HIV/AIDS: An Epidemic in the African American Community

When the media announced that Eric “Easy E” Wright had full blown AIDS in 1995, I grab my Straight Outta Compton CD and head nodded for a few. Four years prior to this announcement, Magic Johnson had shocked the world with a similar message… “I have the HIV virus…” It hit me like a rock as my best images of Magic and Eazy E came from the times when they where young, larger than life and headed for success.

Like most Americans at the time, I believed that only gay men got the disease, not realizing that my very own second cousin had moved to California after being diagnosed with an “unknown” illness and died a lonely death. HIV/AIDS was once thought to be a problem for gay white men only and was defined as the Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease or GRID. So I thought, ‘what the hell was going on,’ now that Magic and Easy E. were sick with this thing?

Ten short days after being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, a common complication of AIDS, Eazy E was dead. The HIV/AIDS epidemic was real and one of gangsta raps pioneers had fallen prey. Today, African Americans are facing its greatest health challenge and the numbers reported by the Centers for Disease Control are staggering: African Americans make up only 13% of the United States population, yet we represent 50% of the cases of HIV/AIDS in this country.

African American women are the fastest growing population of HIV positive people in the United States; and of the 1.2 million people in the US believed to be infected with HIV, 200-300,000 are unaware they are infected.

In the month of October, I personally diagnosed eight African American women of child bearing age with HIV- all but one, 25-years-old or younger, was incarcerated. This unfortunately comes as no surprise when individuals like Elidor Kersaint (club promoter in Miami), Nikko Briteramos (former college basketball player), and Nushawn Williams (former drug dealer from Brooklyn) have knowingly spread the disease to women. What was considered a gay white man’s disease has now become one of Black and Brown brothers and sisters.

Debates continue on the origins of HIV, but the bottom line is that this disease, which is spread by blood and body fluids, is here! Abstinence, wearing condoms, getting tested, dispelling the myths and educating ourselves about HIV are the only cure. Intravenous drug use (IVDA), promiscuity, men having sex with men (MSM), are the primary modes of infection among African Americans.

The southern states have been hit the hardest, and my hometown of Baton Rouge ranked Number 6 in the country in AIDS cases followed by New Orleans. In 2005, Miami had the highest rates of new AIDS diagnoses in this country.

Hip-Hop has made several attempts to raise and help eradicate this illness from our communities. “Coochie Bang” by Queen Latifah and “Go See the Doctor” by Kool Mo Dee, although not specifically addressing HIV, did address condom usage and sexually transmitted diseases. But as you know, the culture has evolved, the game has changed, and the call to do things not necessarily Hip-Hop is upon us. Rappers, MC’s, and DJ’s have been summoned to speak on politics, injustice and health.

"Hip-Hop as a culture is getting a lot of backlash right now for its lyrics, for its public image, and the people are crying out for more responsibility," said KRS-One at the 2007 BET Hip Hop Awards. I applaud Common and Ludacris for their recent efforts to bring more awareness to the issue of HIV/AIDS.

We need more of a collaborative effort, however, and I support KRS One for pulling MC’s together to “stop the violence”, but we also need some love on the medical battlefield. The messages must be consistent and reinforced on and off the stage. The use of Hip-Hop as a tool for empowerment has been proven. Let us use it to educate about health issues as well.

It’s “Tha Hip Hop Doc”, they call me H2D, come on now and let’s get Hip-Hop Healthy!

For more information on HIV visit ( or visit Dr. Rani at Dr. Rani Whitfield is a board certified Family Practice and Sports Medicine Physician who lives in Baton Rouge, LA. He is affectionately known as “Tha Hip Hop Doc” as he uses music and medicine to educate young people on health issues. Dr. Whitfield has is a contributing writer to the book Not In My Family: AIDS in the African American Community.