As hip hop culture nears its 50th anniversary, the rap genre has introduced some of the most influential wellness entrepreneurs the world has ever seen. From MCs who get ticket holders around the world dancing at concerts, to cannabis-producing billionaires who educate communities about the medicinal properties of a once-criminalized substance, fans have access to information on how self-care can take many forms. And the growing consensus on health consciousness is reinvigorating movements led by and produced for marginalized populations.
Rapper and Farmacy For Life owner Styles P, Grammy-nominated entertainer and Broadway Boxing Gym co-owner D Smoke, and Nike running coach and Fit For Us co-founder Percell Dugger tuned in to Soho Works DUMBO for the first Hip-Hop Health: The 50-Year Check Up Series event. Columnist REVOLT and Men’s Health SEditor Keith Nelson Jr. moderated the panel with the moguls and learned how they promote healthier lifestyles.
“Next year will mark 50 years since DJ Kool Herc was in the Bronx boogie-down at 1520 Sedgwick [Avenue] and had the Back To School Jam for his sister. And [rap] become the biggest genre of music. We have people doing so much in health, and it’s coming from one party,” Nelson Jr. explained. Together, the P, D Smoke and Dugger styles added to that collective perspective. Discover the findings of these moguls in their words.
1. Proximity to resources affects your relationship with food.
P-models: I have a South African mother… If you are from an urban area of New York… there is [ordinarily] no one in the household teaches you about health. You should see him at the Yardie [Jamaican] restaurants or having friends from the islands.
D Smoke: As a child, I did not grow up in an environment where we had information on how to be healthy and how to be proactive in maintaining your health. We were told, “Eat your vegetables. These vegetables were mostly canned. I remember liking creamed corn (laughs)… Going to college [was my introduction to healthier eating]. The refectories taught me a lot. I’ve always loved fresh food, but convenience has kept us from eating fresh with a working mom.
2. Major life events are awakenings.
P-models: When I was able to earn money and get out of the environment I grew up in… I noticed the difference in the supermarkets. It became a real warning shot for me… If you’re from a poor neighborhood when you’re Black, Brown or Latin, I realize that we are the target. You really need to start getting the information [on food].
This country doesn’t even care about white people, to be honest. It started like [a conversation with myself]”I’m from downtown and I know what it’s like for our people.” I make music for a living. As you travel, you see that it’s not just blacks and [Latinxs] with obesity issues. It’s the whole country. Then yes! We are the first target. We are the poorest… We have to wake up our people. We will never achieve generational wealth without generational health.
Excavator Percell: For me, COVID-19 has really opened my eyes to my personal health. Teach online classes I would have people outside of this normal exercise age range [practices]. There were people who were 50 and 60 and over who took my classes. I started realizing, “Yo, they can’t make it through the first 10 minutes.” On the one hand, it was an opportunity to restructure my approach to my practice as a coach. On the other hand, it made me realize that I need to be able to meet people where they are. They deserve the right to have a quality health outcome.
3. Responsibility is a privilege.
D Smoke: Instead of saying “I must do this”. I manage to do it! I’m lucky to have space… We can open the doors and let people go into a boxing gym. It is a space of transformation… To offer a space where people can be framed is a privilege. It is important.
4. It is important to check with yourself.
P-models: You should first want to heal yourself and find out the things that are hurting you. Most of the time, it’s what you put in your gut. And what you ingest, what you take in physically, as in your mind [health] and who you are around. Your energy.
5. Crying is healthy.
Shovel: New Yorkers really enjoy seeing other people grind. The New York Marathon is a time of year if a New Yorker yells at you, it’s because they’re cheering you on (laughs)… As a coach, I get emotional. It’s a very cathartic feeling to see someone manifesting a version of themselves…I got choked up. I started crying. But it was a good cry.
6. You can find peace after a loss.
P-models: Most people don’t even know what mental health is. It’s a new term. We are all becoming familiar… When you lose a child, it’s definitely a very devastating thing… It brings you closer to God. These deep losses bring us closer to the creator… Pain can break you, or you can use it. As my wife says, “Let it open for you.”
These quotes have been edited for the clarification of REVOLT readers.