Antonio Brown on Rap, Life, and Football: ‘I've Got a New Job, It's Called Living’

Antonio Brown tells Complex about his rap career, making music with Kanye, his thoughts on leaving the Bucs, and his plans to return to the NFL.

Antonio Brown rap video

Image via YouTube/Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown rap video

Antonio Brown is in a noticeably good mood. Sitting in a luxury office building on the afternoon of Jan. 20, he smiles and cracks jokes, using words like “grateful,” “excited,” and “at peace” to describe his current headspace. 

You wouldn’t know it by his calm demeanor right now, but 2022 has already been a rocky year for the 33-year-old NFL star. On Jan. 2, he took off his jersey and left the field in the middle of a game against the New York Jets, abruptly ending his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A few days later, he released a statement, explaining he was too badly injured to continue playing, and claiming that Bucs coach Bruce Arians “threw me out like an animal” before ultimately engaging in an “ongoing cover-up” about the situation.

Brown was suddenly out of a job, but not the public spotlight. Just hours after leaving the game, he released a new song called “Pit Not the Palace.” And in the weeks since, he’s been everywhere—filming music videos, performing at clubs, hitting the studio with Kanye West, participating in viral podcast episodes, striking deals with brands like Fashion Nova, and a whole lot more.

“Pit Not the Palace,” a hard-hitting song with an undeniably catchy hook, isn’t Brown’s first attempt at making music. Back in college at Central Michigan, he used to kill time by going over to his teammate Tyler Reed’s studio and recording raps. And in late 2019, he started releasing songs of his own, including “Whole Lotta Money,” a melodic cut that was good enough for Rick Ross to jump on the remix. 

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Unlike some of his NFL peers who have released underwhelming music, there’s something about AB’s songs that stand out. His larger-than-life persona (and knack for coming up with catchy phrases) lends itself well to the studio, and you can almost imagine an alternate timeline where he chose music over football and carved out a lane for himself in rap. 

Brown makes it very clear that his main priority is still football, though, and music is just something he does on the side. He says he’s grateful for music as a creative outlet, but once his ankle is healed, he wants to return to the NFL. And according to Brown, a “couple teams called” already.

Still, he’s at a crossroads. This is the second time in three years that he’s left the league amid controversy, after being dropped by the Patriots following a sexual assault lawsuit in 2019, and many are beginning to question his future prospects in the NFL. As he plots his comeback, though, Brown seems to be fairly zen about it all. “I feel really good,” he says. “I’ve got a new job, it’s called living. That’s our only job in the world, is just to live. It’s not about the things that we take as so serious. Life is a blessing itself.”

In the meantime, he’s readying a new album called Himmothy 2 featuring artists like 42 Dugg and Jacquees. Complex caught up with AB over Zoom for a conversation about rap, life, and a return to football. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.

Antonio Brown press photo

How’s it going? What’s been happening in your world this week?

It’s been a real great opportunity out here in LA, hanging with a lot of great musicians. You know, Kanye, The Game, Big Sean, and a lot of great people to be around. It’s a great opportunity to sponge up the creativity with some of these great musicians.

You’ve been focusing a lot of your time on music lately. Why is rap the first thing you wanted to do after leaving the Bucs?

It’s just something I like to do. It’s a form of art—being creative and being expressive. When I’m not playing ball, which is my main thing, I love to create and make music. I know you guys heard the album Himmothy two summers ago, so I’m just continuing to work at the craft when I’m not doing the main thing.

What’s the story behind your new song, “Pit Not the Palace”?

I was communicating with my uncle, who is actually on the song. Kind of just explaining to him what I was going through at the time, and he was giving me some encouragement to get through it. You know, people say they’re from the mud, people say they’re from the slums, and all these different ways that people say where they’re from. So I just did it in a catchy way: “I’m from the pit, not the palace.” It also could be interpreted as: I started at Pittsburgh, and now I’ve got everything, so now I’m in the palace. It’s all about how it inspires you. It’s a motivational song. There’s a lot of pain, expression of art, and encouragement, with a nice and funky beat.

“There’s still a lot of football to be played. I know I’m rapping, but a lot of people want to come to the stadium and see me, so it’s just about keeping that vision. Hopefully I can get back soon.”

When did you record that song?

I made it in 2020. It was two years ago, before coming back to playing in the NFL. And my guy Roy thought now was the perfect time to drop it, being everything that was going on with me.

What’s your headspace like these days? How are you feeling about the world?

I feel really good. I’ve got a new job, it’s called living. That’s our only job in the world, is just to live. It’s not about the things that we take as so serious. Life is a blessing itself. I’ve got my health. I’ve still got to get my ankle cleaned up, but for the most part, I’ve got my life, and my family’s happy. We’ve got to be grateful about the little things, and learn how to move on and just be at peace within yourself.

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You and Kanye have been spending a lot of time together. How did you guys link up?

It was just by the grace of God. I was at Craig’s [restaurant], having dinner in LA with Rich, my guy at Fashion Nova. And I ran into Kanye randomly at Craig’s. We got haircuts at Craig’s. It was totally out of the blue, and we just started hanging out in LA. We’ve got a lot of positive things coming. It’s just been an amazing week for me. I’m sitting here with Mr. Tim at Amazon Music right now, having a meeting, so I’ve been grateful for the last 21 days.

What’s it been like spending so much time with Kanye?

We’re just excited about the Donda sports brand, and making this thing a competitive sports brand to the athletes. I don’t think there’s a lot of fashion lines for athletes, wearing fashionable and comfortable clothes, so with a guy like Kanye West, being able to partner with him and work with him to provide more creative, genius ideas for fashion looks for athletes in general… I’m just grateful for the opportunity here soon, to share what we’ve got with the world. And you guys are hearing it first, we got some exciting things to look forward to this year.

Have you guys made music together? Anything for Donda 2 or for your album?

We’ve got some stuff coming, so be sure to get that. Donda 2’s coming; be sure to look for that. Himmothy 2 is coming as well.

I feel like you and Kanye are kindred spirits in a lot of ways, and you have similar mentalities. Do you think that’s why you get along with him so well?

Absolutely. We’re all about being our best selves, staying true to ourselves in the midst of whatever’s going on, and being able to take advantage of your narrative. Some people will make up things when they talk about you, and create this persona, but you’ve got to be true to yourself and stand up for the things you stand for. It’s about being your best self and being who you are.

”I was in the studio with Ye. He was finishing his verse and then he started asking for some bars, like, ‘Who got bars?’ [Laughs.] I’m like, ‘Yo, that’s your job. That ain’t my job to have no bars.’”

How would you describe the music you’ve been making? What are the songs about?

It’s just about being a champion, overcoming adversity, persevering, and not letting people get in your head or dictate your position. Just being driven, being exciting, and being encouraging.

Have you made music with anyone besides Kanye lately? Any other big collabs?

Yeah, I’ve got some. I got 42 Dugg, Jacquees, Fivio Foreign, Sean Kingston. So we’re going to have a lot of variety of hot artists in different genres that’s going to get the people excited.

There were photos of you hanging out with Madonna, Floyd Mayweather, Kanye, The Game, and all these stars from different parts of culture. What is it like being in a room like that?

There’s a lot of energy in one room. Kanye, Madonna, Floyd, Rich. It’s just a great environment, being around good people that are living out their dreams. And for me to be around those types of people, I’m beyond grateful. This is an exciting moment for me.

I know you had a conversation with Floyd. Did he share any words of wisdom?

Yeah, he’s always dropping jewels on me, making sure I understand the purpose of being great and waking up every morning with that intention, understanding that I can’t let my talent go to waste. There’s still a lot of football to be played. And I know I’m rapping, but a lot of people want to come to the stadium and see me, so it’s just about keeping that vision, keeping that goal in the midst of everything, and hopefully I can get back soon.

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Do you plan to rap about your football career in your new songs? Or will you keep those two things separate?

Yeah, my football career is separate. I might mention some lines or some little stuff, but for the most part… Get that Himmothy 2. There might be some things dropped in there. You never know.

Are you still thinking about your football career, too, right? You’re trying to return next season?

Yeah. I’m a football player, man. I’m a professional athlete. Let’s not get that twisted. That’s my main thing. But right now, what I do with music is what I do when I’m not playing. So once I’m able to get my surgery and get cleaned up, hopefully the album will already be out. I’ll be able to sit down on a routine and do what I need to do to get myself the opportunity to play again.

Have you been talking with any teams?

Yeah, a couple teams called.

Now that it’s been a few weeks, how do you feel about how things ended in Tampa?

It’s not a good feeling with the way it ended, but I just feel good that I represented myself the right way. I could have handled my emotions better from walking off the field and making a distraction, but in that moment, I just didn’t want to be a part of it no more. You’re sacrificing your health to play with someone, and they don’t really respect that, so to me that was a smack in the face. But I think we all, as people, have got to learn how to control our emotions in hostile environments, via him, via me, via everyone. So I’m just glad I did what my heart said in the moment. I could have handled it better, but I think you’ve got to stand up for yourself.

Do you think people still misunderstand what happened that day? Are there misconceptions?

Of course. Yes, there are a lot of misconceptions about what happened, because obviously I’m a target in the media, for whatever that entails. Imagine you are at a place and your boss tells you, “Get the hell out of here.” What are you going to do? You’re going to wait until they send you the flight itinerary, or are you going to be gone?

Have you spoken with Tom recently?

He’s trying to win the Super Bowl, last time I heard.

Do you have a Super Bowl pick this year?

May the best man win.

“Hopefully you see me at Rolling Loud. Hopefully you see with my shirt off everywhere, getting people excited.”

That’s a fair answer. Do you have a favorite memory from the past few weeks, making music?

Yeah, I was in the studio with Ye. He was finishing his verse and then he started asking for some bars, like, “Who got bars?” I’m like, “Yo, that’s your job. That ain’t my job to have no bars.” [Laughs.] It was pretty funny. Ye is really a down to earth guy, humble guy. You know, just being in the studio with him, and he’s asking me for bars and listening to my bars… [Laughs.] 

I’ve been really grateful to be around so many great people, and to be embraced. We all need good people in our corner, and we all need a support system of people that you can kumbaya with and make you feel good. So I’m grateful for your guys’ time, and grateful for people like Ye, people like Rich, people like Tim that’s in my corner, making sure I’m feeling that love.

Are you thinking about getting involved in other forms of entertainment, too? Acting? Movies?

Man, I’m thinking about working with Amazon—getting a documentary, and releasing music through that. I know these guys have got a big deal with the NFL, putting the game on Thursday. So maybe we could get into a little commentating with Snoop Dogg, get it to the community, and release the documentary through Amazon. Just to give the world a better perspective of AB and what I went through, how I deal with things, how I overcome adversity, and what I’ve been facing that everyone’s been seeing from the outside. Just get to see it from my point of view and see it in my shoes.

How far do you want to take your rap career? What are your biggest goals in music?

I want to go platinum. I want to be the first athlete that people really respect for the craft, for the music. I want to show people that you can be your best self and do different things and get the most out of it, if you do the right things. I just want to set the standard high. Hopefully you see me at Rolling Loud. Hopefully you see with my shirt off everywhere, getting people excited.

Anything else you want people to know?

Yeah, call God.

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