Anyone who plays or watches basketball has experienced the joy of seeing a player get embarrassed on the court, and Jesse Jones has made a hustle out of that feeling. On his Instagram page, the man known as Filayyyy makes hilarious voiceover videos where he narrates, sings and laughs as athletes get their ankles crossed, their heads dunked on, and their faces knocked out in the boxing ring or MMA octagon. His videos play like watching ESPN’s iconic Sportscenter show with the homies, splicing jokes with astute basketball analysis. It may sound simple, but he’s got a goldmine: he has 1.7 million followers on IG alone. It’s to the point where when you see a highlight play in real-time, you’re anticipating how he’s going to make it even funnier. Plus, Filayyyy gets busy on the court himself: he posts clips of his own play, and this October he signed his first professional basketball contract with the St. John’s Edge in the National Basketball League of Canada.
But Filayyy isn’t just making fun videos on the Internet; he’s building a branding empire. He has a sponsorship with Nike, he has his own character and unique layup package on the video game NBA Live 19, and now, he’s part of the For Professionals Only campaign with the headphone and speaker company JBL. He, along with artist Shoe Surgeon and celebrity trainer Shannon Nadj, are enlisted to showcase a new age of professionals that eschew suits and ties to handle business in their own way. Filayyy is rocking with JBL’s Free X truly wireless earbuds. In a conversation with VIBE, Filayyyy shares his origins, how his Internet celebrity impacts opponents’ play and his personal career highlights.
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VIBE: How did you get involved in sports, and in singing?
Filayyy: I always played basketball growing up, and my pops would always sing around me, being joyful and being himself. It snuck up on me, it was a gift. Growing up, I just wanted to be my pops, he was my role model. He was the person I really looked up to. I was just following things he’d done, and I used to develop my style when I got older.
VIBE: What made you decide to start making these videos in the first place?
I was recording the Finals game between the Warriors and the Cavs. I normally record stuff on my phone and I kind of talk in the background. But I had just finished playing basketball with my boys, and we would all be in the gym playing around and saying “filet mignon.” Everybody would always say “filet mignon,” so I didn’t want to stay with the mignon part. When I was recording the video I was just talking reckless, and I started singing the moves. I was hype because Steph Curry was the biggest player in the league at that time, and he did a crazy move. So I hurried up and put the camera on the TV, and as Curry is doing the move, I’m calling out the moves and I’m singing. I posted that video, and people were just like, “this is mad funny.” I got 400-500 comments. People started commenting, “try to take out the audio from the background, so we can just hear you.” For a few weeks I was trying to find an app, and I finally found one, I used it for two years and it got me through a lot of videos. I found out how to take the audio out, and I started to do voiceovers. First I was just talking about regular moves, and then I started to think about how I play, let me incorporate myself into my videos. Once I caught on to it, I started to see what I post, started thinking of different terms I created. People ask what made me do it. It just happened, I never thought it would blow up like this.
Did you ever do commentary like that while watching with your friends?
I never did it with my friends, but I did it at home with my parents and my girlfriend. I was doing commentary way before I was doing videos, I just never recorded it. It was just that one move that Steph Curry did on Dellavedova in the Finals. I pulled my phone out. You know how someone does a dope move and you’re hype and you’re recording, but you’re talking in the back? But I’m singing. It just clicked in my mind, like, “Yo, you’ve got something.”
You also hoop yourself, aside from making these videos. Do your opponents ever try to mess you up on the court because of your reputation online?
Oh, yeah. It’s to the point where I don’t hoop like that around local people. I don’t really play in an open gym that much. This summer I’ve been playing with pros, I don’t play with that many people who don’t really know the game. Some people see me, and not they’re starstruck, but they say, “oh that’s Filayyy, I don’t want him to embarrass me.” So they foul me on purpose or try to mess me up in the game and try to hurt me. People don’t care, because they don’t want to be embarrassed. My thing is, I’ve got highlights. I can’t control people that record me when I play. If I’m at the gym and someone’s there recording, people think I had them there recording. No, that’s them recording on their own. So if you get crossed over and I post it, that’s on you. I just try to stay healthy and careful with who I play with.
When you follow somebody on social media and you see them in person, sometimes you don’t know how to react. They’re trying to play so hard against me that sometimes they do too much, and it gets out of hand. Some people understand, some people don’t, and some people just don’t care – those are the ones that try to hurt you. It’s a few people I’ve met and they’ll say, “it’s not gonna be none of this ‘Filayyy’ stuff over here,” “this isn’t Instagram.” Bro I play basketball, it’s not about social media. But everywhere I go someone is trying to challenge me.
How did you get to the point of being able to play with pros?
A lot of work. Consistent work, accepting failure. Staying in the gym. When you work and start playing games, it’s about building confidence to do what you’re working on in the gym, in the games. I had a name before Filayyy, people knew me as Jesse, as a hard worker. To get myself where I am now, I played against people who were better than me and I had to make mistakes. Next time I played against them, I can’t make the same mistakes I made last time. When you’re playing against pros, you’ve gotta be poised, you’ve gotta be smart. There are things you can’t do because pros are professionals, they perfect their craft. At the end of the day, to go back to this campaign with JBL, professionals perfect their craft. They really don’t mess up. When you’re perfecting something, it’s hard to beat. When you plan stuff out and go after it, you can achieve it. I knew the things I had to get better at. I got to the gym, I worked on it, and that’s how I was able to play with pros now. Things like strength you can’t control, because some dudes are ten or seven feet, but you can control the small things which are IQ, skill, and stuff like that.
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Do you have any long-term basketball goals?
The dream since I was a kid is to play in the NBA. But as you get older and life hits you, it’s just about being happy and comfortable with what you can achieve. If I can get in a great country, make money, build my brand, continue to help others and work with brands, that’s my NBA. I’m so successful because I’m not trying to chase something that’s impossible. People thought it was, but I made it into reality. It’s just things I made visible a long time ago and I worked at it until it was made possible. I know the basketball is going to stop bouncing, but it’s a long term goal, for now, to know what I’m going to do after. I just signed my first pro deal after four years, so who knows what’s going to happen?… I haven’t even done half of the things I want to do. The Filayyy brand is the long term goal, basketball is the short term goal.
If you were hooping and you got crossed over, would you make a video of yourself?
I did already! I posted it, but it didn’t get a lot of engagement because I didn’t really get crossed. The dude crossed over, stepped back and made a shot. But because it was me, he made it a big commodity. I think it got like 200 comments. People weren’t really like “oh snap!” I would think it would be like “oh, he got crossed” and the whole world would be like “yo!” It didn’t get a lot of hits so I took it down. But people commented like, “I respect it because you aren’t just clowning everybody else. It happened to you, some people don’t do that.” But I already know that. I play basketball, so I know I’ve gotten crossed before. That’s how I’m able to joke around with others.
Would you ever consider doing commentary in real-time, as opposed to videos after the fact?
I’d definitely consider doing games in real-time. And there are a lot of favorites, but the main ones for me are Cha-Ching at Dyckman, Mr. Talk Spicy for Hoops in the Sun, and Famous Los.
You’ve done a lot with your brand. You have your page, you were on NBA Live, you have this partnership with JBL. What made you decide to make a full business out of this, as opposed to just making videos in your spare time?
I don’t remember the first dollar I made, but after I got my first DM about coming somewhere and being paid for it, it clicked in my mind, “this might go somewhere.” Just doing videos for a while, my page was really getting noticed. Then I got sponsored by Nike, I was the first influencer to be sponsored by Nike. When that happened, I took a different focus into what i posted, what I say in my videos, and how funny I got. I went from 99,000 followers to a million in one year. Being focused on the content and being consistent. When I made that first dollar, I knew, this might be a role for me. Even though I want to be a basketball player, this might be an opening. That’s when I first knew that this brand was something I had to take serious.
What have been your personal highlights so far?
My favorite part is meeting Kyrie Irving, he’s somebody I really look up to. I met Pierre Jackson, someone I look up to. Nate Robinson, John Wall. These are people that helped me grow as a basketball player. That’s the best part of my brand. My brand took me out the hood. I didn’t have nothing. Something I created in my room got me to be in front of people I’ve looked up to for a long time. Going to Greece to see the Greek Freak. I’ve never been to Greece a day in my life. Being sponsored by Nike. You know how anyone would feel to be sponsored by Nike for doing something you love to do? You created, nobody made you do this. You created it your own way, in your own style, and you’re sponsored by Nike. Those are moments I’ve always been appreciative of, and I keep them in my heart. Then working with brands like JBL. You think about these things all the time.
How did you connect with JBL, and what made this make sense for you?
My manager told me we have an offer from JBL, and I’m like, that’s dope. I had just bought some JBL headphones last year. Being honest, I thought “okay this is JBL, it’s going to be in and out.” I get there and it was the best experience with a brand I’ve had so far. Just the connection they had with me, they were knowledgeable of what I’ve done. They went on my page, they knew what I’d done, and they were fans. When you’re in a room with people who know what you do, it’s just a different feeling. The whole campaign is For Professionals Only. I’m a professional, regardless of if it’s on the court or what I do on Instagram. The amount of time I put on the court is the amount of time I put on my videos. The whole campaign is about how me and entrepreneurs are considered professionals for what we do. I feel like professionals perfect their craft. They’re perfect for what they do. It’s not that you need a suit and tie or have to talk proper, but you do things the right way. My headphone that I have is the JBL Free headphone and it’s wireless. I don’t have to worry about cords or nothing. It’s 24 hours without a charge, you can answer the phone with it, and I really like it. I’ve been using them, my mom’s been using them. When I’m in the gym and I’m locked in, it’s a great fit in my ear. First time they gave me the headphones I put them in my ear and they didn’t move, didn’t shake, nothing like that. I’m like yeah, this is something I can rock with. It’s a dope campaign. It’s showing people they don’t have to wear a shirt and tie to be considered a professional.