GoodKnocking Magazine walks Hip-Hop Culture to a seat at the table to discuss health; Conquering the Curve’s mission for Friends and Family Living With Sickle Cell.
A community is in near-disbelief. Hip-Hop fans love to crown their favorites as legends. It is possibly the highest honor one can give to their faves, be it for their contribution to the culture or even that one classic album they release at a time when Hip-Hop was still in its infancy. Regardless, the idea of legacy is not new to the culture, the genre, or the fans.
But for many legends, it’s time to give them their flowers while they can still smell them. With the death of Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, we lost a legend — perhaps too soon, but then we ask ourselves whether we had lost him before we’d ever even known him.
Prodigy’s sudden death caused a chain reaction of concern and a reminder for African American men to take their health more seriously. Some wanted to point out the mistrust of our community in the hands of health care professionals, citing events such as The Tuskeegee Experiments of the 1940s. One made reference to Henrietta Lacks, whose cells and genes were stolen without her knowledge while she died of cervical cancer. Others point to a large number of misdiagnoses, but in the roar of online digital conversation there was a misunderstanding. That is, that Prodigy — the Legend — entered mortality not by any fault other than a silent disease that sweeps our community, affecting one in every twelve African Americans: Sickle Cell Disease.
“…Don’t one of ya’ll niggas got Sickle Cell or something?”
The inherited disease which came to be as the human body’s defense against malaria, curving the blood cells to ensure the virus could not spread through the body. Yes, that disease. The disease itself embodies the quote, “the solution to a problem, is a new problem that needs a solution”. Yet with so many African Americans who carry both the trait and the disease itself, our community still lacks the depth of knowledge to both help individuals as well as champion the need for further research, facilitated treatments, and societal embrace of those who may be suffering. Yes, suffering.
So, as far as rap beefs go, digging to expose the deeply personal has long been a part of winning in lyrical feuds as rapper. But you might wonder that when Tupac Shakur cited Prodigy’s ailment in the 1996 record, “Hit Em Up”, was Prodigy the only person affected by hearing it? Do we silently ostracize or antagonize members of our community by referencing “Hit Em Up” as the greatest diss record of all-time because of that one line? According to Chadwick Leonard of Tampa’s Conquering the Curve, Inc., while it may not be intentional, it takes away from a conversation that we could possibly be having.
On June 19th, one day prior to Prodigy’s death, Leonard joined Mistah Marvel on Marvel&Friends to discuss the organization’s mission to not only raise awareness, but to create the conversation so that our community can be more aware of how Sickle Cell affects those around us. Friends, family, colleagues, all who may be quietly suffering — or having bad days, or worse, a crisis. But with a lack of understanding the disease, the course of actions we can take will always be limited.
“It’s a lifetime thing.” Chad mentioned during his June 19th Marvel&Friends interview.
“Let’s take someone who’s 21. By the time you’re 21, you understand your levels of pain. You understand exactly what medicines you need to quell that pain until your crisis is over.”
During the interview, it was revealed that this is a large part of the mission. That Conquering the Curve empowers members of the community to take initiative in learning how to handle and initiate conversation when a person with Sickle Cell is having a crisis. This crisis, an often painful reaction to the curved red blood cells sticking to the walls of a vein or artery, is the singular moment in which our friends and family may need us the most. Reactions may vary by person, but often include pain in muscles and joints from the curved blood cells sticking to the walls of a person’s blood vessels. The reactions to a crisis can be painful yet subtle, or be fatal, as seen with Prodigy.
“So, if you’re going into the emergency room, you’re going to say, ‘I need delaudid,’ or ‘I need morphine’. They’ll say, ‘whoa you’re not supposed to know the names of these medicines.’” Chad continued, noting that the biggest stigma for the community diagnosed with Sickle Cell was that of their need for pain relief through drugs that can even include morphine.
Prodigy’s June 20th death will hopefully bring together our communities’ biggest voices to address, help, and support our friends and families who are at constant battle with this lifelong condition. On his debut album, H.N.I.C., Prodigy outlines his physical suffering in a song titled “You Can Never Feel My Pain”, pointing out both the emotional and physical anguish of what he had been feeling since birth.
“Im talkin bout permanent, physical sufferin
You know nothin about that
You just complain cause you stressed
Nigga, my pain’s in the flesh
And through the years that pain became my friend; sedated
With morphine as a little kid
I built a tolerance for drugs, addicted to the medicine
Now hospital emergency treat me like a fiend
I rather die sometimes I wish a nigga O.D
Beggin God for help, only to find
That I’m all by my God damn self
Ay you can never feel my pain nigga”
In a November 2000 issue of Vibe, Prodigy pointed out that while pain (in various contexts) was often mentioned in Hip-Hop music, he was inspired to both discuss his own pain as well as highlight what Tupac had already mentioned to the world in “Hit Em Up”.
Sometime in June 2017, Prodigy was hospitalized while on tour in Las Vegas alongside Ghostface Killah, Onyx, KRS-One, and many more. On June 20th, his battle with Sickle Cell Anemia came to an end. While it hasn’t been determined specifically the cause of his death, many in the Sickle Cell community, and even Chadwick Leonard, point out that it may have been a crisis.
For information on how you can take action and support our Sickle Cell community, contact Chadwick Leonard and Conquering the Curve, Inc. at their website, www.conqueringthecurve.org.
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