NFL star Le’Veon Bell has long proven himself a double threat in multiple ways. Not only is he one of football’s most prolific running backs — gaining over 1000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in thee of the last four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers — off the field, he’s also one of the most productive athlete MCs, releasing multiple projects in 2017 under his “Juice” alias, including his official debut album, Post Interview.
Bell has kept the music coming in 2018, most recently unleashing his eight-track No Announcement project as a surprise drop in February. The set, which Bell says he mostly recorded over the course of the Steelers’ 2017 season, is a largely introspective, nocturnal-sounding affair, featuring the rapper’s heavy baritone over booming trap beats. The set convincingly posits Bell as one of the strongest rapper-athletes out right now, with the MC even finding two different rhymes for “Byron Leftwich” on “Emancipation Proclamation.”
For his first No Announcement visual, Bell selected “Shade Room,” a woozy banger that catches Bell in a moment of contemplation about the intersection between his rap and football careers. “On my first take, I had people talk about me like on First Take,” he raps, referencing the ESPN show formerly hosted by his old foe, Skip Bayless. “I tried to get me support, just for the team’s sake/ But I didn’t get no support, not even teammates.”
The song’s visual is an appropriately moody, solitary affair, featuring Juice rapping alone on his hotel room balcony, and from on top of the hood of a moving car. And in a shoutout to the gossip website that gives the song his title, the clip ends with shots of the rapper-athlete from the video as featured on the Shade Room Instagram account. (“I am,” answers a laughing Bell when asked if he’s a regular visitor, saying that picking a favorite Shade Room moment is impossible: “It’s like asking me, ‘Do I got a favorite movie?'”)
Bell talked to Billboard about his new project and music video, as well as his current status with the Steelers — who had until today (Mar. 6) to work out a long-term deal with their star running back, before they’d need to place the franchise tag on him. See the interview, and watch the new “Shade Room” video below.
How has the response to No Announcement been since you released it a couple weeks ago?
The response has been amazing. I’ve been actually surprised a little — I’m not gonna say that I didn’t expect it to be good, because I did, but I didn’t expect it to be as good. You know, the feedback has been crazy, the fans really love the songs. I think it’s like a different style than what I’ve been releasing lately, so I’m glad to get the feedback that it has.
Why go the surprise route with the release?
Well, during the season… I was always getting tweeted about when I’m dropping music, and “When the next time you gonna drop something, Le’Veon??” So what I wanted to do was just kind of surprise ‘em, like, “Here go out the tape, and y’all didn’t even realize I was working, even during the season!” That’s what kind of mindset I had, and that’s why I did it.
Why’d you decide to go with “Shade Room” for the video?
I think “Shade Room,” it’s a different me. You know, I think it’s more on the lyrical side, talking about my life and how I really feel. You know, all these things outside of football. And people really get to look at how I feel about things, or how I look at certain things. It’s not just a song, moreso me just telling people how I feel.
Where did you film the video?
I did the video in Miami. I wanted to get like a dark feel, because I wanted it to match the song still. You know, Miami’s kinda sunny — you think of Miami, you think of like, movie songs. This was a different feel song, and I wanted you to kind of feel the way I was feeling. So a lot of it was filmed at night, with kind of darker shades.
You have a line on the song “I ain’t get no support, not even teammates.” Was that in reference to your earlier contract dispute with the Steelers?
It wasn’t even about the contract. Obviously, like, when I was first making music — when I said that line, that’s how I felt at the time. People weren’t like — even my own teammates — weren’t necessarily posting my music, or pushing my music… ‘coz everybody kinda figured it was a joke.
Do you feel like you’re getting more support now?
A little bit. A little bit. Y’know, I ain’t saying it’s as much as it should be, but it’s been better.
You’ve been teasing a 26 Savage mixtape, and the first track on No Announcement is called “Savage.” Have you heard from 21 Savage, or do you have any kind of relationship with him?
Yeah, I talked to him a couple times. Me and him are in contact. I definitely hope to do something with him. I think me and him, style-wise, sound kinda similar. And I don’t do it on purpose, I’m sure he don’t do it on purpose. But our styles just kinda match together, so it would be interesting to see how we sound together.
You’ve called yourself the best-rapping athlete, and said you “need your crown” for that. Who do you think your competition is for that among the rapping athletes?
Oh man, I think Damian Lillard makes good music. He has bars… [Los Angeles Chargers defensive end] Melvin Ingram is pretty good too, he has a nice little couple songs that I heard.
But you’re still pretty comfortably number one?
Oh yeah, hands down. I don’t even think it’s close… I can give you lyrical songs, hits, club, strip club, mood music… it’s so much different styles. A lot of guys, like, one lane is what they’re good at.
Do you have any dream producers, or anyone else like Savage you’d love to get on a track?
Yeah, I mean, obviously, I’ve been in contact with a lot of guys. I wanna hear from someone like Uzi, or like Playboi Carti, or someone totally different to how I do. Even like females, I kinda wanna get a singer to try to [make my music] feel different. Maybe like Rihanna, or even someone like Ariana Grande, somebody who can make me think of a song totally different.
I saw on your Twitter that you visited Capitol Records the other day. Is signing to a label a goal for your future?
Yeah, I met with them. They called me in, they kinda wanted to talk to me and see where my head was. I wanna do, like, strictly distribution. I don’t necessarily wanna sign with a label… I love it over there. I got to meet a lot of people, so it’s all kinda getting to network.
— Le’Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) March 1, 2018
Any update you can give about your other contract situation? How are things going with the Steelers?
Yeah, the franchise tag deadline is on Tuesday, and I don’t think we’re gonna have a deal done by Tuesday. So I’m probably gonna end up getting tagged. And then, we’ll still try to work out a long-term deal.
But obviously, when the end of July comes, wherever we’re at… if I sign, everybody’ll be happy, but if not, I guess I gotta play it by ear. If I’ll be out till Week One, if I’ll be out till Week Ten, or if I’m gonna be out there at all. It depends on how I feel at that time and moment.
Are you optimistic that you’ll be able to work something out?
I’m hoping for that. I mean, obviously, I didn’t expect the deal to get done… I didn’t necessarily come in with too much expectation. But I’m definitely hoping for something to get done.
What else are you working on this offseason?
Just music. I’ve been heavy into music. I’m gonna drop an album pretty soon, that’s what I’m working on. But I’m gonna drop about two or three of them before the season even comes.