Kool Herc and Hip Hop Artists Need Healthcare and Essentials, Not Fame..

Kool Herc and Hip Hop Artists Need Healthcare and Essentials, Not Fame..

(By the Loop)


Charlie Parker, an influential ground-breaking jazz musician who acquired much wealth in his time. Sammy Davis, Jr., member of the iconic Rat Pack, a group known for its exorbitant party lifestyle. Joe Louis, a world champion boxer who has a whole arena named after him.

What do all of these African-American pioneers have in common? They all died penniless. I had always considered stories of rich and famous celebrities dying broke as a thing of the past. There just are too many other possible avenues for earning an income that maintaining at least a steady living seems feasible. Heck, if Flavor Flav can add some legs to his career by dating a house full of skanks for a reality show and opening a fried chicken joint, then anybody can keep it together.

Hip Hop Pioneers and Artists, Salute DJ Kool Herc, Inducted on BET in the Hip Hop Hall of Fame!


But over the last year or so, I’ve seen too many stories of musicians – rappers specifically – in need of donations for their financial straits. Last year, the Hip-Hop legend Guru fell to cancer. During his illness, donations were taken to try to gather funds to save the rapper. Also last year, the former Cash Money records rapper Turk, who has been incarcerated for the last seven years in relation to a shooting in Memphis, wrote an open letter asking for help paying for his brother’s funeral arrangements. The most recent call for charity came when the man widely credited with the birth of Hip-Hop, Kool Herc, needed money to pay for a “very serious health issue.” The whole Hip-Hop community jumped into action hosting parties in the area where Herc supposedly “invented” scratching. When the panic and misinformation subsided, we found out that the “serious health condition” was nothing more than kidney stones.

Yes, the whole fuss was over a minor operation – minor in the sense that it’s not life-threatening, even though it is extremely painful. But there’s a bigger issue here that speaks to frugality and back-up plans in Hip-Hop, and the music industry in general.

If 2010 was any indication; we’ll probably never have universal healthcare in this country. I was pretty hopeful about it at the beginning of Obama’s term, but that enthusiasm for healthcare reform has gone out of the window. That means that a lot of regular people without healthcare through their jobs are out of luck – which means most of the rappers out there are likely running around on tour without insurance.

I’m not sure how record contracts work, or how much health insurance is provided in them, but it seems probable that many of the forefathers of Hip-Hop who worked the underground circuit and carried the movement without contracts, were never provided any sort of health care


Kool Herc wasn’t the first figure in Hip-Hop to face these issues (J.Dilla’s mother reportedly struggled to pay off medical bills for the son years after losing him) and many more people will be in his position in a matter of time. The musician health care crisis is an important issue in our country as so many artists are dying before the age of 60 because they can’t get health benefits. It’ll only get worse; the ease with which people are able to record and distribute music is creating a musical community that’s larger than ever. Each day hundreds of new “musicians” are born, creating songs and performing at enough to shows to afford them a living. But this living doesn’t include health benefits. As Hip-Hop gets older, so will its artists, putting more performers in Herc’s position.

For a culture that’s so focused on preserving its history and respecting its elders, maybe Hip-Hop artists need to take the situation into their own hands. Hip-Hop is arguably more lucrative than Jazz has ever been. There are enough CEOs in Hip-Hop to form a small fund for the pioneers who made the genre such a respected art form.

Diddy, Jigga, Russell. It’s time to put your money where your mouths are. Hip-Hop defied all of the odds and was built on the backs of innovative, brilliant and largely lower-class musicians whose health is deteriorating with time. We owe it to them to pay them back for their contributions.

David Dennis is a freelance writer and a writer/features editor for The Smoking Section (www.SmokingSection.net). He was featured in The Source as one of the most influential Hip-Hop journalists, bloggers and personalities on the Internet. David has freelanced for OffBeat Magazine, The Source, Complex.com and other publications. He got his B.A. in English at Davidson College and his M.A. in Journalism from Northwestern and currently lives in New Orleans. Contact him at daviddennis@theloop21.com or on Twitter @DavidDTSS.



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