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. 

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.