Within the hallowed walls of the San Siro this season, few players have captured the hearts of the famous Rossoneri quite like Rafael Leão.
At just 23-years-old, the Portuguese forward is tipped as one of Europe’s hottest prospects and, according to certain ex pros, armed with the potential to become “one of the top 3 players in the world”. A recent run of blistering form has seen him provide a stunning assist for Olivier Giroud’s winner against Napoli in the Champions League quarter-final earlier this month, while he has also bagged twelve league goals of his own this season.
But away from the pitch, it’s a very different story. A life-long love of rap music has led Rafael to pursue a music career of his own, under the alias Way 45. His debut album Beginning arrived in 2021 and saw him proving that he’s intent on being taken seriously as an artist. Delivered in his native Portuguese over laid-back ambient beats, it showed that the relationship between football stars and rap music is a long long way from the days of John Barnes now.
And as he prepares to release his second album My Life In Each Verse later this year, Rafael – or should that be Way 45 – sat down with Rolling Stone UK to discuss his unlikely passion project.
Hi, Rafael! 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.