MOUNT VERNON, New York This might be the only time the usually poker-faced Styles ever sweat.
It was about 100 degrees in the shade near his hometown, and the rapper was going through the Ruff Ryders Thug Workout with some of his Double R affiliates.
"You gotta do push-ups when you on the road to get yourself right, in case you gotta slam somebody or something," he advised while performing the exercise in the back yard of one of his associates, his feet pointed on a piece of wood held up by two cinder blocks and his arms going up and down on two milk crates (see " 'Ruff Ryders' Thug Workout' Takes 'Tae Bo' To The Street").
About the only thing hotter than Styles basting in the sun is Styles when he's on wax. The LOX member's Swizz Beatz-produced "Good Times," off his just-released solo debut, A Gangster and a Gentleman, has given him yet another radio hit, following up the success of "The Life."
"Originally it was for Swizz's album," Styles said of his stimulant anthem "Good Times." "He wanted me to do a song on that topic. He had the beat and the hook for me. So I did it and everybody liked it so much, he let me get it for a single for my album. I just did what I do. I'm glad to be doing this good. I [attribute] it to lucking up and hard-working people around me. I guess it's about time. I overpaid my dues."
And as much as the streets supported the track, Styles said he wouldn't be getting any love on the airwaves if he hadn't made a few modifications to the track, most recently changing the sampled chorus from "I get high, high, high" to a girl singing, "I get by, by, by."
"I gotta do it for videos," he explained after doing a few pull-ups. "They won't play 'I get high,' so I made it 'I get by.' If I don't do it, I don't get my video played. From the original verses, I had to make them clean so they could play it on the radio. Then I had to make a cleaner version of that for the video. It's part of the game. Long as they spinning it, I appreciate it."
Besides his fellow LOX members Jadakiss and Sheek (the trio have been recording their third album), NBA superstar Jalen Rose also pops up in the clip as a DJ. "That's my boy," Styles said as if it were common knowledge. "That's my dog. He just been my man for years. Basketball, rap, you know how they intertwine. I'm a fan of his, he's a fan of mine. I got a lot of NBA friends."
The MC has also been rubbing shoulders with some of his peers. He's been in the studio doing guest spots on projects by Donell Jones, Scarface and Lil' Kim, and Angie Stone appears on his next single, "Black Magic."
"I'm spreading my wings," he said of diversifying his album with a little singing. "I want to give them a gangster and a gentleman. I been giving them gangster for a long time; I wanna throw a little bit of gentleman in it. I know everybody didn't expect my album to be how it was. They probably expected it to be all hard and nobody could relate except dudes. So that's why I switched it up.
"[Black Magic] is for everybody in the struggle," added Styles, who also features songbird Lil' Mo on his album. "Poor people, homeless people, brothers in jail who ain't coming home. Kids without school clothes. The meaning of the song is showing how people maintain through all the stress and pain."
One of Styles' most sorrow-filled times came last Mother's Day when he lost his younger sibling to a car accident. The track "My Brother" is a tribute to him.
"It was easy to make the words," he recalled about recording the song. "It was difficult to go in and say it sometimes."
As he finished his last rep (or as he says, "clip") on the pull-up bar, Styles was as thirsty for a sip of water as he is for a platinum plaque. "It's f---ng baking out here," he said, wiping his forehead.