“I tried,” says the 28-year-old Johnson, “but I’m not really a good rapper.”
Johnson is pretty good at football, though. Over the course of a six-year career, the speedy back has rushed for 7,965 yards and 50 touchdowns. In 2009, as a member of the Tennessee Titans, he became only the sixth player to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. Still, hip-hop is never far from his mind.
“I’ve always been big into music,” Johnson says. “Like, if I wasn’t playing football I would want to be in the music industry.”
On a recent afternoon, the native of Orlando, Fla., called up XXL to discuss his friendship with Weezy, his love for hip-hop and his top five, dead or alive. —Tzvi Twersky
Chris Johnson: Where I’m at now they play music all over the facility, so headphones really aren’t needed. But usually when I work out, I wear my headphones.
What kind of music do you bop when you’re working out?
I usually listen to Lil Wayne. I also have a record label, so I listen to my artists’ music.
Okay, Okay. What’s your record label called?
Flashy Lifestyle Ent. I have like six [artists].
Are you your own A&R? Like, are you choosing who you want to sign?
I usually choose who I want to sign.
So what was your first love: football or music?
It was always football first, but, you know, I wanted to be a rapper.
What did you grow up listening to?
When I was growing up, it was Cash Money and the Hot Boys. Then they all split up, and it was Baby and Wayne. Those were the guys who stayed around. Then, Wayne came up with Young Money. But it was the Hot Boys when I was little.
Was Weezy your favorite member?
I’ve always been into Weezy.
What was it about him?
He was the youngest member, and I liked the way his music sounded.
Have you ever had a chance to meet Wayne or hang out with him?
Me and Weezy, we cool. We’re good friends.
How cool is it to be friends with someone you grew up listening to?
It’s a cool situation. I know how busy I am doing what I do, and I know he’s busy too, so I don’t try to cramp his space or hit him up too much. I check on him from time to time, he checks on me from time to time. If he’s having a concert in my city, I go to it. If I’m having a game and he’s there, he comes to the game. Over the years, we became good friends.
I’m not sure if it’s the whole city or just us. I’m friends with those two guys, and I know Marquis Daniels actually raps. I guess we all just have a passion for it. We like music.
When you were young, did you rap at all?
Nah. [Laughs] I tried, but I’m not really a good rapper.
So who are your top five rappers?
Dead or alive, I would say Lil Wayne, Tupac, Biggie. After that, I would have to go Drake and Jay Z.
Being on the move and all, how do you keep up with music?
It’s not hard. These days it’s easy. You go to YouTube, people post it on social media, so it’s so easy nowadays.
When you played in Tennessee, were you the one controlling the music in the locker room?
They didn’t allow us to listen to music in the locker room in Tennessee.
And in New York, the Jets have it on the speakers?
Yeah, they let us play music in the locker room.
That must be a nice change for you.
Yeah, a very nice change. [Laughs]
Who chooses what plays?
I just got there, so I’m not sure how they work it.
I’m a Boosie fan. I really don’t know him like that. It was just a situation. People wanted to bring him to Orlando for a concert, so it was just a good opportunity.
Do you feel a connection with a dude like that who overcame the odds to become something?
Of course. Him being at the top and doing his thing, going to jail and then coming back and trying to still buzz and get back to the level where he was at—that’s always a challenge.
I feel like that’s where you are in life too. You’re on your second act.
Yeah. I’m on a new team, and I think the change is good for me. It’s something I needed in my career. And I’m loving the city [New York], loving the new team, so we’ll see where it goes.
Think you’re going to get into more New York-sounding type of music? 50 Cent, Troy Ave, Jadakiss...
You know, I’ll get there. I’ll get there. But right now, I’m not focused on it too much. I’m just focusing on football.
What other young new artists are you listening to?
I listen to Future. I just started listening to [XXL Freshman] Kevin Gates. Meek Mill, and a guy I really listen to a lot is [XXL Freshman] Rich Homie Quan. I listen to Young Thug too.
If you had to compare yourself as a football player to any rapper, who would it be?
I would say Lil Wayne.
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