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Hip-hop and zen: Rap stars are embracing meditation to reduce stress, find inner peace
March 11, 2017 Updated: March 11, 2017 4:03pm
In the fast-paced, swag-filled world of hip-hop, slowing down the mind can seem as improbable as Tupac’s return from the grave.
For many, the hip-hop lifestyle is all about cranking out raps, and indulging in the material riches that come with the success they reap.
But Devi Brown, a media and radio personality who has covered nearly every celebrity in the hip-hop arena, is seeing a change of mind, so to speak.
More and more rappers are meditating, and talking about it.
“You are surrounded by excess and fame, and it’s not necessarily natural,” Brown, 30, said. “That can lead to your questioning what more in life there is. It’s such a sacred thing when we make music, but I see this is a time where a lot of people are disillusioned with the things we put value on. Meditation is a remedy and a tool to lead to deeper understanding of self.”
Meditation, which is the practice of concentrated focus, is known to help reduce stress, improve concentration and even boost overall health. Many celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Katy Perry, Gwyneth Paltrow and Will Smith, practice it.
Of course, there’s also hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who has been doing yoga and meditation longer than many of the new faces of rap have been alive. But a growing number of millenial rappers – including Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Big K.R.I.T. and others – also are espousing its benefits.
Take Big Sean, for example.
The Detroit native and Grammy-nominated rapper talks about balance on his latest effort, “I Decided,” and has said his 30-minute morning meditation helps get his started day “right.”
In 2016, media and radio personality Devi Brown launched Karma Bliss (www.karmabliss.com) to offer tools, resources and products for meditation and mindfulness. She gives these tips if you’re new to meditation:
Pick a quiet place. Sit comfortably on the floor, a cushion or in a chair.
Pick a time of day. Mornings are ideal because your meditation can set the tone of your day.
Commit to something small. Try 10 minutes per session, then build up to a goal of 20 minutes. Remember, this is time to treat yourself.
Choose your path. There are many types of meditation. If you’re easily distracted, try guided meditations by using online apps or videos.
Close your eyes. Inhale and exhale through your nose. Try as best as you can to clear your thoughts. Focus on your breathing.
Release control. Your mind may begin to wander. You may begin to feel bored or antsy. As soon as you realize it, release the thought or feeling. Don’t build on it, fight it or analyze it.
Practice. The more you practice meditation regularly, the more you’ll experience the peaceful benefits like reduced stress and calmness.
Brown picked up on the rapper’s zen-ness immediately during a recent interview.
“He was all about self growth. He envisions each chakra lighting up, and it helps take his practice to the next level,” she said.
Brown meditates daily and became a certified primordial-sound meditation teacher through the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, Calif., in 2016. Around the same time, she launched Karma Bliss (karmabliss.com), a company that provides meditation tools, resources and products such as journal, crystals, chairs and beads. She even quit her job as morning radio personality at 93.7 The Beat last month to focus on her company full time.
Brown now splits her time between Los Angeles and Houston. Her husband, Duane Brown, is an offensive lineman for the Houston Texans.
More artists, she said, are looking for ways to balance the challenges of fame in their daily lives.
Lamar, who dazzled the world with his Grammy performance in 2016 and took home four awards that year, has said he spends 30 minutes of almost every day in silence. On his single, “Untitled 03,” he raps: “Meditation is a must, doesn’t hurt if you try. See you thinking too much, worried about your career, ever think of your health?”
Rick Rubin, co-founder of Def Jam Records and one of the most revered producers in hip-hop history, is also a meditation fan. Now in his 50s, Rubin started meditating at age 14 when a doctor urged him to try it to relieve stress pain in his neck. He has since meditated with artists such as Tom Petty and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Each time a rapper or a hip-hop celebrity talks publicly about meditation, it helps to demystify the practice, Brown said.
Some of the common misconceptions are that meditation is a religious endeavor, that it’s only for those seeking enlightenment, or that it takes a lot of time and is difficult.
Brown said she started dabbling in meditation about five years ago during a stressful period in her life. She had moved to three states in two years and developed shingles. Her doctor, like Rubin’s, told her it was directly related to stress.
More peace please
“I needed and wanted more peace. I wanted to breathe easier and not feel so chaotic every day,” she said.
But being still for any amount of time was challenging. So Brown signed up for a 10-day Perfect Health retreat, which included a type of detoxification called panchakarma, at the Chopra Center. She couldn’t use a cell phone or have much communication with the outside world during the process.
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“I’m an older millennial, but all my adult life I’ve had access to technology and have been constantly plugged in. So for 10 days, I didn’t look at my phone or computer once. I checked nothing – no texts, email, social handles. I didn’t know what that felt like at the time. So it was really magical. It was an overall mind-body-soul detox, and in the process I learned how to quiet my mind and meditate,” she said.
Last month, Brown led a free pop-up meditation at The League fitness studio in the Heights with some 50 people. She hopes to encourage a younger generation, especially those in love with hip-hop, to find their zen.
“Meditation shows up for you when you’re not doing it, not while you’re doing it. … So I’m a big believer that it’s a great idea to start your day with it because it sets the tone for the amount of peace you will keep for yourself and the rest of the day,” she said.
So how do you know it’s working? Brown gets that question a lot.
“I knew meditation was working when I stopped cursing people out in traffic,” she said. “I know that sounds funny. Road rage is a big part of my daily life. But I noticed after a few weeks of meditation, I’d be on (U.S.) 59 stuck in traffic and instead of cursing someone out and thinking they were bad people, I said to myself, ‘Oh gosh, they must be having a hard day.’ ”
Houston rapper Slim Thug also chats about the benefits of stillness, though he’s hesitant to call what he does meditation. Most mornings, he recites a daily prayer and uses quiet time to help him get centered.
“I try to start my day off with reading the Word just to keep me in good spirits,” said the 36-year-old who collaborated with Lakewood pastor Joel Osteen on the 2015 single, “Chuuch.” “I don’t know if that’s meditation, but it keeps me on the right track. I’ve seen it change me and people around me see that. I’m more patient, and I’m not going to let anyone ruin my day, but I need to learn to meditate. I want to take my peace to the next level.”
Meditation not hard
Simmons, the hip-hop mogul, meditates twice a day and has taught his two daughters the practice. In 2015, he launched a meditation app, Meditation Made Simple, that is a companion to his book, “Success Through Stillness” (Avent). He says while many people think meditation is hard, it’s really not.
“You sit down and put the alarm on for 20 minutes. You can’t leave until the alarm goes off. Your mind can go as crazy as it wants, and it can bounce around as much as it wants, but you’ve committed to 20 minutes. Before you know it, after five minutes the mind settles. The mind is like a monkey in a cage. It will bounce around and go as crazy as it wants but it will eventually settle. The mind always settles.”
You become happier when you meditate, he said.
That’s also what Brown has discovered.
Now, that she’s a certified meditation teacher, more and more friends and fans have asked her to share tips. She gives them sage advice, but admits she’s a seeker, like everyone else.
“I’m not Deepak (Chopra). I’m someone who has been in the hip-hop world for a living. I want people to understand you don’t have to be a certain way or live in a certain world to have peace,” she said. “Too many times, people think they are going to fail at it, but meditation is a practice. You practice the rest of your life.”