From rapper to composer: Michigan sports music writer shoots his shot

P.L. is sitting in front of a large 30-inch computer screen in his plush basement studio in Ann Arbor, clicking through files of beats and rhymes. Bookshelf speakers, soundproof walls, a mic, and framed photos of his family surround the room. 

“I’m either down here working on something or hanging with the fam,” he says with a confident shrug. 

P.L. (short for Punch Line) was born Terry Fox and is a sports music composer. You’ve probably heard his voice over a video of the University of Michigan’s football highlights, seen him on the jumbotron before the opening kickoff at a Detroit Lions game, or caught one of his many Detroit Pistons half-time performances. Because of his ability to combine sports themes with hip-hop lyrics, he’s sewn himself into the Michigan sports and music fabric.

“I feel like everybody knows that sports and music go hand in hand. I feel like the hours I put in, the work I’ve put in,  the genres I listen to have given me an understanding of the correlation with the listener’s ear, the fan’s ear, the player's ear,” he says.

Before P.L. was a sport composer impresario he was a notable rapper in the mid-2000s who made a name for himself with a top-tier rhyme style, laced with witty wordplay and comedic punchlines (hence his rap moniker). 

In 2005, he went on a four-week winning streak as battle rap champ on the prestigious FreeStyle Fridays, a contest that aired nationally on BET's "106 & Park” show. The notoriety he earned from his appearance on the show pole vaulted P.L.'s career and forced him to take an introspective look at his musical content. Concerned about condoning violence, he made a conscious decision to shift away from street-oriented songs.

“I knew I had to stop doing a lot of the stuff I was doing and I had to stop rapping about it," he says. "What I was doing before "106 and Park", I was rapping about crazy stuff. It took a minute for me to change that."

P. L. went on to release a hit single, "Fresher Den You", and albums “The Turning Lane”, and the “Figher EP”.  He went on a mini tour with East Coast emcee Jim Jones, performed at Summer Jamz, and was featured on the show “MTV Made” where he had the opportunity to go back to his old high school. 

“I was a rap coach on the show and I went to the school that I had got expelled from, Ann Arbor Pioneer," he says. "That was huge for me. Morally that was bigger than "106 and Park" for me. It’s like I'm not a failure. I had so many people waiting on me. Win or lose type stuff. The list kept going as I was winning. My main focus was that I had to make a lot of music because it was eyes on me."

After entering a hip-hop song contest in 2011 for the chance to be featured on the popular sports video game NBA2K, P.L. galvanized his fanbase over a copyright issue that ensued. 

“It’s gotten over 100 million collected streams,” he says. "It gets licensed all the time. You’ll never hear it on the radio but it's used in sports shows, sports segments, and social media posts all the time."

A few years later he received an email from a childhood friend who had just taken a job as a producer for the NFL Network.

“They asked for two songs," P.L. says. "They sent me references, and everything. It was for "NFL Game Day", just a show opener. They wanted to tie in the [hip-hop] culture to football." 

P.L. wrote five songs for them and the network was so impressed that they contracted him to compose show openers for the entire season for Thursday Night Game Day. He also scored music for Super Bowl LIII. Over the last six years, he’s continued to work with the NFL along with composing music for NASCAR’s 2023 All-Star Race, a Big 12 Basketball Anthem, the WNBA, MLB, and continued work with the Detroit Lions, Michigan Wolverine football, and the Detroit Pistons. 

P.L. realized he wasn’t just turning in songs, but enhancing the sports experiences for fans and viewers. Prior to his work, most networks contracted popular music artists to do similar work but the music was shallow and lacked a certain kind of depth. P.L. uses the players' names, team notes, and notable tidbits from the city or program to create specific music that's memorable to fans.

“When I first got started with the NFL Network, I didn’t know it was going to be a lane that I was going to be in this long," he admits. "After the third season, I realized that this is something nobody else is doing."

The marriage between music and sports is natural for P.L. He’s an avid lover of golf, soccer, basketball, football, and more. He still releases non-sports related music such as his albums “Inntk” and “P Is For Pressure” (which he calls his favorite album) but ultimately he’s happy he took the pivot to sports music rather than chasing the Billboard Hot 100 chart year after year. He’s excelling in the space that he’s in and it’s a niche that he’s developed into a career.

“If you look at it from a logical perspective. How can you expect to rack up points if you’re only shooting from one area? There’s no way that I’m going to continue living my life trying to make a full-court shot," he says. "Everywhere on the court, you’re going to have a shot that feels the best and sports music is my best shot."

All photos by Kahn Santori Davison.
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