Beyond the Gridiron is a series that focuses on this players off the field, this week looking at Darren Waller and Cole Beasley’s rap albums.
NFL players releasing music is not a new phenomenon. Hall of Fame cornerback and now analyst Deion Sanders had a foray into the music industry, releasing an album Prime Time through MC Hammer’s record label Bust It Records. He featured on a track with Hammer in 1994 for the Street Fighter Movie soundtrack Straight to my Feet, starring in a video with John Claude Van Damm. While Sanders never reaching chart heights or being heralded with critical acclaim, he has gone down in cult status.
In the past few years, hip hop has changed: soundcloud rap went mainstream with artists like Lil Peep, 6ix9ine and XXXTentacion reaching mainstream success. The DIY ethos of rap has inspired thousands of people to make beats and spit bars. The NFL is no exception.
Oakland Raiders Tight end Darren Waller became a fan favourite during HBO’s Hard Knocks. His story of addiction struggle resonate among people in the US and beyond, with everyone rooting for him to succeed. Waller told the Hard Knocks cameras that during the 2016 training camp with the Ravens, “I was just like a vegetable—I was getting high like literally every day.”. He has missed 20 games throughout his four year career, but was determined to stay sober for the 2019 season.
This season he has become team’s MVP, with Coach Gruden hailing him as the ‘lifeblood of the offense’. He is currently averaging 11 yards per reception for 2 touchdowns with an 88% catch percentage. This career year prompted the Raiders to sign him to a four year, $29,800,000 contract.
Off the field, Waller released his sophomore album, Wall Street, on his 27th birthday. Music is in his genes, as jazz legend Fats Waller is is great grandfather. In a Reddit AMA with fans, he stated that he started rapping into his iPhone headphone mic when he began his career in Baltimore. Now he’s upgraded to recording in a studio, and with a contract like his, it’s likely to be his own very soon.
Wall Street itself in a 10 track album that weaves across his past. He slams his haters, shares his story of the grind needed to make money and demonstrates his growth. Production is handled by the talented FriendZ collective, weaving between trap beats, 90s RnB and gospel samples. The album is a complete album that has reached critical success online, and further serves to cement him as a fan favourite.
He’s clearly excited about his music. At a press conference ahead of the London series against Chicago, a journalist asked about Waller making beats on Hard Knocks. Waller’s face lit up with a smile, and his press agent to his right started to chuckle. He used it as an opportunity to plug Wall Street and show off his knowledge of production.
It isn’t just Darren Waller who’s excited. Oakland Insider Scott Bair tweeting that Wall Street was being played during practise. In a more formal arrangement, Oakland released a statement to announce the release of the album, ending with a very endearing ‘good for you, Darren.’
With the Raiders franchise mired in drama after Antonio Brown, they’re keen to change the story to something positive. Their new superstar performing on and off the field has created a narrative of success, and it’s clear that want to support that.
Cole Beasley ‘The Autobiography’
“I just get in the booth, and the music comes on and I do however I feel with it”
The 5-foot-8-inch receiver for the Buffalo Bills has taken a foray into rap. The undersized and undrafted receiver out of Southern Methodist University was one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable receivers, playing 103 games for 3781 yards for 23 touchdowns.
The lead track from the album 80 Stings showcases many of the hallmarks of successful rap. There’s a healthy dose of charisma, shoutouts to those who supported him and impressive turns of phrase.
Motivational quotes are scattered throughout the lyrics. Beasley wants to make sure you’re aware of his scrappy origins, irrespective of how corny it sounds. True rap aficionados would likely pick the album apart. Yet it’s an album that took a huge amount of confidence to release and promote.
The Dallas Cowboys organisation rallied around Beasley on the album release. Dak Prescott tweeted a glowing endorsement of the album to his 1 million followers. The world renowned Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders posted a video of them dancing to the lead single ‘80 Stings’
Organisational Buy In
The support from the Cowboys and Raiders seems surprising to some. Organisations have tended to stay laser focused in the past, shying away from sharing off the field player personalities beyond philanthropy. Given the new era of ultimate player access via social media, franchises have adapted to maximise on personalities.
Furthermore, players possess more negotiation power than ever, meaning organisations need to foster a genuine relationship with players. Most teams have the capital to pay star players, but culture is driving player decisions: the 2019 Dolphins are a perfect example. Promoting a player’s mixtape is a surefire way to keep them happy.
Image credit: Oakland Raiders