As hip hop culture approaches its 50th birthday, the rap genre has introduced some of the most influential wellness entrepreneurs the world has ever seen. From the MCs who make global ticketholders dance at concerts to the cannabis-producing billionaires educating communities on the medicinal properties of a once-criminalized substance, fans resultantly have access to information on how self-care can take many forms. And the growing consensus on health consciousness is invigorating movements led by and produced for minoritized populations.
Rapper and Farmacy For Life owner Styles P, Grammy-nominated artist and co-owner of Broadway Boxing Gym D Smoke, and Nike running coach and co-founder of Fit For Us Percell Dugger connected at Soho Works DUMBO for the inaugural Hip-Hop Health: The 50-Year Check Up series event. REVOLT columnist and Men’s Health Senior Editor Keith Nelson Jr. moderated the panel with the moguls and learned how they promote healthier lifestyles.
“Next year marks 50 years since DJ Kool Herc was in the boogie-down Bronx at 1520 Sedgwick [Avenue] and had the Back To School Jam for his sister. And [rap] turned into the biggest genre of music. We have people that are doing so much in the health space, and it came from one party,” Nelson Jr. explained. Together, Styles P, D Smoke and Dugger added to this collective perspective. Learn about these moguls’ discoveries in their words.
1. Proximity to resources affects your relationship with food.
Styles P: I have a South African mom… If you come from an urban neighborhood in New York City… there is [ordinarily] no one in the household teaching you about health. You would have to see it at the Yardie [Jamaican] restaurants or have some friends from the islands.
D Smoke: As a kid, I did not grow up in an environment where we had information on how to be healthy and be proactive about maintaining your health. We were told, “Eat your veggies.” Those veggies were mostly out of a can. I remember loving cream corn (laughs)… Going to college [was my introduction to healthier eating]. The dining halls taught me a lot. I always liked fresh foods, but convenience kept us from eating fresh with a working mom.
2. Major life events are awakenings.
Styles P: When I was able to make money and move out of the environment I grew up in… I noticed the difference in the supermarkets. That became a real wake-up call for me… If you are from a poor neighborhood when you are Black, Brown, or Latin, I realize we are the target. You have to really start getting the information [on food].
This country does not even care about white people, to be honest. It started as [a conversation with myself]: “I’m from the inner city, and I know how it is for our people.” I make music for a living. As you travel, you see it’s not just Black people and [Latinxs] with obesity problems. It is the whole country. So, yes! We are the first target. We are the poorest… We have to wake our people up. We are never going to achieve generational wealth without generational health.
Percell Dugger: For me, COVID-19 really opened my eyes to my personal health. Teaching online classes, I would have people outside that normal age bracket of exercise [practices]. There were folks who were 50 and 60-plus taking my classes. I began 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 aware that I have 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 got to do it.” I get to do it! I am fortunate to provide space… We can open the doors and let people go to a boxing gym. It is a transformative space… Providing space where people can be mentored is a privilege. It’s important.
4. It is important to check in with yourself.
Styles P: You should want to heal yourself first and find out things that are harming you. Most of the time, it is what you’re putting in your gut. And what you are ingesting, what you are physically taking, as in your mental [health] and who you’re around. Your energy.
5. Crying is good for your health.
Dugger: New Yorkers really appreciate seeing other people grinding. The New York City Marathon is one time of the year if a New Yorker is yelling 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 achieve peace after a loss.
Styles P: Most people don’t even know what mental health is. It’s a new term. We’re all getting familiar… When you lose a child, it is definitely a very devasting thing… It gets you closer to God. These profound losses bring us closer to the creator… The pain can break you down, or you can use it. As my wife says, “Let it break you open.”
These quotes have been edited for REVOLT’s readers’ clarification.