I remember the first time I was really moved by Hip Hop. It was the summer of 1982 and I was eight. I listened to “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five blared through the speakers an old an AM radio (don’t judge my age!). I stopped playing in the yard and let the music fill me. The lyrics spoke to me in ways I never experienced before. Now considered a Hip Hop classic, the song touches on a large swath of social issues in it six minute play length; poverty, poor education, homelessness, unemployment and health:
Neon King Kong standin’ on my back
Can’t stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac
A mid-range migraine, cancered membrane
Sometimes I think I’m going insane
And with that, I was a fan — a lifelong fan. I am a fan because Hip Hop, at its best, provides so many opportunities to educate and to empower people to come together and advocate for themselves and for their community. Chuck D, front man of the Hip Hop group Public Enemy said at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that their music was always about community and described their approach to Hip Hop as “raptivism.” Hip Hop and Health Disparities: two phrases that, on the surface, seem foreign to each other but really belong together.
There are exciting ways Hip Hop is being used as a powerful voice in the health equity fight. At the sixth Annual Health Disparities Conference at Columbia Teacher’s College, Dr. Christopher Edmin, author of Urban Science Education For The Hip-Hop Generation and a leading expert in utilizing Hip Hop to promote STEM education, noted, “Hip Hop is a tool of communication for young people. Poor education leads to poor health,” he said; by acknowledging and learning the culture of young people, educators and health care professionals can educate and empower young people to be healthy. Dr. Edmin said his students write raps about math and science and by using the language and culture they live in and with, students learn and retain more.
In Houston, Texas, rapper Bernard “Bun B” Freeman is helping his community get healthier and honoring the memory of his friend and band mate Chad “Pimp C” Butler, who died in 2007 of an accidental drug overdose. Bun B hosts an annual Hip Hop, Health and Wellness Festival in Houston with Pimp C’s widow, Chinara Butler. In an interview last year Mrs. Butler said she was moved by the alarming HIV/STD rates among African-American and Latino women in Houston. She felt the festival was a perfect way to pay tribute to her late husband and to do something positive for her community. Free HIV screenings are available to all who attend.
In his most recent album release “ P.T.S.D” rapper Troy “Pharoahe Monch”Jamerson explores depression, suicide and the Black male experience in America. Pharoahe said in an interview he was struggling with medication-induced depression and, at times, felt suicidal. He said when he tried to tell his friends about his feelings, they would tell him to go have a drink and not really acknowledge his struggle. I am hopeful by sharing his struggles in such a raw, honest and public way, Pharoahe will be the conversation started needed in the Hip Hop community to address mental health issues.
Hip Hop is powerful and transformative. Rappers are not just making music – they are using their music and their voices to change their communities. In what ways will you include Hop Hop to change your community?