Santa Monica, California. – About 30 minutes into Darren Waller’s recording session, a music producer asked him to make a small change.
Waller, the Pro Bowl tight end for whom the Giants traded in March, was stationed inside the sprawling headquarters of Interscope Records, trying to put the finishing touches to two songs he had created. He had just two hours to do so before his flight to Las Vegas, where his new wife, Kelsey Plum, waited.
With Waller’s song “Step” getting louder, he leaned into the mic and let out a “skurt”—a lengthy ad-lib that a local talent manager told him to shorten and speed up. Within two minutes, Waller had corrected, and the four music professionals in the room smiled and nodded to the beat Waller produced.
Pro Bowler Thomas Waller is the great-grandson of swing pianist and composer better known as Fats, and his own music – mostly hip-hop, with a mix of songs he raps, produces and writes – has recently become more than just running off the football field.
They released four albums, recording at home with just a computer, microphone and speakers before sending tracks to an engineer in Georgia. But in March, just a week after he was traded by the Raiders, Waller and 21 other NFL players attended a league-sponsored event to learn about the music business through a visit to Interscope, the record label that signed the contract. Launched the careers of Tupac and Dr. Dre. ,
There, the players met with label executives, learned about revenue and marketing, and toured the studios. David Nieman, Senior Vice President of Sports and Gaming at Interscope, heard “Step” for the first time that day and was impressed by Waller’s delivery and skill.
“You could tell he understood and he was serious about music,” Nieman said in an interview. “You could tell he wasn’t just talking about it.”
Nieman invited Waller to fix “Step” and another song, “Sweep”, on the label, which oversaw an 11-song soundtrack created specifically for the popular Madden NFL video game two years earlier. For Madden 24, which would be released in August, Nieman hoped to create a similar short album—known as an “extended play”—that would feature six songs composed by active NFL players; The game typically only uses songs from traditional recording artists.
“It’s good to give some representation to the players,” said Waller. “We take this stuff seriously and we can make good music, so I love the fact that I’m one of the first guys to crack that.”
Waller, 30, a seven-year NFL veteran whose 6-foot-6 frame and athleticism make him a versatile receiving threat, has always used music as a pastime. He played piano and was a member of his middle school band growing up in Georgia. But Waller’s passion for music became a necessary outlet when his life entered a crossroads. After Waller was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, he repeatedly failed league-mandated drug tests.
He said he began abusing painkillers in high school, and the addiction developed to include alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. After his second violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, the NFL suspended Waller for the entire 2017 season. In August 2017, he said, he nearly died after overdosing on fentanyl.
Waller entered a 30-day rehabilitation program in Camden, Maine, and music became a central part of his recovery process. While there, he wrote songs in his spare time while he juggled at counseling meetings.
“Perhaps the best means of expression I had, Waller said. “Music was a way for me to speak up and build confidence before things even existed.”
After rehab, Waller briefly lived with his parents, Charlena and Dorian Waller, and worked at a grocery store. His father would hear him beating and would swell with pride. Dorian Waller said, “I was very happy about this because it’s part of my family’s heritage, and it was really great to see that in my son.”
Later in 2017, Darren Waller released his debut album, “Better Call Wall”, 12 songs he rapped about with lyrics from his life. In one of his songs, “Made Of,” he rapped: “I had to drop my pride, reach down to see what I was afraid of, because if I never fought with myself, I would never see what I was made of.
After the NFL reinstated Waller, he signed with the Raiders in November 2018 and was named to the Pro Bowl after amassing 1,196 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in the 2020 season. He also broke the Raiders’ franchise record for receptions (107).
In the first major signing under general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels in September 2022, the Raiders signed Waller to a three-year contract extension with $22 million guaranteed, making him one of the league’s highest-paid tight ends. became.
But Waller missed eight games last season with a hamstring injury. In his downtime, he began dating Plum, a star player for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, shortly after meeting last April while recording a podcast. He proposed to her during a bye week for the Raiders in October, with Waller later telling McDaniels and Ziegler that the couple were keeping their upcoming wedding a secret.
Before Waller and Plume could reveal their March wedding on Instagram, Ziegler and McDaniels told reporters about the upcoming nuptials during an off-the-record session at the NFL scouting combine. Waller said that a public relations officer for her foundation informed her that a reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal asked about the couple’s plans a few days before the wedding and their first public announcement.
“It was frustrating because you share information with people and you hope they keep it private, but I don’t think there was any malice behind it in any way,” Waller said.
Less than two weeks later—one day after the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon—Ziegler called Waller to tell him that he had been traded to the Giants in exchange for a third-round draft pick. The move surprised Waller, he said, as he was preparing for the team’s offseason training. But with the Giants, he immediately becomes a top target for quarterback Daniel Jones, whom the team signed to a contract extension in March.
In April, Waller spent two days with the Giants’ offensive players at a rented house near Scottsdale, Ariz., a trip Jones organized and which allowed Waller to dine and train with his new teammates.
Waller said, “I’ve just met these guys, but it seems like we have good chemistry going on and things like that are important.”
Organized team activities and minicamps in New Jersey keep Waller plumb, who still lives in Las Vegas. For now, Waller said he plans to be with Plum every other weekend, and she’ll join him in New Jersey when his season ends.
Although the WNBA regular season runs from May to September, and the NFL season opens on September 7, their cross-country flights could continue as late as October if the Aces compete for a second straight championship.
As Waller’s day in the studio ended, he left in a car for Los Angeles International Airport for a short flight to Las Vegas, where he and Plum planned to attend a boxing match the next day.
“I heard a friend say once that ‘Blessings can get so high they start to look like problems,'” Waller said. “All things are a blessing in my life at the moment, but there are times when it’s hard because there’s always something to do and little to rest, but it’s important to have the right attitude.”