NFL players follow musical passion to create songs featured on Madden 24 video game

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New York Giants tight end Darren Waller records an extended play at Interscope Records Studios In Santa Monica, Calif., Wednesday, June 21, 2023. The NFL, Interscope Geffen A&M Records and Electronic Arts Sports have partnered to empower players to pursue their passion of music and create the extended play project "Crowd Control." Songs from the EP were inserted into the video game "Madden NFL 24," released last month. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – When Miami Dolphins tackle Terron Armstead achieved his dream of being drafted into the NFL over a decade ago, he put his musical aspirations aside.

Many other pro football players did the same thing. But now, three powerhouses —the NFL, Interscope Geffen A&M Records and Electronic Arts Sports — have partnered to empower players to pursue their music dreams.

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The result, an extended play project called “Crowd Control,” is out Tuesday. The six songs were also inserted into Madden NFL 24, released last month. It’s the first-time music made by NFL players appears in the video game franchise, now in its 35th year.

“I only knew the stigma of ‘Shut up and play’ and ‘Do your day job,’” said Armstead, a four-time Pro Bowler. “I got away from music during the early years of my career. It was a void for me because music was a way to express myself. For them to create this opportunity, it’s been great for us. This has really pushed and encouraged guys to be who they are.”

Armstead is among five active players on “Crowd Control,” which also features New York Giants tight end Darren Waller, San Francisco receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, free agent linebacker Melvin Ingram and Carolina Panthers receiver D.J. Chark Jr.

“People can’t put us in a box,” said Waller, whose great-grandfather was the legendary jazz artist Thomas “Fats” Waller. The Pro Bowler has already released four hip-hop albums — which showcased his talents as a rapper, producer and writer.

“Hopefully this opens up a lane for a lot of guys who want to pursue their passion,” he continued. “This opportunity can be beneficial. It can spark a fire that hasn’t been lit yet.”

The players recorded the rap tracks alongside hip-hop artists including Rob49, Jay Rock, That Mexican OT and Lebra Jolie at Interscope Records’ sprawling headquarters in Santa Monica, California. The project was executive produced by Derrick Milano, a Grammy winner who has worked with superstars like Justin Bieber, Megan Thee Stallion and Nicki Minaj.

“These dudes can rap,” said Bas, a Grammy-nominated rapper who shared his musical expertise during the players recording sessions. “It’s very unfair to pigeonhole anybody. People see like these big NFL players and they say ‘Do your one job, tackle somebody or run that route.’ But creativity is part of a healthy life. I know these guys have strict schedules, OTAs and camp. For them to put the time in, they’re not on vacation. They’re really trying to expand their craft. It’s humbling to watch.”

Many of the songs featured on “Crowd Control” were conceived in a songwriting session at Interscope this summer where NFL players worked with producers and artists.

“It’s a nurturing space,” said David Nieman, the senior vice president of sports and gaming at Interscope, which worked with EA Sports to curate the Madden NFL 22 soundtrack, which was the first-ever album release for the game. “There isn’t a guard up when you hear about an athlete wanting to step into the music world. Our artists aren’t stepping out onto the field. We’re bringing them into our realm and showing them what we do great and trying to give them some of those tools.”

The project came into fruition after an NFL Career Tour stop was hosted at Interscope’s headquarters earlier this year. The day-long session featured executives from the music industry, interactive listening sessions and about 20 players who showed interest in the business of music — from marketing, producing and signing talent.

“It’s really important that these guys have a chance to gain exposure to different industries and explore their gifts and talents that could go beyond the field while they’re playing,” said Ashley Smith, manager of player development for the NFL. She spearheads programs and initiatives for the league that provides resources for current and former players while helping them prepare for life after football.

Smith, whose brother Trey Smith is a lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, is familiar with players' post-career plights.

“Often times when speaking with former players, which we call NFL legends, they talk about the difficulty of the transition,” she said. “Regardless, if a guy comes out prepared for that, it’s still somewhat of a loss identity. Our part is to help them. Whether you’re retiring from the league or you’re young in your 30s, there’s still an opportunity to really develop and find out who you are as a football player, but also as a man and businessman.”

Smith said there’s hope to expand into different industries like technology and fashion.

“We want to guys to feel like the league cares,” she said. “We want to do our best to make sure that they’re educated, they’re prepared and given the tools. We want them to develop the relationships that will help them take their careers as well as their lives to the next level.”

McCloud called the program a “big step” in the right direction. He said the recording sessions instilled more confidence in him.

“A lot of times, athletes get a certain type of stereotype,” said McCloud, who has owned his production company called Legend Tribe since he was 17. “It’s a certain narrative we have to follow. When football ends one day, we need to have that second passion. We just want to follow our dreams. I’m living my first dream of playing in the NFL. But doing other things you love and fills your spirit creates a different type of feeling.”