Rapper Kevin Gates rises at 2 a.m. for weight training, core work, calisthenics—push ups, pull ups, dips—and meditation. His new-found discipline includes everything from yoga—which he loves and considers “a journey,” and which his cellmate helped initiate, despite Gates’ protests that yoga was for women—to a fruit-filled diet.
Some fruit, like limes, Gates eats for health reasons; limes with water help Gates sleep at night and curb his appetite in the morning. Then there are mangoes, which Gates uses for, well, other reasons. Rummaging through his fridge, Gates pulls out the fruit, and then, completely unprompted, suddenly gets professorial. “I don’t want to get all sexually explicit,” he begins, “but with the mangoes … I practice eating pussy. What you want to do is see if you can pull the microfibers out with just your teeth. You wanna tease. And if you can ‘tease a peach,’ you can give a woman pleasure.”
As strange as the Call-Me-By-Your-Name moment might appear, Gates’ fruit fixation reflects an almost absurd level of openness, and Gates remains quite comfortable talking about not only his body, but also his personal anxieties.
It’s why Gates wakes up so dang early. It’s why, after workouts, Gates leaves his gated home in Calabasas, tucked within the Santa Monica Mountains, and heads for “magic mountain” to complete a 10-minute hike that helps clear his head and exercise his soul. At the top, he likes to flex, pound his chest, and shout self-talk: “I’m the king of the world!”
It’s more about the building of confidence, though, than the consequence of arrogance. Gates’ critical success has come only recently. After a series of mixtapes, Gates released his first studio album, Islah (“to make better,” in Arabic, also the name of his daughter), in 2016. Even without a slew of big-name featured vocalists, Islah reached Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100, and Gates was off to the races. But Gates was far from complete.
“For the longest time, I’ve always stood in my own way, whether because of my insecurities or my being selfish and always wanting things to go my way,” Gates says, reflecting on a somewhat tumultuous decade. Last year, Gates finished a nine month prison sentence on a gun possession charge. In a YouTube interview, Gates said the charge was false, but that a guilty plea would help him avoid potential years of legal battles. So he plead. Still, Gates holds himself accountable for the life that had lead him there. “A lot of times in life, we are our own challenges,” he says. “We stand in our own way.”
His recent single “Push It” is an articulation of this struggle, a journey through the hurt to a better version of himself. “My biggest problem in life was overcoming myself,” he says, during the track’s opening. “Once I defeated myself, the only thing left was peace.” The music is thematically familiar but also takes inspiration from a creed less common to the genre—a kind of gangster rap propped up with strong pillars of Islamic faith: the disciplined struggle toward self-betterment.
That struggle and change has also come about physically. Since 2015, Gates has become more disciplined with his diet, slimming down to a more muscled frame—a decision that might seem, at least religiously, less modest, but nonetheless reflects one form of Gates’ self-betterment: physique. “I wanted more for myself,” he says. “I got tired of being a fat guy. I got tired of every time somebody took they’re shirt off, I was making excuses for why I didn’t think it was cool to take your shirt off. I think it’s fly.”
Gates says he now only eats one meal a day, though not for intermittent fasting reasons; he says the single meal stems from his practice of Islam. That one meal may be a steak and a veggie bowl. (For added protein and satiety, Gates takes BeLean protein before workouts.) Gates says his fast helps in creative ways. “Because I’m an artist, I can’t go into the studio on a full stomach,” he says. “I like to be hungry. I like the music to reflect my hunger.”
Some may worry that the hunger originates with Gates’ very real body dysmorphia, which he admits has affected him.
On our trip up the mountain that day, Gates pauses for a more serious reflection on the condition. “The beautiful thing about having body dysmorphia is that you can never see yourself as perfect. I don’t allow myself to get depressed about that. I just work hard.”
Then, looking out over the San Fernando Valley, Gates shouts: “I am Muhammad Ali!”