Legendary rapper Styles P grew up without access to healthy food options. And frankly, he had no interest.
Life on the road, where he toured the world with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, DMX, and collaborated with artists like Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, didn’t help.
“As a hip-hop artist in the 90s, my diet was horrible,” said Styles P. “All fast food. Pizza, fried chicken, snack cakes, things with high fructose corn syrup.”
Now Styles P, born David Styles, has done an about-face and co-founded a chain of juice bars that is transforming food deserts, disadvantaged communities where these much-needed staples are not available at affordable prices.
The Bronx location of Juices for Life in Castle Hill, two blocks away from where Jennifer Lopez was raised, is across the street from the graffiti-ridden exterior of a deli. Inside are posters on the health benefits of wheatgrass, a U.S. Army recruitment brochure, a copy of The Legal Advocate and cards promoting local barber and real estate businesses. The industrial, almost rustic space has a no-frills attitude with high ceilings, large windows, a giant cayenne pepper shaker, a drum from Uganda and a large deli-counter with colorful fruits and vegetables. The shop is fast becoming a community stalwart.
“Sometimes you buy a juice and it says 20 percent juice…Well, what’s the rest?” Styles P said emphatically, while sporting a gold “Juices for Life” necklace, promoting his successful chain of New York City area juice bars. “We are creating a market for health.”
‘My diet was horrible’
Juices for Life boasts more interesting flavor combinations than the average juice bar – like spinach, pear, pineapple, papaya, strawberry and beet – not to mention custom options. An employee with the nickname “Kale” served a bold, off-the-menu blend that contained ginseng and bark.
“It’s not just a store, it’s a culture,” said a customer enjoying a flavorful smoothie. In fact, culture and mindset, along with access and education, can be a barrier in neighborhoods like Castle Hill.
“So many poor communities have a lack of choices and don’t have awareness. I thought ‘organics’ was a foreign word,” said Styles P.
Approximately 23.5 million people live in food deserts. And nearly half of them are also low-income.
“This is ridiculous that kids can walk 10, 20 blocks and not have healthy options. . . You’re bound to catch a felony with nothing but fried chicken in your body,” said the hip hop artist, who now preaches the benefits of plant-based nutrition.
The fact that Styles P’s entrepreneurial venture is revitalizing communities – where liquor stores and fast food chains abound – is well-known in the area. One customer who introduced himself as “the body guard” (he works in security, and with children as a gym teacher) claimed, “This basically changed the whole neighborhood.” Juices for Life seems to have created a ripple effect as more local delis and neighborhood venues begin to offer salads and smoothies. Styles P takes pride in sparking some healthy competition in the area.
Beyond this, Juices for Life has become a place for building community in urban neighborhoods.
In less than a day at the Castle Hill shop, people from all walks of life interacted: a man passionate about raising awareness for autism, a train operator, an entrepreneur, a woman who collects data for the government, a student at Lehman College, a police officer and an HR professional. Customers were vegetarians and carnivores and could be found wearing suits or hoodies.
Styles P has cultivated a juice bar that attracts a true melting pot across race, gender, religion and class, bringing to life his “Love is Love” motto. Much of the rapper’s inspiration comes from music, and he values the power of hip hop to bring people together.
“This is hip hop’s first dope healthy brand,” he said.
When he’s not bridging the divide through health-driven endeavors, Styles P humbly reflects on his celebrity entrepreneur status.
“I’m nowhere near where I want to be in life, but I’m grateful for what I’ve accomplished,” he said.
This down-to-earth nature should not come as a shock for a rapper who held the door for others and took time to take selfies with fans who walked by his bustling juice shop.
The artist’s determination comes through in the wisdom he shares with others, as does his fierce desire to give back to communities.
“You have to keep pushing, stay smart, roll with the punches, be creative and know that a loss is a prep for a win,” Styles P said. “The best you can do is help out mankind. And that’s gangster.”