Hip-Hop as an artistic, cultural, and political force rose from the ashes of the Civil Rights Movement, and now its generation faces a new threat to civil rights: inaccessibility to quality health care. The Pioneers of Hip Hop music are now in their 40’s and 50’s, and many of them are afflicted by or beginning to present with a plethora of deleterious health conditions including stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and various cancers. However, many of these pioneers and their generational counterparts are without health insurance. In addition, many of the young, up and coming Hip Hop artists are without health insurance and fail to obtain sufficient preventative care. The pervasiveness of members of the Hip Hop community being without health insurance represents only a small cross-section of the U.S. population that faces the same problem.
Last year, DJ Kool Herc, one of the most prolific Hip Hop pioneers who is largely credited for developing the art itself, was diagnosed with kidney stones that caused severe pain and internal bleeding. However, Kool Herc happens to be one of millions of Americans that are without health insurance. Consequently, it became very difficult for him to obtain the necessary medical treatment. Several members of the Hip Hop community responded by creating the DJ Kool Herc Fund to solicit donations in order to pay his medical bills. Had Kool Herc not been a Hip Hop pioneer, what would have been his fate?
It is ironic that members of the Hip Hop community have fallen victim to the broken U.S. health care system when Hip Hop itself has the power to fight to change and improve this system.; after all, change begins with us. An example of a Hip Hop artist that has attempted to use his art to address healthcare disparities is Harlem’s own Immortal Technique. In 2001, Immortal Technique co-founded the Grassroots Artists MovEment (G.A.ME), an international not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to use Hip-Hop music to address sociopolitical and economic issues facing Black and Latino communities. One major component of G.A.ME is its HealthCare Network that provides free medical care, dental care, and free to low-cost prescriptions to its members as well as hosts health fairs and screenings and forums on health education. G.A.ME is an example of how Hip Hop can be used to address the hardships facing the uninsured and underinsured in the United States.
Individuals tend to not concern themselves with issues that affect others until the issues somehow affect them. When members of the Hip Hop community are affected by poor health, it is news for a short time, and the issue once again fades into oblivion. For example, after the passing of Nate Dogg from stroke, it is unfortunate that there was no major campaign launched in his memory to educate the masses in the fight against stroke among at-risk African-Americans. The passing of Big Pun due to heart disease and obesity was also essentially a missed opportunity. The Hip Hop Stroke and Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. (Healthy Eating And Living in Schools) programs of HHPH fight stroke and obesity on a grass-roots level by educating children who in turn educate their adult caregivers. Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D of Public Enemy, DMC of Run DMC, and Easy A.D. of the Legendary Cold Crush Brothers are Hip Hop pioneers that are part of HHPH’s efforts to use Hip Hop to promote health in communities with the highest rates of morbidity and mortality. But what will it take for the Hip Hop community to, on a large scale and with a unified front, take on the health disparities affecting their listeners with the power of their music? Hip Hop artists came together to fight the destruction of their communities caused by crack and gang violence. They came together to squash the so-called “East Coast West Coast” beef. They came together to secure the election of President Barack Obama. It is time for the Hip Hop community to unite with the common goal of making health an inalienable right for all.