Several years ago I happened upon a music video on YouTube that changed the way I thought about hip hop music. It was a happy, uplifting song with a message about love and kindness and making the world a better place and it very quickly became one of the most-listened to tracks in my iTunes. MC YOGI, the artist who created that song, now has several albums out, all focusing on these messages of light and hope, and he is today’s special guest on the podcast!
In part one of our interview, MC YOGI talks about the origins of hip hop music, art as a reflection of your internal landscape, his experiences teaching yoga in China and at the White House, and his thoughts about participating in the 2017 Women’s March.
Be sure to tune in next week for part two of our interview in which he talks about how his family modeled the values that helped him become an international success, how to figure out your passion in life, how yoga became his lifeline, and the three critical keys that helped him turn his entire life around after he hit bottom.
Transcript – Peace, Love, and Hip Hop
Nathalie: Hello everyone and welcome back. I have a special guest for you today. We are talking with MC YOGI. MC YOGI is a world renowned yoga teacher and performing artist on a mission to bring good music and good energy into the world.
His latest album, Ritual Mystical, a collaboration with East Forest, hit number 1 on the iTunes electronic charts, and his memoir, Spiritual Graffiti: Finding My True Path was recently published by HarperOne. Welcome, MC, and thank you so much for being here!
MC YOGI: Well, thank you so much for having me.
Nathalie: I’m so excited to have you here today. I have to say, I first came across your music, I can’t remember how long ago it was, but it popped up in those little things at the side of YouTube. And it was your video for “Give Love”. It was the Yoga Aid mix for “Give Love” and I absolutely loved it.
I had to track back and find out where it came from and who you were and I bought it on iTunes and it’s one of those things in my top 25 most played songs on my iTunes list.
MC YOGI: Oh, that is so cool. Thank you so much. We actually… I wrote that song for a friend of mine in Australia who was raising money for charity. And I think it helped him to raise two million dollars for a charity around the world with that song.In this #podcast episode, artist @mcyogi talks #hiphop music, art as therapy, the 2017 Women’s March, and his experiences teaching #yoga in China and at the White House. Click To Tweet
Nathalie: Wow. That’s incredible! And it’s such a beautiful song and it just… There’s so much hope and so much… just light in that song. I absolutely love it. It’s one of my happy songs.
MC YOGI: Yeah, it’s definitely got a good vibe in it, and it was for a good cause. It was for an organization that was call Yoga Aid and they were helping people all around the world who were bringing yoga to all kinds of different communities. And it was it was a cool movement to be a part of.
Nathalie: And are they still… is that still an ongoing movement, do you know?
MC YOGI: No. They’ve kind of retired. I think they did their big push in the world and they were able to do a lot of good things and they’re a really sweet amazing couple. And now they have grandkids and they’re kind of taking it easy, I think. But they did a lot of good work when it was around.
Nathalie: Oh, that’s wonderful. And the song itself is still available. It’s still up on iTunes if people are interested in that. I highly recommend it.
Peace, Love and Hip Hop?
Nathalie: So, when we are talking to you there’s just so much stuff that we could talk about. I’m looking through all my notes trying to figure out where do I even start with you? We could talk about the music, the yoga, the book, there’s just so much.
But what I would love to ask you about first is the music. Because you do this, I don’t want to call it strange, but it’s… you’re a hip hop or a rap artist, which is not a genre that one usually associates with peace, love and yoga.
The Roots of Hip Hop
MC YOGI: Well it’s… you know hip hop has a negative reputation. But actually when hip hop started, it began as a positive movement in New York to help get kids out of gang culture and be more creative through break dancing, graffiti, rhyming, deejaying. And, you know, free parties for the community out in the park.
MC YOGI: So it actually… hip hop is very positive. And I think people have a negative connotation around it in the same way that you could watch a lot of violent movies and say “All movies are violent.” which would be a mischaracterization.
You know there is violence in music. There is violence in media and in culture. But hip hop at its core, at its root, is a very positive energy. And it’s very creative and it’s an amazing outlet for people all around the world to communicate and express themselves. So I… Personally, for me, yoga and hip hop work really well together.
Rhyming Skills and Hindu Deities
Nathalie: I never would have guessed that about hip hop, to tell you the truth. I think most of my associations with it are in that sort of darker area. So when I came across your stuff it was just “Wow! This is really cool!” Because it’s got that catchy… Rap is… there’s quite a talent involved in being able to rhyme like that. It’s not something that just anybody can do, really. It has to be learned. It’s a skill.
Nathalie: And to see what you’ve done with it, to take all these wonderful areas of peace and love and yoga and all these other fabulous things you talk about… Indian deities, Hindu deities and stuff. It’s fascinating what you’ve managed to do with the genre. And you didn’t start with that kind of light aspect of it. You started rapping when you were how old?
MC YOGI: I think it was around 12 or 13.
Nathalie: And you were getting into quite a bit of trouble around that time, is that true?
Hip Hop as a Creative Outlet
MC YOGI: Yeah, that’s true. I was what you would call a juvenile delinquent. I was getting kicked out of… I got kicked out of every high school I went to. And I kept getting moved around. And I was going through a lot of… I had a lot of problems, going through depression and anxiety and stress and getting caught up in drugs and violence and all that kind of stuff. And it actually… through all that, hip hop was actually like a lifeline for me because it was a creative outlet.
It allowed me a way to express myself and vent and get stuff off of my chest. And I think a lot of times when people hear music and it’s dark… You know, sometimes it’s just a reflection of where someone’s at in their life and they’re using that as a way to process the trauma that’s going on in their life, and…
The Creative Process as Therapy
Nathalie: Almost like a therapeutic process.
MC YOGI: Yeah. It’s cathartic. It’s like when you’re an artist and you’ve got a lot of stuff going on inside you, you use your medium to kind of take what’s inside you and get it out. Because, there’s an old saying and… I grew up and my family was Catholic and my grandmother was very religious.
And I remember this quote in the Bible and it was a quote from Jesus. And I forget exactly where in the Bible it was, but he said something to the effect that if you keep what’s inside of you… if it stays and if you keep it inside, it’s going to destroy you. But if you take what’s inside of you and bring it out, it’ll be what liberates you and sets you free.
So sometimes when you’re creating art or creating music, just creating some distance by getting it outside of you so you can look at it and understand it, can be a very helpful process.
Karma and a Decision to Make Uplifting Music
MC YOGI: Now that being said we have to be responsible for what we put out into the world. And if it’s very misogynistic or violent or negative, there’s some karma that that will come along with that. So you have to deal with the repercussions of putting that out into the world.
MC YOGI: So when I started making music I just I resolved and made a decision that I didn’t want to put a lot of negativity or violence or cussing or misogyny or homophobia or anything like that into my music because I didn’t want to create that sort of karmic debt to society where I was going to have to deal with that later on.
MC YOGI: So I just made it my discipline and my practice to put music and art out into the world that would hopefully be uplifting and beneficial.‘Music is medicine. Music has always been like a friend.’ Check out my interview with hip hop artist @mcyogi, in which we talk about #music, art, and his new book #SpiritualGraffiti Click To Tweet
The Right Song at the Right Time
Nathalie: I think that’s one of the strengths of, well, all artistic mediums in general. But I find music in particular is really good about this in that it… People connect with it in a way that just speaking to people or writing to people doesn’t always do. I think you…
In your book, in Spiritual Graffiti, you had a story and there was a line in that one story that really stuck with me. You said you realized… You were listening to Bob Marley, I think it was “Three Little Birds”. And you said that “music could be medicine, that the right song at the right time could transform the space”.
And I think it’s not just the space that music can transform. I think it touches people on a level that nothing else can. And when you’re using it to process those big life events, and especially in a genre that I think really appeals to a younger generation, I think that’s extraordinarily helpful because people can relate to what’s going on in that.
And it can help, not only you to deal with whatever you’re dealing with yourself, but I think it helps other people deal with other similar things, which I think is one of the biggest pieces of magic that music can perform.
“Music is Medicine”
MC YOGI: Yeah. And it’s true. Music is medicine. I always say music is my therapy, it takes good care of me, when I’m down and out it’s always there for me. Music has always been like a friend.
And whether it was Bob Marley or John Lennon or Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys or whoever I was listening to, it always felt like I was surrounded by those messengers.
And it always felt like… I don’t know… Putting my headphones on, I could put myself into a different world, a different space.
Whatever You’re Into is What You’re Attracted To
And you know we live in the in the realm of infinite possibilities so when it comes to entertainment and music and media, there’s every direction you could go. And you could go in a fantasy direction and you could be in that space. You can go into a horror direction and if you want to be in that space. You can go into an uplifting, positive energy if you want to be in that space. And it really depends on the user.
It’s like whatever you’re into, well, that’s going to be the kind of music you’re attracted to. Whatever is going on inside you is probably going to be the type of music that you’re interested in listening to. So I just feel really fortunate because some of those artists, early on for me, were really positive forces and kind of inspired me to pick up the microphone and pursue becoming an artist myself.
Nathalie: And you have taken your music, you’ve performed all over the place, haven’t you? I read in some of your bio notes that you performed in the Forbidden City in China and you’ve even performed at the White House, is that right?
MC YOGI: Yeah, and I think in 2018 the White House is now the Forbidden City.
Nathalie: I wasn’t gonna go there, but… I’m in Canada so we are all sort of watching this, not quite sure what to think about it all.
MC YOGI: You guys have got Trudeau doing yoga on the desktop up there. So that’s pretty cool.
Teaching Yoga in China’s Forbidden City
Nathalie: So, what was that like, performing in China like that?
MC YOGI: It was incredible. I mean it’s… I’m still processing it because you know I stood and taught yoga right where the Emperor of China stood and addressed his people. So it was pretty amazing. And all these military guards were lined up along the perimeter. And it was actually with a Canadian company — we went up there with Lululemon.
Nathalie: Oh yeah?
MC YOGI: Yeah. And a bunch of teachers and some incredible people from China who had hosted us. And it was just a really amazing experience.
Teaching Yoga at the White House
MC YOGI: And then when we went to the White House, we taught yoga at the White House. I think we did six years in a row while the Obama’s were in office and…
Nathalie: I miss them.
MC YOGI: Yeah. I mean the energy there was just so incredibly beautiful and dignified and classy. And they were just incredible. I got to give Michelle Obama a fist bump. And it was just… It was such an amazing opportunity…
MC YOGI: …to be a part of our nation’s history. And you know I met so many incredible people along the way. And we met some great friends who have yoga studios in D.C.
The 10000 Buddhas Project
MC YOGI: And actually my wife, who was with me the whole time, Amanda, she’s a graffiti artist as well. You know I grew up painting graffiti in the Bay Area, and she got the opportunity to do this mural in D.C.
She’s been doing this project where she’s painting 10000 Buddhas. And she did a three story 10000 Buddha mural in DC as part of this ongoing campaign to paint 10000 Buddhas around the world through graffiti and….
Nathalie: I’ve seen some of her art on her… It’s her Twitter account, is it? She’s got some beautiful stuff.
MC YOGI: On Instagram. I think it’s 10000Buddhas.com, spelled out and also 1 and four zeroes.
But, yeah, it’s been really cool to watch that process unfold for her because as I’ve been traveling around performing music at these big festivals and we’ve taught yoga classes over 10000 people. And we do it together as a team. And it’s been just an amazing thing to go to the Forbidden City together. We went to the Great Wall and she hit up a little graffiti Buddha on the Great Wall of China, which was pretty awesome.
And we went to the White House and she painted that three-story mural. And she’s just been rocking it.Listen in as @mcyogi talks peace, #love, hip hop and his new book: ‘I just made it my discipline and my practice to put music and art out into the world that would hopefully be uplifting and beneficial.’ #yoga Click To Tweet
Experiences at the Women’s March
MC YOGI: We actually went to the Women’s March together in D.C. It was the day after Trump’s inauguration and she had designed all these incredible posters with this female form of the Buddha. And she had given them out to… People all across the country were able to download them and bring them to their march in their community.
Nathalie: Oh, wow.
MC YOGI: And I think the women’s march, if I’m not mistaken, was… I think it was the largest protest in the history of humanity as far as I know.
Nathalie: I believe so. I mean, it was all around the world. People from everywhere were involved in that. Both years.
“The Future is Female”
MC YOGI: Yeah. And being there with her was just… You know that saying “the future is female”? I believe that very deeply because it was… I’ve been to all the marches. Like when George W. Bush was waging war in Iraq and we took to the streets back then trying to shut that down and slow it down. The war machine.
And it was such a different energy at the women’s march. There was so much more… It felt like so much more connection. It was so much more peaceful and creative and just seeing all those pink hats… this ocean of just women in the streets was just… it was a really powerful impression it made on my mind.
Nathalie: Oh, still. Even looking back at all the pictures. It’s just mind-blowing seeing all of that.
MC YOGI: Yeah. I’m really glad that we got out the front door and went. And it’s something that I’ll always have with me no matter what. I know that we were there. And it was a powerful experience.
This has been part one of my interview with artist MC YOGI. Tune in next week for part two of our interview in which MC YOGI talks about how his family modeled the values that helped him become an international success, how to find your passion in life, how yoga became his lifeline, and the three critical keys that helped him turn his entire life around. We’ll also be chatting about his new book, Spiritual Graffiti.
About Today’s Guest Expert:
MC YOGI is a world-renowned yoga teacher and performing artist on a mission to bring good music and good energy into the world. His latest album, Ritual Mystical, a collaboration with East Forest, hit #1 on the iTunes Electronic charts, and his memoir, Spiritual Graffiti: Finding My True Path, was recently published by HarperOne. Connect with him on his web site at mcyogi.com and on Instagram.