This is an exclusive interview with Adrian “Easy A.D.” Harris of the Legendary Cold Crush Brothers, one of the first Hip Hop groups in its history. Easy A.D. is a Hip Hop legend and icon, a seasoned educator who has worked with children for over 20 years, and a champion for community health. Easy A.D. is the primary community health educator that delivers HHPH programming in schools throughout New York City. He has a very central role in the development of HHPH curriculum and initiatives, and serves as a liaison between HHPH and other Hip Hop artists.
Mo Flow: What have you done to keep yourself healthy over the course of your lifetime?
A.D.: During the course of my life I made changes and choices – and I became very aware and conscious of the food I eat. I also learned about how the consumption of certain types of food can cause diseases inside the body and speed up the aging process. Along with that I learned how the consumption of other types of food can slow down the aging process and can help you to live a longer and healthier life. I also incorporated exercising and reading a lot of books on health into my life. I learned about the difference between synthetic vitamins and compound vitamins, and that you must try to know to the best of your ability everything you put in your body and what you are going to get out of what you eat.
Mo Flow: How did you get involved with Hip Hop Public Health?
A.D.: A good friend of mine is Doug E. Fresh. For about 2 or 3 years he kept telling me about this particular this doctor who worked at Harlem Hospital that wanted him to be an ambassador of a particular health program. I kept telling Doug over and over again to go meet with the doctor, so he finally met with him. Sometime in 2007, I had just picked up my clothes from the cleaners and I decided to stop by Doug’s house and say hello to my friend. There was going to be an award show that night called the Hip Hop Honors, so I wanted to determine whether I was going to go with him or go with my group. We were talking at his house when a car pulled up with “MD” on the license plate. My antennas went up and I assumed that was the doctor that had been trying to connect with Doug for quite some time. Doug introduced me to him and suggested that Dr. Williams and I go down to the Honors together. So Dr. Williams called me and picked me up. On the way we talked about Hip Hop and the culture and he let me listen to different artists that he liked. He’s a hardcore hip hop connoisseur.
When we got down there, there was an issue with our tickets. I’m not the kind of person that likes to go around and start a ruckus about getting in a place because I know sooner or later I’m going to get in, so I just relaxed. Different people were coming over to say hello and what’s up, giving hugs, and asking us if we were alright. Then we ran into Chuck D, and Chuck said we should just hang out with him. So we went and hung out with him and I did a little interview inside before you going upstairs to get into inside the awards. I introduced Dr. Williams to Chuck D, DJ Red Alert, LL Cool, and others – everyone was coming over and saying hi. We finally got our tickets, got inside, and went upstairs. Then he went his way and I went my way to go talk to my friends. We all left together to go get some dinner and continue talking and vibing. Then he said that he had something that he wanted to talk to me about. I already knew what he wanted to talk to me about, and I already knew I wanted to be involved in the program because Doug kinda told me about the program and what it had to offer, plus I work with kids – anything having to do with kids to make their lives better, I definitely wanted to be a part of. So he asked me to meet him at Café Veg in Harlem to work out the details and get it done. So that’s how I got involved in Hip Hop Public Health.
Mo Flow: Tell me about your life and accomplishments prior to joining forces with Dr. Williams to develop HHPH.
A.D.: As a little kid, I always admired people that did honorable things for other people because a lot of people are selfish. In 1972 there was a baseball player named Roberto Clemente. He went to Nicaragua that year to bring supplies because they had an earthquake over there. When his helicopter pulled off something happened and it crashed and he died. I always admired him for doing that and he was also an incredible baseball player. So I always wanted to be involved in things like that. I also grew up learning about Dr. Martin Luther King and his contributions to the world. I always used to go to bed and pray that I would get an opportunity to make an impact on the world like those people did. I prayed for the power to influence people to do things for other people.
I began doing Hip Hop – writing rhymes – at the age of 9. When I say Hip Hop I’m talking about the Hip Hop culture. It was only concentrated in the Bronx. There were a few people doing Hip Hop – it was not a worldwide phenomenon as it is today. I wrote rhymes, I played basketball really well, and I liked school. I grew up in the Boys Club in the Bronx. I went from school, to the after school program, to the Boys Club. There was a program where the detectives from the police department were teaching a swim class at the Boys Club – so I learned how to swim at the Boys Club. I spent most of my time at the Boys Club. I met my first MC partner at the Boys Club. I met a lot of people there.
In all my life I set goals – When I was 9, I set goals. When I was 10, I set goals. When I was 11, I SET GOALS. In 1977 I joined a group called The Cold Crush Brothers. DJ Tony Tone put the group together. I was the first one down with The Cold Crush Brothers. He created it, and I’m a part of it. I became a Hip Hop pioneer based on the contributions of The Cold Crush Brothers to the culture of Hip Hop. So I sit here in the year 2012 being an icon of the culture – one of the few who helped create a culture that has brought joy, and pain, to people all over the world.
I also worked at the YMCA for 16 years. I was the Assistant Director and Summer Camp Director. I ran programs for children aged 6 months to 17 years old. I ran the Leadership Program, After School Program, and other programs. I taught basketball and was a fitness trainer. I was also a gym teacher for 10 years at the YMCA – I ran gym class and gave kids their grades.
Mo Flow: How does it feel to be a Hip Hop Legend?
A.D.: You’re inside yourself, so you really don’t understand your impact on the world. But it feels really good. I feel good as far as health is concerned because I’m healthy, I love life, I love kids – I’ve never met a kid that was bad because I don’t look at kids as being bad– but you feel obligated to represent your culture in a positive way. That’s what it feels like to be a Hip Hop legend. It’s always good to see yourself in books and to see how the foundation that you laid down and the love that you showed people comes right back to you. We get a lot of love because we gave a lot of love and we still give a lot of love. So we get a lot of love back from people that most people just want to meet. So it’s very interesting.
Mo Flow: What work do you do outside of HHPH?
A.D.: I still perform with the Cold Crush Brothers throughout the country and around the world. I’m involved in a number of different projects. One of the projects is called Daddy For A Day. We do an annual event where we get girls to dance with their fathers and we give out different awards to them. I am also working on the Cold Crush documentary and am involved in a DJ documentary. I mentor a lot of kids that grew up in the YMCA. They stay in touch with me. I help them with their careers by connecting them to the right people so they can be successful. I frequently run into numerous kids that need assistance. Many of them are already in college, have graduated from college, or are looking for a particular career – I really help to connect them. I still mentor some young people that I’ve been mentoring since they were 14 years old.
Mo Flow: What is the most rewarding aspect(s) of your work?
A.D.: The most rewarding aspect is sharing information that will help to shape a young person’s life for the rest of their life. It’s giving them information that they probably otherwise would not receive. It’s being able to articulate and interject Hip Hop in their lives in a positive way.
Mo Flow: What is the most challenging aspect(s) of your work?
A.D.: There really is nothing challenging about this work, other than understanding the ideologies of all the smart people that we have on our team. Everyone that works in our group is really, really smart. Actually I wouldn’t really say that’s a challenge – I find that more intriguing and interesting than challenging. The real challenge is helping to change people’s lives.
Mo Flow: What are the most important contributions that you feel you have made to HHPH?
A.D.: One of my main contributions is the access that I bring to Hip Hop Public Health: access to the Hip Hop world: the artists, the people that I kind of take for granted. I say that because most people look at artists as artists and they don’t look at them as people, and I know them as people and as friends versus just knowing their music. I also bring my wealth of knowledge on how to connect Hip Hop with young people and make it fun.
Mo Flow: What do you think needs to be done to change the culture of Hip Hop in order to encourage healthier lifestyles among its creators and followers?
A.D.: I feel that you have to build a brand that’s recognizable. Most of the time when people build a brand, they normally go after people who have names. I don’t think that’s always necessary. You have to go after the people that have a passion for what they do versus going after a name artist. Usually the people who really do the work are not those people who are name artists, who may not really care about what’s happening even though it may be their name or notoriety that are put in the forefront. You have to build a brand that’s recognizable – that’s number one. Number two is you have to get people who are really passionate about what they do.
There is a separation in the culture in America that has been perpetuated for a long time. We separate culture based on age, on shade, hair color and length, body shape, etc. I would say that I am an elder statesman in the culture, and I don’t look at the separation. People are always talking about young artists. You have to remember – when you were young, how did you think? How did you look at the older generation? Did you respect them or did you always feel that the members of the older generation were trying to impress their own beliefs and ideology on you? As an elder statesman, I say that we can’t do that to the younger generation. You have to embrace them, you have to teach them, and then you have to give them the information that would encourage them to join your movement.
Mo Flow: What was the best moment during your career with HHPH?
A.D.: I have not encountered the best moment because that’s yet to come. I would say one of the most exciting moments is every time we go out with the programs, we’re influencing another generation of people who are going to appreciate the information we are going to give them and we’re connecting them to a culture and music that they love.
Mo Flow: Hip Hop Public Health currently works with Old School Hip Hop legends like Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D, DMC, and yourself along with the other Cold Crush Brothers. Is this a good approach or should we expand the approach to work with younger and/or more current Hip Hop artists – those that have more recently come into the culture?
A.D.: There are several parameters that you would have to think about. Most of the artists of my era are a little older so health is important to them. For those of us who have children, we can help them the more we gather and receive information about health and share it with them. So it’s an obligation. And we also want to be healthier. If you’re 17 or 18, or between 20 and 30, health is likely not something you are interested in. You’re interested in all the things that the planet has to offer other than health. So how do you communicate with someone in their 20’s to join your movement? You have to have a personal relationship with them, and you have to invite them to things and show them the benefit of being involved in something so positive. When we’re connecting with the young people we have to connect to them in a holistic way and from an intellectual standpoint.
As an older person we might go to the young people and we’re like “Oh listen, we’re doing such and such” and they’re like “Oookaayy…” Instead you have to say “This is where you are going to be in 20 or 30 years, and there are going to be artists coming behind you. So we set a standard, you carry on the standard, and you build on the standard.” So it’s about connecting the younger artists with veteran artists – it could be like a mentorship where you bring them in and you show them the benefits of what you are doing. Because everyone likes young people, like 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, but I think the younger artists just need to be exposed to the benefits of a program of our nature.
And how do we do that? Well, you have to be out at night. You have to build relationships. It’s easy for me because when I set out to get to someone, I get them. You have to understand who they are as a human being versus just an artist, as I said earlier, and connect with them from a human standpoint. So you may ask them “What are the most prevalent diseases in your family?” or “What conditions is your family most susceptible to?”, or “What illnesses or conditions did your family members have that have since passed on? Diabetes? Stroke? etc. Ok – I have a wonderful program, and you need to come see it.” Then you make arrangements for them to come see it. Then you build a relationship, and you bring them in. We have to do more of those things. It’s all about communication, and it’s all about timing. Timing is a factor too. Build the relationship, bring them in, show them what you have to offer, and eventually they’ll come. You don’t have to force them to be involved.
I want to share some of the notable people that people may or may not know have had a stroke or illness in their life. There was a young lady named Toni Heckman. She was signed to Universal. She had a stroke at the age of 32. She also had two aneurysms. She found out that the chemicals she was using on her hair were harming her health and her doctor recommended that she stop using them. So she wrote a book about it that was very interesting. One of the other Hip Hop icons – Nate Dogg, also had a stroke and died at the age of 41. Another notable is PM Dawn – in 2005 he had a massive stroke, which debilitated him. Another notable that people don’t really know is Larry Smith – he’s one of the super-producers of Hip Hop. He produced Run DMC’s first album, Whodini, Beastie Boys, etc. He suffered a debilitating stroke in his early 50’s. I just wanted to share that with our audience.
We pinpoint the effects of the environment – how your environment affects your health, how stress level affects your health, and how what you eat affects your health. We could start a movement where we educate the artists, young and old, about health in a fun way, like we do with the kids – we could invite them to a fun place where we have natural stuff and information for them. It’s going to take them a little while, but everybody’s going to come aboard because everybody ages and everyone has family with the same kinds of issues and diseases that other people have – everyone has someone in their family who may have diabetes or has had a stroke – a grandma, auntie, mother, sister, brother… so these things become very pertinent in their lives when it happens within their family. So I think we can make such a movement happen – it can be easy to do.
Mo Flow: How do you feel about the current crop of young artists and their efforts and commitment to promoting health in their communities?
A.D.: Many of those artists live in a world of “Right here, Right now” , “Today”, “Immediately”, and “I got it right now”. They live in a fast pace world – this technology is major. So that’s not their major concern – it’s not in the forefront of their mind. I think it would be up to an organization like ours to make sure that happens. I think it’s important to share with them the important of health because when you’re 20 or 25, your life is different and your body is different. I think it’s really important that as an organization we bring them in and we show them the benefits of being healthy. Health issues may not affect them presently, but it may have affected someone in their family – someone in their family may have had diabetes, may have had a stroke or an aneurysm, or other different diseases that are prevalent in our community. We must share those things with them it and how they can help with their notoriety and their current status to bring it to the forefront and to help make people more aware, as well as get more funding and education for people to prevent the onset of these diseases later on in life.We should also show them the programs that we use to encourage young people – to educate them about health. We should show them the impact that the programs have had on their lives. Let them see the different letters and other items that we have received over the years. I definitely think that we should work with them. But we would need a strategy to be put together to go after the people that we feel would fit in with our organization because there are certain younger artists, recent artists, current artists, and platinum artists that would definitely fit our movement and they would love to be a part of it.
Mo Flow: Can you give me some examples of artists that you think would fit in with our organization?
A.D.: LL Cool J is still current, even though he’s older. Nelly is another artist. Ludacris too – I like Luda, I like his energy, he’s very smart and articulate. T.I. also is very articulate and has good energy. He would definitely fit in with us. Those are the artists that come to mind.