Hip-Hop Junkie
Two decades later, the champ, Mike Tyson, is still a hip-hop fan.
Words: Emmanuel Maduakolam
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the summer issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Hip-hop has always loved Mike Tyson. The former Heavyweight Champion of the World has been name-dropped in dozens of songs by big time rappers while befriending a slew of them over the years, including the beloved Tupac Shakur. But, even though Tyson’s one of the most iconic sports figures of all time, the boxing champ and Brooklyn native has found a new life as an entertainer, thanks in part to the success of his one-man show, Undisputed Truth, which he performs several times a week when at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. There’s also his Adult Swim cartoon series, Mike Tyson Mysteries, which is approaching its third season and has featured some comical hip-hop guest appearances.

With a deep tie to hip-hop that has run over two decades long, XXL recently chopped it up with Tyson and talked Tupac Shakur, today’s music, new Brooklyn rapper Desiigner and what the boxing champ’s been listening to lately.

XXL: You have always been a hip-hop fan. What music do you listen to now?

Mike Tyson: I listen to an array of guys. I listen to modern [day music], definitely 1990s and 1980s. I got Nina Simone, all that stuff.

Is there a new hip-hop artist you listen to now?

I like Kendrick Lamar, he’s pretty good too. It’s a new sound. It’s not what you expect from [someone] out of Compton, I guess. He inspires rappers. He has his own flow, West Coast does it different. It’s a different flow.

There’s a new dude from Brooklyn, your hometown, that’s blowing up. His name is Desiigner. Do you listen to him or his song “Panda”?

I haven’t heard of this young man, I’m so sorry.

What did you listen to when you were boxing? What made you get pumped up?

LL Cool J. I listened to the real grimy guys like the Method Man and K-Solo’s crew back then. Both those guys, N.W.A and Jadakiss. I liked the hardcore stuff when I was fighting.

Do you have any favorite albums?

When you think of albums, albums are so 20th century now. It’s all about songs and the artists. It’s not about an album. It’s about do you like him? Do you like her?

Rappers have always gravitated to you. Are there any great stories of you kicking it with a rapper that you can recall?

There were so many awesome times. I’m talking about going to Madison Square Garden when Run-DMC sold it out. That was like the first time a rapper sold out the stadium. You went to their concert [Run-DMC] and they sold out 22,000 people. Unheard of at the time in 1986, something like that, unheard of from a rap group.

Did you ever want to be a rapper?

I know everyone thinks, I wish I could do that. Niggas can do that and have their rap fantasy in their room or in the shower, but you know that takes talent. That’s not just something some cool hip-hop fly guy can do. That takes hard work.

Jerry Mettelus

You and Tupac Shakur were close when he was alive. Anything in particular that sticks out in your mind when you think about ’Pac?

When I came back in 1995 and I was fighting Bruce Seldon, he came to the fight. Man, he was very excited because we had both been incarcerated and we both came out and we were very successful, like we both thought we would be.

A lot of today’s Tupac fans are too young to know too much about him, but he seemed like a brilliant man. How was he as a person?

Hey, maybe that was his problem. He knew too much and learned too much in a short period of time. That could have been an overload. He was so attentive and so thuggish and street and then he’s so elegant. He was one of those enigma guys that you could never figure out. Maybe he couldn’t figure himself out. It’s such a rare thing to be different. [Tupac] was a beautiful guy, generous; that’s one of his greatest attributes that’s overlooked and underrated, [his] generosity.

How did y’all first meet anyway? Did you know who he was?

We were in Los Angeles, near a film set at the Hollywood Palladium on Sunset. Somebody was having a party there and they wouldn’t let him in the door. There was this little guy there. The guys at the door were very good friends of mine. You know how it goes when you’re really young. The dude [comes to the door] with like 200 guys so the security guard said, “Y’all got to go around the back. Y’all can’t come through the front.” Next thing I know, I’m hanging out in the party and Tupac was rockin’ the mic. He was rockin’ the mic and everybody is making a big thing about him and I’m like, “Who’s that? Who’s that guy?” Then somebody said, “This is Tupac. He’s going to be a star one day.” The whole room was going crazy because of his performance. He wasn’t even scheduled to perform. He just grabbed the mic and started rockin’.

This is what I will never forget; I will never forget his smile, such an illuminating, gravitational smile. His smile lit up the club. Wow, he was something, man. The energy was just special.

It’s almost the 20th anniversary of his death. What do you think he’d be now if he was still alive?

Entrepreneur. He would be a businessman and would’ve done collaborations with a lot of artists. I think him and Diddy would’ve buried the hatchet and understood business is business.

Tupac’s mom, Afeni Shakur, recently passed. When was the last time you saw each other?

About five years ago, last time we talked. That was a strong Black woman that achieved and been through shit and back and really experienced shit.

Jerry Mettelus

What rappers are you legit good friends with?

I talk to everybody but I just finished talking to L not too long ago because LL Cool J...now I realize why he’s arrogant sometimes and why he’s brash or charismatic, because of his family and his bloodline. He had two legendary fighters that were champions in his bloodline. He had John Henry Lewis, who was the Light Heavyweight Champion and then he had Tom Molineaux. In 1810, Molineaux fought the great British fighter Tom Cribb and they cheated [Molineaux], they hit him with the brass knuckles over the back and they counted him up. He’s the first Black champion that got his freedom through fighting.

Have you and LL ever sparred for fun?

No, no I don’t do that. I don’t play around like that.

What do you think about boxing now?

There’s a lot of new up-and-coming guys. Like the Triple G guy [Gennady Golovkin] and Canelo [Alvarez], those guys are the stars now. The Russians are the stars now. There are a few really good Latino fighters. When you look at African-American fighters, the one that really remains supreme is Floyd Mayweather, he’s really the only one. Boxing will always have the richest athletes. When there’s a big fight, everybody in the world comes out.

Do you think MMA will be as big as boxing?

Boxing is like 200 years old if not more, so we don’t really know. Let’s give MMA another 50 years and see what happens.

You ever thought about training a boxer?

To be honest, I always think about that stuff. I miss boxing a lot. I never thought I would. I miss boxing, just being in boxing, the conversation of boxing with enthusiasts.

What was it like to be in the ring and be the best?

It’s all I ever dreamed about—the moment I was fighting in my championship fight. When I was 12 years old I used to think about those moments. How would you be in a championship fight? I have to be professional. I have to be experienced and disciplined and those words always run in my mind. I’m a professional fighter, a disciplined fighter, I won’t be intimidated by any fighter. My object was your total destruction. That was just my mindset.

Your show Mike Tyson Mysteries is quite popular. How did that come together?

It came out of the blue. I didn’t see it coming. Two executives came to my house while I was in the shower so I didn’t hear them ring the bell but I looked downstairs, I thought it was detectives. I didn’t know what was going on. They explained to me who they were and I said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t think I’ll be interested in doing that.”

In the past, I tried to do [cartoons] as the champ and they gave me a negative review about it I felt bad about it. So, I told them it never worked. The executive said, “Hey, I think it will work. Why don’t we go into the studio?” We went to the studio and I guess that’s why they are the executives, they know what they’re talking about because the writers didn’t think it was a good idea either. We both said, “We don’t see it.” I guess that’s why we’re the entertainment and they’re the business.

Do you have any input on the storyline for the show? Seems like there are a good amount of rappers involved.

Every now and then I think about sending mysteries or I’ll add some guests on like Snoop Dogg on there. You’ll get a couple of other guys. I’d love to get Jadakiss on [Mike Tyson Mysteries] because he has such a distinctive voice. Flavor Flav would be amazing if he was on [the show]. He’s such an untapped talent.

Jerry Mettelus

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