With recent events, this topic has been on my heart…….
I recently checked off a box on my bucket list—I made it on a hip hop album!
I was asked by Phonte’ Coleman, one of my all-time fave hip hop MCs (solo artist and of the legendary group, Little Brother) and singers (yes, he has a wonderful voice when singing lead for The Foreign Exchange), to lend my speaking voice for his new album, No News is Good News. I jumped up from my Sunday nap, ran downstairs, screamed with joy to my tech-brilliant hubby, gathered myself back together, and with a make-shift mic and recording booth in the basement, we recorded about 30 seconds of health advice for black America. I’m sandwiched between two very poignant and honest songs on the album; Pastor Tigallo and Expensive Genes, both dealing with very serious commentary on the health of black men right now. It sparked the idea of this article immediately.
The release of this album couldn’t have come at a more important time. In the midst of the hip hop culture recently, many health concerns and realities have surfaced. The recent death of hip hop legend Craig Mack (of Bad Boy fame, “Flava in Ya Ear,” the hospitalization of rap mogul Rick Ross, and many other instances, very important questions have been raised about health in the black community–for black men, in particular. The climate caused me to reach out to my physician colleague, Doc Bintu (Dr. Khaalisha Bintu Ajala), Internal Medicine doctor and founder of Heartbeats and HipHop, to discuss what we as physicians can do to better educate the culture about health.
DocSwiner: Music, specifically hip hop, has and has had a major influence on black culture. Recently, the Triangle’s own hip hop artist, Phonte, released an album telling a story about life’s balances and imbalances. Yet, it seems most mainstream hip hop music (at times) praises lack of sleep, unhealthy habits, the use of drugs and overuse of alcohol. Do you think that musical artists could do more in terms of promoting health?
Doc Bintu: Yes, they could. However, rap is not a monolith by any means. I think everyone tells their own story. You have certain corporations who have a vested interest in popularity preceding content when it comes to selling rap. So they promote a rapper who celebrates drug use more than others. There are some “positive” rappers who don’t speak on health as much because it’s just not their focus but they aren’t celebrating drug use either. I think some of the hip-hop artists who speak on physical and mental health are not as heavily promoted as others. On the flip side, some like Kendrick Lamar are heavily promoted.
DocSwiner: In a recent interview article with Phonte’ speaking about the album, he speaks of his father’s death. He goes to say “….but my dad’s [death] was totally from health complications. It was diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidneys…And so, he died and was 54.” In what ways can we, as physicians, actively engage the community to speak about the burden of death due to health concerns? (https://djbooth.net/features/2018-03-08-phone-interview-no-news-good-news)
Doc Bintu: First, let me give respect and say Rest in Peace to Brother Craig Mack who was a phenomenal MC and the first artist to get Bad Boy off of the ground. He left us too soon at the age of 46 from congestive heart failure. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding his death but we do know that heart failure is when the heart cant pump blood into the body and organs as strongly as it should and that puts a person at risk for sudden cardiac death and other problems. It can be caused by several problems but two that stand out are high blood pressure and a heart attack. Queen Latifah and her mother, Rita Owens, have partnered with American Heart Association for the “Rise Above Heart Failure” campaign. They seek to educate everyone about the risks and signs of heart failure. As physicians, we can reach into our own family history and relate to our patients and the general public beyond our clinic and hospital walls. I recently lost my dad 2 months ago. It’s hard to speak about but I do look at the loss of his life at 65 and his health complications and as I always have, tried to use my experiences to relate to my patients. When he realized that he had end stage renal disease and started hemodialysis in 2013, I realized that he was facing his own mortality. So many black men fight so hard to survive, that having to face their mortality in light of something as intangible as a health condition that they don’t understand, is very hard. That particular health condition can change how they eat, where they can go, if they can travel and remind them that they might not see their kids become adults. We as practitioners have to help them broach that subject and not just in a short visit or on discharge from the hospital. We also need to offer counseling because a lot of our patients are actually depressed about their diagnosis.
DocSwiner: A recent artist, Rick Ross, was recently hospitalized for a few days from an unknown reason. Media was flushed with news about his hospitalization, but as we have seen before, the noise dies down and the hospitalization will be just a past story. How can health care providers and the media possibly work together to keep health concerns present and relevant in everyday life?
Doc Bintu: I think using our own platforms to reach others beyond hospital and clinic walls is the start. We also need to meet people where they are such as social media outlets. We need to use our platforms such as my organization heartbeatsandhiphop.org, Blackdoctor.org, Doc Swiner’s platform and Dr. Kevin Pho who has helped to bring health into the information age. Many people look to us for advice and to be more accessible but many health care providers are usually at work! We work a lot! However, we are community leaders and we need to claim it and run with it right into the schools, churches, festivals and anywhere beyond hospital walls.
DocSwiner: Beyond giving information of diabetes and hypertension in the black community, what possible solution(s) do you see for diminishing the health care disparities seen in under-represented populations?
Giving information for funny sounding words like “ Hemoglobin A1C” on a pamphlet in a font size that is hard to read to some patients who have various levels of education is missing the entire point of health education. You have to make it plain. You have to make it real. You have to make it relatable. Tell your story or the story of an entertainer who has publicly discussed their own health issues. Ask more questions rather than assume your patient’s understanding of their condition and by all means please start with nutrition! Ask about what they actually eat and how they feel about what they eat. There are a lot of cultural ties to what people eat. There is a lot of convenience within a busy lifestyle tied to what we all consume. We can help change lives if we realize that we can only help them to change their lives with what they put in their mouths. The medication we prescribe can save lives and it can allow them to live better ones but it all starts with what they eat and what they understand about what they eat.
–curated and created with the help of Janie Outlaw
Find more info about Doc Bintu and her work at http://www.heartbeatshiphop.org
No News is Good News by Phonte’ is available on ITunes, Spotify among other online sites.