Exclusive: The Public Enemy frontman speaks with theGrio about the importance of physical and mental health as he aides in a public service announcement to raise awareness on colorectal cancer.
Music has always been a rallying cry for Black Americans to overcome adversity and inspire change in themselves and others in the face of turmoil and devastation. Chuck D, frontman for legendary rap outfit Public Enemy, has always been a beacon for seeking truth and exposing injustice.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame MC is putting his attention on health as he has collaborated with Stand Up To Cancer for a new public service announcement that urges the community to combat the dangers of colorectal cancer. The animated PSA features Chuck rapping about the importance of getting checked by a doctor, conducting at-home tests, and having healthier eating habits.
The PSA, released Tuesday, makes its premiere here:
Working with Pete Colon on the lyrics and music, Chuck’s PSA couldn’t have come at a better time. Cases of colorectal cancer-related deaths for Blacks and Latino men in the nation have been steadily on the rise, as previously reported by theGrio. Since 2016, the average age of men being diagnosed has lowered from 72 to 66, and Black men are 26% more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than white Americans and die at a 20% higher rate.
This is all happening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, like colorectal cancer, has disproportionally affected Black and Latino Americans with more ferocity.
Chuck is 61 years old, and as of late, he’s seen many of his hip-hop contemporaries die over the past year due to a myriad of health issues, with none of them reaching the age of 60. The “Fight The Power” rapper, born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, spoke with theGrio about what he thinks has caused Black Americans to avoid seeking health care, the COVID-19 vaccine, and hip-hop’s place in teaching self-awareness.
The PSA came about as a collaboration between Stand Up To Cancer and Hip Hop Public Health, an organization that uses music to preach health equity. As a member of Hip Hop Public Health’s Advisory Board, Chuck was urged by fellow MCs Doug E. Fresh, Cold Crush Brother member Easy A.D., and guided by Hip Hop Public Health’s chair Dr. Olajide Williams to get involved with the PSA for colorectal cancer.
The objective of the PSA, which has both an English and Spanish version, is to influence Black and Latino Americans to get educated on colorectal cancer and get screenings. Among Americans between the ages of 50 and 70 who get colorectal cancer screenings, rates of Blacks and Latinos who get screenings are lower than white Americans.
Rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy performs at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel (Credit: Getty Images)
Only 66 percent of Blacks and 59 percent of Hispanics get screenings, while whites are at 69 percent, according to the press release. In addition, Black Americans are also 40 percent more likely to die of colorectal cancer than white Americans.
There’s been a long-standing stigma of Black men avoiding doctor check-ups for years. Chuck commented on the negative influences that may have contributed to not only low rates of doctor visits but also an aversion to doing independent research.
“It’s a disservice to look at scholarship as some s–t that don’t mean something, or that it’s unhip,” Chuck said.
While hip hop is seen as the most influential and popular culture the world over, it hasn’t translated to health advocacy. Over the past year alone, many from the hip hop community, from Shock Gee and MF Doom to DMX, Biz Markie, and Chucky Thompson have died of some health-related circumstance before reaching age 60, and Chuck has noticed.
“There’s been an alarming rate of deaths, premature deaths between 35 and 50 to the last seven, eight to 10 years of now, you see a lot of Black celebrities,” Chuck said. “You see in a lot of black celebrities in that age category die in hip hop…because a lot of different things that we do. So I thought I’d be part of a situation that could counter that.”
One of those things he’d like to see change revolves around food. In the PSA, Chuck rhymes about the importance of eating a healthy diet to inhibit a healthier lifestyle that can combat or prevent cancer and other ailments. He evoked that dieting has been overlooked, particularly due to society’s emphasis on COVID-19 and the vaccine. Chuck stated that self-educating oneself self was the key.
“So in a nutshell, if you don’t understand the importance of educating yourself in this world that’s coming at you, especially a person under scrutiny and of color, you’re going to lean yourself into the conspiracy theories because conspiracy theorists seem like they make a lot of sense when you’re not thorough,” Chuck said.
He continued, “People will question the vaccine, which is good to do, you know. You need to question anything before [putting it in] your body, but you need the question the Hennessy and Popeyes chicken sandwiches too, especially if you taking them s—s everyday, you know? You don’t know what the f–k is in it. So, all you know is it tastes good.“
Rapper Chuck D performs on stage during “Midnight At The Oasis” Annual Art For Life Benefit hosted by Russell Simmons’ Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation at Fairview Farms on July 15, 2017 in Water Mill, New York. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation)
Chuck cites Dr. Williams’ work, indicating that lack of information and healthy options for children has been an element to the problem as well.
“What Dr. Williams was at least able to begin to reverse some of these challenges of bad food, bad habits to the youth. School systems probably overturning their menus and diet, at least in the city, you know. Starting small, then going national to saying, ‘You know what? There’s a problem of not only having the bad food, but being able to manage your life around it because it’s a bad jumping-off point. It’s a bad platform and foundation.’“
While Chuck has always been at the forefront of social issues plaguing Black lives, both in his music and activism, he’s doing so now in a time when a target has been on rappers speaking out about politics. Kanye West, Ice Cube, Diddy, and Busta Rhymes are among the rappers who have been heavily criticized for their opinions on politics and public health, which has inspired distrust toward the culture.
Chuck insists that rappers should be viewed as the gateway that leads the masses to sources of knowledge, rather than being seen as the experts themselves.
“When I got involved in hip hop culture, it was to point to the specialists. It wasn’t this claim to be a specialist,” Chuck said. “I think somehow in the transition and translation, people start looking at hip hop artists because they were saying something, that because they were ‘it.’ I just think that’s ridiculous.”
It is Chuck’s hope that the people will begin to depend on their own curiosity and desire to search for the truth, with hip hop merely being the source to open the door. “We’re the portals, and we should be transmissive wires for the actual fact.”
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