“The biggest killer of people is food. It kills more people than AIDS, than gun violence, than war, and anything you can name. Everybody keeps catching strokes and heart attacks.” – Fat Joe

Recently, Fat Joe revealed that he lost 88 pounds in an effort to regain control over his health. As hip-hop greats, such as Biggie, Pun, and Missy Elliott, have struggled with weight, it’s unfortunate that health has not become an integral part of hip-hop discourse. When the lyrics are spat and done, who wants to lose a great MC over a preventable death? Hip-hop is bigger than a platinum record. And its influence ought to transcend music into health and fitness.

In a recent World Star Hip Hop video, Fat Joe recounts losing seven friends to heart attacks in the last year. All of them were thirty-something years old. Not to mention, Big Pun died in his late twenties to a heart attack, weighing over 700 pounds. It may have taken a decade, but Fat Joe says his fame won’t save him. Obesity kills any and everyone that falls victim to a food addiction or genetic predisposition. And next to experiencing it, nothing is more painful than watching a loved one eat their way to death.

I have a numerous family members that struggle with food addictions. Some acknowledge it, some pretend as if it’s not an addiction. Regardless, all have obesity-related health struggles, but it’s difficult to reprimand your elders for eating something you know they shouldn’t. Not to mention, it’s disappointing to see the same insouciance in a music genre that you love unconditionally.

For years, hip-hop has gone unchecked for repositioning (male) obesity as a tool for bravado. I certainly don’t advocate skinniness as perfection, but it’s unacceptable for fat to be cool. It fails to instill the best health values in our community and reinforces a sense of nonchalance toward nutrition and fitness. Paraphrasing Fat Joe, it’d be one thing if weighing 1000 pounds didn’t come with severe health consequences. But we have to take a realistic approach and I’m excited to see Fat Joe stepping up to the plate.

In the video, he says, “Cut back on the carbs and work out. Don’t go up in KFC. Don’t go up in McDonald’s. Don’t go up in Burger King. Don’t go up in none of that stuff…That way you can be around for your family.” Simple advice, but perhaps it may reach someone that doesn’t hear it very often. He also encourages young people to tell their local corner stores that they want more healthy options. While impoverished communities are breeding grounds for food deserts, we do have purchasing power and it’s about time that we use it.

I hope Fat Joe continues preaching health and fitness to his fan base. We certainly could use more health advocacy in hip-hop.

How do you feel about hip-hop as a driving force for health consciousness? Speak on it.

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  1. First, I must say that I enjoy reading your articles, but I object to the thinking behind this one. Your premise sounds like another societal issues heaped upon hip hop, but this one is weak and denotes the validity of the others. For example, hip hop should be accountable for the effects that its sexism, homophobic, and violent images and lyrics. But, weight? I understand your notion that male obesity seems acceptable, but that is tied to sexism. For instance, women may overlook the girth of Biggie, Ricky Ross, Pun, etc, but they are looking at the girth of their bank accounts. Likewise, these men know that many of women are using them, so they play the game. Does “I’ll Pay for It” ring a bell? So, to me, weight is not an issue that I think hip hop should be shun for or required to address. At 700 pounds, whether you spit rhymes or work as a telemarketer, the onus begins and ends with you. I, for one, have been overweight my entire life. My family is largely big. I’ve always liked me as a person, so I make a choice to become healthy. I’m not interested in wearing a bikini, but I do want my doctor to look into my eyes when I’m elderly and say, “You have the sexiest, healthiest heart. Geaux, girl!” The responsibility for my health is my responsibility, not hip hop’s. More importantly, if you investigate eating habits of hip hop stars, I guarantee that you’ll find unhealthy practices to maintain low weight, reduce for tours, and cope with stress. And, you’ll find it for male and female MCs. In short, if an artist addresses obesity (or weight management) through his or her music or charity, then cool; but, it is not the artist’s responsibility.

    • @Michelle:

      I do think hip-hop does have a role to play, though. It is a powerful force in entertainment, and can have some influence the relationship people, particularly young people of color, have with food. A lot of what we learn about food is from our families, but it our ‘stars’ encouraged good habits it’d be helpful too. Just a thought.

  2. Black people should be able to celebrate health…just like others. We can be proud of organic veggies, fruits and nuts and eat them like their ours….not like they were made for others.

    We also need to call out these fast food chains that target poor communities and fill our minds with dollor menues and heart attacks.

    Lastly, we need to find the health food suppliers and MAKE them cater to us minorities….with that said…the best revenge is to SELL BLACK.

  3. I think this is really interesting. Because I don’t listen to American hip-hop or rap, I can’t really comment on there being a specific obesity problem aside from a few major artists. I think music industry in general – when it comes to men – allows them the ability to be overweight. I remember hearing how The Weather Girls (the women who sang it’s raining men) were shunned because of their weight, despite their vocal abilities. There is a strong disconnect between what men and women are allowed to do, especially in the music industry. It’s very rare to see an overweight female musician now – in fact, the more that come out, you see them as slimmer and having more sex appeal. Women have more pressure to be physically attractive. It’s notoriously well known that male rappers are incredibly ugly, but beautiful women flock to them.

    Entertainment industries are reflective of what the rest of us experience. It doesn’t exist in an alternate universe. So while addressing weight issues might be interesting and in the greater good’s interest, I would love for hip-hop to address the disparity between how men and women are treated and perceived based on their looks in the hip-hop industry, including but not limited to weight.

  4. The biggest problem is when everyone who loses weight says they cut back on carbs. Ppl still don’t understand that ketosis not ideal way to lose weight. The over-reliance on meat keeps your blood pressure high b’cuz most ppl use seasoning to make meat pleasurable, and they really have hard time wrapping their minds around the concept of vegetables containing more protein than meat per ounce.

    I’m completely happy that Fat Joe is taking his weight serious, but I hope he doesn’t do what most ppl are taught & stay away from carbs!

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