In 2005, Dr. Olajide Williams felt like he had two jobs. Every night, he’d end up his work as a doctor at Harlem Hospital Middle and stroll seven blocks to the studio of hip-hop artist and “The Unique Human Beat Field” Doug E. Contemporary.
“I’d be with Doug for hours and hours into the wee hours of the morning,” Williams recollects. “We might be going over completely different beats, completely different sounds.”
Their purpose was to create a success however with an uncommon lyrical premise — to show individuals the best way to detect stroke signs and reply appropriately. Williams needed to show that hip-hop could possibly be used for public well being interventions.
His colleagues had been doubtful. “There was a number of skepticism about whether or not one of these work may result in a fruitful, productive” profession, he admits.
However Williams knew when it got here to extra conventional public well being interventions, “they do not diffuse into society” as simply. “Our drawback will not be arising with the solutions. Our drawback is commonly scaling these solutions.” To Williams, music, and hip-hop specifically, may function a strong software. “Music has at all times been in a position to diffuse not simply via our private lives however the world over,” he says. “And but in my thoughts, we hadn’t totally leveraged it for public well being.”
That is what Williams and Contemporary had been making an attempt to do in that Harlem studio. It took them weeks to get the beat and the lyrics of “Stroke Ain’t No Joke” proper, however as soon as that they had it locked in, “Doug went into the studio and I believe he knocked it out in a number of days,” says Williams. “He was that impressed.”
Williams says it was clear instantly that it was going to be a winner. “After I heard these stroke signs within the hook of that observe, I knew that there was no method this wasn’t going to be simply sticky, however it was additionally going to be contagious. And we weren’t incorrect. It was extremely efficient.”
He and his colleague printed a scientific paper in Stroke, a publication of the American Coronary heart Affiliation, demonstrating that efficacy. They reported that of the 582 fourth, fifth and sixth graders in Harlem that they labored with, most realized the place a stroke happens within the physique, what the basic signs of stroke are and the best way to take pressing motion. Williams says this data interprets into saving lives in a high-risk neighborhood like Harlem.
“Think about that fourth, fifth and sixth grade kids, via a hip-hop intervention, had been in a position to do what most individuals cannot do within the setting of that drama and that trauma,” mentioned Williams on the Skoll World Discussion board held in Oxford, England, final month at a session dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of the musical style. “And that is the ability of hip-hop.”
A yr later, the group Hip Hop Public Well being was born, co-founded by Williams and Contemporary.
On this anniversary yr, Skoll needed to name consideration to this lesser identified a part of hip-hop historical past — which continues to thrive in 2023 with new rhymes and expanded programming for younger individuals.
Music has the ability … in drugs
Williams, now a neurologist at Columbia College, says that music has a task to play in drugs typically.
“Music helps us to be taught, music augments our reminiscences, music lowers our stress,” he explains. “We use it for agitated sufferers with delirium — we use music to calm them down as a substitute of utilizing restraints. For sufferers with a stroke, we use melodic intonation remedy to assist them to talk,” which refers to hitching spoken phrases and phrases to completely different pitches and rhythmic patterns to revive speech.
“Music has highly effective neurological results on our brains,” says Williams.
The staff at Hip Hop Public Well being says that hip-hop affords one thing further in relation to the data they’re making an attempt to relay. Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, a hip-hop pioneer previously within the seminal group Run-DMC, says “it speaks in a youthful, enjoyable, comprehensible method” whereas packing the depth of punk rock or rock and roll.
There’s one thing common about hip-hop, says DMC, who serves on the advisory council of Hip Hop Public Well being: “Outdated, younger, white, Black, even should you do not perceive English, you may relate to the sensation of it. Every thing about hip-hop uniquely has a technique to encourage individuals into transformation.”
He admits this is not a brand new revelation. On the Skoll World Discussion board, DMC, egged on by Williams sitting beside him, wager that everybody within the viewers had realized one thing basic via “one of many biggest hip-hop songs within the historical past” — the singsong ABC music. He took his mic, sprung to his ft, and launched into the alphabet music, concluding with, “Now you already know your ABC’s!” Reacting to the applause, he shouted, ” what I am saying!?”
Utilizing his nickname for Williams, DMC added, “So Doc is simply taking what was already being achieved and making use of it to the place it was wanted.”
And whereas Hip Hop Public Well being focuses on the U.S., worldwide hip-hop artists have infused public well being messaging into their music as nicely. For example, in 2014, three Liberian musicians — D12, Shadow and Kuzzy of two Kings — created an inadvertent hit of a music known as “Ebola’s in City.” As NPR reported on the time, “Inside three days it was all around the nation and had impressed an unique dance the place dancers mimic kissing and hugging from a distance — a technique to preserve secure from an infection in a rustic the place individuals like to embrace once they meet.”
On the Skoll World Discussion board, rapper Sister Fa pointed to the human rights problems with feminine genital mutilation and baby marriage in her nation of Senegal. She mentioned most individuals did not like discussing these topics — publicly. So she turned to hip-hop “to construct a greater world.” She mentioned, “I made a decision to make use of my voice, to make use of my music to speak and to attempt to break the taboos round this apply.”
Ali A.Ok.A. Thoughts, a Colombian rapper on the identical panel, added via translation, “We’re making an attempt to make use of hip-hop as a car for transformation — not simply of the person but in addition communities themselves.”
Nonetheless, this fusion of hip-hop and public well being wasn’t at all times simple for Williams to promote, particularly on the outset. When he was beginning Hip Hop Public Well being, he says, he heard considerations in regards to the “adverse power” expressed in some hip hop — “misogyny and homophobia and materialism and poisonous masculinity.”
However Williams acknowledged that hip-hop was invented to be a power for good. “Hip-hop was created to uplift individuals, as a cathartic car for folk to launch their ache and their rigidity and their struggling. It was used to inform the story of the streets: ‘Take a look at what’s occurring right here. Take a look at what we’re enduring. We want the world to face up for justice and equality and fairness for our neighborhood.’ That was what catalyzed the rise of hip hop.”
It was these constructive parts “of social activism, of social justice, of lifting individuals up” that Williams sought to leverage, notably inside communities of shade and underserved populations. And artists like DMC had been desperate to be part of what Williams was constructing. “If hip-hop may inform individuals the best way to costume, what to drive, what to smoke, what to drink and the best way to act,” says DMC, “why could not hip hop inform individuals the best way to stay?”
Stoked by ‘Stroke Ain’t No Joke’
“Stroke Ain’t No Joke” was the primary in what would change into a sequence of hip-hop tracks utilizing the musical style “to construct well being literacy and in the end help habits change,” says Lori Rose Benson, the CEO and govt director of Hip Hop Public Well being.
The group has created greater than 200 sources up to now starting from music movies to lesson plans to educator toolkits on subjects together with diet, psychological well being, bodily exercise, dementia, oral well being, vaccine literacy, and illness prevention.
“We’re at present within the technique of concluding a randomized managed trial take a look at dementia consciousness in communities of shade, particularly making an attempt to destigmatize dementia,” says Williams. “And we have created an acronym that helps acknowledge these signs of dementia.”
Benson says her staff then works with faculty districts and community-based organizations to get these supplies into the heads and arms of Ok-12 college students throughout the nation.
“So it is actually complete,” says Benson, “in order that educators might help combine this into well being schooling in faculties and after-school applications, museums, libraries — anyplace that younger persons are served.”
When needed, Hip Hop Public Well being works to replace its content material. For example, since “Stroke Ain’t No Joke” debuted, the suggestions round stroke detection and prevention have expanded. Initially, the acronym was FAST, which stood for a drooping of 1 facet of the face, a numbness or weak point in an arm, slurred speech or issue talking, and in the end, should you discover these signs, it is time to name 911.
However two new letters have since been added to the beginning of the acronym to type BE FAST. Public well being professionals now suggest looking for balance issues and hassle with the esure like blurred or double imaginative and prescient. That required Hip Hop Public Well being to create a wholly new observe and accompanying animated video, which was posted on Could 8 in honor of Nationwide Stroke Consciousness Month.
Dwelling in a vegetable-free zone
Dr. Naa-Solo Tettey, the director of an schooling and empowerment program for cardiac well being known as HeartSmarts at New York Presbyterian Hospital, applauds the work of Hip Hop Public Well being. She says that it “empowers younger individuals to be centered on their well being and wellness” at an age when their friends typically produce other considerations.
Tettey additionally acknowledges one potential downside. After motivating a teenager to make adjustments to enhance their well being, she says they could assume, “‘OK, I simply realized in hip-hop ed that I ought to eat extra vegetables and fruit, however I am unable to discover that the place I stay.’ Or, ‘I have been informed I must train extra, however maybe I am not snug strolling outdoors the place I stay.'”
In different phrases, Tettey factors to societal points that will make altering one’s habits harder than a music suggests. For example, she says that oldsters, who could be “making an attempt to place dinner on the desk,” might discover it difficult to serve extra vegetables and fruit and fewer fried meals.
However Tettey says these difficulties pale compared to the great that this system is doing. She says, “it is a consciousness raiser, which implies it makes you begin enthusiastic about one thing. And to begin enthusiastic about these items at a younger age is simply wonderful.”
For hip-hop artist DMC, these hip-hop songs rework what would possibly in any other case be ignored or disregarded into one thing that issues. “We make the great and needed issues cool,” he says. “For example, we will make going to get a colon checkup cool.”
“The one motive this actually works is this isn’t the Biden administration making an attempt to make rap songs,” says DMC. “The rationale why it is working — you bought Chuck D, DMC and Dougie Contemporary. ‘Nough mentioned.”
“We take the information, after which as a substitute of constructing it sound prefer it’s popping out of a medical e book,” he says, “we translate it.”
DMC says hip-hop has been in that necessary enterprise of translation for years.
For instance, on the Skoll World Discussion board, when he was requested in regards to the style’s relationship with psychological well being, he referred to the 1982 music “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Livid 5. He known as out the lyrics, “Do not push me trigger I am near the sting / I am making an attempt to not lose my head.”
(In actual fact, a yr after “The Message” was launched, it spurred a PSA that inspired individuals to cross the road safely with this chorus: “Do not step out while you’re near the sting / Cease, look, pay attention, assume, and you will not lose your head.”)
Williams took the unique lyrics of “The Message” one step additional. “We are able to put security nets in our communities and hope individuals do not fall via the cracks,” he mentioned to the viewers on the Skoll World Discussion board. “We are able to put ambulances on the backside of the cliff and whisk them off to the hospital. We are able to put fences on the fringe of the cliff and hope individuals do not fall down. However what we actually must do is transfer these of us additional away from the cliff so they don’t seem to be susceptible to falling.”