Illustration by Taylor Lewis
Out of all the foods rappers have formed relationships with—Rick Ross's lobster bisque breakfast, Kanye's fish fillet snobbery, Drake's tuna sandwich heartbreak—it's tofu that has a generation of rappers' noggins truly twisted. When it comes to the humble coagulated bean curd, your favorite spitters are never shy about airing out their personal philosophies on the issue—and for a food as bland as tofu, a surprisingly motley range of opinions have been expressed through rhyme.
Some rappers have pledged a firm allegiance to the pro-soy camp, whereas others sound like they'd experience a panic attack if someone replaced their beloved steak with a piece of grilled, marinated tofu. Some artists are all about bigging up the food's health benefits, while others stick solely to their taste buds when it comes to weighing the dish. Beyond actually eating tofu, it's also been invoked in creative ways: it's been characterized as a paler form of beef, used to threaten rival MCs, and held up as an unlikely status symbol (not to mention at least one case of an artist blaming its placement in their local Whole Foods for scuppering a romantic tryst.)
Read on for your rap-centric primer on the tofu game.
The Be Healthy Regime
Tofu can be a staple of any vegetarian or vegan lifestyle — so it's not surprising that it's popped up in mighty healthy rap songs. If hip-hop's golden age was all about keeping pork off your fork, then the turn of the new millennium cast Dead Prez as bean curd pioneers, urging hip-hop heads to trade candy bars and cigarettes for "barbecued tofu" on their dietician's handbook "Be Healthy." During the same era, RZA talked about adding tofu to coconut rice on "Must Be Bobby." (Connoisseur that he is, the head of the Wu-Tang Clan likes to pair his 'fu with a 40 ounce bottle of malt liquor from the corner bodega.)
Today, you'll find cult rapper Ka infusing his street sermons with advice about "juicing, getting loose in the farmer's market." On 2015's Days With Dr. Yen Lo, he trades consuming "beasts" for "a feast of bean curd." (As an aide: Someone at PETA needs to license Ka's "My diet is veggie but the desi is a carnivore" line for a t-shirt slogan.) Homeboy Sandman also gets tricksy on "Men Are Mortal"by confessing how he's "Trying to keep my temper in a tempest/ So I'm into tofu and into tempeh/ Guess I'm pretentious." It's a given that Boy Sand's keeping it organic.
The Nasty Boys Club
In the opposite corner is a smorgasbord of rappers who have pulled no punches when it comes to their stance on tofu: They loathe the stuff. The group is headed up by Kendrick Lamar, who has at least twice claimed in freestyles that he's "nasty like tofu." West coast oddball Blu has built on this belief by point blank declaring, "I eat red meat 'cause tofu don't move me."
The dearly departed punchline barbarian Sean Price teamed up with Phonte for "Let It Be Known," wherein he expressed the uncompromising dietary stance, "I don't eat tofu, I don't drink soy milk." Phonte himself was presumably on board with the regime; on Little Brother's "The Yo-Yo," he vented, "Fuck that tofu—I need a pork chop on my plate." Let's not even ask if dulse seaweed could ever be a bacon substitute.
When You Think Tofu Is Really Exotic
Following up his breakthrough "Survival Tactics" track in 2012, youthful Flatbush firebrand Joey Bada$ dropped "Waves" at the tail end of the same year. Over a breezy beat, the Pro Era man expressed upwardly motivational boasts like the dream that his rapping will take off to the point where he's able to fly coast to coast—and, er, eat tofu, which is definitely not at all available in any of the many supermarkets and produce stores dotted along Flatbush Ave.
Also on board with the idea that tofu is a super rare, high-end concept food is Rich Homie Quan. On the aspirational "All I Need," the Georgia man tries his very best to impress listeners with the flamboyant boast that "my bitch foreign eating tofu." This upscale lady has probably also been known to buy actual Tylenol cold medicine instead of the drug store brand version, too.
In a similar fashion, while spitting over Cam'ron's soulful "Down And Out" beat, Lil Wayne alludes to the fact that his girls out in Los Angeles chow down on tofu, as if it's some rarified dish. Staying out west, at least Dom Kennedy's properly stuntin' by paying over the odds for tofu while
dining at Nobu on "Goodbye."
Tofu As Beef Substitute
Vegetarian menus have long suggested tofu as a substitute for beef—and it's a concept that rappers have gobbled up. Using tofu as a means to claim that a foe is only capable of bringing a lower level of dispute to the table surely casts doubt on their very moral fortitude! On that note, you'll find trap stars Jeezy (on The Game's "Paramedics") and T.I. (on Trae Tha Truth's "Fighting Words") bigging up their own status with brags like the latter's "Fuck niggas ain't beef — they tofu."
Bonus Beef: The Art Of Threatening A Foe With Tofu
Remember Chief Keef? At one point he was the most dangerous rapper in Chicago and
was being hotly tipped for mainstream superstardom. At one point, he attempted to hop onto the tofu bandwagon in a somewhat confusing manner. On "Sosa Style," Keef threatened, "Who you? I don't know you/ Glock on me, turn your ass to tofu." He confounds the confusion by also
warning he'll "turn your ass to Thai food." This idea that body parts look like tofu — or
even a particularly greasy pad thai with a couple of spring rolls on the side — is all a bit
vague, if we're being honest. Does he mean extra firm tofu? Silken? Applewood
smoked? Be specific please, Keef.
A better use of the honorable art of using tofu as a barb comes from emo rap heroes Atmosphere. On the piano-helmed "Hockey Hair," you'll her Slug spit, "MCs is mock-duck/ Tofu tough talk." Which definitely works as a card-pulling punchline. Although mock-duck is actually great in Thai food—someone should tell Chief Keef.
Tofu As The 37th Chamber
Culled from the great Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire's excellent 2011 festive mixtape Merry eX-Mas & Suck My Dick, his team-up with Detroit's endearingly caterwauling Danny
Brown is named "Killah Tofu."The track title brings to mind the sort of third rate weed carrier rapper who formed part of the Wu-Tang Clan's extended troupe back in the rugged late-'90s era—although it transpires that it's actually a reference to a song from the carton Doug, as performed by the band The Beets. Let the record show that tofu definitely has cross-genre mass
Finally, spare a thought for that most tender of beleaguered souls, Andre 3000, who's
probably still having night terrors about a tofu-related incident that went down at his
local Whole Foods around a decade ago. On a remix of Lloyd's "You" that loops up a
Spandau Ballet sample, our intrepid paramour is trying to hit on a check-out girl—but
instead of successfully running game he only manages to stoke up the ire of the other
patrons in line, who presumably just want to pay for their bulk bagged black quinoa and
365 Everyday Value line olive oil and high-tail it out of there.
As Andre laments how he's not in Paris—because, you know, if he were he'd have
already "grabbed her by the waist and kissed her" right there by a stack of plastic hand
baskets—he takes a look around the environment and coins a real musing for the
ages: "We in the middle of Whole Foods and those foods/ Ain't supposed to beef, but
you'd think they hated tofu." Stock replenishers are still unpacking Three Stacks' bean
curd poetry to this day.
A Final Word…
As we've seen, tofu provokes a fierce range of opinions from rappers—but when it comes to advocating dietary lifestyle preferences, it's worth taking heed from the rabble-rousing Immortal Tech. On "Beef and Broccoli" from his debut album, he drops some sagely advice that will have you peacefully chowing down with vegans and carnivores alike. "I don't castigate people for not eating steak sandwiches/ And I would never dis someone for being a fucking broccoli head or living off radishes or eating grass with tofu," Tech explains, before adding the calming conclusion: "I like a lot of vegan cuisine but the illogicality of expecting everyone to adopt your particular idea of what being healthy is, is just preposterous." That's some tofu truth right there.
Phillip Mlynar is a writer in NYC. He considers himself the world's foremost expert on rappers' cats. His work has appeared in Deadspin, NYLON, RBMA and Catster. You can find him on Twitter.