Following a plant-based diet is hotter than ever due to concerns for the environment, health, the food chain supply, and animal welfare. While high-profile artists like JAY-Z, Beyoncé, YG, and André 3000 have recently flirted with meat-free lifestyles, OG Snoop Dogg has partnered with the plant-based company Beyond Meat. But following this healthy way of eating is far from new in the world of Hip-Hop. Many of its pioneers are longtime advocates for the cause.
Religious roots have guided some. Rastafarianism promotes a natural food, mostly vegetarian diet. Branches of Islam and Judaism shun pork; branches of Buddhism and Hinduism are built on the concept of ahimsa, which advocates respect for all living things. Others seek to improve their health. And others follow their hearts. Here’s a rough but compelling timeline of how a once-fringe way of life worked its way into the culture.
1986 Producing guru and Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin becomes a vegetarian. An interview in Men’s Journal reveals that Rubin was basically vegan from the ages of 23 to 46. He went Paleo in 2006 but is still spotted in trendy LA plant-based restaurants like Real Food Daily.
1988 Boogie Down Productions releases its second album, By All Means Necessary, with KRS-One declaring himself a vegetarian in the lyrics of the cut “My Philosophy”: “No goat or ham or chicken or turkey or hamburger/’Cause to me that’s suicide, self-murder.”
1990 In the throes of the era’s conscious rap, KRS-One spreads more hardcore reality on BDP’s third album, Edutainment, which includes the song “Beef.” The lyrics take on slaughterhouses and the FDA while citing Elijah Muhammad’s book How to Eat to Live. While he has not embraced veganism 100 percent, his contributions to the cause are immeasurable.
1995 RZA, de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, gives up red meat, followed by poultry and fish, respectively. By May of 2019, VegNews reports that “80 percent of Wu-Tang Clan is vegan.” Prince Rakeem defends his decision in a testy interview with Joe Rogan years later.
2000 Dead prez release “Be Healthy” on Let’s Get Free. Check out these lyrics: “I don’t eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets/Only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole wheat.”
Khnum Muata Ibomu, aka stic.man says he went vegan in the late ’90s after battling gout. The rapper-author-activist-producer is also the founder of the RBG Fit Club.
2004 Common starts the Common Ground Foundation, partnering inner-city youths with chefs in an effort to educate them about nutrition. In a 2016 interview with Food & Wine magazine, he cites hearing KRS-One as an inspiration and reveals he was vegan for a while but is now a pescatarian.
2006 Grammy Award-winning rapper and iconic producer Jermaine Dupri goes vegan. He later does a “Feel the beets” ad for PETA in 2018.
2011 Angela Simmons, who is Rev. Run’s daughter and Russell Simmons’ niece, declares, “Eating meat is a sin” in a racy PETA campaign ad.
2011 Wu-Tang Clan member Masta Killa appears in a PETA ad with his son, both declaring themselves vegetarians who love and respect all life.
2011 Waka Flocka Flame does an “Ink not mink” PSA campaign for PETA. In a 2017 interview in the blog Food Beast he discusses why he become vegan in 2014. But by 2018, in true Brick Squad style, he tells TMZ, “Vegans are like fucking cops,” and that even though he won’t eat a steak, he’s “not the vegan they want me to be.”
2012 A$AP Rocky goes vegan, telling Vibe magazine, “You gotta do research on the way they treat [expletive] chickens, man.” In his 2019 hit “Babushka Boi” he spits, “I ain’t duckin’ niggas, I ain’t duckin’ bullets either/Shit, I ain’t duck sauce since I became a vegan.” His BFF since high school A$AP Ferg follows a plant-based diet, too.
2012 Canadian rapper k-os, a longtime vegetarian, promotes “Peace and not a piece of meat” in a PETA ad encouraging others to use their voices for animals.
2013 Rapper-entrepreneur Styles P opts for vegetarianism. By 2015 he and Jadakiss open up Juices for Life in the Bronx, then later in Brooklyn and Yonkers to get healthy foods into urban communities.
2017 Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am starts eating vegan and working out, a mission he passionately speaks about whenever he has the mic, saying he’s hardcore #Vgang.
2019 Rozonda Thomas, aka Chilli, of TLC appears in her third ad campaign for PETA, discouraging people from supporting the use of animals in circuses.
2020 Angela Means, the actor known for inspiring Ice Cube’s viral phrase “Bye Felicia!” in the film Friday, opens her all-vegan soul-food eatery Jackfruit Cafe inside a South LA doughnut shop in 2017. By 2020 she switches to a food truck for her operation, then moves to a brick-and-mortar Santa Monica location. Lately she’s partnered with Impossible Foods to bring bowls and burgers to low-income neighborhoods as part of the #feedthehood campaign. She uses #byeflesh on her merch as a veganized nod to the character she’s known for playing.
* Banner Image: Rick Rubin 1986 / Photo by Lisa Haun/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images