Hip-Hop's Current Fascination With Food

By Tamara Palmer  |  September 25, 2013
Credit: Food Network

The deluxe version of the new album from 2 Chainz includes a cookbook of recipes penned by the rap star and his private chef, and his Southern contemporary Bun B has just launched a food blog with Complex Media called You Gotta Eat This. The Roots' drummer Questlove has opened Hybird, a chicken drumstick purveyor, in New York, while Ludacris (previously a partner in pan-Asian restaurant Straits) will open a poultry spot named for his 2003 album Chicken-n-Beer later this year in Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. And perhaps the ultimate sign of the times - Coolio is selling the rights to all of his songs in order to fund his cookbook career. What happened to beats and rhymes? Hip hop's fascination with food is definitely not new, but it seems like there's a current tide of interest that is about more than just money.

"These days it's cool to be a food enthusiast," says Justin Warner, the chef and owner of New York's Do Or Dine, a restaurant that uses hip-hop references liberally both with its name and menu items. "It's a nifty hobby because it sustains not just our bodies, but the hobby itself. I don't think it was cool to be a bon vivant or even use that term 25 years ago when rap was really taking off big time. I also think rappers have become interested in food because it's a new vein of status symbols to show interest in and rap/brag about.

"I was lucky to learn about foie gras and truffles and caviar because of my profession," he adds. "It's akin to being a mechanic for a Maybach. Rap taught me about Audemars watches and fancy cars that I would never have access to. These days you can bump an Action Bronson track and learn all about the food world. To me, that's pretty darn cool."

But other restaurateurs, even ones with their own significant ties to hip-hop culture, maintain a healthy dose of skepticism about the intentions of rap stars in the food world after years of watching entertainers snap up quick service franchises and open mediocre eateries.

"I think rap stars are looking for new ways to get paid in the ever-changing music Industry," reasons Miguel Escobedo, owner of San Francisco's Papalote Mexican Grill and a hip-hop DJ of more than two decades. "Look at 50 Cent and the Vitamin Water deal," he says of the 2007 sale of Glaceau to Coca-Cola which reportedly earned $200 million for the rapper born Curtis Jackson. "50 made more loot there than any record contract or tour. It's a new game now. Hip-hop culture is brought to you by Hennessy and Red Bull. I think it's very cool and very okay [for them to explore food]. But again, I tend to wonder if they're just trying to get paid in other ways."

Escobedo, who famously beat Bobby Flay in a burrito episode of the Food Network series Throwdown, also wonders about MCs who say they can cook. "I guess there needs to be a rapper to be featured on a large scale, either on Food Network or another popular show, to see if the skills are real or just hype," he says. "What if Jay-Z was on Throwdown? Then we got something!"

One such face looking to show off his cooking legitimacy to the world is Trick Daddy, a platinum-selling rapper from Miami who has eight albums and a spatula under his belt. He's long integrated his love of food into his work, both figuratively with food-laden metaphors in songs like "Sugar" and literally with a cooking segment that aired in a classic episode of MTV's Cribs. Now he's in search of a place in his city where he can film a cooking show pilot that he can shop to a network.

"I want to teach the young generation how to cook, starting with the basics," says Trick Daddy. "Everyone's been telling me to do reality shows, but in actuality, I'm not a reality type dude. When you get deep into reality shows, those people want you to become something else and then it's not really me. I don't put on, so I don't know how to become something else. I am a big fan of Martha Stewart and I watch Hell's Kitchen and those type of shows, but they ain't like me. I'd like to do something different and not scripted where I'm not going to be yelling at everybody like chef [Gordon] Ramsay. Although I think he's a cool dude, I've never been that type of guy. Don't scream at me because I don't want to scream at you. I am from Miami, Florida, where we have the best seafood in the world. I really don't think they're on my level [in the kitchen], I don't care who they are. Everyone who eats my food knows. I've got grandmas and great-grandmas who request certain things that I cook!"