Not every day – actually rarely ever – does a professional sports team’s digital team release a music video during such an important date as Decision Day in Major League Soccer. Digital teams cover training sessions, games, fan events, etc. But creating a music video isn’t a task that is expected of them. Maybe that’s what makes Atlanta United FC’s collaboration with Atlanta rapper Waka Flocka Flame for the “Dreads Shakin’” music video so incredible.
Within minutes of its release via Atlanta United’s Twitter and YouTube accounts, the music video became a trending topic among the 5-Stripes’ fanbase and fellow MLS fans, dominating the conversation on the night of Decision Day. The release coincided with Atlanta United clinching an Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs berth after a 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati.
But how exactly was the idea born?
Mike Summers, Head of Marketing and Digital at Atlanta United, thought of the idea and soon after proposed it to members of the digital team. Their response? Yes!
“It’s been an idea I wanted to do for a long time, and we found the right moment to bring culture and soccer in a big way with one of our day one supporters, Waka Flocka, and make a big impact and do something different,” said Summers.
Waka agreed to collaborate with Atlanta United’s digital team to shoot a music video for an unreleased song, “Dreads Shakin’.” A song the Atlanta resident described as “time machine music,” reminiscent of the rapper’s hits “Hard in Da Paint” and “No Hands.”
Besides Waka, there was another person whose approval was needed by Summers and that was Darren Eales, President of Atlanta United. Eales, known and loved by fans for his charismatic personality, not only greenlit the idea but was recruited by Waka to star in the music video.
Rafy Araica, digital video producer at Atlanta United and director of the music video, recalled how quickly things happened.
“What was surprising was the quickness of it, like how quick everything got approved,” Araica said. “It's not that it's rare, it's appreciative. I’m appreciative of the trust and that the idea got greenlit so quickly.”
Araica was the creative vision behind the music video due to his previous experience working with artists and music video productions. Araica said that when brainstorming with members of the digital team, the concept for the production was influenced by Canadian rapper Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later” music video.
“We wanted to showcase the music and the Playoffs but one of the ideas was to showcase our training ground we have,” Edwin Hernandez, video producer at Atlanta United and main camera operator for the music video said. “Every room in this building is so nice and the outside parking lot, we wanted to showcase it.”
When watching the “Dreads Shakin’” music video it is impossible not to see the influence. The difference? Drake had to go to Beaverton, Oregon to shoot his music video while “Dreads Shakin’” was filmed at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground.
The digital team, who regularly works out of the Training Ground, credited the familiarity with the location as a huge help during the production process.
When it came to shooting the music video, Waka, who has numerous music videos to his name, was fun and easy to work with, according to Catalina Gutierrez, video production manager at Atlanta United and an executive producer of the music video. Gutierrez credited the rapper’s attitude toward the project to his love for Atlanta United.
“He’s fantastic. I’ve been lucky to be here for four years including the day he handed the [players] their MLS Cup rings back in 2018. His passion is real and he loves the heck out of this team. He's a die-hard and he geeks out with Josef \[Martínez\] about the team.”
Not only was Waka a joy to work with, but he was great at helping Eales adapt to his rap music video persona. Though heavily active on TikTok where he has an astounding 123k followers (and growing), Eales had never been part of a music video production and Waka proved to be the best teacher.
“It was funny seeing Waka giving instructions to Darren. He’d say, ‘point at your ring, lift your glasses up,’” recalled Araica while still laughing when remembering these moments.
The shoot was filmed all in one day and took around five hours to complete. Throughout the shoot, Waka and Eales had to dance, rap and keep the energy late into the night.
“Waka, I thought he was great. For him to have that high energy throughout that entire shoot was amazing to see,” Ryan Little, video effect editor at Atlanta United said. “Sometimes, you think ‘Oh it’s been a few hours people are starting to die down’ but he just kept up the energy levels the entire time.”
Gutierrez added, “Waka’s infectious energy made Darren feel comfortable throughout the shoot and do his own new things in the music video. They vibed with each other.”
Though filmed at the team’s own training facility, that didn’t mean the digital team didn’t encounter any issues when shooting the music video. The facilities manager didn’t allow Waka and Eales to get on top of the table due to it being made out of glass and fear it would break, however Eales pleaded it was a necessary component of the music video and they were granted permission. The table, fortunately, did not break.
When reflecting on the release of the music video, Gutierrez said the timing of the release could not have been any better.
“It could not have been more ideal for us to come off a really strong win. Miles \[Robinson\] having his first MLS goal and Josef scoring a banger. It happened almost so perfectly,” Gutierrez said.
The “Dreads Shakin’” music video was released a few hours after the 2-1 victory against FC Cincinnati on Decision Day and amassed over 90k views across Twitter and YouTube.
The reception to the music video was one of shock and amusement across the team’s Twitter and YouTube accounts. Within minutes, the music video’s comment section was flooded with support on YouTube and Twitter with viewers praising the creativity of Atlanta United’s digital team, along with the performance of Eales and the song itself.
“It’s something that we’ve never done. And that fact that we surprised our supporters in putting this music video out shows that our video team still has a lot of tricks up our sleeve,” Van Emberger, assistant video producer at Atlanta United said. “And there’s just so much that the fans don’t know about us that we have in the works.”
Since joining MLS in 2017, Atlanta United has proved to be a winning organization in every aspect, from winning an MLS Cup in its second season to compiling record attendance numbers for consecutive seasons. The accomplishments continued on the digital side when Atlanta United became the first MLS team to reach one million followers on Twitter.
“When we talk about being number one and having a winning organization, that first starts with the pitch and it's very important for us to be a winning organization on the pitch, but we want to win on everything including our marketing and our digital tactics,” said Summers.
This feeling is felt throughout all departments of the team, especially the digital team which sees no limits when it comes to creating content for fans and continuing to nurture that relationship between Atlanta United and its supporters.
“I think it goes to show what the expectation is here. We’re always going to have matches; we’re always going to have training sessions. All of that doesn’t change, that’s what the constant is. We’re expected to not only showcase soccer but showcase the culture, showcase Atlanta, and the fact that our front office is really different,” said Gutierrez.
A week after the release of the music video, members of the digital team are still shocked that they were part of such a special project that meant so much to the club and its supporters.
“A comment that stuck out to me was ‘That’s so Atlanta’ because it is so Atlanta.” Hernandez shared. “Atlanta the city and Atlanta the club.”
This season, Atlanta United and its fans have been through a rollercoaster and the “Dreads Shakin’” music video was part of the ride, as the team nears its first game of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs against New York City FC.
“In a year that nobody expected us to make the playoffs in the beginning half of the season, here we are, and I think the attitude that the song brings showcases ‘we’re going to go,’” Gutierrez said.
Director/Editor: Rafy Araica
Executive Producer: Mike Summers, Catalina Gutierrez, Diego Pinzon
VFX Editor: Ryan Little
Camera Operator: Edwin Hernandez
Gaffer: Chris Koch
Grip: Travis Lawrence
Production Design/Manager: Devin Hicks, Tony Jenkins
Set Photographer: Dakota Williams
Colorist: Michael Catron
Pyrotechnics: Casey Stokes, Jennifer Stokes
Social Media: Maria Ramsaier
BTS Video: Van Emberger
PA: Chaz Armand, Christopher Vichathep, Maryrose Barrios
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