After deaths, health a new priority in rap


Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.

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The late Chris Kelly of Kris Kross performs in Atlanta earlier this year. Older hip-hop artists are concerned that the culture's focus on freewheeling partying is leading to early deaths. (The Associated Press)

Hip-hop may need a checkup.

The culture that in the 1990s lost its brightest stars to gun violence has in recent years seen a series of notable rappers die of drug- and health-related causes. Since 2011, hip-pop pioneer Heavy D, singer and rap chorus specialist Nate Dogg and New York rapper Tim Dog all died of ailments in their 40s. Kris Kross rapper Chris Kelly was found dead recently in Atlanta of a suspected drug overdose at 34.

Some of the genre's elder statesmen say they're worried about the culture's focus on youth, current emphasis on freewheeling partying and “you only live once” ethos, as popularized by Drake's 2011 hit “The Motto.”

“Hip-hop being a lifestyle culture ... a part of American culture, you have to be mindful that somebody is going to grow old, age,” said rap pioneer Melle Mel. “At some point somebody has to realize that hip-hop has to learn how to grow up. It's way too juvenile and it's been that way for too long.”

The 51-year-old rapper, who memorably warned in 1982's “The Message” about urban youth who “lived so fast and died so young,” said he suffers chronic bronchitis from being around marijuana and cigarette smoke when he was performing. Of course, heavy drug use in hip-hop or rock is hardly new: Cowboy of his Furious Five group died in 1989 “basically from getting high,” Melle Mel said.

“It's not really worth it to literally party yourself to death. It's like committing suicide,” he added. “You have to choose between what makes you feel good and what makes you think you feel good.”

Other influential rappers who've died in their 30s in the last decade include Southern rap pioneer Pimp C and Wu-Tang Clan's Ol Dirty Bastard, both from drug overdose.

Lifestyle isn't to blame for all fatal health problems in hip-hop. Smooth-voiced Midwesterner MC Breed died of kidney failure in 2008 at age 37. Soulful producer J Dilla died in 2006 at age 32 of complications from lupus. Cancer killed rappers Guru in 2010 at 48 and Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys last year at 47.

Two of the genre's top stars, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, have inadvertently focused attention on the issue. After he was hospitalized for multiple seizures, 30-year-old Lil Wayne told a Los Angeles radio station in March that he's an epileptic. Rick Ross, 37, has also suffered seizures and said he's trying to improve his health.

As some of the genre's more well-known figures hit their late 30s and 40s, they've figured out ways to keep up appearances in public while also keeping their health. 50 Cent said he rarely drinks alcohol anymore. That “bottle full of bub” he's holding in nightclubs nowadays isn't what you think.

“I want to live a good long healthy life. So I'm health-conscious,” the 37-year-old rapper-actor said. “You never see me drink. If you did see me with a bottle, it had ginger ale in it.”

For producer and rapper RZA, hip-hop's emphasis on youth stems from an urban culture that since the ‘80s has had trouble planning for the future.

“They said we should be dead or in jail by the age of 25. And I think we live like that,” the 43-year-old Wu-Tang Clan founder said. “But what happens when you make it past 25? What happens when you make it to 30? What happens when you make it to 40? Are you prepared for life now?”

Influenced by “Eastern philosophy” and his famous obsession with martial arts films, RZA said he's been a vegetarian for 15 years and practices qigong movement and breathing.

Lil Wayne

Officials with PepsiCo Inc. apologized during a meeting last Wednesday with relatives of civil rights icon Emmett Till who were offended by a rapper who had a promotional deal with the company, the Rev. Al Sharpton said.

Sharpton said a statement that the morning meeting he brokered at company headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., was “positive.”

PepsiCo and Lil Wayne ended their commercial relationship recently over vulgar lyrics the rapper included in a song that referenced Till, a black teen who became a civil rights icon after being killed while visiting Mississippi. Sharpton had urged company officials and the family to meet last week.

The company also faced criticism recently over a Mountain Dew commercial by rapper Tyler, the Creator, of Odd Future that critics say promoted racial stereotypes and violence against women. That ad has been pulled.

Rick Ross also recently lost his deal with Reebok after his lyrics appeared to glorify rape by describing a scenario in which he had his way with a woman incapacitated by drugs.

Sharpton says his National Action Network and the Till family will work together to help rappers become “more engaged and conscientious of civil rights history.”

— The Associated Press

‘Scandal' finale

She wouldn't even serve up a little taste.

When asked for details about this week's “Scandal” finale on ABC, the best that series star Kerry Washington would do was lift the cover off the pot, then quickly replace it, leaving us with just an aroma.

But it was a mouth-watering tease. The “Scandal” season-two finale airs at 10 p.m. Thursday on ABC.

“I can tell you that, at the season finale, people were gasping and screaming at the table read,” Washington said. “(There was) crying and laughing, and we were shocked to the core — to the core!”

Just a year ago, you might have recognized Washington from her supporting roles in films such as “Ray,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

But thanks to the success of “Scandal,” her star finally looms above the character-actor fray. Today, Washington's Twitter followers are in seven figures, and millions more tune in each week to see what her “Scandal” character — Washington crisis manager Olivia Pope — is going to fix next, including Pope's own, extremely messed-up life.

Even crazier: Washington became the first African-American female to head a broadcast-network drama since Teresa Graves announced, “You're under arrest, sugah!” in ABC's 1974-75 cop drama, “Get Christie Love!”

It's been some year for the 36-year-old Washington, who, in addition to “Scandal,” had a key role in director Quentin Tarantino's Oscar-nominated best picture “Django Unchained,” and returned to the big screen last weekend in the family comedy “Peeples.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But back to that “Scandal” finale.

“The very last moment of the script” — Washington continued, teasing again — “I almost couldn't get it out of my mouth, because I was so surprised.”

— The Associated Press

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