Major Nine Details New ‘Kardiology’ Project & Moving Between the Worlds of Sports and Music

The Super Bowl halftime show is arguably the biggest convergence of music and sports in a given year, but that’s not the only forum in which the two industries are colliding. Following in the footsteps of major artist-athletes like Shaquille O’Neal aka DJ Diesel and Damian Lillard aka Dame D.O.L.L.A., Chad Thomas aka Major Nine is looking to continue leveling up his athletic and musical careers while prioritizing independence at every turn. 

After playing as a defensive end for the Hurricanes at the University of Miami, the Cleveland Browns selected Thomas in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was the sixth defensive end drafted that year, and the 67th overall pick. A year before he became a national football star, however, Thomas was already making major waves in the music industry under the name Major Nine. 

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In 2017, he scored a placement on Rick Ross’s top five Billboard 200-charting Rather You Than Me album (alongside Grammy-winning R&B singer-songwriter Raphael Saadiq) on the grand album opener “Apple of My Eye.” Ross’ By 2020 – the same year the Browns waived his multi-million-dollar contract – Major Nine snagged yet another high-profile placement, this time on Chris Brown & Young Thug’s Slime & B, which peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard 200 and earned nominations at the Billboard Music Awards and Soul Train Music Awards. With “Trap Back,” his joint on the album, Major Nine did what comes naturally: He leveled up, and contributed not just production assistance, but a credited guest verse as well. 

As much as Major Nine has made waves through collaboration, he’s remained steadfast in pumping out projects of his own. Since 2018, he has released nine such sets – including 2019’s star-making Soulties – culminating in his two most recent: 2023’s Nothin Major and this year’s Kardiology. The former is Major Nine’s most radio-ready body of work to date; featuring emotionally vulnerable heaters (“Love Don’t Live Here,” “A Hustler’s Prayer”) and a splashy Kodak Black guest verse, Nothin Major boils down the best of contemporary Florida rap into something for the whole country to enjoy. The latter, Kardiology, is arguably Major Nine’s biggest artistic swing yet, an emotional 13-track Miami bass-laced journey through the throes of love. 

In a new interview with Billboard, Major Nine discusses his new Kardiology project, moving through multiple industries as an artist-athlete and the ever-deepening union between the worlds of music and sports. 

Obviously, you began your time as a public figure by way of football. Was music always on your mind? Or were you more focused on the athletic side of things? 

I actually started music first. I’ve been doing music since I was a baby, so that was No. 1. And then football became No. 1 in high school. I was playing before that, but it got serious in high school. 

What are some of your earliest musical memories? 

My pops, he bought me a drum set, like the little kid drum set. That was probably my first drum set. Growing up, at my grandma’s house, she had a little piano in her house. It was a baby grand, something like that. [Those were] my first instruments: drums and piano. I made it into all of the magnet schools in South Florida. I ended up going to one of the biggest ones down there: New World School of the Arts. That was a big accomplishment, being where I’m from. A lot of people don’t make it into that school. 

Music adds up different ways, I done did too much stuff with music. [Laughs.] My last time being in New York, we performed at Jazz @ Lincoln Center.  

What do you remember listening to growing up? Who and what were the defining artists and songs of your childhood? 

Anything ‘80s R&B. S—t, I’m from Miami, so Trick Daddy, Rick Ross, all the Miami moguls, the South Florida moguls. A little bit of West Coast. My music goes everywhere. I got Metallica in my library! I done listen to all types of music growing up, gospel music, Kirk Franklin. It go left and right. 

As football took you across the country, did you pick up any new musical influences from different teammates or cities? Especially during your time with the Browns? 

It was kind of backwards for me, to tell the truth. When I first touched down in Cleveland, my first apartment, the man at valet, he actually knew who I was. He was a producer and we tapped in. When I got to Cleveland, I tapped in with my teammates, and a lot of my teammates supported and are fans of my music. Actually, they was waiting on my new music, they weren’t really putting me onto people. 

Sometimes, it’s like that. They’ll put me on to a person that’s back home. I done got put onto a bunch of artists that’s actually superstars now, and it was before their time. Football connects you with different cities.

You scored a production placement on Rick Ross’ Rather You Than Me (2017). Walk me through how you put that track together and secured that placement? 

That relationship been going on since I was in high school, definitely locked in with the whole MMG family, Rick Ross and everybody. I can’t really tell how the songs come about, they just call me and say “We need a verse” or “We need a beat.” You know I’m on go because that’s family. It wasn’t really no big thing about it. I went in and did my verse, sent it back to him, he loved it. When I did the beat for “Apple of My Eye,” he loved it. We got a bunch of work together. When that popped out, I was just ecstatic.

Are there any skills you find yourself bringing from the sports world to the music world or vice versa? 

Always. Music and football taught me a lot about life. With football, doing certain drills and just having that pattern of skill. You gotta know numbers. It definitely goes hand-in-hand because ballers is gonna be ballers. The ballers that’s in the field gonna be the ballers that’s in the studio. Jarvis Landry is probably one of the best rappers I’ve ever heard. 

If I was to bring music to football, I would just be tapping in with people. Football players got feelings too, they listen to music and get in their vibe. Who better to relate to than your teammate? They’re actually doing it. 

Why is your independence as an artist important to you? 

[Because] I’ve done music my whole life, part of that was learning how to do so much stuff and be that team for myself. Now that I actually have a team and label that I created, it’s easier for me to stay independent and learn how to build my company, so I could be one of the big companies or be on the level where they is. [Independence] is perfect. It’s big. It’s big to me, it’s big to the people around me because they understand how much more money you can make and how much business you can control or how much leverage you can have once you’re independent. 

How do you compare your experiences on the business side of music versus the business side of sports? 

As a kid growing up in South Florida, business is not taught to us with sports. Yes, it’s monetized, you grow up and you gangsta and they gon’ look out for you. But business is not taught to us. 

When it came to football and I made it to the league, yes, I understood the business, but I kind of lost love for football because the business that goes into it – your whole life is a game, but once you get to a certain age or just before then, your fate is in another man’s hands. With music, I can’t control it, but I can express myself and God gave me a gift to be able to be at a level where people support me for my gift. 

You put out Nothin’ Major late last year, and that featured the focus track “Shawty” (with Kodak Black). How did that collaboration come together and why was it chosen as the focus track? 

I recorded my part in LA [probably two years ago] and I sent it to Kodak and he sent it right back. The next time we seen each other face-to-face was at another studio in Miami. It was supposed to have been his song, but I don’t how it went and came back to me and brodie was ready to drop it. Me and Kodak, we always doing business. That’s just that Broward-Dade County connection. It was a blessing man. 

A lot of people mess with Kodak — besides all the other stuff, that’s a good person, I know him for real. Him getting on that song… we connecting different parts of Florida. When T-Pain and Plies did it, that was more Fort Myers and Tallahassee. We giving that Dade County/Broward vibe, that’s a Florida classic. 

Why is it important for you to rep your hometown? 

I praise Florida, I praise Dade County. I’m from Liberty City, I’m from Miami. It ain’t no really big rappers out of Liberty City for real. The biggest we could go is Uncle Luke, and Uncle Luke opened doors for so many people, so many generations after him. To be from Miami and be from a birthplace of many styles and a lot of music that’s been sampled over the years, it’s big to let people know I’m from the 305. Florida, baby! We gon’ rep Florida wherever we go. And we got a different vibe too.  

Miami, South Florida, all that music has been ringing for years, but we getting a different type of buzz now. Just being one of the people that created some of this buzz, it’s big to me and it’s big to everybody. So, I’m definitely gonna rep all my people. I’m gonna rep the whole Florida not just South Florida. 

Who’s on your Mount Rushmore of Florida rappers? 

I’m gonna go Trick Daddy, Rick Ross, JT Money — I’m gonna leave myself out cause I have a mountain by myself – Ice [Billion] Berg. 

You recently dropped Kardiology (Feb. 16). What was your vision for the project and what are your goals for it post-release? 

These songs, I already had down. Some songs I added on there because we always recording. The focus on the whole project was just… these not your typical songs about love. It won’t come out that way. 

Every time you listen to a different track, it would give different directions of love or how love could have messed a person up or messed a situation up. These songs speak to the people, it’s a song on there for everybody. There’s a lot of Miami-style songs — I’m from Miami, so you know I gotta put that dance in some of the songs, the bass, the DJ checks, different stuff like that. 

I was supposed to start the whole Kardiology rollout probably around 2022, but this is a great start.

Why the delay? 

It was the directions of the songs. I record songs, but I’m not the type of person to just throw stuff on the tape and just put it out. I want to make sure you can actually have a no-skip tape. It was a whole wait. And then the direction of the videos, the treatments, the whole marketing plan behind what we’re gonna do with Kardiology – it’s more stuff we gotta do. We got scrubs, I’m gonna play a doctor in one of my videos. We having fun with it. 

We’re seeing the sports and music worlds continue to bleed more and more into each other every year, especially since Roc Nation and the NFL partnered for the Super Bowl halftime show. What do you make of that dynamic and how do you think it can best help artist-athletes like yourself? 

Exposure, that’s the biggest thing about anything we do. People want exposure, they want the world to see what they can do. These artists been out here, but the world goes so fast. That exposure collides the worlds and makes it easier for the right people to be in the same room. What they’re doing right now is big. I hope it grows until more independent artists are brought to these stages. 

Do you have any advice for other athletes looking to get into music or artists trying to get into sports or people who are just trying to balance both?  

Don’t plan on having a life. That was kind of my biggest thing since I’ve been doing music since high school. Once I started making music seriously in tenth or eleventh grade, that was my way of not going outside, because I was a kid [who] was always outside. You gotta understand that what’s important gotta stay important. And if it’s gonna be important, you can’t worry about the people around you and say they’re not supporting you or you’re not getting that push that you need. You got to be that push. You got to be everything for yourself. That’s what I mean, you ain’t really going to have no life. I’m just starting to live! 

People know me for “Okay, we’re gonna go make a tackle, get a couple of sacks, then come home and drop a hit.” If you’re gonna do it, do it. You’re gonna see the world change and you gonna realize that it’s easier to get that money if you really took it seriously.