Flau’jae Johnson has the work ethic of a star athlete in her prime. At only 20 years old, she has already achieved more than some basketball players do in an entire career. The Savannah, Georgia, native’s fame was propelled to new heights in 2023, when 9.9 million viewers watched the LSU women’s basketball team take home the NCAA trophy—the school’s first ever for its women’s basketball program. It was the most-viewed NCAA women’s basketball game ever televised. The victory was even sweeter when Johnson rapped “Big 4,” her voice booming from the speakers and filling the arena as she and her teammates rejoiced in their win.
“It meant a lot to me,” Johnson says about the championship game against Iowa. She’s just returned home from practice and is barefoot, wearing a bonnet and a hoodie. As we talk, it feels like we’re on a casual FaceTime call—kiking about her scootering around campus and deciding which class ring she should choose before she graduates. But when it comes to basketball and music, she’s anything but breezy. “A lot of people don’t know about the long nights, early mornings, studying film all day, just trying to become the best version of myself,” she reflects. “It’s not every day that your dreams are in your face, but I understand it’s because I worked for it.”
Johnson’s rise to fame did not happen overnight. The multitalented athlete and music artist has been performing since she was 7 and playing basketball since she was 4. She grew up wanting to be a rapper like her late father, Jason Johnson, also known as Camoflauge. He was tragically murdered before she was born—and days before signing a contract with Universal Music Group. “I wanted to be like my daddy when I was younger,” she says. “Now it’s more like a spiritual connection for me. We connect through music.”
She used her pain and grief from the loss as fuel to continue her father’s legacy by making music with meaning. At 12 years old she starred in a Lifetime network reality show called The Rap Game, in which she got to work with producer Jermaine Dupri. At age 14, she auditioned for America’s Got Talent with a heart-warming performance of “Guns Down,” a song about gun violence and how she lost her father. Her maturity and strong delivery moved judges Simon Cowell and Mel B to give her their highest praise.
For her next appearance on the show, she gave an emotional performance of her song “I Can’t Lose”—and again wowed the judges and the audience. She was one of a handful of artists to receive a golden buzzer, and she uplifted her father’s legacy in a significant way.
Little did she know the words she rapped on stage at 14 would ring out loud five years later. Since America’s Got Talent, Johnson has been making music nonstop. In 2023, her musical gifts were recognized by Jay Z’s entertainment company and record label Roc Nation; this led to her and her mother negotiating a distribution and an NIL (“name, image, likeness”) deal with the world-renowned company.
Johnson never expected basketball to be at the forefront of her career options—but as her love for the game grew, so did the 5′ 10″ player’s dedication. In fact, the LSU sophomore guard returned to campus earlier than she was required to so she could have more time to practice on the court.
“I came back early this summer and got to work out with the freshmen, after I lied to my mom and told her I had to be back and that it was mandatory, but it wasn’t,” she says with a smile. “I’m glad that I did, because it got me back on the field early. This year, freshmen are looking up to me. They want to be in my shoes—so I had to realize that I’m on a different level. I feel like I’m on a path to greatness.”
With her growing celebrity status, Johnson has to remind herself she is not the average LSU student. “I keep trying to be outside, but I can’t,” she says. “This summer, I was trying to go to the little parties—but it’s different for me, because I can’t walk around like I’m regular. I gotta have a driver, black truck, security, so it’s not really as fun as it could be,” she adds, laughing in between her spoonfuls of Great Value ice cream.
While she has a humble and relatable energy, Johnson is right—she’s far from a regular student. She still attends classes on campus this semester, but next semester, she’ll be joining her other famous teammate, Angel Reese, in taking online classes due to her stardom. Though she wishes she could spend more time hanging out around campus and going to events, she knows her hard work will pay off; some would say that it already has.
“I’m in college and can take care of my family,” she says. “Usually, it’s the college student asking the family for something, but now the roles are reversed. I don’t take it for granted at all.”
As the daughter of a single, working mother, she is motivated by providing for her family and making sure her brothers are taken care of for life. Johnson attributes her success with NIL deals and partnerships to her manager and mother, Kia Brooks. “I’m not signed to an agency, I’m signed to my mama,” she states with pride. “I can’t say NIL without mentioning my mom, because of all the work, connections and things she does behind the scenes.”
Brooks is like the Kris Jenner of NIL deals. She has landed countless partnerships for her daughter with brands such as Amazon, Campus Ink, JBL, LG, Meta, Powerade, Raising Cane’s, Sonic, Shell, Taco Bell and Tampax. Before Johnson stepped foot into an LSU game, Brooks had already confirmed a sneaker deal with Puma.
“She’s gonna be a legendary manager in the game,” Johnson says of her mother. “She’s getting me millions of dollars in deals. She didn’t go to college. She’s coming out straight hustlin’ and is at the forefront of NIL.”
Still in the early stages of her career, Johnson is set to be one of the highest-paid collegiate athletes, according to Forbes. However, the wealth hasn’t gone to her head. If anything, it makes her even more focused. As we wrap up our conversation, she starts pulling out her home-studio equipment to get ready to record some new music. “I just want to go big,” she says about her plans for a musical career. “I want to make arena music—music that doesn’t cater to one demographic. I want to touch everybody.”
“She’s gonna be a legendary manager in the game,” Johnson says about her mother. “She’s getting me millions of dollars in deals. She didn’t go to college. She’s coming out straight hustlin’ and is at the forefront of NIL.”
Still at the early stages of her career, Johnson is set to be one of the highest-paid collegiate athletes, according to Forbes. However, the wealth doesn’t go to her head or distract her from the game. If anything, it makes her even more focused. During our interview, she had just got home from practice and was barefoot, wearing a bonnet and a hoodie. It felt like we were on a casual Facetime call, kiking about her scootering to class and deciding which class ring she would choose before she graduates.
As we began to wrap up our interview, she started pulling out her home studio equipment to get ready to record some new music. “I just want to go big,” she says about her music career plans. “I want to make arena music. Music that doesn’t cater to one demographic. I want to touch everybody.”
While most students would go to class, finish their homework and hang out with friends, Johnson is only halfway through her to-do list for the day. She has already completed basketball practice and had an interview with ESSENCE; she’s now about to lay down a track. Her tight schedule and consistency are a testament to the hardworking, foot-on-the-gas artist and athlete that she is.
Yet she’s still just scratching the surface. Johnson has unreleased music with rap legend Lil Wayne and Billboard Top 40 rapper NLE Choppa. She plans to release a new album at the beginning of 2024 and has dreams of being acclaimed for her artistry. When she’s not making music, she wants to be playing basketball—and when she’s not playing basketball, she wants to be closing deals. She is wise beyond her years and fully aware that basketball isn’t forever; like most athletes, she will eventually have to pivot.
“I know one day that the ball will stop bouncing,” she says candidly. “So I changed my major from sports administration, and I’m majoring in business and taking different entrepreneurship classes. I’m really preparing myself for life when basketball is over. I’m a hustler. I get it from my mama.”
No matter how long she has left on the court, Johnson has already set herself up for lasting success. She has kicked the door down when it comes to NIL opportunities available to student athletes, and she knows she doesn’t have to box herself in or pick only one dream to pursue. With hard work, dedication, the right team, faith, a burning passion and an unshakable focus, Johnson reminds us all that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. When chasing dreams, it’s always best to shoot your shot.
Photography by Christian Soria
Styling by Jacorie Sims
FASHION CREDITS, spread 1: Flau’jae Johnson wears an Iceberg jacket, vintage T-shirt, Telfar jeans and Coach boots.
Spread 2: Johnson wears Isabel Marant clothing and her own jewelry. Johnson wears a No Sesso top, Iceberg jacket and shorts.
Hair: Karjah Carter using Klashycollection.
Makeup: Myiah Lee using Black Opal & Juvia’s Place
Photography Assistant: Silas Trahan
Production Assistants: Kayla ‘Rose’ Magee & Gary Pilcher
Location: Eye Wander Photo.