An incredible amount of talent, commitment and self-belief is needed to become a professional athlete. An elite pro, former NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown has an entirely different level of those traits. A Super Bowl champion and five-time All Pro selection with over 12,000 receiving yards in nearly 12 years, Brown has done it all, and knows what it requires to rise to the top. Now, he’s moved into another arena: rapping as the artist AB. The 33-year-old rapper speaks to XXL in an exclusive interview about his origins in rap, his debut album, Paradigm, and his plans for the future.
After being released from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers amidst turmoil earlier this year, he’s put his focus back on one of his early loves: hip-hop. In 2007, AB picked up rap as a hobby while he was a freshman on the Central Michigan University football team. Fifteen years later, he’s dropped his first solo project and developed friendships with the likes of Kanye West and Fivio Foreign.
Paradigm, released on April 20, includes 11 tracks with features from Fivio, Young Thug, French Montana, 42 Dugg and more. The title represents the paradigm shift in his career and seeing things from a higher perspective. During the interview, AB rocks one jacket emblazoned with the words “Hard Work” and another with his album title. While he’s got heavy hitters on the projects, AB is in the early parts of life as an artist while still being known as a famous athlete. “I’m grateful to be accepted in the lane, with my brothers in rap, and everyone on my album,” AB shares. “I’m doing a festival now, I got a show, June 18, at the State Farm Arena, we doing Rolling Loud. I want people not only to connect with me as a athlete, and knowing my face and knowing what I do, I want people to be able to connect with the music, genuinely, authentically.”
In addition, AB has built a friendship with a musical legend, right when he was going through one of the more difficult stretches of his life. After AB stripped off his jersey and pads during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets game in January then ran off the field, Kanye West gave him a call. “Right when that situation happened off the field, Ye reached out to me as a big brother, just to bring me closer and embrace me,” Brown explains. “Brought me to L.A., made me President of Donda Sports, had me in the suite at the Soho for weeks, while he working on his album, providing me producers, engineers, songwriters.” Shortly after splitting from the NFL, AB dropped his biggest song ever, “Pit Not The Palace.”
A creative partnership grew from his friendship with Ye, and they remain locked in till this day. With music ahead and a friend in Ye, Antonio Brown also picked up another rap friend in Brooklyn drill artist and former XXL Freshman Fivio Foreign. “Fivio, he’s first off, the King of New York, and he’s just so talented,” AB says. “I feel like he’s so used to persevering through so much adversity. Just being able to still express that positivity, and that’s what made it so special.” Fivio appears on Paradigm twice, featuring on both the album opener “Champions” and “Half A Moon.”
Hip-hop has surrounded AB for some time. From his school days to finding inspiration in fellow Miami native Rick Ross, an artist who AB gives props to. “Not only because I’m from Miami, I’ve really seen Rick Ross put in that work,” he maintains, making it clear AB isn’t being biased. “Still till to this day, Rick Ross will drop the coldest verse and the deepest bars. Ross actually was born in Mississippi, he just rep Miami, but Ross really cold.”
When asked who’s the best rapper out of Miami, AB chooses The Boss, of course. “Ross is the biggest,” he affirms. “He took it farther.”