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Flau’Jae Johnson Won a Basketball Title, Then Teamed Up With Lil Wayne

Flau’Jae Johnson Won a Basketball Title, Then Teamed Up With Lil Wayne

When Flau’jae Johnson helped lead the Louisiana State University women’s basketball team to a national championship last April, in her first season on the squad, she ascended to the top of the sport. The win, the school’s first title, also vaulted her as a hip-hop artist, lifting a career that has found her teaming up with rap royalty.

At least twice in the past year, Johnson staged rap performances within 24 hours of a game or a practice, in one instance opening for the chart-topping rapper and singer Rod Wave in Atlanta after traveling from Louisiana on a day off from the court. She walked offstage to body cramps after another performance in November; she had scored 17 points in a game hours before her show.

“I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Johnson, 20, a sophomore guard who averages 14.2 points per game and over 62,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. “If you want to be a legend at something, you’ve got to do something nobody has done before and execute it at a high level.”

Johnson’s two careers went into overdrive over the past year, and she’s balancing both as L.S.U. prepares to defend its title in the N.C.A.A. tournament, starting with its first-round game on Friday. The same day, Johnson plans to release “AMF (Ain’t My Fault),” her new song with the rapper NLE Choppa, who last year asked her and her L.S.U. teammate Angel Reese to appear in the video for his single “Champions”; they made cameos alongside other top athletes including the boxers Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Mike Tyson. Johnson then asked NLE Choppa to collaborate on “AMF,” which will premiere on Snapchat through a partnership with the social media platform.

“She’s redefining and showcasing the renaissance and the revolution that is possible in women’s sports,” said Ketra Armstrong, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan. “She’s showing not only how you do it, but how you do it masterfully without compromising one for the other.”

Kia Brooks, Johnson’s mother and business manager, estimated that the rapper-hooper has earned nearly $3 million from endorsement deals involving her name, image and likeness, including partnerships with the audio-equipment maker JBL and the sports drink brand Powerade. Johnson also has a distribution deal with Roc Nation, and is coordinating a music video for an upcoming song with Lil Wayne, who became a fan during the 2023 basketball tournament. Since late last year, camera crews have followed Johnson for an Amazon Prime Video documentary that will profile her and other star L.S.U. athletes.

Johnson began rapping at 7 years old — about a year after taking up basketball — inspired in part by her father. Jason Johnson, a rapper who was known as Camoflauge, was fatally shot in 2003 in Savannah, Ga., just months before Johnson’s birth, but she said she feels his presence every day. Her first name (pronounced FLAW-zhay) is derived from his stage name, Brooks said, and Johnson often makes mention of him in her songs. She performed a song about gun violence when she competed on America’s Got Talent at 14. In an introspective freestyle over the beat of the Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” Johnson raps, “They killed by daddy while my mama was pregnant, how I’m supposed to feel?”

“He’s definitely my No. 1 inspiration,” Johnson said. “I get my whole swag from him.”

While in high school, she posted her music to YouTube, building a following that grew alongside fans’ interest in her plans as a top recruit: She publicly announced her commitment to L.S.U. in a video that also promoted the release of a new song.

Her off-campus two-bedroom apartment doubles as a recording studio complete with speakers, a microphone and monitors. Her jerseys are hung up on the walls, and the home studio also houses her championship ring and pet lizard. She often composes lyrics during flights to away games and records in her free time. Fans at her shows will hold up four fingers as she performs — a reference to her jersey number.

“I’ve been rapping and playing basketball my whole life,” Johnson said. “Now that they see me on different stages, they always ask, ‘How do you do it?’ But it’s like, I’ve been doing it. Turn up in the summer, play basketball during basketball season and then go on about my day.”

Now, though, the victory lap for last year’s title is over. And just as she faces challengers on the court, Johnson has seen social media commenters try to discredit her rap skills. “Get in the gym,” is a common quip, she said. But she said those jabs only serve to motivate.

“You can be talented at multiple things and I don’t think people are used to seeing that,” she said.

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