Styles P is working to make hip-hop, and Black communities, healthier — Andscape
Longtime fans of rapper Styles P know him for being the soul of The Lox, one of the greatest rap groups of all time. But when I met up with him at his store, Farmacy For Life in Scarsdale, New York, fans approached him for a totally different reason: their health.
Styles P and his wife, Adjua Styles, own what’s touted as hip-hop’s first first health-food store, selling supplements such as Irish sea moss and black seed oil. They collaborate with the plant-based food brand Eleven Madison Home for children’s vitamins and Styles PB &J. Styles P also launched Juices For Life, a string of juice bars in Yonkers, the Bronx, and Brooklyn with fellow Lox member Jadakiss in 2011. It’s all part of his mission to bring healthier options to Black neighborhoods.
“Coming up, you feel like you’re a product of your environment,” Styles P said after bagging up supplements for a customer. “But when you hit a certain level, you know you’re a product for your environment. There’s a big difference.
“My endgame would be when every block you walk in the hood has multiple versions of something healthy,” he added. “So not just the Farmacy for Life and not just the juice bar, but a meditation center, a yoga center, fruit and veggie market, restaurants with healthy food. Till it’s at that point, the job’s not done. So, we can’t afford to worry about the challenges, you have to worry about whether you are willing to step up to them and keep it going.”
Born David R. Styles, Styles P has used the moniker “a gangster and a gentleman,” and his music reflects that duality. Some of his most memorable rhymes are hilariously and grimly violent (“If the bullets had legs, have them run in your head,” he once rapped), but he also covers the peaks and valleys of Black life with candor, compassion, and camaraderie on songs such as “The Life.” His musical versatility is only matched by his output. Over the course of his career, Styles P has dropped 15 solo albums, released collaborative projects with artists such as Talib Kweli, Dave East, and Havoc of Mobb Deep, and put out four albums with The Lox. After 25 years in the biz, Styles P announced he’ll soon be retiring from rap as a solo artist, and will continue to record only as a member of The Lox.
“I’ve given more than enough music as a soloist. When you love something and you’re passionate about it, you may just keep doing it till it forces you to get out,” Styles P told Andscape. His latest project, Penultimate: A Calm Wolf Is Still A Wolf, dropped in January and is his second-to-last solo work. “I’d rather go out on my own terms and be able to direct my focus to places and people and things and projects that I want to do in the future.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How long were you considering retiring as a solo artist before you actually made the announcement?
I’ve been probably thinking about retiring as a solo artist since I started. It just took me a while to figure out what I want to do and strategize with being in the health field more. As a 48-year-old man, there’s a lot more things I want to do. I like writing scripts. I’ve written one fiction novel in my life, so I’m gonna write another. I’m just looking to be more creative in other places, and I figure that I’m still in one of the greatest groups ever with The Lox and I can still do collab projects.
Are these last couple of albums already recorded, or are you working on them right now? Is that impacting the way you feel when you’re at the studio?
I’ve been working on other music, group music, and other things. I eventually plan on starting [the final solo album] sometime this month. I’m not putting pressure on myself about it. I like to go make music feeling good about myself and letting it kind of naturally flow. I will probably do more features than I usually would do, just to spice it up. On my past few albums, I use in-house people a lot. I’m used to being in a zone, and as an independent artist, I never felt like going through the headaches of clearing [featured artists]. But I figure this time around I’ll do it, especially for my fans who like hearing me with other people.
Music is kind of like therapy for me; I create how I’m feeling. That’s why you never see me chase trends or do certain things people are doing, because I’m not doing it for that particular reason. I’m a different type of MC: You’re either going to love me or not f— with me at all.
When artists drop a lot of music, people sometimes think the purpose is to feed fans who can never be satisfied. But you were just saying it’s just as much for you as it is for everyone else.
Part of it is for me. It’s therapy for me. I’m not going to go out and be violent. I have done that at a young age and it wasn’t wise. It’s not good for your soul. But for me, making music is like making a film or painting a picture. That’s the way I get off my energy, the way I meditate. When I’m not creating, I’m not at my best. As an individual I feel the stress building up in me, ready to erupt. Creating alleviates that. But to tap into the energy of the people who are looking for that art, that’s a whole ’nother animal. I’m doing something for me, but I’m also doing something for people that are like me. It’s weird to see: There are people who see just the conscious me, people who just see the gangster me, and people who hear the hippie me. I understand that I’m a part of all energy, and all energy is a part of me. When making music, I keep that in mind.
We’ve seen artists announce retirement for various reasons, but this is one of the few times I’ve heard an artist say, “I’m tired from making all this music.”
It’s not enough hours in the day. It’s time-consuming and it gets tiring. Is being that tired worth it in my life at this point? To put out music at the rate that I put it out as a solo artist for my age, you don’t see that from a lot of solo artists from my era. I’m used to always having a beat on, but it’s not leading to me being the best me that I can be. So I was like, let me alleviate myself and take something out of the picture. Then realizing that I’m an A-list artist in the streets with lyricists and in hip-hop, but not in the mainstream. So to keep up with the algorithm, you have to put out a huge amount of work. I’ve always been used to working harder because of my content. But then there was part of me that said, ‘I don’t need to keep up with the algorithm. I am the algorithm. So why keep thinking about what society says?’
I play crossword puzzles every day because I don’t get to read enough. I don’t get to read enough because I have so many things going on in my life. If I’m not here or at the bars or figuring out how to take the health business to the next level, then I’m making music. And I’m not going to slow down on the health tip, because that’s bigger than me. That’s about our people. So I can’t slow that down, because I’m a messenger with that. But with music, I can absolutely say I want to slow down when I’ve given a lot of myself. At some point, you have to prioritize what works for you. I’m 48 now, and it’s either I call it now or I get to 50 and I’m scrambling to figure out what’s going on.
What do you like so much about making group albums?
I believe when you work with other people, you’re able to tap into other parts of yourself that are not always on the surface. I’ve worked on mastering the part of being an artist who could always give 100% but also be flexible to who I’m working with. You want to remain yourself, but you want to grow as yourself at the same time. It keeps me in a humble mental plane to be fortunate enough to be held in high [regard] from my peers, whether they’re younger, they’re older, or my age.
A few years ago, someone hit me one day like, ‘You may be the only guy who genuinely gets accepted on both sides. You could do a song with Rick Ross, The Lox, Talib, Black Thought, and Mos Def and be fully accepted. There’s not a lot of artists that can be considered genuine and not even second-guessed.’ I guess I knew it, but I never really looked at it like that. … Even now, I’m not gonna spill the beans because I intend on working on it when I’m done, but there’s two people who called me to do a collab project. I felt fortunate as an emcee to be revered by people of high-class and high-caliber talent. I’m a favorite emcee for a lot of people’s favorite emcees. That always gave me the battery to work on pushing it to the limit to see how far I could go.
Has there ever been a period where The Lox were close to breaking up?
Nah. We say our disagreements out in the open and we let our grievances hang, but only between each other. It’s no one else’s business, it’s definitely not the internet’s business. Even our old peers. If we have a discrepancy or grievances with each other, we air it out and say what you gotta say, like men, like brothers. Get to a point where you gotta apologize, then apologize. Then we keep it moving. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
I read that you first tried vegetarianism after you got out of prison in 2003. What made you decide to give it a try?
When I went in, I was 240 pounds. I decided I wasn’t going to eat jail food. My first couple of weeks, I’m not eating the tray. Only thing I would eat off the tray was the fruit, and the cake sometimes. It looked disgusting. In my mind, they weren’t cleaning the trays right. And then, where were they getting the food from? Like I said, I’ve always been a nerd so I think a little bit more out of the box than the average person. They got the s— called mystery meat and people eat it. You don’t really know what it is. So [I decided] I’m just gonna eat soups, peanut butter and jelly, and the fruits off the trays. I remember after a few weeks, a CO told me that the other COs was betting that I would break and eventually eat the tray. That just really put the big battery in my back. I hadn’t eaten chicken since before I went in. I went at 240 and I came out at like 200, 195. So I felt much better.
I stopped eating red meat my first year on Bad Boy. We were driving through somewhere in the Midwest, I saw a bunch of cows in the field and didn’t like how they looked. So I stopped eating red meat at like 21. So I feel like I’ve always been on this path to get to where I’m at without even knowing it. I didn’t plan to be plant-based, but from 2003 to ’13 I was vegetarian but every Thanksgiving I just ate with the family. Thanksgiving of ’13, I felt like s— and I said going into the new year I was gonna do a three-week cleanse. God bless my daughter. Before she passed, my daughter, my son, my whole family just kind of went on it and I never went back.
The spiritual effect is what happened to me. I got very clear in the brain. I felt more peaceful. My temper was way, way down. And I found a new respect for life that I hadn’t had before that. I went to smack an insect one day and I caught myself. I was like, I don’t know if that’s the mom, the dad, this and that. It was like a wake-up call inside. When you go from carrying two guns all the time and having a bad attitude to worrying about if an insect is getting home or not, I just felt like a lot of weight was lifted off me. So I felt good about it and just kept going. Ten years later, I’m still plant-based.
There are clear perceptions of food in terms of masculinity: getting the big piece of chicken, or red meat being associated with strength. When you were getting into your health journey, did those perceptions ever impact your experience?
Nah. I’ve always had the gift and the curse of not giving a f—. I can’t really worry about what other people say and do because then I wouldn’t have been where I was in the first place. You know how many times I was told, as a youth from Yonkers, that it was f—ing unrealistic to want to be a rapper? I was used to not listening to what other people thought. If I believe it’s right and know it’s something for me, then I’m going for it, regardless of what anyone says. … I’m the guy that most people don’t like to clown. I used to be a little guy you don’t want to play around with. So, I didn’t have too much of that, but I was questioned a lot. But when you know something’s right, you stick with it.
What you and Jadakiss are doing with the juice bars feels like the business version of what you guys are doing musically going against the grain. Did you have that sort of dichotomy in mind when you started this?
I knew it was needed, to be honest with you. I came from a food desert, and I was able to make some money in my life and move to a more affluent neighborhood. To see the difference in groceries and supermarkets — I’m not even talking about schools, homes, or other things in the community. Just to think about supermarkets alone is enough to know that we need to change now.
It goes back to music, too. When I was a teen and I sold drugs, I would stay out all day and all night, go home to take a shower, and do the same thing again. I’m working, selling drugs, robbing people, showering, cleaning, same s— over and over. So when you do something positive, like when I got the chance to rap, that’s why my output was so much.
Now when you take that to the next level of bringing health to the neighborhood, it was more like, other people before me had to see this. I’ll be the one to go against the grain, because I don’t give a f— if it’s cool or not. I’m gonna say what needs to be said, and as long as I sent the message, I did my job. It’s still something I believe we need to this day, and that’s what I push. People come and they put you on a plane, but ain’t nothing in here that I invented. These products have been around for a long time. Fruits and veggies been around for a long time. There’s been greater men than myself who have taught us about this: Dr. Sebi, Dick Gregory, God bless them. I’m just the one that’s in hip-hop that’s [vocal] about it. I just happen to be a very boisterous, opinionated, go-against-the-grain, and push-it-forward type of dude. I’m just a messenger.
What were the biggest challenges in starting Juices for Life and Farmacy for Life?
Making people believe. I’m always up for challenges, so failures and low points are learning lessons or things to figure out. The biggest challenge for me is being graceful and trying to show people. Because you can become sad and depressed that everybody doesn’t get it. I’m used to double work, but for health, it’s quadruple the work. Not even in music but just in life period, people gravitate to negative s— before they gravitate to positive s—. I can tell people things that are gonna help them and save their lives, but they’d rather see me say some bulls—, talk about my sneakers, see what watch I’m wearing and what car I’m driving, or who I’m talking s— about.
So the challenge lies in understanding how hard you got to go to do something positive. I’m pretty sure it would have been much easier for me to sell liquor and get more attention for that. But that’s where the challenge lies, just remaining humble and patient. I feel like so many people are just in zombie mode and following whatever they think is cool or what people want to see. So the challenge lies in remaining humble and nonjudgmental, and pushing forward to get people to see the light.
Does it frustrate you that so much of hip-hop’s entrepreneurship seems to be based in alcohol?
It bothers me, but like I said, it’s not my part of the journey. I want to see as many Black and brown kings and entrepreneurs as I possibly can. I can’t say I’m bothered by what they’re doing, because that happens with society anyway. Some things are for the culture and what’s happening in the culture. It’s the hip-hop dream, and it’s the American dream. So, who am I to tell people how to dream? That ain’t my job. There are parts of my journey that I’ve been on that where it’s s— I’ve done that I shouldn’t have done. I can’t look at anyone else’s journey and say that I just wish there were more people doing other things. Humanly, yeah, sometimes it does bother me. But for the most part, I try to not look at it that way, and just focus on what I’m doing.
What else do you think the hip-hop community can do to take care of each other and ourselves?
The more you care for yourself, the more you’re gonna care for others. So, care for each other, without clout benefits. You get used to being in a world, especially in hip-hop, or anything where you make money and have fame, where you look at life as how many things you can acquire. I think when you start looking at how much good energy you can give out, how many people can treat you nicely, and how much of a difference you can make, it changes everything.