Salute U
NFL superstar Marshawn Lynch might not like talking football, but he loves to talk about hip-hop.
Interview Vanessa Satten
Portraits Atiba Jefferson
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of XXL Magazine.

If the beast is G-Unit, then who is Marshawn Lynch? Arguably the most popular figure in football right now, Lynch is a native of Oakland, Calif. whose nickname Beast Mode accurately captures the current Seattle Seahawks running back’s game on the field. He’s talented, aggressive and ready to run over whoever is in his way to score a touchdown.

Now as well-known for his contemptuous relationship with the media as he is for his ferocious football skills, Lynch, 29, gained notoriety in 2014 after the NFL fined him $100,000 for refusing to talk to the press. His popularity surged following an NFL press conference a week prior to Super Bowl XLIX, where he answered every question with, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

A serious Boosie Badazz fan and cousin to Oakland MC Mistah F.A.B., Lynch has chilled with artists like Snoop Dogg, Nas, MC Hammer and E-40 and is intricately meshed into Northern California’s hip-hop scene. The football giant (and co-founder of Fam 1st Family Foundation, which focuses on empowering youth in the Bay Area and beyond) has also been name-dropped in a bunch of rap songs and fans have remixed multiple versions of his famed press conference into YouTube records.

Lynch, who often avoids media discussions about football, recently talked hip-hop and more with XXL. Here he offers his game day playlists, favorite MCs, picks his 10 hottest celebrity women and explains why he gets frustrated with the press.

Marshawn Lynch, E-40 and Mistah F.A.B. (Photo Credit: Atiba Jefferson)

XXL: So who do you listen to?
Marshawn Lynch: I listen to Boosie, Webbie. I listen to some Kevin Gates, Rick Ross, Fabolous. I just heard two songs that gave me a shout-out, which is some respect. I listen to some Snoop, Nas. I actually got to sit down and kick game to him. That was solid.

Is it weird to sit down with someone you don’t know but are a fan of when you’re a celebrity too?
Nah, not at all because you can get so much in somebody’s music. It’s the same way watching me play ball. But it ain’t always the same. That’s our profession, what we’re good at. They can be portrayed as something but they not. We sit down and kick it and if you’re like-minded...our professions is something that just drew us to be able to be in each others presence. And then after that, it’s just the chemistry, if you’re a solid one or a real one or if you’re not.

A lot of rappers have name dropped you in songs lately, do you like that?
I mean, it’s appreciative when somebody at the top of their game respects somebody else at the top of their game and they got a platform to show it. If they can show some respect and make some solid-ass music at the same time then, fa’ sho. I’m going to listen to the music without the shout-outs so getting one, that’s all the merrier.

How do you usually find out about a new name drop? Does your phone blow up with people telling you to listen to something?
Yeah that’s how most of it goes. When I’m fuckin’ around on iTunes or YouTube I may put on a song and say, “Oh shit,” but I get calls too like, “Hey, you heard this song? They gave you a Beast Mode shout out,” or, “They threw your name into a song.”

You have said before that you are a Boosie Badazz fan. How big of a fan?
I couldn’t wait ’til he touched down to cause hell. He’s a solid ass dude. While he was [locked] down, he found a way to get in contact with me and I got to holla at him. That was big to know that he watched me get down on the field. That’s someone I listen to on my way out to go on the field. That was big for the kid.

Rumor is you’re an old school hip-hop fan also, true? Who do you listen to?
My old school hip-hop would probably consist of Bad N-Fluenz, The Dangerous Crew, Seagrams, Mr. ILL, RBL Posse, Rappin’ 4-Tay.

So it’s old school Cali hip-hop.
That was more of what I was listening to, where I was getting my music from, what I was growing up listening to.

Do you listen to something different before you work out? Or you listen to something different before a game? I’m not asking you about football, just about how much music plays a role in what you do. I’m scared to death to ask you about football.
You wanna make that so clear, don’t you, baby? It’s all right, be easy. I will let you know if you go too far but you good.

So how does music play a role in what you do?
It just depends on the mood that I’m feeling. If I wake up in the morning and I’m feeling on some cool shit, like some kick back shit, I got a playlist called my “Smooth Ghetto Jazz” where it will be more about music that got a calm-ass beat but the message will hit home and touch bases with me. And that would kind of mellow me out until it’s game time. Or if I’m amped up and ready to run through a brick wall or something then I put on my “Mob Shit,” that’s another playlist and that’s just turnt up, you feel me, to the max. And then if I’m just feeling real at ease, I don’t wanna say going through the motions but more like calming my brain down, I’ll put on my slow shit and then that’s when I’ll just let my women sing to me.

Oh so that’s the fucking playlist?
[Laughs] You said the fucking playlist?

It’s the fucking playlist, the aggressive playlist and the laid back one, right?
Nah, I said that was my slow shit, I wouldn’t call it my “fucking” playlist. ’Cause I’m going to go to work, I just want to get down so it’s more like, put my headphones on and let my babies whisper to me in my ear.

All right. So give me some examples of the songs on that list.
It’ll be like [Destiny’s Child’s] “Cater 2 U,” some old school Amerie, some throwback Lil’ Mo. Who else I slap on there? Some Mary J. [Blige]. That’s my mood for when I just need to get calmed down though. But so you understand what I’m saying, these are my playlists when I get up in the morning going into game day.

Okay so when you want to run through a brick wall, what do you listen to? If you want to be as aggressive as possible, what’s going to get you there?
Then that’s when I listen to my playlist “Mob Shit.” That’s when I’m slapping my Boosie “Meet Me In The Parking Lot” or slapping my town shit, Oakland, Calif. ain’t another city like this, then I’m on that hype.

What’s on “Smooth Ghetto Jazz?”
That’s when I would listen to The Jacka.

R.I.P. The Jacka. Earlier this month, Bay Area rapper The Jacka was shot and killed. Not long after an old video surfaced of you talking at an event in Oakland about an end to gun violence. Is that something for you that is important to talk about?
Sweetheart that was probably like three years ago, but this is something [Mistah F.A.B.] was putting on [for] local artists to come out to showcase they talent. What happened was one of the artists had gave me a shoutout, Willie Joe from Vallejo and he was doing his thing and in the middle of it he kind’ve paused like, “This is Marshawn, show some love and shit.” So I got up on there ’cause, you know, most of the people in there I knew, you feel me, so it was an opportunity for me to be able to have a chance to speak to my people directly. Not even tripping off of no cameras or none of that shit ’cause that ain’t what I’m about but it was a time when I had an audience of people, you feel me, who are actually doing they music or trying to do something to make a positive impact on their life so I got up and shared a few words for them.

How important do you think it is for you as a celebrity to share important words with your community?
That’s what I do it for. So I mean I feel it’s real important for me to be able to do that but at the same time with media a whole lot of shit can get misconstrued and it can be taken out of context or can be put in any kind of context that the individual writing or reporting the story can put it in and it don’t come direct exactly the way it came off my tongue, and intended for my people that I was intending it for. I mean any chance I get in a public setting like whenever anybody come to my events, they get to understand where it is I really come from and why I rock the way that I rock and how I get down the way I get down.

Have you ever considered making a record label for new Bay Area rappers?
I wouldn’t say a label but I know I would like to put on maybe a concert or something with all the Bay Area artists in the Bay Area, just to bring light. For some reason it just seems like we just can’t connect on one accord and get everybody on the same page to do something big. I think I’m going to try and reach out with a lot of artists out here and see if we can make something happen.

Photo Credit: Atiba Jefferson

Okay, give me your hottest 10 women right now.
Rihanna. Nicki Minaj is solid, Beyoncé’s solid. Let’s see, Dej Loaf ’s solid.

Wait a second, who did you say?
[Laughs] You heard what I said.

You just listed Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj...
What you mean? You getting at me about what I like. [Laughs]

You’re right. That’s my bad. You’re 100 percent right. I just didn’t see that coming.
I like little chocolate baby, she’s solid.

Go ahead, that’s four.
Some throwback...Mya solid, I just recently seen her, she was gone. I’m telling you, she looked power thick. Who else? You heard of Netta B.?

No, but I can Google her.
[Laughs] Google her...

Photo Credit: Atiba Jefferson

[Googles “Netta B”] Netta Brielle?
Damn, you did that fast, huh?

Yeah, I’m in front of a computer and I’m from New York, all we do is move fast over here, but Netta’s cute.
Oh, she get a pass? You got mad at me when I said Dej Loaf, damn. You a beast.

I’m not mad at the Dej pick at all. I don’t care who you pick. I just didn’t see it coming. You can like whoever you want.
The chick that sings “2 On,” Tinashe.

Yeah, Tinashe is cute.
Oh, so she gets a pass too?

You can pick whoever you want! You’re at seven now, who else?
Sanaa Lathan go, too.

Okay, I’ll put her on there.
[Laughs] I think this list might be more for you than it is for me.

No, no, no it’s for a gallery on our website. It’s not for me. And I’m always entertained by who guys pick though. It’s usually all the same women and then one or two that are from left field. So who else?
Cassie go and J.Lo old-ass go stupid, too. She’s hella sexy.

Okay, got them. Any bonuses?
Anything with curly hair, fair skin, pretty-ass teeth and a sexy-ass personality, that’s probably number one. She ain’t got to have no name behind her but she’s somewhere out there.

So you’re looking for a lady with good teeth and you said light-skinned or did I hear that wrong?
Yeah, you made it up, I said fair-skinned. That’s like on a summer day she’s gonna be a little bit more brown, and then when it’s cold outside, she probably be a little bit on her way to being light-skinned but not light-skinned.

Photo Credit: Atiba Jefferson

That’s a little bit particular, I must say. She’s got to be out there but that’s particular. I think you’re going to find her. So back to hip-hop, now give me your top five rappers dead or alive.
Let me see, who I listen to? ’Pac.

I was just going to tell you that it can’t be ’Pac,’Pac, ’Pac, ’Pac and ’Pac.
I fuck with...I don’t think five will do it justice so I probably would go ’Pac, ’Pac, ’Pac... [Laughs]

Okay moving on and going near the football topic again, do you think there are any rappers that compare to your mentality and competitive nature in what you do?
I’ll say Boosie and some of the artists that I listen to out here in The Bay like Lil Blood.

Who’s got the best live show that you’ve seen?
The best live show I’ve seen was probably Mistah F.A.B.

I feel like saying Mistah F.A.B. is cheating if he’s related to you.
You said it’s cheating? [Laughs]. Nah, if you go to a show, you’re going to be entertained. That’s what he do, he puts on a show. Gates did some shit, too, that was different. I know that nigga jump, that African, he got down in the crowd and started moving through that thing and I was like, “Yeah, that’s what’s up. I respect it...” Another one I would say that probably has the mindset of the Beast Mode was Mac Dre, too.

R.I.P. Mac Dre. A legend.
Oh, you know that?

I know my hip-hop, sweetie... East Coast, West Coast, it’s all good.
Oh, I was just messing with you, baby.

So you’re about to head out of town?
I’m about to go to Turkey. I’m going to help put on a football camp for kids and adults. It’s American Football Without Barriers. It’s an organization that goes to different countries and basically teaches them American football. Last year we went to Brazil.

Who is the most popular when you go overseas? Who do all the kids know?
Well, last year it was Tom Brady.

I don’t care about football players, what rappers?
Oh, you said rappers. They didn’t play too much American music out there when we were at any of the spots. I know they played some ’Pac there though.