At 12:07 a.m. Friday, Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali fired off a Tweet.
The 12-year NFL veteran caused quite a stir on Twitter in July when he publicly questioned his lack of playing time a year ago, but the subject of this tweet was much more tame.
Hali, who has a side career as a rap artist and producer, had just released a new song called “Chief,” one he thinks is sure to intrigue fans of the only NFL team he’s ever known –– one that has gone 44-21 since coach Andy Reid arrived in 2013.
“The song is dedicated to the fans of the Chiefs,” Hali explained to The Star. “You should feel like a Chief, the way I’m presenting it. What has occurred here in the last five years has been a resemblance of what the Chiefs used to be like. We scored a lot of points and we were always making a run to the playoffs. This is a motivational song to carry them through the year.
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“There’s a phrase in there –– all I do is win –– that’s how I want this song to be perceived.”
The track has been in the works for two months. In July, the song’s producer, MasterKraft, came up with the idea of doing a Chiefs song. Hali agreed — training camp hadn’t yet started — and MasterKraft flew in from Nigeria so they could record the track over three days. The song was then sent to the mixing and mastering phase, and finally, once it was done, to distribution, culminating in Friday morning’s release on YouTube.
Hali, 33, hopes to return from the NFL’s Physically Unable to Perform list and help the Chiefs this season. He says he’d like to play four more years.
The release of “Chief,” which should be available via more traditional music platforms like iTunes shortly, is the latest step in a passion 20-plus years in the making. In that time, Hali’s musical career has featured its shares of relative highs (like the attention he received for his first single of 2017, “The One For Me”) and lows (such as the downsizing of his record label two years ago).
“I feel confident that if you put my music alongside the (established artists) that are doing it, you’d be shocked to know it was me,” Hali said. “In a sense, I want to gain some popularity so that when we’re putting out these songs, it’s not coming as a shock to people.”
Hali’s passion for music started at a young age — he used to play the bongos and the drums at his church back home in Liberia. After arriving in America in the early 1990s, he took to the concept of rapping while learning to read and write English through the program Hooked on Phonics.
“I thought it was so interesting that you can rhyme the words and put it in music,” Hali said.
Hali learned about the production aspect of music at Penn State, where he was a broadcast journalism major. He’d spend the little free time he had creating beats and writing lyrics, and when he was drafted by the Chiefs in 2006, he built a studio in his basement and hasn’t stopped since.
Eight years ago, Hali even created his own record label, Relumae Records. He signed a handful of artists and producers, and worked hard to establish it.
But he was largely unhappy with their output, and when their deals expired two years ago, Hali decided to de-emphasize other artists in hopes of building the label through his own brand, which he calls the smarter business decision.
“It’s a real funny business –– people are willing to take your money and not do the job,” Hali said. “That was heartbreaking for me. I spent some big-time money on projects for those guys –– photo shoots, videos and marketing, and realizing people weren’t taking heed to (the opportunity).
“I prayed about it and I kind of sat back and realized the content they were releasing, that I was promoting, was not as positive as I wanted to project to the world. So it made sense to me, especially with where I am in my life, and I said ,‘Well, if I do music, it would almost, in a way, be glorifying God.’ Because at this stage in my life, if I can speak about love in music to uplift people, I think it would have more of an impact.”
Hali’s decision to downsize and become the public face of his company has paid off. After releasing four solo tracks in 2016, his first solo release of 2017 — “The One for Me” — has received radio airplay since its release in June.
“The people that I work with, they just felt like the song was very friendly, and it didn’t sound like anything else that’s out there,” Hali said. “It’s catchy, and all the DJ’s kept saying, ‘We love the music, we love the sound.’”
The song has also been shared many times via social media, and has received nearly 400,000 views on YouTube. Even Hali was a bit surprised.
“We didn’t see it as a hit song,” said Hali, who doesn’t consider the track to be one of his best due to its simplistic nature. “I’m leaning more towards the Afrobeat style of music, and being that I’m from Liberia and I have African ties, it kind of prompted me to want to release something for the African side. I wasn’t even trying to market it in the U.S., I was marketing it more in Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa.”
Hali said the song received recognition in those places, but because he couldn’t travel overseas to promote it, it has sold better in the U.S. –– though it still hasn’t sold as well as he hopes his future releases will.
“Right now, the process of the music isn’t so we make money –– not right now,” Hali said. “Eventually, hopefully, we do. But right now, it’s to create popularity.”
Hali is attempting to build that popularity in a better, more cost-efficient way than he did in the earlier days of his label. He’s only keeping people who directly help him craft his own music and brand –– an engineer and a few assistants –– and he’s decided to funnel more of his money toward marketing his own tracks.
He realizes the success of his label will ultimately begin and end with how seriously people take him as an artist.
“I have to do the artist thing because it’s hard to buy into the athlete wanting to do music,” Hali said. “It’s really hard to buy into the fact that I know a lot about music and I do music well, too.”
But Hali –– whose ultimate goal is to be a respected producer in the next 15 years –– hopes to win people over with his message and work ethic, much like he has as a football player.
“I always told myself I would give myself a shot (as a solo artist) once I have an opportunity to do it, because it’s hard to serve two masters,” Hali said. “Being a football player and doing music, they both require so much of your time. I always knew I couldn’t put my eggs in the music basket unless I was given the time.”
Hali has a little more time to work on his music these days. Knees injuries have plagued him for the last few seasons.
He had hoped to avoid starting this season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list — a designation that will keep him out until at least the Chiefs’ seventh game this fall.
“I guess the coaches and trainers didn’t feel I was in the position to come back (yet),” said Hali, who is content with the decision. “I do, but I always have to take instruction from them. They didn’t feel like my knees were quite ready.”
From the Chiefs’ standpoint, the decision to place Hali on the PUP list not only saves his knees from additional pounding, it also offers protection in case of an injury to one of their current starters. Both Justin Houston and Dee Ford have dealt with knee issues to varying degrees.
In the meantime, Hali is trying to prove he can still be part of the mix. He arrives at the team’s practice facility daily at 7 a.m., running and lifting weights and attending meetings. He has been heartened by his progress.
“I still do those things people think I’m just not doing,” Hali said. “And the fact I can still have my wind and do it? It’s good.”
Sitting at home on game days remains unusual for Hali, however. He is more accustomed to chasing quarterbacks this time of year.
For now, the music career moves ahead. In addition to “Chief,” he has three more tracks in the queue for release –– “Girl Like You,” “I Like,” and “Fever.”
But football remains his first love.
“I still want to play four more years,” said Hali, who has 89 1/2 career sacks and wants to reach 100. “The hope is I’ll be on the field and I don’t need to do much music until I’m done playing.”