we diss a lot of stuff that’s not healthy
There’s a lot to be said for artists that are able to find their niche and create a level of success on an independent level. And there’s even more to be said for the artists that are able to translate that success into other facets of their repertoire. Yet, volumes can be spoken about the artist that’s able to find several avenues of success over several musical generations despite societal obstacles…and do all of that completely independently.
Book one, volume one in the saga of the independent artist is the story of Thirstin Howl III. One of the most clever MC’s to throw a punchline at unsuspecting listeners – in the history of Hip Hop. This rhyme spitter Cinderella danced his way onto your list of top 5 wordsmiths when he Soundbombed his way into your tape deck. Then a lot of you really started paying attention when he dropped a little collab with Eminem. After that, he had your full attention. At that point, he could have done what a majority of the late 90’s (2nd golden age) contemporaries did and fade into mythic obscurity. Instead, our protagonist forged a following and subculture that’s continued its exponential growth since that first major-indie release that put him on your rap radar.
And all that would have been enough but then dude went and showed us his other side, his alter ego, his Dr. Jekyll – his true self, Chef Survival Kit. He translated the food network into a language hardcore Hip Hop heads could understand and appreciate.
We caught up with the mastermind behind the hit web series, Jail Recipes. He enlightened us on his resourcefulness, his healthy lifestyle choices and even talked interior design. This is an MC that’s a fan of hard work. But he doesn’t just talk about it…he’s all about it. This is Chef Survival Kit a.k.a. Thirstin Howl III:
Talk to me about Chef Survival Kit and the whole Jail Recipes show and concept.
Well, the actual Jail Recipe idea – you know I really did prison time and the recipes are real recipes that I really did learn while incarcerated. You know, my name has been Chef Survival Kit before I even thought about doing the show. That’s what they would call me in my house. I see a few different variety shows make humor about prison food and stuff like that but I’ve never seen someone actually take the concept seriously and present it like a real cooking show. It wasn’t intended to be like a joke. It was real recipes really being brought forth. I had the idea, wrote it all out, put it together – my boy helped me put it all together, directed it for me and the rest is history. The crazy thing is the producers of Master Chef were fans of my show and they called me to go do Master Chef. I did fine but they have an extensive background check and they found out it was jail recipes for real. It wasn’t a joke so…I guess I didn’t qualify then. [laughs] But also, the concept of my show wasn’t to mimic anything prison. It’s like, jail recipes so good you gotta try’em at home. So, I wasn’t trying to emulate like I’m in prison. I’m a free man, I’m in the free world. But these are just recipes I tried there. In the show I always showed people you can mix anything with these recipes. Don’t limit it to the jail recipe.
It’s actually a really good thing for people who don’t have access to true foods – a lot of communities in America don’t even have proper grocery stores, they’re forced to shop at convenience stores.
Yeah, yeah. Be resourceful. You know, I got a couple more seasons coming of Jail Recipes. I have next season where I’m doing the show once again on the set, then the season after that I’m actually going into peoples homes and the show turns into Chef Survival Kit. It’s no longer Jail Recipes. I’m actually being real resourceful and making meals out of anything I find. It’s just showing how creative and resourceful you can be and make a delicious meal out of anything you can put together.
Did you grow up in the kitchen or are these things you acquired later in life?
Yeah. I was always a little kid who took care of himself. I lived with my grandmother a lot, she always cooked in the kitchen so I always knew how to make my own rice, boil my own crabs and things like that. So from an early age I was able to hook stuff up. And I’ve never been with a woman who can cook better than me. That’s crazy!
What about your kids?
I always made sure they could take care of themselves without being dependent on anyone. Plus I try to influence’em to try different things. A lot of kids shy away from things only because of how it looks or what they heard rather than actually trying it for themselves. My nine year old son loves sushi. What kid loves sushi? I mean, for me, where I’m at now, this day and age, my mentality and all that is mostly about eating healthy and nutrition. Not touching candy, the sugar – even my kids, we diss a lot of stuff that’s not healthy. That way they can go a different route than the way we grew up eating. You know, I’m Puerto Rican so everything is pork chops and fried in oil and all the fattening foods and all that kind of stuff. But I try to change that now. Especially with my children. We’re more conscious of the way we eat. We eat a lot of vegetables, a lot of fish, a lot of shakes, smoothies and stuff like that.
And what was it for you that triggered this whole paradigm shift in terms of food?
Understanding. Having the knowledge of the effect of the foods. How your body processes it and the different effects it has on your body. It has a lot to do with the way you feel. Things you eat can control how you feel. Just being more conscious. At a certain day and age you wake up and you have a better understanding of life in general. And that goes the same for the drinking, the alcohol and all that kind of stuff. Whatever you consume in your body affects or protects you – emotionally, physically, all of that. I mean, I still love my rice and beans and pork chops and all that but I limit certain things that I love to eat. I won’t deprive myself of it but I won’t have it at my home. If I go out to eat or something, I’ll indulge. But at home – if you noticed on a lot of my songs I talked about pork a lot, I really love pork chops but it’s been maybe 8 or 9 years that I don’t buy pork at home. We don’t cook it at home just to limit ourselves to it.
Is there anything you’re totally cutting off?
A lot of things if not cut off 100%, cut off 95%. Like soda. Don’t do soda. But there’s a lot of things I really don’t touch like I used to. Fast food is one of them. I try to stay away from the fast food as much as possible. I live in Miami now so there’s a lot more healthier options on the fast food.
When you cut back, did you notice anything different in your energy or output?
Yes, of course. Just your digestive system, the different things you eat that help the food digest a lot better. A lot of fiber, a lot of ginger and tea and things like that. Wake up every morning a lot clearer.
What about organics and non-GMO’s?
Yeah, that as well. As far as juices – I mean, I don’t go too extreme with the organic stuff but we drink a lot of organic juices. If we drink juice. Most of the time I’m drinking a lot of water. I’m at that day and age now where at least a gallon of water is good for me.
I know that right now the big push for you is the new clothing line. There was a comment you made in an interview where you were talking about how your mentality in terms of lifestyle had really shifted to now being more focused on community and the kids. Can you expand on that?
Yeah, it’s just maturity. Understanding where we came from and why we did the things we did. Because of a lack of knowledge and the lack of guidance. You know, reaching certain plateaus in your life and having children of your own, making sure they don’t go down those paths that you had to go down or suffer the same consequences. It goes out to more than just your children, you think about the youth period. They’re the next generation. The fact that I didn’t have knowledge or understanding at an early age – my influence in my community was negative. So the people that I helped guide down the negative path was because that was all I knew at the time. That’s where my frame of mind was. So, you know, being of better understanding now – maturity, experience and all those things – you definitely try and pass down as much knowledge and information of your experience and your existence to those who haven’t been here just as long. Just because all the people and understanding that helped me change and go down the path I am on now. Especially in the whole Lo-Life community. You know, we suffered as a whole in these things. As far as the things that were going down in our neighborhoods and our projects, we didn’t suffer alone. We suffered together.
Getting a record deal is nothing compared to building a subculture.
Yeah, it seems like you’re really family oriented. The Lo-Life family and your own.
Yeah. My Lo-Life family and my blood family. My whole career I’ve always kept it like that. If you notice, all my albums and most of my features, it was always just my team and my crew. It really didn’t matter to us about having features from all the big artists or anything because we felt we were just as valuable. We stuck to the team. Even to this day. All my albums, it’s the same people, the same producers. The same love and loyalty. We all living it and striving and doing it together.
Do you hold back on working with outside artists or are you generally open to collaborating outside of your network?
No, I’m open to everyone. I don’t turn anyone away. But in the same sense, I wasn’t lookin’ for anyone. We were comfortable with who we were and our capabilities. You know, I’m not a block head either. I give everyone a chance. I’m a fan of so many people so I’m always open to work and willing to collab. I’m a good, workin’ hard muhfukka. I like to be resourceful so I work with a lot of new people. Being in the game this long, you’d be shocked at who comes up and who’s the next thing, you know? There’s a lot of times when that one guy you help out and do something for and the next day he’s a big superstar and he’s able to come back and help you just as much. That happens so much.
What are you reading right now?
I’m proofreading our Polo Culture book that’s going to press soon. Most of the stuff I read is informative stuff according to what I have to do. I’m constantly working so much. I’m finalizing other scripts so I’m constantly reading that and when I have a little down time by the pool or something I’m reading a book called Gods, Gangsters and Honour by Steven Machat.
What other ventures do you have going on?
As far as everything with the clothing line, there’s a lot of information to me that’s new. I’ve always been a fly dude but I’ve never really made clothes myself to understand the ins and outs of the fashion industry. As far as clothing, texture, manufacturing, where things are manufactured, importing – there’s a lot of things I’m reading up on that the brand is exposing me to. The same with equipment. I’m constantly buying new equipment so I’m always reading the manuals and informing myself of just what I need to know so I can execute my job properly.
How has music changed for you, in terms of putting music out to the people? What are some of the big changes that you’ve noticed over the past, say, 15 years?
For me it hasn’t changed much, it’s kinda the same process for me. I put it out whenever the fuck I feel like it. I’m not waiting for a certain quarter to drop. I’ve still been an independent artist all this time, I’ve never had a label or backing or anything so I’m able to just release whenever I feel like it utilizing whatever resources are within my reach to make the best of it. More than anything, I focus on a lot of visuals. I think the visuals have taken me to a whole other plateau and made my music a lot more understanding for people that didn’t understand my style or whatever. You know, we really living this. It’s always been my life. When I started doing the music or whatever it was always just me being who I am. My rap style was about me, my stories, everything. As comedic as it may sound it was always just true and about me, being myself.
Was there ever some big vision or plan that you were following or have you just been piecing it together as you’ve gone along?
As I’ve been going I’ve just known to stay consistent. No matter which path I was going down, I knew my consistency would always open up so many other paths. I took advantage of the opportunities as they presented themselves. That’s the only reason I’m here and still exist in the game. Being an 100% independent artist. That was basically it. Just understanding the consistency. You know, in the beginning my goal was just like every other rapper, to get a record deal. But on my quest to get a record deal, I built a subculture in Hip Hop. Getting a record deal is nothing compared to building a subculture. I now people with the millions and millions in media and all that and they can’t build a subculture. A lot of things have been turning out greater than I anticipated. When I try and predict the direction of things I’m usually wrong because it always goes in directions that I never even imagined or thought about. My thing is just to know to stay consistent. Stay consistent, keep working – as long as you’re in it, you got a chance to win it. As far as success, I’ve always measured my success on my happiness. To me that’s the ultimate success. I’m always happy and I’ve been happy this entire journey. I feel like I was successful 30 years ago, in a sense. My success is continuous. I’m just happy and I’m just living my life. I’m not trying to be a rapper, I’m not trying to be an actor, I’m just trying to be who I am and enjoying how I translate whatever I’m doing by being myself and to me, that’s success. I’m happy. I can look at myself in the mirror, I can smile with my children.
The beginning was the greatest era in Hip Hop, to me, in my eyes. Not the Golden Era that came later, but the Genesis. It was so pure.
What are you a fan of?
I’m a fan of hard work. I’m a fan of intelligence. Knowledge. I’m a fan of longevity and not just entertainment or career wise. You know, I see my grandparents 65 years being married. That’s longevity! You couldn’t imagine the story behind that kind of longevity. I’m a fan of interior decorating. That’s my shit! I’m the fixer-upper-man. I fix everything. Make everything perfect. That’s one of my passions and hobbies that I’m into. I’m always fixing and decorating everything. I’m a fan of my family, my children. I’m inspired by them. Like I said, my happiness, my success is just based around that.
What do you attribute your hard work ethic to?
My brother. When I was like 10 years old my mother used to work in a curtain making place. I remember the owner used to ask me to come work there as a kid. So I’d clean up and do stuff like that. You know, it paid me a couple dollars all the time. Then I remember a couple of times he would tell me to do something and I would tell him, “nah, I’ll do them in a little while or I’ll do them later.” And next thing you know, my brother was there, like in my spot. He was actually the guy doing the cleaning up and making the money. I learned a lesson from that. It actually taught me to work hard cuz somebody will take your spot. Anything you want you really gotta work hard for it. Any job I’ve ever had I’ve advanced to a position of authority within the job in a short amount of time. I always knew to make the job dependent on me and not me dependent on the job. I make sure they need me and can’t function without me being there. I definitely credit my brother. I learned that lesson from him, first and foremost. As time went on I always saw how hard work paid off.
If I asked you to put a mixtape together for me, what would you include on it?
It depends on what style of mixtape you would want. I’ve lived through every era of Hip Hop. So, I couldn’t tell you who my favorite is or anything. I just know the different categories I could put’em in. Now, my favorite era of Hip Hop is the beginning. I call it the Genesis because it was so pure. These were styles you never seen, never heard of. I’d probably make it one of those just to familiarize yourself with why Big Pun rapped like Big Pun. Really introduce people to Cold Crush Brothers, Fresh 3 MC’s, Jimmy Spicer and all those groups from early in that era and all the reasons rap is where it is today. Kool Moe Dee songs. These people have amazing songs that really molded what people are today and a lot of people don’t know that or understand that. There were rappers from the beginning that were really, really high concentrated MC’s. Kool Moe Dee was one of them. There was a time when Kool Moe Dee was the best MC out. He was like the Rakim of before. His intense vocabulary and all that. And the speed rapping, I believe he invented the speed rapping style. The beginning was the greatest era in Hip Hop, to me, in my eyes. Not the Golden Era that came later, but the Genesis. It was so pure. The chills you got from the music when it came on and how much it controls you and took you over. Your whole frame of mind.
And dude speaks from experience. You can check out a whole slew of videos on his YouTube channel including a freestyle from 1986 – yo, I had no clue how deep his Hip Hop roots were. To get perspective and insight from an artist who’s experienced everything from the generations within Hip Hop to polar opposite lifestyles, is refreshing. You’ve got a walking/rapping/cooking juxtaposition of street savvy intellect meets knowledge-and-understanding radical rap entrepreneur. If you were just listening to the lyrics, you were missing the other half of the story. Get up on what he’s been up to over the past few musical decades by hitting up his website or giving a follow on Twitter. Not one to sit around and rest on the laurels of some of his rap accolades, you can expect something to drop very soon. He’s been known to let loose a new CD every 6 months or so and that’s just the music. Also, make sure to be on the lookout for his Lo Life clothing line that just dropped in August. And last but definitely not least, keep eyes and ears out for word of the new book Bury Me With The Lo On. This is independent hustle at its finest. This is proof that rap is a gateway hustle. This is Chef Survival Skills.