Hip-Hop Junkie
Le'Veon Bell is taking his skills from the football field to the studio
Words: Emmanuel Maduakolam
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

All-Pro Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is one of the top 20 players in the NFL. He’s fast, fluid, explosive and versatile. At the age of 24, Bell is entering his fourth year in the league; he has few equals on the field.

However off the field, the football star is taking on a new challenge. Le’Veon, who goes
by Juice—a nickname that was given to him last season by his coach Mike Tomlin because Bell’s playing style is similar to O.J. Simpson’s—released his debut mixtape, The Interview, in March and has been dropping new tracks ever since. Even Snoop Dogg wants to do a song with the Michigan State alum. XXL recently caught up with Bell to talk about his hip-hop career and which rappers he wants to make music with.

XXL: What made you want to put out a mixtape?

Le’Veon Bell: To be honest, I’ve been rapping since I was 13 years old. That’s when I recorded my first track. But, now that I got a little fanbase and I got a lot of followers, people are actually listening to me. I just didn’t want to limit myself to being on the field. Making music is something I’ve always wanted to do. I guess I kind of went public with everything.

What did you listen to growing up?

The first album that I bought with my own money was 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. That was like the 5th grade, 6th grade. I always loved music. It’s something that I love to do and it kind of grew on me.

You’ve been famous pretty much since college but it seems like you’ve kept your rapping skills on the low. Most people didn’t know…

Oh, don’t get me wrong; there never was a time where like...when I was at Michigan State, all my teammates knew I could rap. But, when I made music, it would just be with myself, with my family or my close friends or my teammates. I never made it public on Twitter or Instagram or whatever to let everybody know what I’m doing. If you are around me, you’ll be like, He can rap, he can do this, he can do that. I want to be a combination of both, a guy who can rap and make good music. That’s what I’m doing now.

You got Snoop Dogg saying he wants to do a record with you.

He’s one of the best rappers of all time. The fact that he even listened to my music and gave me the chance and opportunity to do a song with him is an honor. Me and him are in the works of getting a song together. We’re getting a song done, possibly more than one.

Are there other rappers you want to do music with?

It’s definitely plenty of artists. Drake is one of my favorite artists so it would definitely be a honor to make a track with him. I like Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne. Those three guys, they are the people I mostly listen to. If I make a track with any of those people, it would be an honor, for real.

What do you listen to before a game?

If I’m on an away game or on my way to the stadium or on a bus ride I listen to more mellow music. Laid-back, chill, like The Weeknd, Drake, something like that. But when it’s right before I go out, I like getting turnt up. I like trap music; Future, something crazy to get me to kind of bounce a little bit. I’m a mixture in between.

Are there other athletes that are good at freestyling that the public doesn’t know about?

I heard Jarvis Landry is pretty good. I heard Tyrann Mathieu is coming out with some music.

Have you ever heard “They Sleep,” Damian Lillard’s rap?

He’s really good. Damien Lillard is nice too. Any athlete who’s trying to make music, I always give them a chance, especially Damian Lillard. He’s the one who was out there. I might make a song with him, too.

Check out more from XXL’s Summer 2016 issue including our 2015 XXL Freshman year-end report card; Joey Badass, Raury and Dizzy Wright talk about The Four AgreementsMadeintyo's Show & Prove interview, Bump J speaking straight from prison, Cardi B's rising rap career and more.

See Behind-the-Scenes Photos From the 2016 XXL Freshman Shoot

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