Le’Veon Bell has a pretty solid NFL career going for him, as the top running back in the league, but the Pittsburgh Steelers star isn’t content to be the best in just one elite field: He also has his sights set on the top of the rap game.
Under his nomme de rap Juice, Bell just released his first full-length album, Post Interview, last month — and in a new interview with Billboard, he says he already has his next LP ready to go. The athlete/rapper exclusively revealed his next project’s name, 26 Savage — a play on his NFL jersey number and fellow hip-hop artist 21 Savage — and said it could be out within the month. “I saw Future do it — he dropped two albums in two weeks!” the Michigan State alum says about his inspiration for the lightning-quick release schedule. The new album will include verses from Snoop Dogg, Mac Miller and A-Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, among other features.
But why stop at football and music? Bell has also teamed up with New Era for a line of hats, including Steelers caps (of course) and one that hypes up his Post Interview album title.
Below, find our interview with Bell about the New Era team-up, the positive response to Post Interview, and how Ariana Grande has infiltrated his all-rap training playlist.
What made you want to partner with New Era?
Even before the partnership with New Era, I loved the hats. The fact that they even want to have a relationship with me means everything in the world to me. I’m glad we got this partnership going and I hope it continues to grow and expand.
When you were a kid, did any athlete endorsements make you want to run out and buy a product?
Actually, when I was growing up, I always saw my uncle wearing hats. He coached for football and was always wearing hats. So for me, growing up, seeing him wearing a hat all the time pushed me into that direction. Like, “Oh, he’s rocking a hat, so now whenever I’m walking around, I’m rocking a hat.” He always had an NFL team on it, usually the Steelers. It was a New Era Steelers hat, and I always wanted the hat he had, so I got pushed into that direction.
Congratulations on the release of your Post Interview album. What feedback have you been hearing from both Steelers fans and music fans?
People have been loving this album. I’m glad they do — I put a lot of hard work and time into making music, especially in the offseason. I’m glad it was embraced and I can continue to grow. The album reached No. 9 on the iTunes rap [albums] chart. For me to make the top 10 was amazing because I didn’t expect that.
It’s a hit on streaming too. The songs on Post Interview have already earned 777,000 on-demand audio streams in the U.S. through April 13, according to Nielsen Music. Does it feel like this album is connecting you with a whole new fanbase for your music?
It definitely does. A lot of people, when I was first making music, were like “football first” and stuff like that. Now, I think people are respecting me as an artist. When people come up to me and are like, “I really like your music,” it feels good to know that it’s not all about football for me anymore. People are starting to respect the other side, the more entertainment type of lane. People are really listening to it and enjoying it. I went to go work out the other day and people play my music in the weight room. I just walk in and hear my music playing, it’s crazy. I just love the feeling and it gives me this drive to want to do more.
The first song that you put out from the album was the Skip Bayless diss track “Shrimp Bayless.” Have you seen Skip in person since the song came out?
No, I haven’t seen him. They wanted me on the show [Fox Sports 1’s Skip and Shannon: Undisputed] and I didn’t want to be on the show, because that would defeat the whole purpose of what I said on my track. I didn’t want to give them any more attention, like, “This is your attention.” In handling someone that I have a feud with, like Skip Bayless, I say what I have to say to him on my track and in my music instead of in an interview.
When do you find time to record? Do you take a break from recording during the NFL season?
I still find time to record during the season. Offseason, I record every day until 7 a.m. — all night. If I get off work and get home at 6 p.m., I might only make one song instead of like four or five that night. Just over the course of the season, if I make one song a week, that’s at least 17 songs, and that’s an album. That’s all that matters to me: If I can still do my football thing and still make music.
Post Interview just came out last month, but have you already been back in the studio recording?
Yeah, I think I have a new album dropping within the next month. And, to be honest, I saw Future do it. He dropped two albums in two weeks! And I’m like, “So, people actually do this…” I said I was going to drop another one in two weeks, and people were like, “No, that’s too quick.” I’m like, “No, that’s not too quick.” I have so much music waiting to be released. I think that Post Interview was kind of a set, to show people I can make music. So if I’m able to drop another album and really make people open their eyes, like, “Man, he’s got more music and it’s still good and has a good quality to it with 17 songs,” we can take it to the next step.
What can you say about what you’ve recorded so far?
I got big-name features on this one. The first one was mostly all me; I had a couple of my friends on the album. But my next album, I got Snoop, A-Boogie, Mac Miller — those are guys who are already in the rap industry and doing big things. So I hope I can continue to grow, and I got to keep working and show people I can make the quality music that everyone else makes.
Do you have an album title yet?
Can you tell us?
[Laughs] OK, I’ll tell you: 26 Savage.
In this offseason training time, what’s some of your favorite music to listen to?
I like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, obviously Future — I love Future. Travis Scott, J. Cole — those are my top five that I listen to in rotation. Rick Ross and A-Boogie. And to keep my variety up, I listen to Ariana Grande too.
I’m sure Mac Miller is happy you’re listening to Ariana Grande!
[Laughs] To be honest, Mac Miller was like my God, and now he’s my friend.