Hip-hop and jazz visual artist Justin Bua is reeling off the pillars of vegan hip-hop.
“Mr. Wiggles, DJ Qbert, Russell Simmons, Dead Prez, KRS-One, Mear One – I think GZA from Wu Tang? But I'd doublecheck that.” (It turns out he's at least vegetarian, as are four members of the Wu) “I think being vegan is the ultimate expression of hip-hop,” says the B-boy cum bestselling poster artist.
It was a novel twist to our conversation, which took place over a table at Gracias Madre, Cafe Gratitude's vegan Mexican restaurant in the Mission. Bua's new coffeetable portrait book, The Legends of Hip-Hop (Harper Collins, 160 pp, $34.99) came out earlier this month, and he had just performed at the Independent the night before in a show that he hopes to take around the country in 2012. The Bay's DJ Qbert – one of Bua's subject for Legends, who was just finishing up his plate of food at the table when I walked into the restaurant – and others had spun while Bua hosted and supplied visuals. The show had sold out, the painter told me. He said tickets were going for “$60, $70” from scalpers.
But back to veganism.
“It's irreverant, subversive, truth,” Bua mused over a creamy, vegan coconut pie when I asked him about the connection between hip-hop and eschewing dairy. “It's about having a clean head and mind.”
C'mon, even Tupac was on this level. “Let's change the way we eat, change the way we live, change the way we treat each other,” Bua quotes. “Let's change the way we eat? He was talking about going vegan.”
This is Bua's jam – changing the world through personal actions. He sees his own work to document hip-hop's legendary emcees, DJs, graffiti artists, producers, and B-boys as a entry in the historical record. Of his swirling, regally distorted works he says “they're really in the tradition of the Grecos, the Raphaels, the Rubins” – artists which once documented the elite and created some of the few lasting visuals of the times in which we live.
“I'd like people to take away from The Legends of Hip-Hop that these people are as historically revelant as the kings and the queens, those are the important people of the time.”
He says that given the hip-hop generation's spending power, that the music has the capacity to change the world. And that it could do it through veganism, the rejection of industrial farming and that invasive act of consuming a fellow earth-dweller. “The ultimate form of respect is to not eat each other. That's fucking weird.”
To that end, Bua is considering launching a hip-hop-oriented eco-festival, featuring presentations by the food scientists whose findings have helped change his own lifestyle. So taken is he, in fact, by the power of food, that he and girlfriend Ruby Roth started a cooking blog called We Be Vegan, and he has an affordable super food drink in the works with nutritionist David Wolfe. He calls Wolfe “the most knowledgable person I've ever met in my life – and I've met Cornell West and Bill Clinton.” He hopes to drop the product in the next few months, insisting “you have an experience when you drink it.”
Ultimately, he'd like to see the people that take strength like he does in hip-hop's powerful figures translate their message into taking control over their diets. Corporations, he said, can be toppled by what's in your kitchen cabinet and lower intestine. Big companies should never be trusted to care for the health of the people.
“They know that they're putting garbage on your plate, but they don't care because the want that money. We gotta eat simple. Seven billion people on this planet is unstable. You can't feed the world meat.”