Mild-mannered yet determined, quiet yet ferocious, Liberian born Tamba Hali can unequivocally be described utilizing all of those adjectives – simply because he is. Whether playing the Defensive End for the Kansas City Chiefs or navigating the direction of his burgeoning label, Religion Records, the six foot three inch, two-hundred and seventy-five pound Hali moves like a quiet storm with humility.
Part of Hali’s personal journey reads like something out of a fiction novel, as he and his seven siblings fled from war-torn Liberia to the Ivory Coast during his youth only to later join his father, a chemistry and physics professor, in New Jersey. Playing basketball and soccer in middle school once state side, Hali had no interest in football, but the persistence of a coach persuaded him to try out in high school. As he followed the instruction of his coaches, Hali learned that he had a gift. So much so, his dedication transitioned to an athletic scholarship to Penn State University.
Under the tutelage of his coach Joe Paterno, it was during his collegiate years that Hali became laser focused about his athletic pursuits. With a Broadcast Journalism major, and minor in Kinesiology, Penn State was a family atmosphere where assistance was provided when students were in need. It was here where Hali fostered his passion for writing while mastering the technical aspects of programming systems like pro-tools and other components of his major. When Hali was told he couldn’t do something, it propelled him to push harder, noting “I’ve been through a lot and when you want for something else, it takes a certain mindset.” Playing in the Orange Bowl and Senior Bowl, Hali had an intense training and academic schedule during his final year, and by 2006 he was preparing for graduation and first round draft pick status.
Notoriety and curiosity ensued leading up to the draft as The Sporting News gave a glimpse into Hali’s unique upbringing, followed by an HBO profile. There were quite a few teams that liked Hali, but it was the Chiefs that acquired him as the 20th overall pick. Hali recalls, “it was one of the most exciting days of my life.” After eight consecutive seasons on the Chiefs, Hali identifies his journey as “bitter-sweet.”
Amidst coaching and front office shifts during Hali’s first few seasons, the consistent lack of victories has been disappointing for the driven athlete. “Winning a championship is the goal, but that window is starting to close,” notes Hali. “At the end of the day, we have to get the job done and produce, and if I’m not producing, they have to replace me. Regardless of winning or losing, you have to find a way to stay healthy and stay on the field to do what they have labeled you as or what you are good at. That way when change comes, you have an opportunity with 31 other teams.” Noting, “there is still life after football, but what you make of it is up to you. I’m talented in other things. I play the game with passion, but my true passion is music.”
Playing the drums and singing in the choir began for Hali in Liberia and it transitioned once he was in the states. Writing rhymes started in high school for Hali when he was first introduced to A Tribe Called Quest, 2Pac, Biggie and Jay-Z growing up in Teaneck. His love of production surfaced in college as Hali always found a way to be around music. Enter Religion Records.
Birthed from the passion and faith to propel music forward, according to Hali, Religion Records was formed to “create an opportunity for artists who are confident, love what they do and desire to leave a name behind.” The name alone provokes inquiry, enough to spark interest in its roster of hip-hop professionals. Leading the pact is Philadelphia underground king Gillie Da Kid, followed by Baltimore mixtape phenomenon Starrz and gifted writer Keith Brown from Atlanta rounding out the top three.
Athlete, artist and businessman – Tamba Hali desires to prove that he’s “the guy who is going to prove a lot of people wrong. People can’t tell me I can’t do it. My mother always says pray about everything. I do have a lot of weight on my shoulders, but my mom’s advice works. I want people to remember me as a professional athlete and everything I did, I put my heart into it and did it well.” And that is true religion.