that’s giving me guidelines and such, I want to give it depth, but I want to make sure it’s digestible still.”
Finding that blend of artistic expression and wider appeal has become a trademark of the Coogler brothers. Both Creed and Black Panther are great examples of IP franchise films that have so much more going on than a lot of the other popcorn fare hitting theaters. As Noah and Ryan (and now Keenan) navigate the entertainment industry, finding ways to bring their artistry to bigger audiences, they use their own experiences to make one another stronger.
“I talk to my brother all the time, man. And what he misses most is being able to just kind of be out and walk around,” said Coogler. “He doesn’t get bum-rushed, but he definitely gets recognized by people who are in the field. And it’s cool to see, honestly. It’s cool to see, because that’s the grind, man. That’s part of the grind. When you do your job right, people see it, and people recognize it. And, honestly, it’s motivating for me. I see how hard he works, and how focused he is, and it keeps me on the same path.”
As for Keenan, White Dave believes that the youngest Coogler brother has the talent outshine both of his older siblings one day.
“My younger brother, man, is finally cleaning up. My younger brother is hitting home runs, and I’ve been telling everybody about our baby brother. Everybody better keep their eye on him.”
As Space Jam: A New Legacy hits theaters and HBO Max this week, White Dave’s name is going to be in front of more people than it has ever been before. And he may still be processing the gravity of the moment, but don’t think for a second he isn’t ready for it. Just like Adonis Creed or King T’Challa, White Dave has a warrior’s mentality.
“You either really pull it off, or you completely fall on your face,” he said, “but you got to be willing to try.”
Space Jam: A New Legacy arrives on HBO Max and in theaters on July 16th. The full soundtrack is available now.