The rapper Sexyy Red had the best year of her budding career in 2023, earning a spot on Drake’s newest album, concluding a 20-city tour and releasing her popular mixtape, “Hood Hottest Princess.”
One of the mixtape’s songs, “SkeeYee,” quickly spread on social media after its release in June. Titled after a phrase the rapper described as a form of catcalling or flirting, the sexually explicit “SkeeYee” ranked No. 1 on the inaugural TikTok Billboard Top 50 chart.
Professional and collegiate athletes were among the fans, and the song quickly became a presence in locker rooms, in stadiums and on teams’ official social media channels.
Several athletes said they most enjoyed the song’s fast-paced, energetic beat, which was created by the prominent rap producer Tay Keith. But they also pointed to the tone in which Sexyy Redd delivers lyrics like “If you see me and you tryna see what’s up.”
“It’s like an anthem at this point,” said Lonnie Walker IV, who plays basketball for the Brooklyn Nets. “It really uplifts people and gets people excited. It gives you a little bit of confidence, a little bit of swagger when she’s talking her stuff.”
As the year comes to a close, The New York Times retraced some key moments to show how the song took over the sports world.
Securing a Prime Television spot
‘It Was Just Good Vibes’
Several weeks before heading to the New York Jets’ training camp, linebacker Quincy Williams and running back Michael Carter were driving around Miami when Carter played “SkeeYee” on the vehicle’s stereo.
“As I was listening to it, at first I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ but as we kept listening, I was like, ‘OK, that is kind of catchy,’” Williams said.
When they returned to New Jersey, the song bubbled in the locker room. Carter said it helped the team bond amid the hot summer days and intense N.F.L. practices.
“We were always with each other — there’s no girls around — so it was just good vibes and the guys,” said Carter, who now plays for the Arizona Cardinals. “It was a song that everyone knew the words to.”
The fervor among the Jets led to a notable appearance for “SkeeYee” on “Hard Knocks,” the annual series by NFL Films and HBO that follows a team through training camp. The scene shows players and coaches dancing, nodding and voicing their approval on the practice field as the song blares over speakers.
Jon Blak, the team’s D.J., said that he had played the song only about twice a week to prevent it from becoming stale, and that camera crews captured the 75-second sequence across several days. But each time the song blasted, the players reacted positively, Blak said.
“It was so convincing that obviously the players loved it, and it was like a call to action,” Blak added.
Infiltrating Athlete celebrations
‘Catching Its Wave’
As the scene from “Hard Knocks” hit social media, the song’s reach swelled. Williams said his Miami friends joked that they should receive credit for its increasing popularity.
Sexyy Red attended the Jets’ home opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 11 and took pictures with players before the game, a tight contest in which Bills receiver Stefon Diggs used the song’s lyrics during a touchdown celebration.
A few weeks later, the rapper made a similar appearance ahead of Penn State football’s annual “White Out” game.
As the song’s popularity grew, it appeared in more venues. The Baltimore Orioles played it in the locker room after winning their Major League Baseball division on Sept. 28. Two days later, so did the Ole Miss college football team after an important win.
By Oct. 7, the Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Bobby Green was using “SkeeYee” as his entrance song for a fight in Las Vegas.
“It’s in the streets, I felt like it was the newest thing out right now,” said Green, who was introduced to the song by one of his sponsors. “I could see it catching its wave.”
Athletes have responded similarly to trending music in the past: In 2016, many professional and college teams completed the “Mannequin Challenge,” standing still for about 30 seconds until the chorus of “Black Beatles” by the rap duo Rae Sremmurd began. In 2013, there was the “Harlem Shake Challenge.”
Flourishing on Social Media
‘Show Them How We Rock’
As athletes embraced “SkeeYee,” so did their teams, which pounced at the opportunity to leverage the trend.
Ahead of the N.B.A.’s annual Media Day on Oct. 2, the social team for the Brooklyn Nets discussed ways to market its players as they underwent a daylong gantlet of photo shoots and interviews. It planned to tape a staff member reciting part of a “SkeeYee” lyric and see if each player could finish it.
The video received over two million views on Instagram.
“I think the opportunity to reach potential new fans really comes through cultural crossover,” said Alessandro Gasparro, the senior director of content for BSE Global, the Nets’ parent company. “Getting stuff like this really helps humanize our players.”
A week after, a fan edited a video of the World Wrestling Entertainment star Joshua Fatu, known as Jey Uso, conducting the crowd at an event. The fan had superimposed “SkeeYee” over the video’s original audio.
The invitation still stands.
“If she’s making noise, good or bad, I’m all for it — she’s more than welcome,” Fatu said. “If we can bring the outside people in and show them how we rock, why not bring the music business here?”