Rafael Leao is obviously best known for his exploits on the field as an AC Milan player, but away from the pitch he is building on his rap career under the pseudonym ‘Way45’.
At 23 years of age Leao has the world at his feet. He is one of the most talented young players in Europe and was the MVP for Serie A last season as his performances helped Milan end their 11-year Scudetto drought.
This season he has kicked on again and has helped the Rossoneri return to the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since the 2006-07 season, all while putting time into a music career which started in 2021 and has seen him become taken more seriously as an artist.
Leao is preparing to release his second album My Life In Each Verse later this year and he spoke to Rolling Stone UK about his musical projects.
Tell us about your unlikely side hustle. How did you first get into rap?
“There was always music in my house growing up, my uncle was a DJ and my father used to sing too. Like everything around me was about music, so it really just came from there. It was always hip-hop I’d listen to, and I could relate to the message they’d put across about growing up in the hood.”
What made you want to become a rapper?
“I always wanted to do something in music and I find it really allows me to express myself because I’m shy. I’m a shy person and I don’t always show my emotions and my feelings. But through the music I can do that, and it’s just like another world for me.”
Does it provide respite away from the pressures of playing for AC Milan?
“Yeah, now it’s like a hobby for me. My manager Leandro created a label and now I’m trying to find new artists and bring them to the label to create something great, because there’s a lot of musical talent in Portugal.
“But they can’t go to the studio because they don’t have that opportunity and the money to do so. We want to create the space that will give them an opportunity.”
You’ve got your second album My Life In Each Verse coming out later this year. Is there a message you want listeners to take from it?
“Yeah, for two or three songs I’ll talk about me and my life so they get to know who I am. Because I was a kid in a hoodie from a small town with a dream who somehow became a superstar. When I was struggling I didn’t think this would happen.”
Have you played it to the rest of AC Milan?
“Yes, they’ve heard it! Some have laughed at it, but others have been more supportive.”
No! Who’s laughed at it?
“Zlatan Ibrahimovic laughed at it. He laughed at it and told me to focus on football instead! But the rest have told me to keep going and doing my thing.”
Is there any other footballers in the AC Milan squad who might be decent rappers?
“Nah, I don’t think so!”
Where do you find the time to even record?
“I’ve managed to create a little studio at home, I’ve bought a few things like a mic, I have my Macbook and speakers too. I can record by myself and then mix my voice too. It’s a good set-up.
And just finally, if you had to choose between football and rap?
“Football, of course! It’s given me a lot and I love it, it just has to be.”