A Conversation with Questlove

Getting healthy, yoga, and his inspirations

Questlove: I’ve pretty much done a health overhaul of my life. The day that I started, I was starting to hear the word “stroke” just a little too much. Friends of mine have died of strokes at 40 and peers of mine have died of strokes in their 40s and it was disturbing me. It was absolutely killing me that I’ve spent the first 25 years of my life tryin’ to avoid bullets. That was always the main concern. Don’t go out late. Don’t go to any shady neighborhoods. Don’t hang in bars alone. Why? Because you wanna avoid bullets. So once I get to 35 then I was like “Woo, okay. Made it.” And now there’s a new warning. Now it’s like strokes; I gotta watch my health. So now, what I did was, 47 days ago—there’s basically a plan. Not a plan, it’s called a trainer. His name is Darryl Aiken. He trains in a way that’s sort of unorthodox, ‘cause he deals with people that have—in my case, I’ve always had a case of lymphedema, so I’ve always had lymphatic issues with my health.

Maranda Pleasant: I didn’t realize that.

QL: I hired a trainer, a yoga instructor, a lymphatic masseuse, a chef, an acupuncturist, and a therapist. So six people, which is probably a little extreme but you know, I think it’s very important, especially because I want to be as healthy as I can be so I can make it past 50, make it past 60, and make it past 70. You know, the hip hop lifestyle doesn’t really celebrate health and most people look at it and are like, “Ah, that’s kooky and a bit Granola Hippie!” (laughs) I’m slowly seeing a lot of people like Guru of Gang Starr, he succumbed to a heart attack. I’m seeing a lot of people fall by the wayside ‘cause you can’t live off of four bottles of Patron a week. You can’t live off of excessive smoking. You can’t live off of just greasy fatty foods and stayin’ up till six in the mornin’ just partyin’. I mean, basically I’m caught somewhere between a Vegan and a pescetarian lifestyle. My chef has totally taken out gluten, wheat, and most dairies out of my diet.Two days of the week I get to have fish, shrimp, or lobster. The other five days of the week it’s either seitan, soy, or tofu. I do a lot of greens. I do a lot of juice cleansing, ginger, and a lot of beet juice.

MP: Awesome.

QL: Yeah, it’s just a total turn around. Before I’d just have a pizza without thinkin’. A lot of fatty foods, but, you know, I’m turning my life around now.

MP: So good. You know, from Dead Prez has been a pioneer for years. His passion is to get black men, especially high-risk, low-income black men, to take care of their bodies and watch what they put in their mind.

QL: He has no clue. Like his “Be Healthy”—that haunted me probably more than any hip hop song. It’s really weird, ‘cause I know that Dead Prez was super militant. Probably one of the most revolutionary songs they’ve ever done was “Be Healthy.”

MP: Yes.

QL: The same way that N.W.A.’s “F*ck Da Police” affected me when I first heard it. “Oh my god! Can you say that?” When I first heard “Be Healthy” I was on tour with D’angelo and I was like “Yo, listen to this.” We sat there with our mouths dropped, like we’d never heard black men talk about this ever. Like, really? So that’s always been in the back of my mind as I go through the struggle. And it is a struggle. You know one point I’ll sit back and I think of my heaviest day in ‘99. I was about 480 lbs.

MP: Are you serious?

QL: Almost on the verge of 500, and when Big Pun died of a heart attack, that was my first scare. So I managed to drop 200 lbs and go to like 300, but you know, it’s not even safe at 300.

MP: Did you say yoga was a part of that?

QL: Yeah. Again, I was one of those skeptics that thought that yoga was for kooks. Now I’m on a very strict regimen. You know, I work out. That’s another thing I’ve learned relaxin’, sleep, yoga. I didn’t know that that’s as crucial as going hard, as workin’ hard, as exercising hard. I never knew. I thought that, “Okay, I gotta be at the gym like five hours everyday going balls to the wall.” And what my yoga instructor, what my trainer, what they’re trying to teach me is that, “No, it’s sleep.” That’s important. That’s just as important as workin’ out.