Lil’ Kim Hiking
Lil’ Kim hiking (Photo: Courtesy Complex)

Why We Love ‘Hiking with Rappers’

A new Complex series takes Rick Ross, Lil’ Kim, and Quavo on short hikes. Each episode gets vulnerable in wonderfully unexpected ways.

Lil’ Kim hiking

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Lil’ Kim has had it with hiking. On a blazing August afternoon, the rap-and-fashion icon has walked a third of a mile steadily uphill in Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, a 400-acre sprawl overlooking downtown Los Angeles to the east. She sports skintight blue jean shorts, a white T-shirt knotted above the navel, and a jewel-encrusted, crown-festooned “B” around her neck. It is a wordless reminder of an early-career boast on a relentless track with Biggie Smalls. “I am a diamond-cluster hustler,” she rhymed. “Queen bitch, supreme bitch.”

At the moment, though, Kim isn’t feeling so boastful: “Second leg?” she shrieks when she learns she’s only completed the first portion of the one-mile trek. “Imma need a third leg for that. Oh, hell no—I am not going up that hill.” She commandeers a golf cart and gleefully escapes behind the wheel. Later, faced with another ascent, she deadpans, “The only hill I respect is Lauryn Hill.”

This is the fourth episode of Hiking with Rappers, a new web series from the hip-hop-and-style journal Complex. The premise is simple: comedian and actor King Keraun joins six rappers from disparate generations and scenes for a short hike up wide, sandy trails to an overlook of Baldwin Hills, an emerging hub of Black wealth and power in Los Angeles. But as Rick Ross and Quavo sweat beneath the summer sun, the results articulate a central axiom of hiking: there may be no more efficient way to get honest, real, and open than to go for a hard walk, even if it only lasts a mile.

“Most of the time, you see rappers in music videos, sitting there with the best car or with the best scenery. Everything is glitz and glamour,” says Keraun, a former football player (and son of an NFL running back) who says that his daily fitness regimen may include a run but never a hike. “But then you see them sweat and push through and get something done while having a conversation. You get to see them be vulnerable.”

Confidence is, indeed, a foundational tenet of hip-hop, arguably as important as the beat or the rhyme because it is so irrevocably intertwined with both. “I’ve created a devastating masterpiece/I’m gonna rock the mic ’til you can’t resist,” Big Bank Hank bragged back in 1979 on “Rapper’s Delight,” often cited as the first ever rap track. As hip-hop rose from an underground phenomenon to a global vernacular, that esprit—of being the best, the baddest, the most beautiful—never vanished. That projection is one intangible allure of rap, the secret ingredient that makes you feel a little taller, faster, or cooler when you listen. It’s one reason you, like me, might play rap during arduous hikes or whatever workout you prefer; even a borrowed bit of swagger makes physical exertion more manageable.

There may be no more efficient way to get honest, real, and open than to go for a hard walk, even if it only lasts a mile.

But very few people look, feel, or act cool when they hike. You sweat and chafe and contend with achy joints, tendons, and ligaments. You dig your own toilets and filter your own water. You forsake most notions of fashion for the efficiency of functionality. There is, however, a flip side: stripped of society’s protective layers of politeness and comfort, conversations tend to become more candid, because there is so little left to hide or so little left to hide behind.

During thru-hikes, I have sometimes known people for less than an hour before I know about their families and neuroses, sex lives and relationship traumas. Hikers whose names I do not remember have heard about the time I nearly had a nervous breakdown in the Sierra Nevada or what it’s like to share a tiny tent with your spouse. These frank conversations are sometimes only internal monologues, long stretches of alone time when you have nothing to do but fall into the rhythm of your footsteps and ponder the way you feel about yourself and your world.

Between the leisurely pace and the extended pauses for extra makeup, the one-mile walks on Hiking with Rappers sometimes lasted more than three hours. No one was out to set speed or distance records. But each of the 15- to 20-minute episodes quickly gets to somewhere more important—that frank conversational space, where secrets come out of their corners. It does not feel very hip-hop, strictly speaking; it feels incredibly human.

“Rappers’ careers are built around ego. But we wanted them to lose their shit a little bit—that’s the point.”

Some of the vulnerability Hiking with Rappers finds is simply funny. Migos rapper Quavo, for instance, takes pride in his athleticism, gloating that he could become the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. Weighed down by glistening diamond chains, earrings, and bracelets, he makes it seven-tenths of a mile before bailing on the entire enterprise. “I can’t hike no mo’,” he tells Keraun. “I gotta go.”

Or there’s the moment when the tiny Coi LeRay starts bounding up a climb with long, deep lunges. “This is for them cheeks right here,” she says, patting her glutes.

But Leray also talks about her strained relationship with her father, polarizing hip-hop artist Svengali named Ray Benzino. Their tumult exploded into a nasty public feud earlier this year, but she compliments his drive as a hustler while she works up the hill, slightly short of breath. It’s a subtle nod, the sort of thing that would not translate on social media.

Likewise, Big Sean talks openly about his mental health struggles and the meditation experts who have helped him find a sense of peace. The actual hiker of the first season’s half-dozen stars, Big Sean seems intent on a heady conversation with Keraun as soon as they say hello, as if he already understands the therapeutic value of hiking. He’s contemplating contentment and counting blessings when a family with a baby passes by on a nearby trail. He starts, jolted by a potential wildlife encounter. “You were scared right there,” Keraun says, ribbing Big Sean for his sudden lack of cool. “You thought it was a cougar.”

Hiking with Rappers, of course, isn’t the first show of its kind. For half a decade, Hot Ones—another web series where a star answers question while eating (or failing to eat) progressively fiery chicken wings—has been a pop-culture sensation. James Corden’s segment Carpool Karaoke and Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee work a related lane of shaking celebrities out of media-junket doldrums. These are attempts to bypass the safety nets of social media, too, where nearly everything can be vetted and scheduled despite the eternal illusion of infinite candor.

“Rappers’ careers are built around ego,” says the show’s producer, Jade Avalos. “But we wanted them to lose their shit a little bit—that’s the point.”

Hiking with Rappers, however, has a charming subtlety, because it presents two people taking a walk and having a talk, something most of us have done. In spite of the cameras, producers, and managers, the setting doesn’t feel particularly contrived. To wit, when Rick Ross meets Keraun, they instantly seem like old friends out for a sunny-day stroll.

For years, Ross was a bearded, burly emcee. “I’m a monster, no-good bloodsucker, fat motherfucker,” he rapped near the start of Kanye West’s “Monster.” But a series of health scares forced him to change his lifestyle; he’s now a telehealth investor who’s 100 pounds lighter and committed to fitness. “I was doing everything I wanted to do,” he tells Keraun. “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Keraun has been a Ross fan since 2006, he says, when Port of Miami introduced the surly rapper as a tough dude with big guns, drugs, cars, and dreams. He seemed imperturbably self-assured. With one leg of the climb left, however, Ross admits he is tired and not particularly enthused about finishing. “The higher we go, the better the view get,” Ross finally reckons, trying to motivate himself for the challenge. You’ve been here before, trying to get yourself pumped for something that’s harder than you’d hoped.

“I got to see Rick Ross sweat,” Keraun says, laughing. “I’ve never seen Rick Ross sweat—I didn’t even know he could sweat.”

Lead Photo: Courtesy Complex