Hip-hop, as with any cultural force or art form, is driven by action just as much as words and notes. The minds and bodies of the emcee and the producer are of critical importance to the potency of the musical and cultural output we receive - so why is there such little importance placed on the biological vessels through which this powerful culture is delivered?
In recent years, we’ve witnessed countless artists suffer the consequences of poor physical health. We’ve seen artists hospitalized for exhaustion, dehydration, seizures, drug overdoses and countless other preventable health issues. Of course, some of the blame can be placed on the incredibly demanding lifestyle of an in-demand artist, whose schedule is forever consumed with touring, recording, media appearances. All of these responsibilities are crucial to the success of an artist and take their toll on the health of an artist, but that’s only part of the problem.
As hip-hop becomes more successful and more steadily represented in the mainstream, the physical and mental demands simultaneously rise, and for many, this demand is not being met with a lifestyle that allows for longevity. The root of this problem is that many hip-hop artists come from cities where physical well-being is dead last on the list of day-to-day priorities. Survival, whether it be monetary or in a more literal, life-or-death sense, leaves little time for an understanding of physical well-being.
One of the most beautiful qualities of hip-hop is that it offers a chance to escape the socioeconomic chains that bind many of its contributors, yet an attainment of monetary success without knowledge of a better lifestyle leaves us with artists who have the means to better their lives, but no idea how to do so.
In many cases, these artists are growing up in areas referred to as “food deserts,” where affordable healthy food is virtually non-existent, and a diet of processed or fast foods is not only normal, it’s often the only option for oppressed families living check to check or off of government subsidies. Coupled with the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in these communities as both a coping mechanism of daily struggle and in distributing them—a chance to rise above that struggle—and it’s not hard to see why your favorite artists are having trouble keeping up with the mental and physical demands of their new lifestyle. It's a problem DJBoothtouched on last year, detailing Jadakiss and Styles P's Juices For Life, which fights the issue opening up juice bars in these food deserts.
There does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel, however. In addition to the two veteran L.O.X. emcees, artists like Stic.Man of Dead Prez, 2 Chainz, Big Sean and more are beginning to realize and champion the importance of physical health not just within hip-hop, but in the communities they represent. These artists understand that more often than not, it’s a lack of knowledge rather than a lack of motivation that’s allowing fellow artists to crumble under the weight of physical career demands.
Stic.Man has spent years building his holistic fitness brand, RGB Fit Club, based on the principles of knowledge, nutrition, exercise, restoration, and consistency. 2 Chainz, after being diagnosed with stomach ulcers due to his reckless diet and lifestyle, penned a cookbook titled #MEALTIME, in which he details healthy food options. Big Sean handles the demands of his strenuous career by working out as much as possible, eating only organic foods, and carrying a special case of health supplements with him when out on the road. Even Russell Simmons, arguably one of the most powerful entities in hip-hop culture, has spent the last few years championing meditation and fitness through books and public appearances.
In different corners of the culture, artists are being exposed to new ideas and new lifestyles they may have never encountered in their previous living conditions. In sharing that knowledge, they’re ensuring a longevity for the artists delivering the musical messages we love and so desperately need in society today.
As hip-hop collectively accepts its destiny as a viable tool against all kinds of oppression, with it must come an understanding of how to best fight these battles, and more and more artists are realizing that nothing kills career momentum faster than an unhealthy lifestyle. With the continued success in music and the broadened health horizons of many artists, there’s both a financial base to start implementing some of these newly acquired skills on a large scale and a recognized responsibility to do so.
Not only will this strengthen the lives and careers of the artists within the culture, it will hopefully spread to the underserved communities that spawned them, and introduce an entirely new front on which hip-hop can battle a broken system. Strengthening the body supports the mind, which empowers the people.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.