TEMPE – Andre Johnson doesn’t think “passion” is the right word to describe his relationship with music, but it’s certainly close.
The junior receiver at Arizona State has been producing and releasing rap beats on YouTube for almost a year now under the alias Dreddayy.
“I’ve always liked music a lot,” Johnson said. “I never was following music around, but I feel like I’ve always just had a knack for finding a beat, noticing melodies and everything.”
The first beat he ever produced took just a few minutes, and it happened while casually messing around on GarageBand with some friends, who immediately agreed that he had the skills for it.
Now, Johnson’s production process is a lot more elaborate. He’s invested in using FL Studio, a professional beat-making software, and has his own signature producer tag, which announces “Guess what day it is?” at the start of each track.
Johnson is studying music production and business at ASU, and he’s set a personal goal of releasing two albums within the next five years. However, his listeners shouldn’t expect anything to happen during football season.
“I’ve been too locked into the season and everything, (so) I haven’t really made anything for the last couple of months,” said Johnson, adding that he turned down potential collaborators this summer because they wanted to make music too close to the start of fall camp.
“During the offseason, I was making a lot in the studio – in my room, that’s what I call the studio,” he said.
Johnson is hitting the right notes on the gridiron, too. He had the best Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade out of all receivers in the FBS last year for ASU.
Heading into Friday’s Territorial Cup showdown against Arizona, he has 14 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown this season. Johnson is known for being a deep threat, but he also caught a critical 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter of ASU’s Nov. 5 comeback attempt against UCLA.
His teammates appreciate his talent for both catching passes and producing music. Arizona State junior receiver Giovanni Sanders said teammates in the locker room will occasionally freestyle over Johnson’s “smooth” beats.
Johnson draws inspiration from rap producers like London On Da Track, Zaytoven and Metro Boomin, the latter who he described as the “greatest producer in the game right now.”
While being a receiver and a rap producer are obviously different pursuits, Johnson said the biggest similarity between football and music is intricacy.
“The attention to detail is really apparent in both, as far as getting to your route depth, the way you catch the ball, even with your hand placement – all that stuff you have to do as a receiver,” he said. “When it comes to tuning 808s and placing hi-hats right into a spot, it has to be on beat.”
Johnson joins a long list of athletes who have pursued music and sports simultaneously. Hall of Famers like Deion Sanders and Kobe Bryant did it in the prime of their careers, and Shaquille O’Neal, more than a decade after retiring, still takes gigs under the name DJ Diesel.
Johnson isn’t the first ASU football player to do it, either.
Gus Farwell, an ASU backup quarterback in 1996, has performed internationally as an opera singer, and performed on Nov. 4 at ASU Gammage with former teammate and college roommate Jake Plummer in attendance.
Like Johnson, Farwell knows what it takes to pursue music and football simultaneously. His first time singing opera in public came at a Universal Studios talent show while in California for Arizona State’s Rose Bowl appearance in 1997.
And in March of 2020, while living in Barcelona, Spain, Farwell’s voice caught the world’s attention when he sang from a balcony as residents of the city applauded medical workers during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. A video his daughter took went viral, and Farwell ended up singing for 65 consecutive nights.
“The performance side, the football side; it’s great to be able to sort of live in both worlds,” Farwell said.
More recently, former ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins, who threw for more than 3,000 yards in 2017 and 2018 for the Sun Devils, also found a niche as a rap artist, producing music under the name 5IVE.
After a short stint with the Green Bay Packers, Wilkins made performing rap his priority, although he hasn’t given up entirely on his football future.
“My mindset has been very focused on music, to get great at this, and to hone in on it,” Wilkins told Green Bay’s WFRV in 2020. “But I do know that, if my phone rings, to go play football. That’s what I do.”
Wilkins’ music career blossomed thanks to a friendship he has with Canadian rapper and producer PARTYNEXTDOOR, who is signed to Drake’s OVO record label.
Meanwhile, Johnson, who was raised in Arizona and graduated from Tolleson Union High School, is focusing on building his rap pedigree with other Phoenix artists.
Major cities such as Houston, Atlanta and Los Angeles have established rap subcultures and sounds that are unique to each.
Johnson hopes to help develop a signature hip-hop sound in Phoenix.
“I kind of want to be one of the guys that comes out and puts Arizona, at least on the map, for more artists to come out and show what they can do,” he said.