Kyle Conarro is a fan of both soccer and hip-hop, and he’s not shy about expressing it.
In fact, the 29-year-old software engineer has now combined those loves by releasing weekly raps about Atlanta United under the stage name of Conair. The project started as a season preview on YouTube, but since then, he's kept it up, regularly releasing a new, detailed weekly recap about the team. Each new offering combines a classic hip-hop instrumental with full-length lyrics, highlights, and play-by-play.
Conarro uses backing tracks that either feature an Atlanta artist, or an artist from the city where an upcoming Atlanta opponent is based. He then edits the weekly videos to match up game highlights with the original artist’s video. And then, of course, he writes and performs his homages with only a few days’ turnaround time, to have them serve as recaps of the prior week’s match as well as a preview of the next.
So far he's kept up to date all the way through Week 16 of this MLS season, the latest rap taking a backing track from Bow Wow, who also hails from the same city as Atlanta's opponent on Saturday -- Columbus Crew SC (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE in the US and Canada.)
As someone who grew up in Atlanta, Conarro immediately gravitated toward Atlanta United as a soccer team he could get behind. (Friends of his follow the Premier League, but he never felt a true connection with a team in the U.K.)
But the story of how he merged his love of sports and hip-hop actually started with a paean to the NFL Falcons on their recent run to the Super Bowl. He put down a track and published it to Soundcloud after the team won the NFC Championship, called “Atlanta’s Moment.”
Choosing to turn his attentions to soccer after a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss, Conarro decided to refashion Outkast’s “Player’s Ball” as “Soccer Player’s Ball (Five Stripes),” working in press conference quotes from the Atlanta United front office as well as the names of the entire Opening Day roster.
He again published to Soundcloud, thinking it would be just a one-off production. But then a friend suggested he do one to preview the match against fellow expansioneers Minnesota United, and Conarro was inspired to rework “Bleeding Hearts Club,” from P.O.S. (of the noted Minneapolis-based Doomtree hip-hop collective) and fellow Twin Cities rapper Slug.
“I knew, if I did a second one, I was probably committing to doing it weekly for the whole season,” said Conarro.
By week three, to commemorate his upcoming birthday, he reworked 2 Chainz’s “Birthday Song” to say, “All I want for my birthday is to beat Chicago,” and created his first YouTube video. The other motivator for going to video? As Conarro brightly notes, the game against MNUFC had six different goals to highlight.
That launched him toward his ongoing weekly song-to-video commitment that’s allowed him to keep a running diary of the team’s inaugural season, as well as highlight artists that even seasoned hip-hop fans might not know. Once he has a song in mind, he uses an instrumental track released by the artist himself, or in a few cases, relies on fan-created beats.
While some of the teams of the schedule have provided challenges — it's not as easy to find Salt Lake City-based hip-hop artists, for instance — his rules do allow him to fall back on an Atlanta artist in a pinch. But along the way, he’s leaned on Montreal’s Le Connaisseur, D.C.’s Wale, and Portland’s Aminé as well as more familiar hip-hop personages like Toronto’s Drake, Chicago’s Kanye West, and New York’s Biggie Smalls. (He picked the latter in part, he says, because Biggie rhymes with “Miggie” and Atlanta DP Miguel Almiron’s had some really good weeks of late.)
He recently published a blog on Medium to document what he’s done week by week, in part to educate soccer and hip-hop fans on the method to his madness. He notes that when he took to Reddit to publicize his efforts — receiving a full spectrum of reactions — “some people thought I was just picking random songs.” He’s utilized some suggestions from commenters, including using more highlights from games in the videos.
He’s also sought one additional way to localize the songs — he’s reached out to Jason Longshore, part of the team behind 92.9 the Game’s Atlanta radio broadcasts, for audio files of play-by-play to incorporate into the videos.
Though Conair hasn’t yet done a live performance, he’s open to the possibility. For the time being, he's just making sure he delivers weekly videos that bring musical knowledge and celebrate the Five Stripes. As he points out, “I just want this to be fun for people.”