Guru, Heart Disease and Hip-Hop: We Are Not Immune

Heart disease touches all types of

people with unforgiving and deadly fingers. Nothing saves you from its

touch – not money, fame or power. This is even more apparent after

the untimely heart attack suffered by Gang Starr’s Guru on March 1,

2010. Although it has recently been reported that he has come out of

his coma, survived surgery, and issued a short statement, the fact that

a young man of 43 has suffered a heart attack should be a wakeup call

for everyone. You can now mention Mr. Magic, Bill Clinton, Guru, and

Dick Cheney all in the same conversation as they have all been affected

by heart disease. As the face of Hip-Hop matures, the risk for

health related problems increases in our living legends.

Keith Elam, also known as Guru and

one half of the rap group Gang Starr, seemed invincible on the microphone

to my generation of hip-hip heads. Gang Starr came on the scene

in the late 1980’s adding flavor to the rap game. Guru took

hip-hop bebop with his first solo album Jazzmatazz Volume 1 which fused

hip-hop and jazz. This album brought together jazz aficionados

such as Donald Byrd, Branford Marsalis, and Ronny Jordan. Although

sales were not as thriving as predicted, it was a solid endeavor and

succeeded at fusing the two genres’.

So what is this apparition we call

heart disease that could put Dick Cheney in the same sentence as hip-hop?

Fred Sanford used to call it the “big one” but it is actually a

number of abnormal conditions that affects the heart. The most common

type of heart disease and the number one cause of heart attacks is coronary

heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease (CAD).

Individuals with CAD have hardened and narrow arteries, the pipes that

supply blood to the muscles of the heart. In order for the heart

to beat efficiently, it must receive nutrients and oxygen via blood.

The average adult heart beats approximately 100,000 times a day.

If the blood vessels are blocked or narrowed, the heart works harder,

increasing strain on the heart which leads to a heart attack.

Both a massive heart attack or heart failure can severely debilitate

and/or kill a person; however, the key is to know what causes these

disorders and how to prevent them.

We cannot change some risk factors

for heart disease - age, gender, race, family history, and previous

history of heart attack or other forms of heart disease. As we

get older, the risk of heart disease increases. This is not to

say that younger people don’t have heart attacks, but the chance does

increase with increasing age. Although men have a greater risk

of heart attack than women and they have heart attacks earlier in life,

CAD has become the leading cause of death in American women.

The best way to protect your self is

through knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. It is very important

to know your family history. If your first-degree relatives (mother,

father, sister, or brother) have heart disease, this increases your

chances of having the same problem. The discussion at the dinner

table and family reunion when we are healthy and happy should include

“the talk” about the state of the family’s health. Don’t

be afraid to ask about your inheritance – what illnesses are in the


Although it has not been disclosed

as to what contributed to Guru’s cardiac episode, his loved ones will

want to include this experience in the picture that they present about

their own health. And because he now has known CAD, he will want

to make sure that he continues a close relationship with his doctor,

eat properly, exercise, and take all prescribed medications. Unfortunately

most individuals are on seven to nine medicines after a heart attack.

Alternatives to these treatments are available, but only in consultation

with a doctor who understands supplements and Integrative Medicine.

That’s why it is so important to create a good relationship with a

doctor that you trust. If it is not financially possible for you

to go to the doctor because of a lack of insurance, look for public

health services in your area, health fairs, or free clinics like the

one sponsored by the National Association of Free Clinics that occurred

in New Orleans in November 2009 and that continue to occur across the


Contributing factors that increase

your risk for coronary artery disease include cigarette smoking, the

single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Obesity

is running a close second, and both are major contributors to the health

care cost in our country. Cigarette smokers are two-to-three times

more likely to die from coronary heart disease than nonsmokers. There

is nothing wonderful about smoking and everything damaging about trying

to “look cool” or imitate what we see others doing. Make the

effort now to stop smoking or encourage those around you to stop before

it is too late.

Furthermore, it is important to get

moving. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day five to seven days

a week. You can start with walking and then bring it up a notch by dancing

through five or six songs – hip-hop has a great beat that will get

you off your couch. Try some of the old school legends – you

will enjoy their lyrics and the music is sure to have more than you

head moving. You can also consult with a certified personal trainer.

Whatever you do, just move and keep moving every day.

You’re not in this struggle by yourself.

There is a wealth of information available to you to increase your chances

of preventing coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association

is a major contributor in the effort to raise our awareness about this

disease and provides tools to protect us. Log on to

to learn more about heart disease. Don’t let heart disease take

you or any more of our living legends away from us.

Dr. Rani Whitfield is a board certified

Family Practice Physician with a Certificate of Added Qualification

in Sports Medicine. He is known as the Hip Hop Doc and combines

music and medicine in the form of comic books and CD’s to educate

young people on health issues. If you would like more information

on the Hip Hop Doc go to For a short list of hip-hop artist

and affiliates affected by health issues