Strive: The Four Agreements
Many of today's rappers have found solace in the famed new age book, The Four Agreements. But Why?
Words: Sidney Madden
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Summer issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

For almost two decades the most popular book for rappers has been Robert Greene’s 1998 bestseller, The 48 Laws of Power, a handbook of sorts that advises readers on how to attain power and keep it. Many hip-hop artists have used the laws to help guide their career, but recently we noticed another book has become beloved amongst rappers, so much that they seem to even be sharing it with each other. The book is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz, a former surgeon-turned-Toltec master and author after experiencing a life-changing and almost ending car accident.

In the book, the Mexico-born Ruiz boils down ancient Meso-American Toltec teachings to four rules known as The Four Agreements. The text has proven to hold power for millions of readers since it was published in 1997. It’s since sold over 6.3 million copies, been translated into 40 languages, sat on The New York Times’ Best Seller list for nearly a decade and is adored by celebs far and wide.

The novel’s strength lies in its ability to put into words the ideals that have already been instilled in most people, but rarely acknowledged while outlining the basic guidelines on how one should live their best life. The Four Agreements aim to shift people’s everyday thinking and put life into perspective with four rules: 1. Be impeccable with your word, 2. Don’t take anything personally, 3. Don’t make assumptions and 4. Always do your best.

These agreements seem to have resonated with rappers. Styles P has spoken publicly about being into the book, Dizzy Wright named an EP after it and Lil Kim read it in jail. Big Sean told XXL’s The Break podcast this past April: “I read this in The Four Agreements, you can’t take anything personal, man, and that includes good or bad. You can’t take it personal because that shit will fuck up your whole day, fuck up your whole week, fuck up your whole career, fuck up your whole mindset. So, I literally learned to not pay attention to what anybody’s saying and to just stay focused on what I’m doing...”

So, we caught up with three former XXL Freshmen, Dizzy Wright, Joey Bada$$ and Raury—who are all fans of the book—to hear why they connected with Don Miguel Ruiz’s writings. Then we talked to the author himself to see what he had to say about his book and hip-hop’s fascination with it.

Joey Bada$$

Photo: Dee Frosted
Dee Frosted

I really can’t remember [where I got the book]. I think I got it from a fan because any time I tour I usually tell fans to bring books to the shows, so while I’m on the road I keep my mind stimulated with all the free time I do have. I don’t read [The Four Agreements] on the regular, but the information that’s stored inside of it, I pretty much already knew and had, but when I read it, the way the writer laid it out, it was just a reassuring feeling. And I feel like that’s how most people feel when they’re reading this book. Every chapter builds and it gives you awesome pointers for your life that I feel like we all subconsciously already know. But once you pick up the book and read those words, it just brings it to life, you know?

It definitely gave me confidence because it just reassured the abilities I already had like, my clarity. It honestly really put my mind on a straight-forward thinking path for a long time. Reading books period helps me write my music because I feel like I did when I was in school. I feel like that was the time in my life when it was easiest to write my music. Every day my brain was being stimulated by different subjects and stuff. My mind just absorbed different pieces of information and facts and then on top of that, everyday life experiences. So, for me not being in school anymore, books is the way I still stimulate my mind.

The first chapter, I think that’s what hit me the most be- cause you know, “Be impeccable with your word” that really speaks to... Words are powerful and speaking things into the universe is powerful because it’s like you just sent a magnet into the universe with what you spoke about. So, when I was reading that chapter, it deeply resonated with me because I realized I shouldn’t ever be wasting my breath. Every time I speak, it needs to be from the core and it needs to be in sync with everything I’m doing in my life. I shouldn’t waste words. I shouldn’t be telling people negative things that I don’t really have to say.

[“Don’t take anything personally”], that right there probably helped me the most. The whole book did, but “Don’t take anything personal” is a really serious thing. At the time I was reading the book, I would look around like, Damn, word. People really be taking things so personal sometimes when they really shouldn’t. You can take things as constructive criticism, but don’t take everything straight to the heart all the time, you know? Especially being in the position like myself or any other artist. We get shit from people every day. And for some people any negative comment, they gotta respond to. For me, I can’t do that. I see them and I just ignore them, like, Alright this guy’s just miserable with his life.

[“Always do your best”] is self-explanatory. Everything you do, you should give it 100 percent or more. That’s how I look at making music and really, try in all aspects of my life. [The agreements] are pretty much embedded in my brain and my mind. Everything that’s in this book you kind of already know, but once you pick up the book, it’s just reassuring. I’ve given [the book] to my crew and talked about it with fans across the world.


Photo: Zoe Rain
Zoe Rain

Joey Bada$$ is the one who put me onto it. Joey was definitely one of my first friends who was an artist. I was just talking to him and telling him I was getting ready to go on [a promo run back in 2014] and he just recommended [the book] to me like, “You should really read this on tour, man.”

It really just changed my perspective, like I saw life through a whole different set of eyes. As I was touring, I read it and it really made me much more of a confident performer. I didn’t really feel that confident of a person. So, this is a book that I wish I read a lot earlier because it opened so many doors for me. [The first agreement, “Be impeccable with your word”] means knowing that no matter who you lie to, no matter what word you don’t remain true to or what lie you tell yourself, you know that wasn’t the truth. And it also talks about how you are your own worst judge. Nobody who judges you on the outside can actually torture you more than what you know yourself or what you’re reminding yourself of every 30 minutes, you know what I mean? That is the true torment. All the people in the world can call you what they want or say that, “This person’s a liar,” but if you know the truth, if you’re being impeccable with your word, you trust yourself a lot more. You can deal with that psychological hell, just deep down knowing, I’m not being real.

[The second agreement: “Don’t take anything personally”] is just as simple as that. I can’t read your mind. I don’t know my friend Vivian’s thoughts before she gets up and goes into her room. I could make assumptions that she doesn’t want to be around me and here I am causing my own suffering because I’m taking it personal and assuming something. I’m just devaluing my worthiness of being hung around when really, she’s just going to use the bathroom. There are a million situations that take place like that. You’re walking around a mall, you think someone’s looking at you because they don’t like you, maybe they do like you. You are not in control of these people’s thoughts or actions, so don’t assume you know for a fact what is up. You don’t.

[That goes into the third one, “Don’t make assumptions”] My friend says not taking anything personal also ties into accepting and internalizing the fact that everyone’s living their own life and nothing they do is because of you.

[With the last one, “Always do your best”] so pretty much you can always be mad at yourself because these things also tie back to that judge of yourself thing [the writer] talked about in your head. You can never continue to beat yourself up for failure or loss or anything if you know you did everything you could. You could pretty much be down about it or you could learn from that failure and step it up next time because you know you should’ve stayed up this extra hour, you could’ve tried harder. It’s always about doing your best in any situation and make yourself proud.

The book helped with it. “Don’t take anything personally” from any weird vibe you get from the crowd. Go and do everything you can and “always do your best.” Of course I’ve always heard that all my life, but somehow the way that this book put it into words, it put a whole new spin on it. I knew I could double back on it because I gave a different type of confidence. [The book] encouraged me to be fearless and not assume that people aren’t going to just not vibe with me because really, I don’t know.

Dizzy Wright

Photo: Rolex

The Four Agreements gave me structure. Some of the things I already knew, but it helped me map it all out, structure it out in a good way. It was definitely something I couldn’t put down. It was the first book I read through in a long time. I overlooked certain things for a while. I was Googling a lot of shit, kind of got out of reading books and stuff so this was the first one I couldn’t put down that was making so much sense for me, you know? I was at a time and a place in my life where it just all made so much sense and I figured if I could apply The Four Agreements to my life in the right places, I could be happier, more successful.

I grew up kind of being the cool dude. I didn’t really have any problems with a lot of people. I kind of got along with everybody because I could relate to a lot of different people. And as I got older, I just started trying to do a lot for a lot of my friends.Then I kind of started doing the most and it started backfiring and they wasn’t putting no respek on my name! So, from then I was real serious about keeping it real, being impeccable with my word, only saying things that I meant and not falling in line with like the shit that fake niggas was doing. And then, after not taking shit personal, not allowing anything they were saying about me or not letting rumors that were being spread about me affect me to the point where I don’t continue doing what I feel like is my purpose in life. Just based on those first two agreements right there, it was kind of just hitting me in the realest way.

Those were things I already knew, like I knew I shouldn’t be trippin’ off what niggas say about me on the Internet, but like, this was a while ago when you monitor the shit that’s being said about you. And the last thing that you want is for your so-called homies to be running around acting like you somebody that you not because they want what you got. Everybody finds a way to tear a nigga down when they want to be in their position. So, the book definitely hit me at a crazy time.

What’s good is the book is not about being perfect. It’s about what you can catch on to when you’re doing it. And I figured if I could eliminate making a few assumptions, it would make a big difference. And not making assumptions plays a lot into the first agreement because in order to not make assumptions you have to be impeccable with your word. You gotta be willing to ask those questions that you would’ve probably tried to answer in your head or make some sense out of it.

The last one is always doing your best. It ties all three [together], but like...I grew up playing basketball. I remember the first thing I learned in basketball was just always to do your best. Just go out there and be the best you can be. You don’t have to be great because everybody gets better. As I transformed into a rapper and an artist and this and that and started having to speak on certain things, I’m going to do my best. And I just figured out if I keep that mindset, at least I’d be satisfied with myself when it’s all said and done. I’m trying to be the best person I can be for my kids, for my little brothers, for my fans, for all the people around me because a good spirit and good energy only lifts people up.

Don Miguel

XXL: We’ve been talking to a lot of rappers who’ve really connected with your book The Four Agreements so we just wanted to get your take on it.

Don Miguel Ruiz: Yes, that’s great!

What was your motivation to write a book like this?

Before that I used to be a surgeon and at the end of the 1980s I decided I wanted to understand more of the human mind on a spiritual level. So I started looking around and I started to go back to the legacy that comes from my family and it was an easy way for me to study the human mind. Then I started having a lot of apprenticeships to teach me the legacy of the Toltecs and at the same time get to know how they feel, the way they think, etc. Then after 10 years of working with all of them, the result was this little book, The Four Agreements.

Writing this book, it was a real challenge. The reason is because I had to condense all that information into something very simple. Reading this book, it’s a psychology book really, but instead of giving technical names or trying to explain how that works, I just give four agreements for everybody to take in and use to change their own life.

And part of that challenge was to make it so simple that anyone can understand it, from people with no education to the most intelligent people in the world. It was also very good to make a small book simple, to kind of condense the issues of so many people around the world and make it so simple and also have it be accepted by the different religions and science.

One of the great things about this book is there are a few mentions of God, but you never get specific about which religion you’re talking about. You keep it broad so a lot of people understand it.

How long did it take you to break down your understanding of life into these four agreements?

Oh, a long time. Once we were trying to create the book, it was like three to six months to write it because that had been something I was practicing for more than 10 years, probably. More than 10 years of practicing with people. That way it became so clear and so easy to understand. And can be applied to all the different religions around the world. Whatever religion they have, whatever type of education, even in medicine, in sports, all the different directions, it can be applied.

Did you ever envision rappers reading your book?

Oh, definitely, rappers definitely. With the rapper you can see how they speak with their hearts, with all those wonderful feelings. My son Jose, who wrote The Fifth Agreement, one of the examples that he gives is that when he went to see a concert, he felt so wonderful to be in the stadium and feel the emotions of all the people. It was just like people with their the music unified everything.

Have you ever heard celebrities praising your book? Have any talked to you about it?

Oh, many of them, really. It’s amazing and I’ve become friends with some of them. It’s just wonderful to see how this book really is affecting and changing the way of thinking of so many people. For example, there was a football player who talked about my book and said how that’s helped him in the game. Bill Clinton, when he was president, he said that it [The Four Agreements] really helped him.

What’s the most common take-away people get from the book?

I get a lot of mail from people, saying, “Oh, your book changed my life.” A lot of great testimonies. It feels so good that people read it and it changes their way of thinking and makes life easier for many people.

What do you think is the hardest part about following the four agreements?

Many people say that the second agreement, “Don’t take anything personally” is the most difficult to follow. Most people. Others say that, “Be impeccable with your word” is the most difficult and some people say, “Don’t make assumptions” is the most difficult.” My favorite one is, “Always do your best.”

The fourth one?

Yes, because that’s taking action to all the other three agreements. That puts them into action. And these are agreements, not commitments, which means you don’t have to do that in order to live your life wonderful and be happy. The agreement that keeps it all centered is this agreement; that you agree with yourself to do it. Then, it doesn’t matter how difficult they are, or if we break the other agreements, but we always do our best. And then, our best gets better and better and better. If you break your word, if you do take something personal, if you make assumptions when you shouldn’t have, it’s okay. It’s important to notice that you did it and instead of judging yourself, you just forgive yourself and next time just do it better and you’ll get happier and happier and happier. By doing our best, everybody’s shifting like the concert I was talking about earlier.

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the book. Is there anything you think you would change now?

No, not really. The only thing I’d change is the introduction from the publisher on the special edition and just say thank you to everybody for letting me help them change their personal world and in that way, we can change all of humanity. It’s the work of all of us and it’s just wonderful to see that this book has become a classic and keeps us selling more and more and more.

What is your definition of personal freedom now?

To be free is to be yourself, whatever you are, even if you don’t know what you are. To take that free will and make your own decisions, you are responsible for your decisions.

don Miguel Ruiz
Photo: Aaron Landman

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