New York City Hip-Hop Legend Is Changing Lives With His Chain of Juice Bars
I felt an odd tingling after my second shot of Trinidadian root bark. Styles P said it would help purge the toxins from my kidneys and spleen. I was skeptical at first, but after 15 minutes I felt as if I had just downed an espresso and chased it with a healthy sip of Maker’s Mark. The “Bark” isn’t officially on the menu at Juices for Life — a chain of juice bars co-owned by New York City hip-hop legend Styles P — but it’s there; you just have to ask for it.
Styles is a self-described “oxymoron.” On one hand, he’s a gangster rapper from a poor neighborhood in Yonkers, New York; on the other hand, he’s a passionate advocate for clean eating, healthy living, and inner balance. He stopped eating pork at 12 years old because it just didn’t feel right, and he swore off red meat at age 21 after seeing endless rows of cows while touring the country with his then-record label, Bad Boy. Though he has always been health-conscious, for the past three years Styles has committed himself to a completely plant-based diet, which he will sheepishly admit has evolved into a costly love affair with Whole Foods. For Styles, juicing is more than just an eating regimen; it’s a lifestyle that “connects us to nature and makes us more attuned with the world.”
Unfortunately, many neighborhoods — such as the ones where Juices for Life stores are set up — lack supermarkets at all reminiscent of a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s. Though obesity and diet-related illnesses affect people of all backgrounds and classes, they disproportionately impact low-income areas. This can be attributed to the fact that these neighborhoods lack healthy eating alternatives and, as a result, are often categorized as “food deserts.”
Styles said he believed whole-heartedly that your race, class, or economic status shouldn’t determine which foods were available to you. Therefore, Juices for Life is a response to this lack of access. His juice bars offer a range of smoothies, including the Kiss of Life (bananas, pineapple, blueberries, strawberries), the Future (peanut butter, beets, pear, strawberries), and the Revive (carrot, ginger, beets, grapes, lemon). They also sell a variety of juices specifically geared toward certain ailments; there’s the Anemia (beet, carrot, green pepper, apple) and the Asthma (spinach, kale, celery). All the juices cost between $5 and $6 — that’s less than a Big Mac and fries from McDonald’s.
Juices for Life, however, is more than just a spot to grab a fairly priced juice or smoothie. Styles stressed that he wanted his juice bars to be a place where customers could educate themselves on food and nutrition-related issues, gather as a community, and engage in discussion. With four stores already opened and more in the works, it’s obvious that a revolution is already in motion.
As Styles and I chatted at a high-top table near the door, he greeted everyone — and I mean everyone — but as we sat and talked, the true potential of the Juices for Life model was revealed when Styles was approached by a man who introduced himself as an interventional cardiologist, born and raised in the neighborhood. “Give me your card,” Styles said. “Actually, give me two. I’m going to text you so you know it’s me. I’m going to build with you, brother.”
Styles is aligning himself with medical professionals and entrepreneurs who share his beliefs. He recently collaborated with Claude Tellis and Kareem Cook, founders of the plant-based protein company, VeganSmart, to offer vegan nutritional shakes at all Juices for Life locations. For the past decade, Tellis and Cook have been fighting the battle against childhood obesity in Los Angeles elementary schools. In 2003, they successfully lobbied to have all junk food removed from vending machines within the LA school system, a law that later passed in the entire state of California. By partnering with VeganSmart, Juices for Life customers can purchase their own tub of nutritional powder and make nutritious shakes at home when another healthy meal option may not exist.
Health and music are “common denominators” of life, Styles said, because he believes they transcend racial, economic, and cultural differences. “If you walk through the door, if I walk through the door, health is a conversation that we can have. We have to find things to bring people together; you’re white, he’s Spanish, he’s Arab, he’s Albanian, he’s of Asian descent. Our religious backgrounds are different, but if I want to take care of my family, and you want to take care of your family, and I want to see our kid’s kids grow to be part of a bigger and better nation.”
In a time when there is overwhelming concern for the government’s ability to sufficiently provide healthy options for all its constituents, it takes entrepreneurs like Styles P, Kareem Cook, and Claude Tellis to make meaningful change.
“You have to start somewhere,” Styles said. “I try to wake up every day and push forward with something that I think is right.”
Styles is not simply shouting from the sidelines about how to help people; he is actually doing it, one pulse of the blender at a time.