How the NHL got a hip-hop playoff anthem

Courtesy of BIA

The Stanley Cup has a ubiquitous place in pop culture. BIA saw it as a proxy for bling in a hip-hop lyric.

"Wrist Stanley Cup/I can show you how to skate," is how it's name-dropped in "Skate," a track that dropped in late 2020.

"When I went to the studio and heard the beat, the first thing I saw [in my mind] was me, on the rink, skating on the ice," said BIA, aka Medford, Massachusetts, native Bianca Landrau. "A trophy for a lot of us is jewelry or something like that. And the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal. So I tied the two together and made a fire song."

Create a song that mentions the Stanley Cup and the NHL is bound to take notice. The league clears about 15 songs every postseason for use by the the league and its broadcast partners. "Skate" is one that is being prominently featured in the first round on highlight packages for the 2021 playoffs:

In its original form, "Skate" wasn't a tailor-made sports song. Its video features women in neon ski masks brandishing firearms, "Spring Breakers" style, while BIA raps in a fur coat. The lyrics matched that aesthetic. So the NHL asked BIA and Epic Records to recraft some of the song to add playoffs-specific references.

"Most artists don't want to do that. Like, we've pursued people to change a line here or there and, in many cases, they don't want to do it," said NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer. "But she said, 'Let's do it.'"

They all agreed that a little guidance from the NHL was necessary to get the song where it needed to be. Mayer sent a list of every key phrase and reference to the NHL postseason. "Now, did she use them all? No," he said with a laugh, "but tonally, she got it."

BIA went in the studio and rerecorded it, and the results worked for the league. "They gave me some things I should know, and I did a little research of my own. And I came out and we had a hockey smash," she said.

BIA said she comes from a hockey family, and that her sister Trini played in school in Medford. She also comes from a Boston sports team family.

"We get behind every single team we have in Boston. We love them, genuinely. As soon as you come out of the womb, you start dying for your teams," she said.

She's happy to have contributed a hip-hop track for the Stanley Cup playoffs. "It's so cool, man. I just love music for bringing people together. Different sports. Different cultures. Being able to do that is the biggest blessing in the world," she said.

The NHL, meanwhile, is happy to refresh its playlist, too. Mayer said that with the NHL's new U.S. television rights deals with ESPN and Turner, it's an opportune time to chase younger audiences.

"For years, it's been classic rock and hard rock. And I think we're discovering that it's not like that. Our audience likes pop music. Our audience likes hip-hop. And there are other audiences that love that music who might come and watch us," he said. "We're not trying to do something that doesn't feel natural. I love the way hip-hop cuts to our highlights."