Hip Hop Wellness Explorer (w/stic from Dead Prez)

Today I’m talking to stic, perhaps better known as stic.man, one half of the celebrated hip hop duo Dead Prez. Stic has been a defining voice in hip hop over the last few decades, and he’s also an accomplished author, producer, and mentor to a generation of musicians. Today, he’s talking about his health and wellness journey. From an event in his early 20s that set him on a lifelong exploration of wellness, to journeys into various martial arts disciplines, to his current passion for distance running, stic simply refuses to stop searching for practices that build the body and calm the mind. I hope you enjoy.

stic from Dead Prez

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Tao talks to stic about:

  • stic’s awakening to fitness and wellness (“one foot in the streets, one foot in the struggle”) (2:20)
  • Three decades of fitness evolution, including gaining weight on plant-based diet (5:10)
  • What can the music industry teach us about wellness and avoiding temptation? (9:40)
  • When does stic choose to indulge, and how? (11:00)
  • How stic has shared his experience and wisdom in the hip hop community (14:00)
  • stic’s methods for improving writing and working toward creative mastery (17:00)

Relevant links and further reading:



…but what I found just with my body type and even culturally, that distance running was like effortless. You know what I’m saying? I’m shaped just like the Kenyans and the Ethiopians who dominate that sport, and so for me, it really did feel like coming home.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend” podcast, where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.


Today I’m talking to Stic, perhaps better known as Stic Man, one half of the celebrated hip hop duo Dead Prez. Stic has been a defining voice in hip hop for the last few decades. He’s also an accomplished author, producer, and mentor to a generation of musicians.


Today he’s talking about his health and wellness journey from an event in his early 20s that sent him on a lifelong exploration of wellness to journeys into various martial arts disciplines, to his current passion for distance running, Stic simply refuses to stop searching for practices that build the body and calm the mind.


I hope you enjoy. This is one of my favorite podcasts to record in recent memory. Now, let’s get on with the show.


Stic, thanks so much for joining us today. It is a pleasure to have you on the podcast. Greetings from Brooklyn where I am right now. Where are you joining us from?

OK, BK. What’s up? I’m in A town, in Atlanta, hot ‘lanta Georgia.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I went to high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Not too far from where you are right now. I don’t miss the summers.

Oh, yeah. OK.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I don’t deal with the heat that well, but New York’s it’s creeping up on us with global warming anyway.


Hello and thanks for joining us. I want to hear a little bit about obviously your accolades in the music business, and what you’ve been able to do over the course of a few decades now.


We talked about that in the intro, but this is about your wellness journey, your fitness and wellness journey, I think a lot of people don’t know that is a huge aspect of not only your personal life, but it’s also a bit of your ministry in the work you do professionally now.


I’d love to hear about that journey. Take us back, as far back as we need to go in how that journey has started and evolved.

Right on, man. I’m about 21 years old. I was living a lifestyle, what I call “one foot in the streets, one foot in the struggle.” I’m getting high, drinking, smoking, stressing, eating the worst foods in the neighborhood, stuff like that.


After one night of binging, partying, I woke up with a swollen ankle. My ankle was like a baseball, red and just painful to the touch. Found out I had something called gout.

David TaoDavid Tao

At 21, you had gout at 21.

At 21, King’s disease as it was known. Oxymoron. That was a fork in the road. The doctor was like, “Here’s some medication,” blah, blah, blah. My girlfriend at the time was like, “Or we could go plant-based, and your body can heal itself.”


I said, “Let’s go that way. Let’s see, let’s see what it do.” Totally healed, no medication, through changing my diet and doing colonics, flushing my system. Then I had all this energy, and then I had all this humility from how I had been self-sabotaging.


With all that energy, I literally stumbled onto a kung fu school in Wu Chángquán Kung Fu. It just felt like destiny, like I need to be here. Juxtaposing the martial arts lifestyle with the hip hop kind of conventions, it was just the discipline that I needed to make the choices to make it stick. You know what I mean?


For 10 years, I studied many different martial arts, Wu Chángquán Kung Fu, an African art called Ile-Ijala, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do concepts with universal defense systems. I studied another African art called [indecipherable 4:39] , a little bit of Muay Thai, Tai Chi, just really just getting involved with training.


Then I got into at a boxing gym, I got put on to running, like long-distance running. That became my heart and soul, and I went on to distance running, became a long-distance coach, and continue to explore different fitness modalities, man. It’s just changed my life.

David TaoDavid Tao

When I hear people talk about that moment where they find…It doesn’t have to be the only fitness modality they like, but it can be that first one. They tell me it feels like coming home.

Yeah, man. Running definitely felt like that. Then of all the different ways I dabbled into, I won’t even say weightlifting or body building because that’s a whole journey. I did an experiment to gain 20 pounds because I always been an [indecipherable 5:39] frame. It was all plant-based. I put a book out called “Eat Plants, Lift Iron,” documenting that process.


I got a lot of respect for people who hit the iron every day. That was fun, and I gained the weight that I was looking for. What I found with my body type and even culturally that distance running was effortless. You know what I’m saying? I’m shaped just like the Kenyans and the Ethiopians who dominate that sport, and so for me, it really did feel like coming home.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re a distance running coach as well as an athlete now. Do you have a running group? Some people would call it their tribe of people who are…It’s fitness, but it’s social, or are you more of a solitary when it comes to training and things like that?

I definitely have run with some homies, and I have buddies that I connect with from time to time and people I informally trained that are my friends, but I’m a tiger. I’m a solo hunter.


Most of my practices, in general, not even just fitness, are things that are solitary like reading, working on music in the studio, Tai Chi in the mornings, meditation, solo long-distance runs, stuff like that. It’s my default. I’m not so closed off to where I don’t like socially working out and stuff like that. I just don’t depend on it.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m curious, when you were on that journey to gain weight on a plant-based diet, obviously the things there, the stereotypes are…If you’re eating plant-based, it’s tough to get your iron intake. It’s tough to get certain B vitamin intake. It’s tough to hit your protein intake. It’s easy to miss that macro, so to speak.


What are some of the foods that you found worked well for you as far as foods you could digest well and that were rich in proteins and things like that that helped you along that journey? I’m curious.

First of all, I believe that all diets are temporary, and they’re functional. A baby doesn’t eat the same as a pregnant woman, and an elder as an athlete, and so forth. We eat for a period, a season to get certain results and see how that works.


For my plant-based journey with weightlifting, I ate a lot of yams and pumpkin seeds, beets, beet juice. The beet juice, to make it simple, it dilates the blood vessels.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s got a lot of nitric oxide in it.

Exactly. This audience would know about that. Fresh beet juice and things with beets in it. A lot of the yams I found through trial and error because I was trying to figure out how to have for my weight training sessions, it’s like, how do I not crash? How do I have just enough energy?


Then you’re watching your gut so you’re not eating so much that you get a big gut while you’re trying to bulk up. I narrowed it down to yams with pumpkin seeds. It’s got a lot of protein and maple syrup. It was caloric, it was sustaining. I would do it an hour before I hit the gym, and I would push through.


David TaoDavid Tao

That sounds pretty tasty actually. I’m thinking of that particular combo. Easy to get together. You could microwave that, put the maple syrup on top while it’s still hot. Anyway, I’m projecting here. I’m hungry already.


We’ve been lucky enough on this podcast. We’ve had a string of musicians, noted musicians. We had Ice Tea on the podcast last year. We had Kit Wakeley who won his first Grammy literally a few weeks ago. We had him on the podcast right before the Grammys, which was really fun. They are both big proponents of living the lifestyle.


Some people call it straight edge. Some people don’t like that term. I don’t want to get into the weeds on that, but they talked about the challenges of avoiding temptation when it comes to food, when it comes to substances, all these temptations put around you in the music industry.


I’m curious what your experience with that has been over the years because you did have this inflection point at a relatively young age.

Yeah, man. Like I said, the martial art discipline helped me make choices. You couldn’t be high before you go train. You couldn’t stay up all night and you got to train tomorrow. That was helpful having that guideline. My thing was smoking weed and alcohol. I never did any other kind of drugs or whatever, but I abused those.


I don’t believe that any drop of alcohol will kill you, or a spliff you inhale now. I felt for me, I needed to establish a priority of discipline that I knew I don’t have to abuse it. A lot of people in the creative industries depend on substances to trigger the creative thing.


For me, my goal was 10 years. I was like, “I’m going to be a monk for 10 years.” I had this vision in my mind that 10 years from now I’ll be able to roll a spliff and on occasion, at the end of the week, or if I’m on a vacation, or in certain scenarios where I could actually enjoy it and not be at risk of falling back or relapsing or abusing it.


That was very personal for me that I wanted to reach that goal, and I did. You know what I’m saying? Now I’m able to, if I feel it, if it’s appropriate, indulge a little bit.


David TaoDavid Tao

It’s not something that you feel like you have to go to, to get in a particular mood or a state of mind. It’s not something where you’re like, “Oh, I’m stressed. I need this to come down from that stressor to control my stress.”

No, it’s like, I’ll roll a spliff and forget I even did it.


I’m so busy reading, or I’m making music, or talking to my friends, or just living life, and it’s like that little extra when you…It’s like the A1 Sauce.


It’s like, “Oh, I forgot I had that sauce, that’s going to make this even better right now,” but either way, it’s something good.

David TaoDavid Tao

That hit so well. That makes so much sense. I think I have a bottle of the A1 I forget about in my fridge, and every time I’m eating something I want it on, I’m like, “Wait a minute.”


Do people who are around you in the music industry…because we’re talking about a lot of different aspects of your life here. We’re talking about the athletic, we’re talking about the educational, we’re talking about all sorts of different things.


In the music industry, have you been approached by any of your contemporaries or collaborators and they say, “Hey, I see what you’re doing. I see the discipline you’ve built over years,” not overnight, but over years. “How do I get that?” Or they come to you and they’re like, “I want to be like you in that aspect of life,” or those aspects?

In hip hop, it comes in a little different form. We are prideful. Nobody wants to follow nobody and I respect that, but I do…My peers definitely have shown me and told me that there’s a positive influence of focusing on health.


My man Lil Fame from M.O.P, he gave me a lot of love and encouragement for his transformation, and watching some of the things I’ve been doing with Fit Hop and just the lifestyle…Killer Mike is somebody, he’s lost a lot of weight training to the music, and he always encourages me and tells me, “You keep me going.”


Yeah, man, I believe your life is the example and that’s leading by example, is embodying what you believe, and then it’ll resonate with who it’s supposed to resonate with.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll get back to fitness. It’s part of life. It’s tough to separate fitness is one aspect of someone’s life because is interwoven through everything. You literally eat, sleep, and breathe. It’s part of that.


In the professional sphere, you’ve done a lot. What are some of your main goals right now? Is there anything left that you feel is aspirational in hip hop and music for you?

I released in last October my latest book, “The Five Principles,” and I got…Totally unexpected. I got nominated for a NAACP Image Award for outstanding literary work for that book. I definitely want to do more writing. One thing that I will admit I am terrible at, is fiction writing.


As an MC, as a songwriter, I’ve been able to write different songs and touch on topics that are not usually touched on. I’ve been able to write a few self-published books, and then this recent book with a major publisher. One of the things I want to tackle and find a way to learn how to be decent at it is fiction.


I want to fuse in these different modalities of fitness. I feel like the classic “Rocky” story where it hasn’t been told from a hip-hop perspective, or from a runner as opposed to a boxer. There’s these different hybrids that I want to see. I want a bit of the matrix in that though. I want to challenge myself to become a writer who can write in all genres. Fiction is on my horizon.

David TaoDavid Tao

What is your process for improving your writing? Is it doing more of it? Is it getting feedback? Do you have other writers who you go to for advice or coaching or anything like that?

Yes, to all of that. Everything you can, read great fiction, first of all, listen to great fiction, watch films, understand plots, storytelling, how are these stories told? Every kind of way that stories are told, whiteboarding ideas and learning what some of the classics do well and understanding those mechanics.


Then attempting to…as a white belt, build your own little clay model until you get an Eiffel Tower.


David TaoDavid Tao

 I see how that martial arts discipline foundation has tendriled into all the parts of your life and how you’re approaching…From a multidisciplinary perspective, that’s very fascinating and I can see it over the course of this conversation, showing the way you’re thinking and approaching things. That’s really, really neat.


Who in the professional sphere, it could be in fitness, it could be in writing, it could be in music, who are some people who you have not had the chance to collaborate with or work with, but who you would jump at the opportunity to work with?

I got somebody who I really wanted to meet and become friends with and support was Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, because her father’s a huge influence, but she, herself, is brilliant as a communicator and how she leads the Bruce Lee Family Company. That was a dream come true to connect with her and work with the foundation and build a friendship. I can die now.


In music, we’re actually working on a new Dead Prez album after a long hiatus. Really excited about the direction we’re taking, what we’re talking about, and then some of the collaborations of people that have…I’m not able to disclose yet, but we got a roster of some of our favorite folks that we’re collaborating with in different ways.


In fitness, I would say one of my goals or dreams is to run in Africa, too, in Kenya, in Ethiopia, and in some charitable way, touch the ground, learn, and have those experiences and then contribute back to those communities.


David TaoDavid Tao

All your answers are so tight. You hit every aspect I have. I’m asking four-part questions. You’re hitting all of them.


I know.

David TaoDavid Tao

I appreciate that. Where is the best place or the best places for people to follow along with you, your writing, your music? Spoil alert, folks. It sounds like pay attention because Dead Prez is coming back after a hiatus.

Yes, sir.

David TaoDavid Tao

If you’re here, maybe first, maybe not first, but where are the best places for people to follow along with your journey and the work you’re putting out across disciplines?

Right on. It is one central location. If you’re all on the Instagram app, I’m @S-T-I-C and there’s the blue check there, so you’ll know it’s me. I guess for a little while, I think that’s changing. I’m @Stic on Instagram, and I’m always posting what I’m working on, what I’m into.


I try to make it a platform of inspiration, sharing books I read, music on my playlist, people I follow, podcasts I listen to, what Dead Prez is doing, fatherhood, you name it, meditations.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s a one-stop shop. I absolutely love it.


 Stic, thanks so much for taking your time. Thanks for sharing your journey. It’s very personal, but it’s also very actionable and relatable. Super, super appreciate that.

I appreciate you, man.

David TaoDavid Tao

Look forward to seeing what’s next, man.

Right on, man. Thank you, guys. Salud.