The Hip Hop Generation and Health
by W. Seegars
Hip Hop as a culture was introduced to the world in 1979 with the song Rapper’s Delight. Since that time not only has the culture evolved, but the people that were the pioneers of the culture have evolved as well. The culture has always been associated with being the voice of youth culture, however since the culture is now more than 30 years old it’s safe to say that it’s no longer the voice of youth, but the voice of a generation.
The founding fathers of the culture such as Russell Simmons (51), Afrika Bambaataa (51), DJ Kool Herc (53), and Melle Mel (47) are well into their late 40s to early fifties. Even many of the prominent artists that rock the stage and microphone today such as LL Cool J (40), Jay Z (39), Lil Kim (33), Eve (30), and more are well into their early to late thirties.
Since the culture/generation has evolved from novelty into maturity, its artists and participants are now faced with adult issues that were once beyond their youthful years of concern. Although the culture was founded on self-determination due to lack of equal opportunity to fair jobs, housing, and education, it …..Besides high gas prices, extreme high cost of living, and major concerns about having money in pension funds when it is time to retire, another major concern for this generation is health care which includes things such as: diabetes, obesity, and (most recently) having access to healthy foods and a healthy lifestyle. Many of these things have been pressing issues for generations prior to the Hip-Hop Generation’s arrival, however, it was not until 1995 that the reality concerning health care and its many tentacles begin to show its ugly face and really hit home.
The first notable name in the industry to fall due to health concerns was Darren Robinson b.k.a The Human Beat Box from the pioneer group “The Fat Boys.” It was twisted sense of irony that the same thing that help him gain his notoriety (years before Heavy D and The Notorious B.I.G made being big sexy and appealing, The Fat Boys was the first group to embrace being fat/obese and use it to their advantage) would be the same thing that would be the reason for his death. In the movie Krush Grove most of The Fat Boys time on the camera was spent rapping songs like “Fat Boys” and “All You Can Eat.” The scene with All You Can Eat went so far as to show the group sitting in a buffet stuffing themselves with fatty high cholesterol foods until the owner eventually ran out of food and had to chase them away. At his peak, The Human Beat Box is believed to have weighed 450 lbs. However, despite his success and the group’s rise to movies and fame “Box” died from a heart attack at the age of 28 (VH1.com).
In 2000, with his career on the rise and an opportunity to begin changing his life style, Puerto Rican Rapper Christopher “Big Pun” Rios life was cut short at the ripe age of 28 by a fatal heart attack due to his extreme obesity. What’s interesting about Big Pun’s death is the fact that even though he was active as a youth and well involved in athletic activities (such as boxing and basketball) he always struggled with finding a way to maintain his weight and at one point he is believed to have weighed between 450 -700 pounds (answers.com).
In January of 2008, Nate Dogg-born Nathaniel Hale (who’s known for being the background hook singer on many of Death Row Records artist songs such as Tupac, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Dr. Dre) had a stroke and suffered some neural-muscular damage that limits his sense of touch and the ability to walk correctly (MTV.com).
In September of 2008 MC Breed (36)- born Eric Breed – from Flint, Michigan collapsed during a pickup game of basketball in Atlanta due to kidney failure. MC Breed was a serious force in the industry in the early 90’s and recorded classic hits with MC’s such as Tupac and Too Short. His kidneys, during his collapse, were reported to be operating at 30% capacity and he will more than likely have to have a kidney transplant (MTV.com).
By looking at similarities in lifestyles and choices amongst the four aforementioned artists, we can begin to recognize a pattern that seems to be screaming for attention for those who embrace the culture and use it as its reference point for lifestyle information. All four artists were raised in an urban environment and all four artists seem to have at some point and time gained access to financial stability due to their various levels of success. However, despite their success and four artists having come into having money, all four artists’ lives have been altered or ended due to unhealthy lifestyle decisions. In fact, it was when he gained money that’s Big Pun’s weight problems began to escalate (Bigpunforever.com). Due to having more access to fine dining and being able to afford all of his food indulgences, he failed to take advantage of the access to securing a healthier life style and made decisions with food that led to his life being cut short much too early. Sadly, Big Pun’s (as well as “Box”) death can be equated to having been a product of growing up in an environment that lacked access to messages that promoted healthy living and granted them (as well as their family and care givers) access to knowledge during their primary developmental years.
Having lack of access regarding healthy foods and lifestyle eventually manifests in people’s everyday lifestyle choices and becomes self-destructive, even when people become financially secure. Unfortunately, when people find success because they are given the opportunity to full unconditional choices of a destructive diet, they are unable to pull away from eating habits of familiarity which helps increase the demise of their overall health. This scenario is beginning to play itself out consistently amongst members of the Hip Hop Generation and without messages to counter this effect it stands to get increasingly worst.
Learning from The Human Beat Box and Big Pun’s mistakes, artist, song writer, producer, and MC, Missy Misdemeanor Elliot, comes from a family of people who have suffered from high blood pressure (msn.com) and found herself beginning to face the strain of living an unhealthy lifestyle. Rather than succumbing to the temptations, she chose to become an advocate for change. She not only went on a diet, she lost weight, and changed her lifestyle. She has chosen to use her voice as platform for promoting healthy lifestyles to others. In 2007, she appeared on a ABC’s Extreme Makeover and awarded four scholarships for a weight loss program to four underprivileged teens (futoncritic.com). Showing that she understands the importance of educating the community about the the choices they have when it comes to making decisions regarding food and what they take into their bodies.
Having once been known for her voluptuous large frame and well endowed bosom, in 2007 Dana “Queen Latifah” Owens at age 37 also chose to use her fame as an opportunity to embrace healthy lifestyle change by becoming the national spokesperson for Jenny Craig (people.com). Her original plan was to lose 10% of her body weight (which she achieved in a couple of months), but she quickly came to recognize that with this weight loss, she also had to introduce lifestyle changes which included her going to the gym 5-7 days a week and focusing primarily on using cardio vascular machines such as the treadmill and elliptical machine for an hour. In her own words, the end results are: “My jeans are looser, I feel more energetic. People dig it. They come up to me and say ‘I’m glad you’re talking about the health side of it.” The most important thing according to Latifah is that people get that message, which is important, and begin to inject it into their own lives (people.com).
Although Melle Mel (47) has always been known for his ripped physique and bulging muscles, arguably, no other MC has epitomize putting out messages that promote a healthy lifestyle the way LL Cool J has. Like Melle Mel, LL has always enjoyed ripping his shirt off and flexing his muscles for his adoring female fan base. However, he has also always been well received by his male fan base as a stand up guy who others would have no problem emulating. This is why at the age of 39 when he decided to team up with his personal trainer, Scooter Honig, and come out with a workout book, LL Cool J’s Platinum Workout (Menshealth.com), that captures the hidden secrets behind his chiseled frame, his fans male and female were ready to receive his words and embrace his message with true sincerity.
The list of Hip-Hop artists who are now beginning to turn their attention to using their fame and voice as a tool for furthering the message of pushing healthier lifestyles unto their adoring fans is continuing to grow. Whether it is Curtis 50 Cent Jackson and his product of Vitamin Water, or Nelly and Will Smith flaunting their new physiques to the public and vocalizing the importance of getting plenty of rest, drinking water, and eating right the message is becoming very clear.
The Hip-Hop Generation is ready to move forward with taking on the issues that have plagued the generations before it. However, this time the messages for health will not come in the form of poster child Caucasian images of AARP members sporting fake smiles while riding bikes in the open countryside wearing their favorite Eddie Bower plaid shirts with picnic baskets filled with Martha Stewart hand made recipes of healthy cuisines.
It will, instead, come in the form of urban legends who have recognized the benefits gained through getting access to healthier messages/lifestyles and made they conscious effort to pass that message on to the masses who have supported them to fame and still hang on to the value of their words. Therefore, instead of riding a bike in the country side, they might be on the basketball court in a sweaty gym while wearing a hoody and combat boots with an ipod hanging from their ears; instead of Eddie Bower, the messenger might be wearing Baby Phat, Sean John, Rocawear, or Apple Bottom; instead of Martha’s Cuisine, they might simply be drinking a bottle of 50 Cent Vitamin Water and eating a piece of fruit or a salad grown on one of many urban gardens that are springing up around the country. Whatever it looks like, it will be uniquely Hip-Hop, with its own flair and its own rhythm, but most importantly…it will be heard loud and clear and it will be received by those who have been waiting for its message and ready to spread its voice throughout the community and around the world.