Hip Hop & Health: Lyrics and Lessons
Ivelyse Andino | August 14, 2019
Hip Hop & Health: Lyrics and Lessons
Lauryn Hill. Lyrics to “Lost Ones” The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 1998
Hip Hop is in my DNA and fun fact – I’m a trap karaoke queen and lip sync battle rapper extraordinaire. In fact, most of my writing on equity and justice is written to some of THE. MOST. RATCHET. MUSIC. I’d argue it’s intersectionality at its best.
Hip hop for me has been an amazing tool to articulate what I’ve seen and experienced and also for understanding different perspectives of what’s happening in our communities. I’ve found that my love of hip hop and lyricism has helped me find inspiration when I’m working to put my thoughts into words and actions. I also find that hip hop lends energy and emotion to my personal hustle. At times, it is the lyrics to the song of my life as a woman, mother, friend, activist, and founder / CEO.
Growing up in the Bronx you are required to have hustle. You learn early on how to assess and navigate the world regardless of the odds. You get a Ph.D. in making lemonade out of lemons. In the Bronx, we build, we create, we invent. I mean IT IS the birthplace of Hip Hop after all. I grew up watching my community overcome. Despite a zip code that foreshadows your health and future, the obstacles, system traps, and struggles, folks keep getting up, fighting, and building.
It’s through this intersection of struggle, hustle, and resilience that I created Radical Health. I grew up in the South Bronx. I wanted to get out of the hood and leave the rough parts behind. I chose a career in “Big Pharma” where I thought I could make a difference and be successful on my own terms. Turns out as an Afro-Latina Puerto Rican, I was often the only woman and person of color in these spaces. I got to see how healthcare as a whole works and how decisions are made that impact whole communities without any representation or consideration. In the US today, we experience some of the worst health outcomes in the world despite spending over $3.5T annually on healthcare. I wanted and still, want this to be different. Numbers and facts on the current state of healthcare tell the story from a paternalistic top-down perspective. I found that Hip Hop tells the same story at a much more personal and impactful level.
Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned and the hip hop lyrics that are emblematic of our stories and struggles.
Health is Justice / Justice is Health
Throw us in jail, million dollar bail, left there to rust
Let’s call in order, give ourselves a chance to enhance broader
Advance to where minorities are the majority voter”
Big Punisher. Lyrics to “Capital Punishment” Capital Punishment, 1998
Anyone listening to Big Pun in 2000 was destroyed to learn about his untimely death, especially on the heels of his hit record where he declared his important victory over obesity, “It’s hard work, baby. I just lost a hundred pounds, I’m tryin’ to live.” His lyrics and life highlighted the impact of physical health and social, emotional, and environmental health issues our communities face known clinically as SDoH or Social Determinants of Health. When we look at the justice and immigration systems in the US, we often fail to acknowledge the impact on health – both for those who are incarcerated or detained and for those who are also directly impacted by a loved one’s arrest.
We know that the war on drugs ravaged and still impacts our communities. Radical Health recently launched a year-long program focused on building community conversations around drugs, addiction, opioid overdoses and the impact on communities. Through this work, we get to support those directly impacted through their relationship with loved ones that have experienced overdoses due to opioids. Through these conversations, we see that our communities have incredible empathy and the solutions they need to create meaningful impact in their neighborhoods.
Health Care IS NOT EQUAL
“I’m arguin’ like what kind of doctor can we fly in?
You know the best medicine go to people that’s paid
If Magic Johnson got a cure for AIDS
And all the broke motherf***s passed away
Kanye West. Lyrics to “Roses.” Late Registration, 2005
Health in the US is incredibly complicated for black, brown, LGBTQI, undocumented, disabled, poor folks. We rely on another person’s input to validate what we’re feeling in our body. While this is the standard, we place our lives in the hands of a system that consistently fails us.
Radical Health, through support from The Roddenberry Foundation, recently built Radical Relay, an AI-powered “Know your Rights” for health app to address maternal mortality and morbidity rates for BIPOC through their pregnancy and postpartum experiences. We believe that it’s YOUR voice and agency that needs to be heard. Through this app we help users know their rights and provide questions that should be asked during clinical visits to ensure equity.
Those who have lived, must lead.
“I’m about to change the focus from the richest to the brokest
I wrote this opus, to reverse the hypnosis
Whoever’s closest to the line’s gonna win it
You gonna fall trying to ball while my team win the pennant
I’m about to begin it, for a minute, then run for senate
Make a slum lord be the tenant give his money to kids to spend it
Lauryn Hill. Lyrics to “Final Hour” The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 1998
Healthcare today is designed to elevate and reward power and privilege. This structure unfairly impacts people especially BIPOC, LGBTQI, and other historically marginalized groups. This structure discredits and undervalues people who have made it and pulled through with little to no resources. These are the voices that need to be uplifted, need to be listened to, need to be elevated to positions of power. As we look at the future of Health, I believe the answer lies within immigrants, women, children, justice-impacted folks, as they are the ones who will help us create an equitable world where health is a human right.
Our work with Radical Health is focused on addressing health equity through meaningful conversations and health tech. We center the lived experiences of people and communities and are honored to share this work with the world.
And because it isn’t hip hop if we don’t end with a list..here are my top 5 MCs:
Ivelyse’s Top 5 MCs:
- Lauryn Hill
- Big Pun
- Chika (She’s new, but a ton of talent)
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY