The Formula: A Roundtable Discussion On Health In Hip Hop
Exclusive: 50 Cent, Stic.man, Immortal Technique, Saigon, SwizZz, Chris Jones, Chino XL weigh in on a roundtable discussion about proper diet, exercise & fitness in Hip Hop.
Last year, I lost my best friend to a drug overdose and ultimately unhealthy habits. Once you mature and lose someone, you see things from a different perspective. It put me on a mission to live a healthier lifestyle. Being that Hip Hop is so influential to me, I wondered why there weren't more artists pushing the subject of healthy living. I had gotten into Stic.man’s The Workout album and read 50 Cent’s Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan, but there wasn't much more I was aware of. I figured I wasn’t the only person running into this issue.
There is a perception that Hip Hop only glorifies blunt smoke, alcohol, pills, sleepless nights and constant partying. But is that perception reality? As writers, artists, musicians and contributors to Hip Hop culture, we have such an influence over each other, fans and the youth. I think we can do more to guide each other, especially in the inner city, where I personally think it is harder to live healthy. Lack of information is key in my opinion, so I wanted to help push that information forward.
I gathered as much information as possible. I reached out to 50 Cent in hopes of understanding the motivation and methodology behind his book and his health regimen. I talked to Stic.man of dead prez about how he included both his wife and their appreciation for holistic living into his routine. Fitness instructor, Chris Jones (who currently has over 360,000 people regularly watching his YouTube workout tutorials), Saigon, Chino XL, SwizZz and Immortal Technique also weighed in.
As consumers, do we care if our favorite emcees are healthy or not? Wouldn’t we like them to be alive so we can have years of music to come? It’s easy to turn on the TV, radio, or computer and experience the destruction a negative Hip Hop lifestyle can bring. What about the people who are living and promoting a healthy lifestyle? Why are we not covering them more? I vouch to help make being healthy in Hip Hop the new cool, and I brought some friends along with me to help out.
How is Hip Hop culture doing overall in terms of health & fitness?
50 Cent: There seems to be no health conscience regimens in Hip Hop with all the drugs and alcohol circulating. Look at all these guys out here with the Al Bundy guts [laughs]! Generally in America, obesity is an ongoing issue. You have guys who had successful projects such as Biggie and Pun—they were very talented artists but did not discipline themselves enough physically—so they had to pick up the slack in other areas.
Stic.man: Well I think Hip Hop has had several examples of fitness and health over the years: maybe more so than most other genres, actually. With all the deaths from drug abuse and standard American diets, RBG FIT CLUB was something I developed to continue to make sure that holistic health and fitness stays relevant in the Hip Hop arenas for sure. Punk music has its straight edge scene—which I respect a lot for its stance on sobriety, health consciousness and vegan aspects—but Hip Hop has also long had its healthy elements too. Look at LL Cool J’s awesome and ageless physique and his consistency; he recently released a book on his approach to fitness called LL Cool J’s Platinum Workout. Look at 50 Cent’s remarkable survival and triumph over nine bullet wounds to a massively sculpted physique and how he has publicly said he doesn't drink or smoke; he too has released a fitness manual. These guys are two obvious fitness examples. Jay Z recently started a vegan challenge with his family and promoted it via social media.
Saigon: Hip Hop culture tells you to beat your body up, destroy your body and go drink champagne everyday. [One] problem with Hip Hop is everything is a celebration. Your body is like anything else. If you abuse it, it won’t work right. Muthafuckas get sick, start having strokes, heart attacks and die. They do it to themselves most of the time. Hip Hop is so out of touch with reality. We don’t build, we teach to destroy.
What got you involved with living a healthy lifestyle?
50 Cent: After I got shot, I committed myself to strengthening my body better than ever, so I became disciplined enough to sustain my workout regimen and eating habits. So much of it was the healing process; in order to function I had to make those changes. Those who are eager to live a healthy lifestyle should first start off with implementing some healthy food choices and not overeating but eating enough for fuel.
Chris Jones: I actually got started because I needed some confidence. I used to fuck bitches with my shirt on because I had little titties. If someone wants to get in shape but doesn't know what to do, they need to do one of three things: hire a trainer; do some research; watch my YouTube videos. I give you so much game.
Stic.man: I came down with gout at 22-years-old! My wife helped me heal by changing to a plant-based diet, then I took up Kung fu, and it’s been on like a sauna ever since.
Chino XL: I got involved with fitness in 1999. I wanted to show on the outside how I felt on the inside. I never looked back. Speaking from personal experience, I was a person who went from 6’ 2,” 162 pounds and skinny as a rail to 250 pounds solid.
Saigon: I used to body build in prison. I was a young kid when I went to prison—about 16-years-old. Aside from rapping so I could stay out of trouble, I started to body build. There are probably some pictures floating around of me body building in competitions. I love it; I’d do it again. The better you look, the better you feel. When you are in good shape, your confidence is up. You don’t have to be the most handsome guy in the world, you can go get six-pack abs and get as many ladies as the handsome guy. If you really want to feel good about yourself, it’s better to be in shape. Mind body and soul, everything is in tact. If your body is sharp, your mind is most likely going to be sharp.
SwizZz: It’s really when I moved back from college in 2008 to do the music thing. In college, I was just like another student—on every dollar menu, eating whatever I wanted and not really knowing anything about food. It wasn’t until I moved back from school, and I was like, “Damn, I want to lose a little bit of weight.” I was like 180 pounds at 5’6”. I was kind of heavy. I didn’t really show it, but it wasn’t until I started getting on my exercise plan when I moved back; I lost about 30 pounds.
During that time, I learned a lot about food and stuff that I can be eating. I was really concerned about acne and stuff, so I would try all the topical solutions, treatments, whatever creams...all the bullshit and all the stuff they have to offer. I realized that my face didn’t start clearing up until I changed up my diet. I started drinking lemon water in the mornings and making sure that I drank the proper amounts of water. And when I started making those little dietary changes, I was like, “Damn. Okay, so this has to work in other areas of health as well, aside from my face and the little acne thing.”
What would you tell someone starting a fitness regimen?
Immortal Technique: Let me start by saying that what works for me may not work for you, and that people’s metabolism and lifestyles are different. It’s also important for you to set the goal and not get it from an infomercial or a DVD. Decide what you want. Are you just trying to tone up, build bulk muscles, shred the fat, heal an injury and have more energy? What works for another person in terms of diet might not be for you. I’m still on the path to a healthy lifestyle, and I wouldn’t call myself a role model for anything of this nature. I could point you to a dozen rappers who live a much healthier lifestyle than I do, but I’m a work in progress. Cut the soda and the sugary juices. Cut the candy and packaged cookies and cakes, then clip the bud smoke and cut the bread and pizza. Start simple, and scale back on the stuff that—regardless of your body—will affect you. Yes, everyone’s body is different, but there are some things that work across the board like that which I just mentioned. It’s better that your food comes from a tree, than being manufactured at a plant.
Stic.man: Join the RBG FIT CLUB for free, and we will share plenty of examples, tips and key aspects for well-rounded well being. Also, seek out a competent holistic educated healer or physician, and get a holistic check up and general diagnosis. Be open to alternative therapies for healing, but be objective. Do your research so you don’t just blindly follow unsubstantiated quackery, whether conventional or alternative. Find a fun exercise to start doing regularly. Find several, so you mix it up and don’t get bored. Set a fitness goal and get started on it this coming Monday. Begin mediating daily. Just sit silently and breathe naturally for 10 minutes watching your thoughts; practice noticing them and then releasing them. Return the attention to your breathing rhythm whenever you notice you have become distracted and have followed a thought. Just go back to the rhythm of your breathing. Over time, your thoughts will have less influence on your attention, and the you that is beyond your thoughts will be more empowered and more centered. You will have more equanimity in dealing with everyday life...which in turn obviously makes one less likely to be overwhelmed by stress and a natural, more joyful sense of being will become the normal state of mind. Replace junk foods with whole foods, and eat fresh greens daily.
SwizZz: It’s tricky. There’s just so much nonsense out there about nutrition with a bunch of diet scams. It’s just wild. I would just say start online and look for some valuable resources and websites to really have some knowledgeable information. It’s really hard, man. I can’t even tell you a place to start.
How do you personally balance a social life and a healthy lifestyle?
50 Cent: I’ve attended many parties where I didn’t have to drink. It’s more of a personal decision; some people don’t need to smoke and drink in order to have a good time. We are human, and it’s okay to be social in a social setting, but that doesn’t mean abuse the fun, over-drink and consistently smoke. Waking up with a clear mind to handle ongoing business ventures is what I look forward to. I maintain my eating habits. I don’t go off track, but from time-to-time I like to treat myself to the good old stuff. The biggest obstacle is trying not to eat after a certain hour.
Immortal Technique: I have gone through many ups and down in terms of workout focus on the road. Sometimes, the heavy tour schedule doesn’t leave for that much time. But one thing I really tried to set my mind up on this last tour—which had a lot of really rough patches—was just the diet. And if we don’t have access to a gym, for whatever reason, I get a callisthenic workout prepared. There are some tours where I have been really on point, but the bottom line for me is always trying to find good food on the road. [Sometimes] you realize it’s not going to be at a restaurant, but rather you’re going to have to find organic ingredients and get a chef. Fruits and vegetables make a better snack than a candy bar that probably has a few roach legs thrown in the mix.
Stic.man: I’ve been striving to maintain on a healthy path for over 17 years now as far as fitness, diet and positive thinking, and it’s become so much apart of my life it’s just my regular, everyday culture at this point. My wife, Afya Ibomu, is a holistic nutritionist and cookbook author, so I have the blessing of her being like my Cus D’Amato when it comes to my nutrition. She often prepares my meals for the road, and she is awesome at overseeing my general nutrition. In our dead prez rider, we specify our plant-based needs so the promoters will help us find options when we tour. I also utilize the hotel gyms for the weights. I love to go running before our shows, or I will take a local yoga class while I’m in a city. It’s funny how I used to get into a city and finding weed was my first priority [laughs]... I guess it’s either funny or sad depending on how you look at it. But I relate to what many artists deal with, and it’s definitely a challenge to revolutionize your own personal habits. Since I turned over a healthier leaf, I’ve been on the hunt for green juices, running routes, gyms and yoga schedules. Now it’s training and nourishing foods that are my priority, and I ain’t smoked or drank in six years.
What’s included in your daily workout and diet plan?
50 Cent: I try to work out at least five days a week or more. I mainly do cardio to strengthen my heart, which I consider to be the most important muscle in my body—the centerpiece that keeps me going. I drink a lot of water; eat greens, grilled chicken and take in a good amount of protein and vitamins. My go to meal is grilled chicken, Caesar salad and water.
Chino XL: A daily routine for me quickly summed up is six-to-nine meals a day, a 30 to 60-minute bike ride for cardio and an hour-and-a half of heavy weight training. As far as supplements, I take B complex vitamins and protein (one gram per pound). I’m around 250 pounds. I like to get protein from actual food like eggs, meat and milk, but you can use a powder supplement. Glutamine is also a powder supplement you can find in any health food store, GNC or supermarket. It is a natural occurring amino acid, which aids recovery and your immune system greatly. It also works great for overall wellness. My go to meal is steak and eggs, and my beverage would be water. I realized a few years ago my relationship with water needed to be a lot better.
Stic.man: I train about four-to-five days a week in weightlifting, yoga and running, and I meditate daily. Whole foods and water are my supplements. I’m currently working with my strength trainer, Scott Shetler and my wife on a book experiment for plant-based muscle growth. So I’ve been doing a lot of old school weight training but also running a lot to maintain my stamina and love for long distance running.
Water is my go-to beverage, but also various unsweetened, fresh-brewed herbal teas and coconut water. I eat a gang of yams and pumpkin seeds for my weight training as well as homemade, fresh fruit smoothies. But hands down, one of the most important foods is leafy greens. I love kale sautéed with garlic, or my wife makes an awesome raw kale salad wrap with tempeh. Spinach with chickpeas and paprika is also a favorite. I love greens in soups, in juices and sautéed various kinds of ways. High consumption of chlorophyll is the business, but an all around, balanced, whole food diet is essential and key to optimal health. Incorporate nuts, seeds and plant foods of all colors and taste spectrums: salty, pungent, sweet, sour and spicy. Everything in moderation and balance.
Are low-income communities at a disadvantage finding healthy options?
50 Cent: I think it’s a lot easier nowadays. You can sign up to a gym for as low as $10 a month, and it’s cheaper if you grocery shop and prepare your meals instead of eating out at restaurants.
Chris Jones: Yes, because times are hard, and the healthy food costs more than the junk food. But you can still get fit on a budget. I wouldn’t say it’s harder, but you can’t have a lot of variety. To have a lot of variety in a healthy diet you gotta to have a little extra money. But if your money is tight, just keep your diet basic and simple and you’re good to go.
Saigon: Yeah, I think we do. If you go to the suburbs, you may see a 24-hour McDonalds. But if you are in the ghetto, there’s always Kennedy Fried Chicken that stays open until 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. The greasy bullshit is right there. It’s so convenient, and you can walk around the corner and get this disgusting shit at any time. Upper middle class communities close at 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., so if you’re pigging out, it’s at your house. In the ghetto, it’s always available, and people are outside a lot. There is like a million Chinese spots in the black community—like three on every block. If you watch the way they prepare the food, they have a big thing of grease cooking, and they will just put everything in that grease. None of these places are black owned. At least let someone in the neighborhood be getting money off of it. Other people are making millions of dollars off of us and sending us to the emergency room.
SwizZz: Oh yes, definitely...definitely. It’s not level by any means. You see the lack of grocery stores in urban communities, and for people in some hoods it’s easier to get access to guns than it is to get fruits or vegetables. It’s really ridiculous. In certain impoverished communities, all they know fast food, and it’s really killing urban communities. And then there’s the lack of information. The information is out there, but you just have to do more digging and more research. People just don’t know the importance of a healthy lifestyle in the urban communities; it’s just terrible. It’s really sad. People are dying more from lifestyle choices than from gang violence. Cancer rates are through the roof, along with diabetes and obesity. It’s out of control.
How much does Hip Hop embrace overweight emcees?
50 Cent: First, you have to be in shape to be able to put on a phenomenal show. You have to be able to give the consumers what they pay for. Heavy D was a bigger guy, but have you seen him rip a stage? He was all over it: dancing and engaging with the audience. For a big guy, he was in shape enough to rock a crowd. But in terms of health, that extra fat can cause all different types of complications. In Hip Hop, there are not enough healthy lifestyles being portrayed.
Saigon: The majority of the guys you mentioned—Fat Joe, Heavy D, Big Pun, Notorious B.I.G.—they all have one thing in common: it’s a marketing thing. It’s not a coincidence. It’s easy to market a fat person in America. Once shit became a business, it really fucked up the whole culture. It fucked up the realness of what Hip Hop meant. Hip Hop was a cry for help, and it was a reflection of our community during the crack era. Rolling Stone named “The Message” the #1 Hip Hop song ever. What song sounds like “The Message” today? “Broken glass everywhere...” What song is talking about crackheads, burnt-down buildings and black struggle? Now look at Hip Hop. I just saw a commercial for Mastercard, and the logo was turned into turntables; they culture vultures, kid. We’re in sad times, man. Everyone is pretending to have a good time when they’re really not. You can access wealth but be miserable. That’s why they keep saying it, because they have nothing else to say. But no one is saying they are happy; the only one who is saying it is Jay Z.
Chino XL: I wouldn’t say Hip Hop embraces overweight emcees. I just think at times studio life and touring diets can actually hurt the physique of a person who may already be prone to being heavier. Then they’re promoted just how they are.
How can Hip Hop culture and the media promote a healthier lifestyle?
50 Cent: If more public figures make it a point to put out a book or some type of info about their fitness regimens and diet, those who follow our lifestyles and kids who look up to us will grasp how cool it is to take care of your body and not shorten their lifespan by taking in toxic chemicals and fatty foods. I try to encourage and inform people as much as I can on why exercising and eating the proper foods is very important, especially in the African American community. A lot of our elders come from the South, and we all know the type of foods that are prepared within that culture—nothing but fats and sugars. By teaming up and launching my fitness book, Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan, I hope to make a difference and impact on some lifestyle changes.
Stic.man: By giving light to positive examples and expressions and no longer glorifying negative lifestyles and habits. We don’t have to talk down to folks; we can just inspire by example and sharing of info and alternatives.
I’m six years this year of no smoking or drinking. I set my own bar, and I know firsthand through gout what overdoing it can get you. What makes me high these days is feeling good and taking care of myself. I feel like Superman just knowing my discipline is strong. I done all that drinking and smoking to the point where I seen for myself it ain’t winning, so to each their own. I’m much happier as a sober soldier. But I think in moderation, if people choose to enjoy a drink here or there, or even a spliff from time to time, that’s a person’s right and choice. As long as your priorities are in order, that’s what counts. I order water or juice at the bar and feel better than ever. Everything I used to do wet up and high, I do better in my natural state of being. So I advocate that by example. I’m not here to judge, ‘cause I been there. I just do me and let others live and learn as they see fit.
The paperback edition of 50 Cent’s Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan That Will Transform Your Life is available in stores and via amazon.com.
The digital edition of Stic.man’s The Workout is available via iTunes. For more information about the RBG FIT CLUB, visit www.rbgfitclub.com.
Chris Jones’ meal plans, training programs and online coaching sessions are available at beastmodejonescoaching.com. You can view his YouTube tutorials via the PhysiquesOfGreatness channel.
Michael Trampe is a Social Media & Marketing guru from Philadelphia, PA. He owns MAAD Management, MikeTrampeTV.com & also works with Coast2CoastLive and I-Standard Producers. Prior to joining HipHopDX in 2007, Trampe has been a DJ, owned and operated a recording studio, managed producers and artists & worked promotions for TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment). You can follow him on twitter @MikeTrampeTV, Facebook and YouTube.