Eric Dickerson knows a thing or two when it comes to football. The Hall of Famer recently called Le’Veon Bell the best running back in the NFL, and although many Dallas Cowboys fans may disagree, it’s pretty hard to argue with the famous No. 29. Bell is one of the only “complete” running backs in the league, able to run the ball, pass protect, and catch. When he’s on the field, he's one of the most exciting players to watch, as he averaged 157 yards per game last season, the third most all time for a running back. He is also the first back in Pittsburgh Steelers history to average 100 rushing and 50 receiving yards in the same season.
With Bell’s dominance on the field it’s no wonder New Era wanted him to become their spokesman for the 2017 NFL season. After a photo shoot with New Era in Buffalo, New York, the athlete and rapper also known as “Juice” chatted with Complex about his love for snapbacks, collaborating with his friend Snoop Dogg, his beef with Fox Sports personality Skip Bayless, and what he thinks about the return of Beastmode.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
So you recently dropped your album Post Interview on iTunes/Apple Music. When did you first start rapping, and what made you want to continue to pursue it?
I recorded my first song at the age of 13 and I’ve always been interested in rapping. Me and my friends always used to freestyle growing up; we’d be on a bus on our way to the football game and make beats by banging on the window and we’d freestyle the whole time. That’s what got me started, and I just recently decided to go public with my music last year.
You have a song called “Shrimp Bayless”—what inspired this track?
Honestly, Skip Bayless and I have always had a feud, and we’ve never seen eye to eye. One day when I was in the studio my friend sent me this beat and it was like the perfect beat, it came to me naturally like how I wanted to take it. Once I started rapping on it, “Shrimp Bayless” popped up in my head and it just went from there. It ended up being a crazy diss track, and that’s just how it got started. I didn’t plan on making a diss track and I wasn’t like “Oh, I’m going to diss Skip Bayless.” It just all came in front of me. After I recorded it, I knew that people were going to love it. I know there are a lot of people that feel the same way that I feel about Skip. I really didn’t want to talk to him and I really didn’t want to see him face to face, so I wanted to use my rap music to say what I had to say about him.
There’s a long list of athletes who have also pursued a career in rapping: Shaq, Deion Sanders, Damian Lillard, and Allen Iverson, to name a few. Who do you think is the best athlete-rapper?
Besides myself? I’d have to say I really like Damian Lillard. I’ve also listened to Martellus Bennett, and I liked a couple of his songs off his EP he just dropped. A lot of guys can rap, but it’s different when it comes to songs. Sometimes you rap, but it’s not enough to become an actual record or an actual song. Guys can put some words together and rap some crazy things, but when it comes to actually making a song, making people bob their heads and make actual music, it’s different. I don’t think that there is anyone at my level when it comes to that.
As a rapper who do you compare yourself to and why?
When I first came out with my first mixtape, people compared me to Future. That was my first comparison because I used a lot of Auto-Tune, and that was the vibe that I was going through. But now I’m trying to find my own way. I take little bits and pieces from artists that I like: I like Drake, J. Cole, and Travis Scott. It’s just like football—the guys I looked up to and the guys who were on the top, I took bits and pieces from their game, and that is what I’m trying to do with my music to make my own way, my own sound, and I want to be original.
Kendrick Lamar just came out with his album Damn; what did you think about it?
Kendrick is a special talent when it comes to music, but he took the album in a little bit of a different direction from what I was expecting him to. He dropped the single “Humble,” and that track was FIRE, but he didn’t have any other tracks that were like that. I feel like you must be a real rap fan to really understand the album and to understand why he approached the album the way he did. But I like the album a lot.
There’s been a lot of talk about this so we wanted to get your opinion: Which album do you like better, More Life or Damn?
More Life. Yeah, I like More Life better. Drake can put out all different types of songs, Pitbull club music, laid-back vibe music, he can talk to women, and songs you can relate too. Plus, he gave you 20-22 great tracks and that’s hard to do.
What can we expect from your next album?
I’m going to have a lot of big-name artists. On my first mixtape, it was just mostly myself and I had a couple of friends on it, but I’m starting to work with Mac Miller, Snoop Dogg, A-Boogie, and K Camp. If I make a new album it’s going to a be a really big step up.
Speaking of Snoop, he said that you’re a good rapper. How did this connection happen, and what was it like working with him?
It was good. He’s such a nice and humble guy. The fact that he’s accomplished so much and he reached out to me to make music with him, it’s an honor to me. We talk almost every day. He’s a big Steelers fan and he’ll text me before every game wishing me luck and he’ll congratulate me after a win or a great game. We keep in touch and there’s a lot more music we are going to do. It’s not like it’s going to be just one or two songs, but it’s going to be a lot of music.
Since you mentioned the Steelers, I’m sorry about the passing of Dan Rooney. Can you please tell us about your relationship with him and how his death affected you?
There’s no other owner that was like Mr. Rooney. He was always at practice, and he’d always encourage us to go at it. A lot of players have said that they’ve never even seen their owners and some of the owners don’t even know their players’ names. Mr. Rooney was really a great friend to all of us. He treated us the same way he treated his family. It was sad to lose him and I know he was very elderly, but his passing was very unexpected to me because he was always around and he was always moving around. I was caught a little off guard and I was a little upset because I didn’t really get to say bye to him. It’s always tough to lose someone like that, but I know he’s in a better place now and I wish his family the best.
So, Marshawn Lynch is flirting with coming back to the NFL. How well do you think he will perform being two years out of the league?
I think he will have a good year. Obviously, I can’t expect him to be that same Beastmode that he once was, but I think that he will have that presence and the respect from a lot of people from the league, especially because he’s going to be on the Raiders offense. I think adding Marshawn Lynch to the Raiders offense will help them a lot. I don’t think that he’ll rush for 1,500 yards, but I think he’ll be at least a 1,000-yard rusher, get some touchdowns, and for sure he’ll help the Raiders offense.
Tell us what made you want to partner with New Era.
New Era means a lot to me. A lot of people wear New Era hats, and to be the guy that endorses New Era is amazing. You literally see people everywhere wearing New Era; it’s all over the sidelines of the games, you see it wherever you are walking down the streets to the store, it’s the hat you see everywhere. That made me want to endorse New Era in 2017.
And what hats can we see you wearing not only on the sidelines but also in your everyday wardrobe?
I’m a snapback guy! I’m a guy that always wears snapbacks. But when it gets too cold outside I start wearing the beanies. But whether I’m on the sidelines or I’m at work, I’m wearing New Era.