Hustle & Flow

LAS VEGAS - Royce White doesn’t just hear music; he sees it.

Every note, chord, hook and harmony weaves a story writ large within his mind’s eye and it’s his goal to extract that tale, breathe life into the melody and share it with the world.

So he sits down in front of a piano and lets the music flow. Whatever hope he harbors, all of the anxiety, fear, frustration, love, peace and joy layered within, everything springs forth in a flood imbuing the narrative he’s already visualized and is now attempting to capture.

The process is no different for White when putting pen to paper or fingertips to the keyboard of a computer. While some writers agonize over every syllable such that their words appear only in sputtering rivulets of prose, the 21-year-old Twin Cities native knows only one way to write and the end result is something much more akin to a mad, frothing, foaming whitewater river.

“It’s just free flowing,” he says. “I can just sit down and write, write, write for hours. At some point the structure gets a little off -- that’s what happens with free flowing writing -- but it’s just natural.”

Perhaps the creative process comes so naturally to White because he has so much to say. This is, after all, a man raised on a steady musical diet of Disney movie soundtracks, Prince, Sinatra, The Beatles and Jay-Z -- a rather diverse amalgam of artists and not exactly a who’s who of timid, quiet and conservative wallflowers. And like the legends he looks up to, White aspires to nothing less than changing the world around him. Already he’s made inroads in that regard by being a fearless voice within the mental health community, fully disclosing his own issues with anxiety disorder and OCD in an effort to further remove any lingering elements of shame that still exist with the context of that particular conversation.

No external influence, however, was more impactful than the one White had inside his own home. He was raised among a large, diverse family by a single mother who made sure his bookshelves were full and his mind open. She wanted to see her son develop a critical mind capable of sifting through the forthcoming onslaught of ideas and information so that he might be better equipped and more likely to emerge with a tangible token of the truth. Little wonder, then, that White would later find himself so smitten with the sort of subjects mankind has discussed, dissected and debated from the dawn of time.

“Growing up, my mom was always pushing me to question and never just accept what’s coming,” he says. “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything -- that was one of the things she was always telling me. It really trained me to always be critically thinking and I did it in excess; even when I was by myself as a kid I would just think and think and try to figure things out my own. Then I started to hear about certain philosophers and how everything correlates back to people like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato and those types of people, and it’s just fun for me to try to learn from them and then make my own ideas with it.”

The end result: a 6-8, 260 pound hulk of a man with a knowing look in his eye, a bearded face that belies his youth, massive hands designed to fashion and forge, and a mind filled with even bigger ideas, dreams, and ambitions. Books, movies, music; entrepreneur, philanthropist, philosopher -- White is an aspiring Renaissance man in the making. And it all begins with a picture; a tiny germ of an idea that takes shape and then takes hold, compelling him to create.

“One of the unique things about when I write music,” he says, “is that I write the video; I write the visual story. The words are just the description. So when I’m writing the song I’m really writing the video and I think that’s one of the evolutionary things about writers now: everything is so visual. I instantly see the visual when I hear the music.”

Of course, there just so happens to be yet another side to Royce White; a manifestation of his persona that is no less creative and one just as dependent upon its own unique brand of flow. Put him on a basketball court and suddenly those enormous hands of his are capable of conjuring an entirely different kind of music. There he is in transition, freestyling like Jay. Watch him operate from the elbow or low post where he makes the perfect pass time after time and if you listen closely enough you can almost hear Prince unleashing the full force of his musical genius upon “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

White does it his way. But there is nothing even remotely selfish about his playing style; to the contrary, it is egalitarian and benevolent by its very nature, concerned only with making those around him better for the greater good of the team. And as with his art, those creative instincts stem from the unique visuals supplied by the right side of his brain.

“When I’m on the break or in transition or in certain spots where a pass is about to be made, I’m not really looking at any one person,” he says. “I see all 10 guys and one big shape and that shape is moving. It’s slack in some places and in some places it’s strong and I’ve just naturally developed a thing where I’m able to get into the weaker parts where that slack is so that one of my teammates is open. That’s the best way I can describe it: it’s like one big moving shape. If you look at one guy you’re not going to be that successful. But if you see all ten as one big moving shape then it’s better.

“I grew up in the 90s with the Bulls and a lot of times it was just Michael Jordan doing his thing, but I think if you look at the principles of what they were doing it all started with great flow and chemistry and camaraderie, so those are the type of things I’m thinking about. I think who I am humanitarian-wise is what helps me on the court. Being unselfish, sacrificing your time and effort for the next person is what makes me a creative basketball player.”

Pictures, flow, humanitarianism – somehow everything eventually comes back to those three elements when delving into the inner workings of Royce White. He wants to make the world a better place. He wants to move people with his art. He wants to be the best basketball player he can be. Is it even possible for one person to simultaneously achieve those things, or does there reach a point when those goals become mutually exclusive and the emphasis on one eventually prompts a downward drag on the other? The NBA is a business and, as such, it demands a massive chunk of a player’s time and attention in return for the significant investment it makes in their development. Being the best is not just a full time job; it increasingly commands a 24/7/365 commitment.

Such questions are nothing new to White. He openly acknowledges their existence and understands why some teams may have had concerns about the sheer scope of his wide-ranging interests during the days leading up to the draft. But while he neither hides from nor evades the subject, he also disagrees with the notion that one passion can detract from the other. His mind doesn’t wander when he’s on the floor; he credits his OCD with actually helping him on the basketball court because it forces him to fully focus on the task at hand. Whether at practice or during games, he is completely locked in; little wonder, then, that his coaches routinely rave about his work ethic.

Royce White really believes he can have it all. And he harbors that belief because of a self-awareness that has helped him understand that being the best basketball player he can be is something that is intrinsically tied to being the best person he can be as well.

“We could say that a basketball player, a young kid eating, sleeping and breathing the sport, might help that player more basketball-wise, but life-wise it can’t,” says White. “You can’t tell me that’s healthy for your all-around well being to just eat, breathe and sleep one thing. If you’re not a well balanced human it’s no different than if your game’s not well balanced; if you just focus on passing and you can’t shoot or dribble, it’s not good.

“If we’re giving up humanity for basketball then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands. At the end of the day, basketball is important but it can’t be at the expense of the bigger picture. I think there is a way to be the best basketball player you can be and have other interests.”

That is the goal; the endgame of a dream that undoubtedly began with a vision of what he one day could become. Baller, musician, philanthropist, author -- Royce White dares to do it all. He has seen the pictures take shape in his mind. He has heard the siren song stirring his muse. Now he just has to let it be -- and let it flow.