Hip-hop yoga studio apologizes for cultural appropriation

NEW YORK -- Y7, a New York City-based hot yoga studio that plays music from black artists like Tupac and Biggie in its classes, is apologizing for “appropriating hip hop and black culture,” saying it will broaden its playlists to include other genres of music. But industry insiders and people of color are saying it should keep the music and focus on making the practice more accessible to marginalized communities.

“The appropriation of hip hop culture and Black culture on our branding, the inadequate representation in leadership and clientele and the for-profit use of hip hop music in the class experience when inauthentically played by instructors -- we acknowledge this and take responsibility for this problematic co-opting that has continued for far too long. We are deeply, empathetically sorry,” Y7 studio wrote in a post to its Instagram page Thursday.

"Our promise is to no longer profit off hip hop music, hip hop culture or black culture," the statement continued.

The studio, which charges around $37 per class with locations in Chicago and Los Angeles, said it will pivot from playing strictly hip-hop to being a "music-driven studio." It also plans to change its branding in studios, on merchandise and on its website, like removing the phrase "A tribe called sweat," based on the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.

But some yogis are pushing back, saying the studio shouldn’t change its hip-hop roots.

“Keep the music, add more color to the payroll,” one commenter wrote on the company’s post.

Another commenter, who identified themselves as a person of color, agreed.

“This makes me sad. I love Y7 but so many of these things you seem to feel pressured to change are what has made it such a great place to embrace my practice authentically as a POC,” they said, adding: “Bringing yoga to marginalized communities and raising money for different causes is great but please stay who you are!! I’ve seen more diversity in your studios than any other gym/studio across NYC.”

Y7 did not immediately return a FOX Business request for comment.

A number of gyms, fitness studios and streaming services, like Soul Cycle and Peloton, have hosted for-profit, hip-hop-themed classes. And while fitness instructors and gyms have been incorporating hip-hop into routines and studios forever, branding experts say the bigger issue is about supporting the community that helped build its business.

“Rap music is the most popular form of music in the world right now, but where you can get into trouble is when you care more about the great beats than you do about the people or the great history where it came from,” Nandi Welch, head of business strategy for Rupture Studio, a brand strategy consultancy that’s worked with companies like Nike and Pepsi, told FOX Business. “Take that love of hip-hop and the source, black culture, and weave that into everything that you do. Live that commitment to that culture in some way other than bumping it in the speakers.”

Y7’s apology comes in the midst of a nationwide reckoning for businesses, brands and corporate America amid a social justice movement after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

A number of consumer brands have vowed to change their brands and logos associated with appropriation or racial stereotypes. Pepsi-owned Quaker Oats is changing the name of its 130-year-old pancake and syrup brand Aunt Jemima, recognizing that the brand, which features a black woman named Aunt Jemima, has origins “based on a racial stereotype.” Mars Inc.-owned Uncle Ben’s Rice followed last week, saying it will stop making products with its Uncle Ben character.

“It’s a healthy thing that organizations --  big and small -- are taking an interest and making sure that they’re not appropriating a culture, but at the same time what has to go along with that is recognizing the value and impact that Black culture has had on American culture and global culture and that’s not a bad thing, you just have to attach it to the people and source,” Welch said.