Three years ago California rapper Tim Scott Jr. was working at a YMCA branch as a front desk greeter—“hitting members with handshakes and smiles and joy”—when mindfulness hit him. At a job training session, he drew the attention of educator J.G. Larochette, founder of the Mind- ful Life Project in Richmond, CA. Larochette asked Scott if he knew what mindfulness was. “Nah, not really,” Scott replied. Over a cup of coffee, Larochette introduced him to mindful- ness and, before long, Scott became “JusTme,” a hip-hop purveyor of mindfulness for children in local public schools. Scott now has his own venture—JusTmindfulness—and a kid-friendly YouTube channel that features podcasts and such raps as “D.F.Y.L. (Don’t Flip Yo’ Lid)” and “Ain’t Worried” and “Mindful Life Style.”
What role does hip hop play in your own life?
When I was seven, my parents divorced. I didn’t have a voice for expressing my feelings—anger, frustration, and confusion—and I got into fights. But I also spent a lot of time drawing and listening to music on my Walk- man—and hip hop became my outlet. It had an angry kind of charge that helped diffuse my emotional energy in a positive way. Later, when stuff was presented to me—drugs, gangs, people saying, “Hey, you want to come over here?”—because of what I was hearing in the songs about that lifestyle—I knew it was some- thing I didn’t want.
When did you start writing your own music?
When I was 12. My early raps were me being this street character—violent and braggadocious— that I thought I had to be but really wasn’t. But when I was about 15, a conversation with my dad changed my focus. As a prison corrections officer, he’d see guys come into the system, walking around big and tall and bad and then, within a couple of days, getting beat up. His point was this: “Anything you say you are about, son, you better be about it, otherwise you’re a joke. Somebody who really does that is going to check you, and your integrity will be shattered.” From that point forward, I applied what he said to my music—and twisted the perspective to balance the life I lived in the suburbs and the life in the streets that I also knew.
How did that feed into mindfulness?
When I started writing hip-hop music, it was a kind of meditation: it was quiet, it was intimate—just me to the paper and the paper to me. But I formally discovered mindfulness—the label—when I met J.G. Before that, I didn’t know what to call what I was doing or even if my art was something people would accept. But everything came together: I found my lane. I started working for the Mindful Life Project, in an after-school program, and writing music for kids, trying to make mindfulness culturally relevant to kids in the inner city, so that it’s something they value and put to use.
Did you take to it right away?
To be honest, at first I thought, “This is some bullshit.” I felt like I had already been doing it with my music. But the more I practiced, the more I started to tap into a new level.
“New level”—what do you mean?
It’s weird. It’s a situation where you find peace in the noise that is constantly going on inside yourself. That peaceful inner resonance is like listening to the radio: There’s a lot of static around a certain frequency, but when you finally dial in to a station, you get clarity. It’s beautiful.
Some people might think hip hop and mindfulness are contradictory.
People who don’t have a background in hip hop think it’s a negative art form with a negative message. I’m saying it’s merely a perspective, a call, like, “Check this out: This is the kind of stuff we deal with. Come take a look at what is going on out here.” Hip hop is a survival tool. It saved my life. Now, I just want to change it up.
Tell me about your daily practice.
I usually sit in the evening, to decompress. But each morning I give myself three things I’m grateful for and three things I hope to accom- plish in the day. Then I practice yoga, turn on some music, and gear up. I try to find all the reasons why today is “the day”: The thrill is just waking up and going through a 24-hour period. And 24 hours later, getting to start again. →
How do you bring mindfulness to children?
If I have a group of kids who are all over the place, I might start rapping a capella and that gets their attention—“Hey, this dude can rap!” They feel validated because hip hop is the music of right now. They tune in. They can see my pas- sion and my drive. They connect.
And how do they respond to meditation?
Basically, it’s a heartfelt thing between us. I’m straightforward and real with them and that puts a level of respect in the room. When they are in a practice with me, I see the ones who want to give it a shot. They are trying to con- nect with their breath, trying to be their stillest, making a real effort for themselves, not for me.
Do they take the practices home?
One of the students at a school where I work said, “Hey, Mr. JusTme, I was at home and my brother was taking my toys. I felt myself get angry, and I did one of the breathing practices you taught me. I got myself back on track.”
I’ve also had students tell me when it doesn’t work. I worked with a kid who saw his parent shot. During meditation, he had a hard time.
“When I close my eyes, it shocks me back to that moment,” he said. “That’s OK,” I said. “Sit with it. Maybe it will get easier each time. Or maybe just don’t close your eyes. There’s no right way to do it. You’re just tapping into and honoring your emotions and thoughts. And that right there is self-loving care.”
What else are you working on?
I’m finishing up my 200-hour yoga certification. Movement is just another avenue to go down to be a spokesperson for well-being. That’s what I’m most concerned about. I want people to take care of themselves, because I know what it’s like to not take care of yourself. And the alternative is a whole hell of a lot better.
Yoga and hip hop—really?
Absolutely! Now you see youngsters tutting (putting their bodies in geometric shapes) and bone breaking (almost like contortionism). A lot of yogis do the same thing, but they just hold those positions. The hip hop beat is like the flow of the breath. Yoga is just break-dancing in super slow-mo.