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Feel Rich: rappers serving as health rolemodels for urban youth

“Third coast born, that mean we’re Texas raised!”

I admit it: I’m completely overwhelmed by SXSWi.  It’s really hard to take myself and what I do seriously when we sound like a bunch of self-important dillholes who have nothing better to do than pontificate the latest widget, the greatest blah blah blah.  I’ve had many an existential moment of “what’s the point of all of this?”

It’s easy to forget that these technologies and advancements are just a means to an end.  The best sessions are the ones that put that into focus, and actually demonstrate exactly how innovators are directly applying those technologies to create real and significant social change.

This was brought to life for me in the ‘Feel Rich: Health is the New Wealth’ panel.  Ok, maybe as the resident hip hop enthusiast, I just wanted to go listen to some of my favorite rappers talk about stuff.  But in the process, I learned about the company Feel Rich, and what they’re about:

“Forty-time platinum, multi-Grammy and Emmy Award winning producer and digital guru Quincy Jones III (QD3) has turned his attention to a new creative movement: the creation of a health and fitness culture born from the urban and hip-hop community’s respect for music, movement and entertainment.  Feel Rich is a media and entertainment company, which produces health content to empower, inspire, and engage the global community by leveraging the positive influence of musicians, celebrities, and athletes.”

Panel leaders were none other than Houston rapper Paul Wall (Slim Thug was supposed to attend but was MIA), Paul’s wife Crystal Wall, and Shawn Ullman, the Co-Founder and CEO of Feel Rich, Inc.

Jones and Ullman formed the company to fill a much-needed gap for urban youth.  They noticed that there are not any real multicultural health role models for a young urban demographic – and when I say urban, it’s mostly African American and Hispanics.  And they’re the ones who need it the most: African American and Hispanic children have much higher incidences of obesity and diabetes compared to their White peers.  And they’re given mixed messages from their celebrity role models: in one commercial, Lebron James is the spokesperson for Nike, the next commercial he’s hawking McNuggets.  Combined with a “finish your plate” mentality, the lack of decent grocery stores nearby (food deserts) and the luxury/cost of entry for the current health movement), the urban youth face a terrible health crisis.

Strategically, they settled on the line: “Feel rich: health is the new wealth.”  When a kid turns 12 or 13, they begin thinking about how they can come up in the world – money, fame, success.  It’s not enough to implore kids to be healthy for health’s sake; that’s the ineffective stuff that schools are doing.  Feel Rich aims to make the connection that these kids can understand – if you take care of your body, you feel good, and when you feel good, that’s when you can get rich.  Being healthy makes your game better, your concerts livelier, your grades better, and your hustle stronger.  Feel Rich wants to do for health what Steve Jobs did for technology: make it really, really cool.

One of the first things they did to bring this to life was by partnering with Texas rapper Paul Wall.  Paul’s struggled with his weight and health his entire life.  Combined with a heavy party lifestyle, Paul become morbidly obese and had to undergo surgery to receive a gastric sleeve.  After this low point, Paul and his wife Crystal completely changed the way themselves and their daughters lived and ate.  More vegetables, no fast food, cut out the partying, etc.   Crystal became a Zumba teacher and lost 40 pounds.  Together, they were a great example for Feel Rich, and the two are now spokespeople for the company.  It was clear in the panel that Paul and Crystal are extremely passionate about this issue and are committed to the success of the cause.

Feel Rich launched a website, YouTube channel, and Twitter handle in December 2011.  Their content is very basic, aimed at those who are trying for the first time in their lives to eat healthy and workout.  Information and testimonials are given from a combination of experts and stars like Fat Joe, Charli Baltimore, Tony Yayo, who talk about their diets, juicing recipes they like, workout tips, etc.  Paul Wall and Nore are sharing their ongoing stats and results from a Nike+ running challenge.

Their success has been phenomenal: over 3 million views on YouTube (more than Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig) and 80,000+ Twitter followers.  They’re using social media to have direct conversations, and have had more success in this realm through Twitter – kids ask them what they should eat when they’re at McDonald’s, to get some guidance on healthier options.  They recognize that mobile will be a big opportunity to reach and engage with their audience, and are working on a mobile app.

What does the future look like for Feel Rich? They’ve got big plans.  In 2-3 years, they hope to become a full-blown established brand, with its own products.  They’re trying to get information in schools and hospitals.  They’re in conversations with health insurance/Medicaid companies, who have much to gain from the fact that Feel Reach has the attention of a demographic who is greatly utilizing the healthcare system.

The folks at Feel Rich are doing exactly what we all want to do: use our expertise in the technical/theoretical and apply it to a cause.  Combine that energy with the star power of rappers and you’ve got a movement.  This really gets at the crux of what I love about hip hop: hip hop is a people’s music; it’s honest, direct.  It’s created by people who are more tied to their communities.  For every party hard/get money song, there are 3 songs that talk about community, empowerment of the people, relationships – health positive vs. health negative – so in an unexpected way, this music and this cause belong together.  Hip hop is a medium that is thriving globally, because of the way it energizes spirits and empowers people to express themselves and incite awareness and change.  These modern day poets hold so much power and influence over people, and I’m proud to see another example of power being wielded for good, and being lead by none other than some of my favorite homestate rappers.

Check out a signature track from Paul Wall representin’ Texas right: Paul Wall – They Don\’t Know (ft Bun B)

“Third coast born, that mean we’re Texas raised; Texas mother{****} that’s where I stay!”

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