Cowboys Linebacker Justin Durant on His Favorite Artist and the Rapper Who’s Ready to Blow Up

Dallas linebacker Justin Durant knows what they say. The more you can do, the more valuable you are.

That approach helped this summer when middle linebacker Sean Lee was lost for the season with a torn ACL and the Cowboys coaches experimented, moving Durant away from the weakside and into the middle of the defense. As the “Mike” backer, he was the quarterback of the defense and had to know the formations, make the calls, the adjustments, and lead the entire unit. The move helped give Durant a renewed focus, knowing what the team needed from him.

“I put more pressure on myself than I allow the outside world or coaches or anybody to put on me,” he says. “I expect a lot out of myself.”

Back at his favored weakside position to start the regular season, Durant racked up eight tackles during last Sunday’s Week 1 loss to San Francisco. Unfortunately the Cowboys lost, and Durant injured his groin in the second half. He’s expected to miss three to four weeks. Still, his expectations for the team haven’t changed.

“You always want to get to the Super Bowl,” he says. “That’s everybody’s goal. As a team, you don’t want to come in and say we’re not gonna be good. We’re not gonna make the playoffs. We’re definitely confident. In this league, if you come in with zero confidence, you’re not gonna get anything done.”

While he’s a weapon on the field, Durant sticks out among his peers because he loves music. No, like he really, really loves music. A fanatic, and critic, the former Hampton star has plans to possibly get into the business when he’s finished playing, and the soon-to-be 29-year-old has already worked with MTV and gone through music business classes with the NFL.

With the season now underway, I caught up with Durant to talk about his love of music.

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Every athlete I talk to loves music, but you go above and beyond. Why is it so special to you?
Justin Durant: I first really felt my love of music when I was young and it really carried on throughout my life. The things that I do there’s always some type of music that either motivates me or can calm me down, soothing, all different types of music that they have. It’s just something that’s always been a major part of my life.

And you’ve done some pretty cool music internships and boot camps.
JD: I’ve done the Business of Music boot camp through the NFL, which is basically a crash course in the music industry. You get a chance to meet different people, A&Rs, producers. They give you a background, information of everything involved in music. It’s really long days, probably up at 8 and you aren’t done until 8 so it’s like a 12-hour shift. All day. It was pretty fun. I had to write to get into it and I learned a lot.

I learned I might want to be an A&R person to develop talent. It was cool.

I also did a shadowing, I guess you would call it that, with MTV’s “The Week in Jams” when it was on the air. That was more directing, hosting, things like that. I’ve just been trying to get a little bit of information from everywhere. I’ve always been told that the more you can do, the better off you will be so getting information on all different aspects of the game, it’s going to help me out to try to transfer to this when I’m done.

You had to apply to get into the NFL boot camp?
JD: Yeah, I forgot exactly how many people they take in per year. I think it’s like 12. You have to write a long essay to tell them why you want to be a part of it. I didn’t get in the first time I applied and the second time they let me in.

What type of music do you listen to? You’re into everything, right?
JD: A little bit of everything, yeah. Coming up, I was a real huge hip-hop fan. Hip-hop and R&B coming up. My mom used to play a lot of oldies so that was naturally something that I liked as well, and then in the past few years I’ve been getting more into the alternative, electronica to go with… I’m always going to love hip-hop and R&B. That’s always the foundation.

You were a big Busta Rhymes fan growing up?
JD: Ah man, that was the first full-length tape that I bought, his joint The Coming. I remember it had a crazy intro on it with “we gonna bring the ruckus to all you rappers…” I had to turn it down in my room so my mom wouldn’t hear. It was kind of crazy.

But yeah I’ve always been a huge Busta Rhymes fan. He’s crazy with everything, just the energy, the flow, the rhymes, everything. Just his whole personality, everything that he does is dope. I think he’s one of the best entertainers ever to touch the mic.

Have you heard the new song he did with Eminem where it’s basically like a lyrical boxing match?
JD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. To say that coming out 20 years later to still be able to spit like that is crazy.

You’re a big fan of Outkast as well, right?
JD: No doubt. That was the first CD, the first full CD that I bought was Outkast ATLiens. You rarely can find somebody that can reinvent themselves and it’s still dope. It’s doesn’t sound force, it’s just naturally how creative they are. I always love them. I think they are the best group ever. Both of them, how they gel together even though they have different styles, it’s perfect music. I think they are definitely the best.

Really? Best group ever?
JD: Yeah man. I say easily.

What about Public Enemy?
JD: I listened to some P.E. stuff. It’s a little… I don’t know. I’m more N.W.A. than P.E. But they have some crazy music, too. Their influence on everybody was just amazing. I’m the type of person – I have an older brother who is 41 or 42. When stuff would come on, he goes “Man, this was tough back in our day. This is what we used to jam to.” Along with the music, he was like that when it was happening live. I always say well, let me go back and check it and listen to it just so I can at least have some knowledge of where it evolved from. I always go back and check out old stuff. Some of the stuff I like. Some of the stuff I can’t really get into, but P.E. definitely had some good stuff, but I’m more of an N.W.A. fan.

Do you think Outkast is ever going to release another album?
JD: I don’t think so, man. I wanted to go see them while they were on this little tour. I wanted to go to Coachella but I didn’t make it. I’ve been seeing people saying they don’t think they have the chemistry anymore. ‘Dre is kind of a different kind of individual so… (Laughs) I don’t know. I really hope so. I really do. I want to hear it but I don’t want it to be something that’s gonna leave a bad mark on their legacy. I don’t want them to force it. If it comes naturally and they make it then cool but if not, they’ve given plenty of music that I’m going to listen to for the rest of my life.

I’m assuming your taste is a lot different than what you’d normally hear in an NFL locker room?
JD: Yeah. I listen to some of the stuff that’s how right now too, but they’ll listen to it at 7 a.m. I can’t wake up and just listen to Migos. It has to be a certain vibe. I have to be ready to about to go to practice or something like that because they got a lot of energy in their music. And it’s good. I don’t hate on it at all. I love Migos and a lot of the stuff coming out of Atlanta. I’m definitely on the Bobby Shmurda. That’s cool music. It’s just that there’s a certain time that I’ll listen to it myself compared to [my teammates].

Justin Durant
Doug Coombe

Give me an example.
JD: When I wake up, I prefer to listen to older stuff. I’ll probably put on some Curtis Mayfield, just real smooth, a lot of instruments and stuff like that. When I’m ready to go to practice, I’ll listen to Migos, Bob, and “No Flex Zone,” all the stuff that gets me hype. Honestly, before games, I’ll listen to older club stuff like Lil Jon, Three 6 Mafia, Project Pat, Pastor Troy, stuff like that. When I was coming up in high school, those were the songs that used to get me excited and amped up for games, so I go back to that to try to get that same feel.

Postgame, post-practice, I’ve been listening to a lot of Beach House. I always tell people I love Solange’s compilation that she put out. Saint Heron. I listen to stuff like that. Grizzly Bear. Stuff like that.

Who’s an artist right now that deserves more shine than they are getting?
JD: I’ve always been a huge Big K.R.I.T. fan. I think he’s… how do I want to say it? I don’t even know. I think he should be way bigger than he is. I think he’s super talented. He’s probably one of the best artist/producers right now. I wish he was a whole lot bigger, man. I don’t think he’s put out anything bad. He’s put out four or five quality, quality projects and a couple of them I’ll say are classics. I feel like he’s not getting the recognition that he deserves but I respect that he’s staying in his lane and doing what he does.

Who do you think is an artist right now who’s on the cusp of blowing up?
JD: The last person I said was probably Chance The Rapper because I enjoyed Acid Rap a lot. I used to get a lot of mixed reviews from people for it but I enjoyed it a lot. I felt that he had the perfect balance of commercial but not really trying to be commercial and the album just flowed perfectly to me. I just felt like he could be one of the next guys to crossover but he’s been kind of quiet. I’m waiting to see what he’s going to do.

I guess Schoolboy and Ab-Soul, the whole TDE Camp I love everything that they put out. I guess it’s just going to be harder for them because Kendrick just… man, he just carries that sound and it’s going to be harder for them to step out. But I think they are going to be all right. They are gonna continue to put out good stuff.

I feel like Chance is gonna be the one. I’m gonna see what he does, what his next project does.

Over the years, do you think your taste in music has changed at all?
JD: I don’t think my taste has changed. I’ve just expanded it. I still like the same stuff that I came up listening to. I still love rap but I think I listen to other stuff a little bit more now because I don’t think the quality of the rap is the same. We’re living in a microwave society. We assemble quick, it’s hot, then it gets cold real quick. A lot of the stuff that’s put out it’s not really sticking with people for as long as it used to, and everybody’s got access to so much stuff that if it fails to grab you in one listen than it’s over. If it doesn’t grab somebody right then, they might not give you another shot. It’s so overpopulated with people because everybody wants to be an artist as well, so if you’re not putting out something that somebody loves in the first 30, 45 seconds of each song you might be finished.

That’s why I’ve expanded to different stuff and just got an ear for other types of music.

You think rap will ever get back to what it was?
JD: Probably not. You can still touch on different topics but it’s been a lot for a little while now. It’s going to be rare for people to come with different types of styles. You’re always going to be compared to somebody. When they were coming up, it was new. It was fresh. It wasn’t like anybody was like Redman or like Busta Rhymes. They were the first of their kind but now guys are coming in and they’re like “Well he’s like Redman” or “He’s like Busta Rhymes.” It’s going to be hard to get like that, as a whole, for rap music.

You’re going to hear people like Kendrick who comes in and is different, like Drake, who kind of changed the whole game up with what he did. It’s going to be every now and then but it’s not going to be groups and groups like it was back in the day.

So what in turn grabs you about alternative music?
JD: Like I said, I’ve been listening to Beach House, Toro y Moi. I don’t know what it is about it. I guess I’ve listened to so much rap and hip-hop and the different types of music like that for a long time that when I hear something… well music, especially, is universal. No matter where you came from if you hear something that triggers your love for it, it is what it is. I sheltered myself early and just said “This is what I’m listening to. This is what I like.” I’d hear stuff when I was younger or see something on MTV and immediately turn it and not even open my ears and give it a chance. But now, since I did that when I was younger, me being grown now, being older, it’s easier for me to [get into other music]. It’s just music to me. I think I can recognize good music now as opposed to when I was younger.

Have you converted any teammates?
JD: Ah, it’s kind of tough (laughs). I’ve been trying to do it. I respect everybody’s opinion so if they say they don’t want to hear it, I say cool. I can’t force anybody to like stuff, so I just let it rock. I just let them know they’re missing out on it.

Do you ultimate want to work in music?
JD: I think so. I’m getting towards the latter part of my career and thinking about getting into something like that. Honestly man, I just love music so much that if I felt like I wouldn’t be enhancing what I’m doing, as far as the music, I wouldn’t even step into that area. I respect people who have talent so much that I wouldn’t even bother. That’s why I really feel like people who try to rap or try to sing just because of the position they’re in as far as being a professional athlete, if I know that I didn’t have talent I wouldn’t even try it. I respect it that much to where hopefully I can transition into something. If I get into it and I’m successful then great. But if I see that I don’t possess that ability to do it then I’m going to fall back and keep listening to music and DJing and doing what I’ve been doing on my own.

And all of those goals are waiting until after you’re done playing?
JD: Yeah man. The league is why you’re talking to me now. I keep that in perspective. I know what’s right for me. Football is the reason why I have opportunities to do different stuff, talk to y’all about why I love music so that’s always going to be number one. I’m not going to put anything else above that right now.

I practice. I do my little things on the side, stuff like that to prepare myself for when I’m done.

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