MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And finally today, let's talk food. If you love food as we do, you've probably followed some of the recent controversies over racist imagery on some well-known products and about the lack of diverse representation in food writing and reviewing and other foodie spaces. Well, enter the rapper and entrepreneur Master P. This week, Master P, whose given name is Percy Miller, announced that he's getting into the packaged food business. He recently launched a line of products called Uncle P's Louisiana Seasoned.
But Miller, a native of New Orleans, says it's about more than changing racist imagery. He wants to use the brand to help support the Black community. We wanted to hear more, so we gave him a call.
Percy Miller, Master P, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
PERCY MILLER: Hey, how you doing?
MARTIN: Well, great. Well, congratulations on the new venture. I mean, I think people who follow your career know that you're a restless spirit with...
MARTIN: ...Lots of different ventures over the course of your career. And this isn't even your first foray into food. You opened a burger spot in New Orleans called...
MARTIN: ...Big Poppa Burgers, which got some nice reviews. You know, a lot of celebrities open restaurants. But what made you want to get into the packaged food business, that's - which is a whole other thing?
MILLER: Well, it's my passion. We've been eating these foods all our lives. When you look at rice, pancakes, syrup, noodles, chips - all these different things as African Americans, we've been consuming these products since kids. Our grandparents have been making us buy Uncle Ben rice, Aunt Jemima, and not knowing that these products are not owned by us. But as African Americans, when we go into the stores, we're thinking we want to support this because these products look like us, and we think it's owned by us.
And to get in this side of the business to where we say, you know what? We want to create more product, but we want product that we are eating. Everybody eat rice (laughter). And it's, like, but we've never owned it. And we all make pancakes. We all have syrup for breakfast. All these type of things - red beans and rice, yellow rice, brown rice - and I'm saying we have never thought that we could own product like that. We have to start thinking outside the box.
MARTIN: You know you're starting this at a time when, you know, retail in general is just completely upended. I mean, people - you know, some people are afraid to go to the grocery stores. A lot of people are getting their groceries online. It just seems like a really topsy-turvy time in the food business, period. And I just - I'm wondering if you're worried about that.
MILLER: No, I'm not worried about it because think about it - when you start a business, you have to find a problem. We found a problem. We own no products on these shelves. And it's time, whether it's Amazon, the other grocery stores - people are still going to the stores because we need essential foods, especially like rice. Why not buy it from us? And we've been buying it from them over 130 years.
I come from New Orleans, so we have hard times. We've been going through hard times all our life. The hurricane come, we got to start over. We're not afraid to start. Like, once we get into these major chain stores, then other African American product companies - they're going to know that they could do this in a packaged food business. And it's going to spread onto other things. That's why we're protesting. That's why we're standing up for Black Lives Matter. But at the same time, we have to win on the business side to be able to rebuild our community, to be able to educate our kids.
You know, I pray for wisdom. I don't pray for money. So this is not about that. It's, like, this is what I know need to be done. And we're going to break that barrier down to where getting it to these major chain stores, if they close the door, we're going in through the window. We're going to keep fighting this fight till you see more African American packaged food companies everywhere. And it's just the beginning.
MARTIN: You know, we're facing two big historic moments in this country - the social justice protests on one hand and the coronavirus pandemic on the other.
MARTIN: You know, New Orleans, Louisiana has been hit hard by the pandemic. I know you have deep ties to Louisiana, as we've just been talking about.
MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask, how is your family doing? I know you have a big extended family still in the area. How are things?
MILLER: I have a large family, but we're holding in. We're holding together, and God has blessed us that we're still here. And we're fighting the fight. COVID-19 is real. I have friends that I've lost, and my family has been sticking together. And we've just been - we know that this is something that we're going to eventually get over.
MARTIN: I also want to ask you about your brother, Corey Miller. He's also known as the rapper C-Murder. He's currently incarcerated, and we know prisons have become coronavirus hotspots. Do you mind if I ask, how is he doing?
MILLER: His situation is unfortunate. He's holding his head up. And we just hope that we can get through this. And it's a lot of innocent people that's incarcerated, but you have to fight. Trouble is easy to get into but hard to get out of, so we have to keep fighting the fight and keep praying.
MARTIN: But I'd be remiss if I didn't ask, you know, how we got to know you in the first place - through your music work. You were at the helm of No Limit Records for years. You were responsible for numerous careers. Certainly, many hit records on your side, but also, you've managed other people as well...
MARTIN: ...Including your son. Does music still play a role in your life?
MILLER: Music is therapy for me. And you have to grow. As a man that I have evolved into, I don't want people to just know me as a hip-hop artist or a hip-hop mogul. I have evolved, diversified my portfolio. I played in the NBA. I created numerous business. So I changed my - like, don't - and I want to send this message to any kid out there. Don't be afraid to grow and change and get better. And as you get better, you know better, you do better.
And my music, I feel like, is a part of my childhood. My evolving into a man and a father is about making the right decisions and choices. And I want people that know that's what my life is about. When you see me now, you're going to be able to see the entrepreneur, the philanthropist, the businessman.
MARTIN: There is very clear subtext to your message, which is, this is what I'm doing, but I don't want to - just to be me. I want other people to follow this path...
MARTIN: ...And to get involved in the mainstream economy and to dominate sectors of it, to have diversified interests, to not just be focused on one thing. Do you think you're having an impact?
MILLER: I hope I am because I'm only trying to help the next generation and even entrepreneurs because they teach us that we have to be good at one thing. But if you're only good at one thing, then when that's over, then what? We need to start owning things. We need to start owning products and brands. We need to start owning real estate if we're going to change the narrative. And so to people that are listening, I'm going to keep giving them that game. And I've been giving it to them for free.
MARTIN: That was Percy Miller, also known as Master P. He is launching Uncle P's Louisiana Seasoned food line.
Master P, Percy Miller, thank you so much for talking to us today.
MARTIN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MASTER P'S "MAKE 'EM SAY UGH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.