From collaborations with Puff Daddy to smash hits with Akon, Styles P has always flirted with the fringes of mainstream success while staying true to his soul music roots. Coming from the streets of Yonkers, N.Y., Styles P and a small group of high school friends, known as The LOX, helped change the rap game forever. That fame also allowed Styles P the chance to cross paths with some of the top athletes in sports, from old school studs (Jalen Rose, Baron Davis and Chris Webber), to the stars of today, like New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.
Recently, SI.com got the chance to talk with Styles P at his juice bar, Juices for Life, in Yonkers, N.Y., to discuss everything from his love of soul music and why the Knicks are in good hands to his take on the next superstar of boxing, Gennady Golovkin.
Daniel Friedman: Let's start all the way back at the beginning. How'd you first fall in love with music?
Styles P: I’ve always been in love with music. I don’t remember not loving it. Thinking back, Run DMC were out and they were huge. When I saw Beat Street, though, it really hit home because that’s what was actually happening on the streets—but to see it on film, it made me really want to be a part of it.
DF: I recently talked with Jadakiss about this, but I want to hear it from your perspective, too. How did you, Sheek and Jada all meet and end up forming The LOX?
SP: That’s from school, and living in Yonkers. Just growing up in the neighborhood. I met them both around the time of junior high. They rapped, I rapped. And then we ended up going to high school together, and then that was it. Every day cafeteria, lunch time, morning time—cyphers. And then from that point, just trying to get bigger. And mixtapes weren’t really out yet at that time, so it was just selling little demos around school, just actually trying to get on.
DF: What was your first big break?
SP: We had a demo that was going around. Mary J. Blige had it when she was on tour with Puff [Daddy] and she was playing it, and he heard it, and that was pretty much it. He called our managers, we met up with him, rapped in front of him and next thing you know we’re [signed] to Bad Boy Records.
DF: You’ve used a lot of soul and R&B samples in your music. Where do you get your inspiration from? And what's the creative process like when you're making a track like that?
SP: Everything with me is feeling: playing the beat and getting in the zone. However I rap is probably how I was feeling for the day. Sometimes you might get something real soulful from me, sometimes you might get something that’s up-tempo and hard, or you’ll get a deep, thoughtful one. So it’s really the zone I’m in and really where the beat takes me. That’s it. Let it go where it takes me.
DF: Who are some of your favorite artists of all-time, and what about their music interests you?
SP: Definitely Marvin Gaye, James Brown ... Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Biggie, Bob Marley. Also, KRS, Kool G Rap, Rakim, of course. Public Enemy, Michael Jackson, Prince. (Laughs.) Bruce Springsteen, love a couple Bon Jovi songs ... I just love music, so it just depends. I f*** with Adele, I f*** with Kings of Leon ... I like soulful music. That’s my genre. I love that soul.
I don’t know what to call it ... it’s like ‘classic ‘80s, white cokehead music,’ is my s***. (Laughs.) That was a time when you heard the radio before rap even popped. Just the tempo and how free it was. And I think it was big for that music to hit a black kid in the ghetto and for him to love it, you know what I’m sayin? I love that vibe. I love hippy music, too. Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix. It’s different zones, and at different times in your life you find yourself in different moods just vibing on different s***.
DF: What kind of projects are you working on right now?
SP: I just dropped “A Wise Guy and a Wise Guy” last month, and it actually got leaked, so I dropped it digitally, now I’m going to drop the physical copy. I’m working on a few other projects. A LOX project. I’m working on films, scripts, and my wife and I are working on a health food book. I work with an artist named Chris Rivers, Snyp Life ... I’ve got some young artists I’m working with, too. Just trying to stay busy.
DF: What about outside of rap? We're sitting in your Juices for Life shop in your hometown. What's the story behind all of this?
SP: This is to make a change, to make a difference. Being in the music business, you live a fast life on the road a lot. You barely sleep, barely eat. Drink. People see it and pick it up. The youth in the community, they listen a lot to the music, and what the music pushes them toward. So we have to be smart enough to say, ‘Hey, you have to worry about your health.’
While you’re chasing the dollar and chasing this dream, you can’t enjoy it without good health. And especially me coming from here, and making something of myself and being able to shop at places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, you get to see a whole different life. Just getting into health more, you want to spread it to your people and all people. It’s common ground. We all connect somehow and some way. Why not try to spread the word and get out health tips that are gonna help someone’s family. We’re just using our voice. You may never come back here, but if you take the message of being health conscious ... then we did our job. People should be able to have the option. That’s a message that we need to spread throughout the world.
DF: Now, let’s talk a little bit about how sports played a part in your life growing up here. Did you play ball or anything else when you were a kid?
SP: I didn’t play on any teams or anything, but I played in the hood. Football, baseball, basketball. I love sports and I think it has a direct link to music. With me, I knew I wasn't going to be super good at basketball, so that was really the drive for me to be really good at rap. I just think it [sports] drives you. Especially in the hood when you didn’t really have s*** to do, you played sports. It brings the competitiveness out of you, and it teaches you your strengths.
But my favorite sports to watch are basketball, boxing, MMA. I love the art of fighting, because with boxing it’s all on you. It’s hard training, and I like that. And I’ve got friends in the NBA and I think they have the same kind of drive that it takes for artists in music. It’s just the competitiveness that I love in all sports.
DF: What do you think about the crossover between sports and music?
SP: I think music is about moving people, and with sports it’s the same way. I think that’s the connection if you ask me. It’s that respect of the ferociousness and gracefulness, that mental ability with the physical ability because to me I think football, basketball and soccer players and a few other sports, somewhere down the line you have to have a particular genius.
You can’t say to yourself in the moment, ‘OK, three defenders, go around my back, crossover, spin, layup with a double scoop off the backboard.’ It’s a genius that we don’t respect in athletes, we don’t acknowledge it when we should. We only acknowledge it when they’re great, but we don’t acknowledge the thought-process enough.
DF: And you need that kind of quick thinking to be successful in sports or music.
SP: It’s something special. Like for a boxer to be able to know what kind of punch their opponents gonna throw, being able to sidestep it ... And I just watched Terence Crawford, and Triple G fight ...
DF: What do you think about Gennady Golovkin?
SP: I love Triple G. I think he’s old school and he gives you a throwback feeling. And he could box. He comes hard but boxes calmly, he takes his time. I love the guy. I think him and Terence Crawford can do a marvelous job of making boxing become more popular. There’s a lot of great fighters out there, even the lightweights and bantamweights. I don’t know, I just love fighting. MMA and boxing are my sports, man.
DF: So we talked about the crossover between sports and music, and I’m just curious: Who are some of the guys you’ve crossed paths with over the years?
SP: A lot of different people, man. Melo’s my homie. Rip Hamilton’s my homie. Jalen Rose is a great dude, even though he’s retired. Baron Davis is my brother. [Chris] Webber, [Raymond] Felton, [Amar’e] Stoudemire’s my homie. I lived in the same building with a lot of them, so you see each other and I’d hang out with them.
DF: What do you think about the Knicks this season?
SP: I think they’re good, they just need to play a lot of defense. I think defense and toughness wins games. I’m old school. I love Phil Jackson, he’s the Zen master. And when someone like him represents greatness, sometimes you just have to look at a person’s track record. But it’s hard in a world where everyone wants instant gratification. I think for me, Phil Jackson represents greatness and he’s not just going to get involved in something like this for the check. He’s in it for the greatness.