Prodigy Was an Anomaly: Toxicity and the Hip-Hop Diet

A Tribe Called Quest member, Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, dead at 45 due to complications relating to diabetes

WorldstarHipHop Founder, Lee “Q” O’Denat, dead at 43 due to heart attack

Michigan Native and rapper, Eric “MC” Breed, dead at 37 due to kidney failure

UGK member, Chad “Pimp C” Butler, dead at 33 due to a drug overdose

Former NWA member, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, dead at 31 due to complications relating to AIDS

These are just a few names from the list I compiled of rappers who died due to health reasons. “The Culture’s” most recent health-related casualty — Mobb Deep’s Albert “Prodigy” Johnson — passed away on Tuesday at age 42. His death caught fans and industry people by surprise — he just performed at The Roots Picnic three weeks ago, a block party in Brooklyn hosted by chicken & waffles famous restaurant, Sweet Chick the week after, and his final performance in Las Vegas three days before his death. Speaking for myself, I knew this day would come much sooner than later once the initial shock after I learned his death was due to complications relating to sickle cell anemia. His condition was no secret to his fans. He often brought it up in his lyrics — I got the sickle cell. I feel the pain all year. What’s happenin’? — and interviews. This disease was beyond his control as it’s one of many inherited blood disorders, giving those living with it a life expectancy between ages 42–47. Unfortunately for his family and hip-hop, he didn’t beat the odds. Yet his death, having happened at such a young age, got me thinking of all the rappers under age 50 who have passed on because of health reasons.

Prodigy’s Final Performance — Sunday, June 17, 2017
When Hip-Hop Grows Up

A DC-based music producer I know once said to me the Black Man’s Death Recipe is stress and poor diet. Unlike Prodigy, each of the names I began the piece with could easily still be alive had they exhibited more self-control or sought help if they felt powerless. When “Q” of WorldstarHipHop passed, I posted a call to action on Instagram in response to his death and the producer’s statement. Of all my male friends, I’m the most health conscious. I’m so health conscious I feel bad even when I think about doing something unhealthy. The majority of my male friends are in their thirties and early forties — some have families, some are doing amazing things in business and community action, others are just great guys to be around. Regardless of their exact standing in life, each one is necessary and their shoes would be quite difficult to fill. These reasons are enough for me to preach on how to easily make changes for the betterment of their overall health. We often see men in this age group making health changes after one of these life occurrences:

  • A near death experience/major hospitalization
  • A woman they’re romantically involved with influences the change

Why wait for the unexpected to do make change? Being proactive is always a better decision. Unless you’re fighting a weaker opponent, reaction usually occurs once considerable damage has been done. Is it because we can’t show sadness unless death or the possibility thereof is involved? Or is it the notion we can’t seek help unless our limbs are immobile? Trigger warning — I’m about to use a controversial buzz term. I blame this on toxic masculinity. Before you close this page, know this isn’t an attack on black men but an assessment on some root causes. I believe the Black Man’s Death Recipe plays a huge part in the toxic masculinity conversation. However, we rarely hear conversation regarding the term from the core (physical/mental health) perspective, only the surface (societal conditioning/patriarchal) standpoint. You want to put an end to the exhibition of or use of the term toxic masculinity? I think if we focused a little more on the physical and mental health aspect of it and had men leading the conversation of change, I bet any amount of money toxic would be dropped and we’d see better performances of masculinity by those embodying the more unhealthy elements of the character trait.

Another call to action for my black male peers: Health is the sum of a person’s entire makeup. Look inwardly instead of outwardly at what’s damaging in your life. Trust me, I know it’s scary but you’ll be a greater man for it. Once you see it, fix whatever you can in the moment and work on everything else a step at a time. Asking for help doesn’t mean you need therapy and seeking therapy isn’t a submission to weakness, but settling is. You’re only as strong as the character that influences your daily action. Start your days with a light breakfast not full of sugar and salt, walk an extra block if you can, and forgive yourself and those who haven’t threatened your life or the lives of your loved ones. I guarantee you’ll see an immediate difference.