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Speed Rapper: Track World Champion Noah Lyles On The Inspiration Behind His First Album

By Karen Rosen | April 25, 2020, 10:30 a.m. (ET)

Noah Lyles crosses the finish line in the men's 4x100 meter relay at the IAAF World Athletics Championships on Oct. 5, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. 

 

Few humans can keep up with Noah Lyles on the track. The 200-meter world champion could maintain physical distance even before the pandemic.

Musically, however, Lyles wants to bring everyone along on “A Humans Journey,” the title of his new album that dropped at midnight on most major streaming services.

“You have to figure out what the purpose of the journey is by listening to the album,” said Lyles, a rapper who originally considered “Emotions” as the title.

The album contains five songs that he connects through narration.

The first is called “Walk to Heaven.”

Why not run?

“Because the journey to heaven is not a sprint,” Lyles explained.

 

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A Humans Journey 4 Days

A post shared by Noah Lyles (@nojo18) on

 

When the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on his sprinting career, the 22-year-old could devote even more of his energy to his creative pursuits.

“I’ve always been artistic in some form,” said Lyles, whose victory dance after winning his first 100-meter national title in 2018 captured the hearts of fans.

“I love drawing, painting. Music is the newest of my hobbies,” he added. “This has just been me expressing myself outside of track. My therapist was saying how track is my physical side everybody sees, but music is the emotional side and my emotional thoughts of how I think of the world. I see things in different ways.”

As Nojo18 (which is also his handle on Instagram and Twitter) Lyles has released several singles on Spotify and other streaming services including “Pain,” “PR,” “Speed Racer” and “Extrovert.”

A video of “Pain” is one of the offerings on Lyles’ YouTube channel.

Last year Lyles teamed up with pole vaulter Sandi Morris and the Swiss pop band Baba Shrimps for the song “Souvenir,” which they performed live at the Zurich Diamond League meet.

 

 

Lyles wrote the rap for “Souvenir,” which includes references to obtaining the gold, perseverance and never giving up. He had a sensational season in 2019, dropping his personal best in the 200 to 19.50 seconds. In that race at the Diamond League in Lausanne, Switzerland, he broke the meet record held by Usain Bolt, making him the fourth-fastest man in history at 200 meters and the second-fastest in the United States behind Michael Johnson.


Going Places
In the song “PR,” Lyles raps, “I reach for the top because I love high places. Top spot right there, yeah, I’ll take it. To get to me gonna need a spaceship. Google me up, baby, I ain’t fakin’.”

“Speed Racer” starts with audio of Lyles’ coach Lance Brauman giving him a workout, followed by: “I’m drinking lactic for lunch and eating 400s for brunch, absorbing speed through my DNA like it was a drug. I swear all these haters after me were born with a grudge, but I just brush them off my shoulder, it’s not even a shrug.”

And later he raps, “They say, ‘Noah slow down,’ but I’m just not getting caught. Put the police up on my tail just to force me to stop.”

But Lyles said the lyrics he wrote for “A Humans Journey” are not specific to his sport.

“I want to reach everybody,” he said.

Lyles said his home was filled with music while growing up. “My mom made sure we knew all the classics, all the great musicians,” he said. “I fell in love with Michael Jackson, like most people. My love for dancing just enforced my love for music, so as I looked for more things to dance to I found different genres.

“I really got into this kind of poetry mode, but I didn’t want to make poetry. I wanted it to have sound behind it. So I was like, ‘Well, let’s make music.”

Lyles began doing that about three years ago. He finds the beat he wants to use on a website and pays to license it. Lyles then records the songs in his home studio, which is constantly expanding with more gear. Then an engineer in Los Angeles puts on the finishing touches.

Some of the songs were written two years ago, but Lyles couldn’t get them out of his mind. He realized they carried messages that would be perfect for this album. He wrote other songs as recently as last month.

The entire album, including the narration, is about 12 minutes long. A high school friend did the cover art, which shows a cartoon of Lyles’ head looking into the clouds.

Now he’s learning how to be a techie so he can perform on Instagram Live in the next week or two as he promotes the album.

“Doing the hardware is not something I’m used to,” Lyles said, “so I’m trying to speed-learn everything. I’ve never put together a PA system before, so I’m buying and learning everything in the past three to four days.”


Collaboration With Claye?
Will Claye reacts at the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships on Sept. 29, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. 

 

Lyles has followed the music careers of fellow Team USA track star Will Claye, a three-time Olympic medalist who dropped two EPs recently, and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, who released his third rap album last year and performed at the NBA All-Star Game.

Lyles said Claye invited him to his house to “make music with him for a little bit,” but it didn’t work out because of the timing of the world championships and then the pandemic.

“He’s kind of pop-ish rap, more of an up-tempo beat,” Lyles said. “I definitely go for the darker tones type music, so I throw a little bit of Kanye (West) in there, a little bit of 6lack in there, a little bit of Kendrick (Lamar) sometimes when I really want to tell a story.”

Lyles also said Claye has “a pretty good voice, something I wish I had.” He laughed. “I said I can rap. I didn’t say I can sing.”

Other athletes from Olympic sports who have made forays into music include basketball stars Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal (whose debut album “Shaq Diesel” went platinum) and Wayman Tisdale, boxer Oscar De La Hoya (who had a No. 1 hit on the Latin chart), gymnast Carly Patterson, track star Carl Lewis, soccer player Alexi Lalas and tennis players Bob and Mike Bryan.

Lyles said he has “tons of music projects in my head. I just have to start putting them down and making them physical.”

And speaking of physical, he’s still keeping fit with his training group, which works out in a park instead of on a track. “We are park people,” Lyles said.

Expected to be one of the breakout stars at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which have now been postponed to the summer of 2021, Lyles said he’s not even thinking about the possibility of resuming the international track and field season later this year.

“I’m just focused on every day, day by day,” Lyles said. “I can’t be thinking that far. It’s somebody else’s job to worry about.”

He’ll take one human’s journey at a time.

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Noah Lyles