The Intense AM Workout That Fuels a Hip-Hop Tastemaker

The man who managed Biggie Smalls rolls his eyes at the Charlie Brown ringtone blasting from his phone, and then just keeps doing a shoulder press. It’s 6:25 in the morning, and Mark Pitts’s day is off to a late start. The RCA executive should be close to wrapping up his workout by now, maybe already sipping his postlift shake. But this session began 25 minutes ago and he’s only halfway through his second full-body circuit at Body by Ayman, a gym in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

No sense rushing, though, since the 48-year-old president of RCA’s urban-music division and CEO of ByStorm Entertainment has his work with him. Welcome to Pitts’s lab, where music is on his brain. “When I’m working out, it opens up my creativity,” he says. “It just clears up the pathways when you’re unsure about something.”

In 2017, he was waffling on Atlanta-based rapper Deante’ Hitchcock. Then came a 5:00 a.m. biceps blast. “I was listening to a couple of his joints and I was like, ‘I’m signing this guy!’ ” Pitts says. “I got it so clear.” Hitchcock’s music was on BET by that summer.

How Pitts Finds the Hits

If Hitchcock isn’t on your Spotify, another of Pitts’s artists probably is. He began in the late ’90s, with friend Sean Combs, at Bad Boy Entertainment, guiding the careers of Faith Evans and the Notorious B.I.G. (who gave him his nickname, Gucc). He worked with CeeLo Green, Usher, and Miguel in stints at other labels.

Pitts has been with RCA since 2011, on the hunt for music’s next big thing. He usually arrives at work on Madison Avenue at 7:30, and before the office is bustling, he’s got his headphones on, plowing through tracks from unknowns.

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It’s tunes all day, even if Pitts shifts gears in the afternoon. That’s when he’s polishing upcoming albums, sometimes hitting the piano himself to show an artist exactly how a few bars should sound. There are some late nights partying. (His annual BET Awards bash is the stuff of hip-hop legend.)

But if artists want his time, they may have to wake up extra early for a day. That’s what Nick Cannon did last year. Cannon hoped to run through ideas with Pitts, but he couldn’t seem to catch him during the workday. Finally, he asked for the address of Pitts’s gym and showed up the next morning. “I love that,” Pitts says, adding that many artists are just wrapping up party-filled nights at 5:00 a.m. “Their day is ending and mine is beginning.”

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It’s always an intense start. On this morning, he’s gutting out pushups, situps, and his nemesis, the Bulgarian split squat. Med-ball slams and EZ-bar biceps curls follow, and then he takes a few gulps of water from a gallon jug and hits his circuit for a second round. Pitts circuit-trains everything, to keep his heart rate high.

And he sometimes trains in silence, as he’s doing today, with only “Linus and Lucy” occasionally piercing the air. He doesn’t need to listen to music to hear the ideas in his head. “I listen to music all day,” Pitts says, “but I come up with my best ideas when I’m working out.”

The Break of Brawn

Having trouble training on the road? Try Pitts’s fix, a 30-minute full-body crusher that works in most hotel gyms.

Giacomo Fortunato


Do 2 minutes of high knees and 2 minutes of Supermans to warm up. Then do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps for each exercise. Rest as needed between sets, especially if you’re struggling to maintain your form. But aim to keep the rest periods brief.

Dumbbell Row

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Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and hinge at your hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor; place your right hand on a bench for support. Row the dumbbell upward, then return to the start. That’s 1 rep. Complete all reps with the left arm, then repeat with the right.

Bench Press

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Lie faceup on a bench holding dumbbells directly over your shoulders. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your core should be tight. Bend your elbows and shoulders, lowering the dumbbells until they’re an inch from your chest; pause briefly, then reverse the move. That’s 1 rep.

Dumbbell Fly

Lie faceup on a bench, holding dumbbells directly over your shoulders, elbows bent just slightly, feet flat on the floor, glutes and abs squeezed. Lower the dumbbells in a wide arc; pause when you feel a stretch in your chest. Reverse the move to return to the start. That’s 1 rep.

Dumbbell Alternating Curl

Stand holding dumbbells at your sides. Flex at the right elbow to curl the right one upward so the weight touches your right pectoral. Squeeze your biceps for 3 seconds, then lower the dumbbell. Repeat on the left side. That’s 1 rep.

Single-arm Hammer Curl

Stand with a dumbbell in your right hand, palm facing your thigh. Curl the weight upward, squeeze, then lower it. Work to keep your torso as square as possible; if you fight to not tip toward the side of the weight, you’ll activate your core. That’s 1 rep. Do all reps, then repeat on the left side.

Triceps Kickback

Hold a light dumbbell in your right hand. Bend at the waist so your torso is parallel to the floor. Your upper arm should also be parallel to the floor. This is the start. Straighten your right arm, squeezing your triceps. That’s 1 rep. Do all reps, then repeat on the left side.

Lateral Raise

Men’s Health

Stand holding light dumbbells at your sides, palms facing each other. Keep a slight bend in your elbows; this is the start. Without moving your torso or bending your elbow, raise your right arm until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Return to the start. Repeat with the left arm. That’s 1 rep.

Cooldown jog

Pitts can’t stand traditional cardio, which is why he keeps his weight-room work fast-paced. But on the road, he still hits the treadmill (or the great outdoors) to finish up his sessions. Once you’re done lifting, jog for 10 minutes. Keep the pace relaxed; remember, it’s a cooldown.

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