NEW YORK, NY -- For Brooklyn-born rapper Joell Ortiz, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Ortiz’s third solo album House Slippers was released Tuesday, September 16, and he has been jetting from studios to music video shoots to promotional events, all in anticipation of the heavily awaited release.
It’s a physically demanding schedule that the rapper now embraces, which thanks to a healthier lifestyle he adapted two years ago. It’s also become a huge influence for his music.
In 2012 after making the album Welcome To: Our House with his Eminem-backed group Slaughterhouse, Ortiz recalled waking up one morning “hung over” not wanting to go to a studio and a radio show for some promotional work. He mulled calling in sick.
“I just had one of those moments,”said Ortiz, describing it as a cathartic awakening. “I said to myself, ‘look at you, praying you don’t have to do the things that saved you, the things that make your life better.’”
That honesty and frankness prompted Ortiz to embark on a radical life transformation. In addition to cutting out cigarettes and alcohol, Ortiz began eating better and exercising regularly. He lost thirty pounds and continues to focus on his healthy lifestyle.
For Ortiz his new lease on life translated to this latest solo album. “It was a whole new level of a natural high that was around me.” Ortiz believes many of the songs on House Slippers are an expression of his truest self.
One single “Music Saved My Life” (featuring B.o.B. and Mally Stakz) has resonated around the hip-hop community in particular. It’s a poignant reflection on Ortiz’s childhood and growing up around the Brooklyn music scene that got him through some tough goings.
“This album, in my opinion, is one of my [best], because it’s not clouded by hanging out or late night drinking or smoking, it’s really the healthiest mindset going into these songs.”
As a Latino - Ortiz was born and raised in Brooklyn, his parents are Puerto Rican - he said he is well aware that obesity and diabetes are practically an epidemic in the community. “If my story inspires somebody, then I am so happy.” However, Ortiz is cognizant that change must come from within (as it did with him). “People were telling me for years to lose weight,” he said.
This does not stop him from chiding one of his producers for his poor eating habits, though, as he tries to set an example.
The world of hip-hop is filled with examples of rappers or MC’s that are heavy. Not even the deaths of DJ Screw or Big Pun have changed that.
Ortiz’s fans though, whether as a solo artist or through his collaborations, have embraced the rapper's new physique and mindset.
“They love the new me," said Ortiz. "I’ve always been the same person, I was just in a different shadow.”
Regardless, worrying about any sort of image crisis is not high on Ortiz’s radar.
“I take real pride at being very good at rapping. As long as that doesn’t go anywhere then I don’t think people mind the weight loss,” said the talented - and now healthy - hip hop artist.