Throat Disorders and the Hip-Hop Lyricist

If you ever get the opportunity to meet Darryl McDaniels, you will be immediately impressed. His demeanor exudes natural confidence, yet he manages to remain humble. I had the privilege of meeting and talking with the talented lyricist and former rapper of the legendary group Run-DMC in August of this year.

Darryl Mac, better known as DMC, visited Baton Rouge, Louisiana to talk to a local group of middle school students about completing their assignments in life, hard work, the pursuit of their dreams, and how it feels to be adopted.

What he did not mention, however, was the disorder that any spoken word artist or lyricist would dread to be affected by: spasmodic dysphonia or laryngeal dystonia. How an artist creates and delivers his message on the mic is one of the most important components to the game of rap, spoken word and/or singing. DMC had one of the most famous voices in all of Hip-Hop history only to wake up one day with it a potentially career ending voice change.

Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is a disorder of the voice caused by involuntary movements of the muscles of the larynx or voice box. The cause of SD is unknown, however it is most common in individuals between ages 30-50. There are three types of SD and in general, women are affected more than men. Regardless of the type of SD a person is affected by, the end product is a voice that is no longer reliable. The quality of the voice sounds as if the person affected is straining or being strangled, and the voice often breaks or cracks.

Because the symptoms can come and go, it was once thought that this was a disorder of the mind and not a true medical problem. The diagnosis usually requires a team approach and should include an otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose and throat), a speech therapist (a specialist trained to diagnose disorders of speech and language), and a neurologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases of the brain and spinal cord).

In most cases the ear, nose and throat doctor will do a procedure that will actually visualize the vocal cords looking for other causes of voice changes like vocal cord polyps or even cancer. Once he determines that SD is the problem, the patient is referred to a speech therapist to learn ways to strengthen the vocal cords. The neurologist primary goal is to rule out the brain as a cause of the voice disorder like a stroke.

Although there is no cure for SD, there are some treatment options available outside of seeing the speech therapist. The vocal cords can be injected with botox, a toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. This procedure requires multiple injections over time and is not a permanent fix. The procedure is not without side effects, however, and does not work in every type of SD.

When talking with young artists, I often emphasize mastering the culture and art of Hip-Hop. You never know what may happen to you, so don’t place all your microphones in one studio! Learn how to rap, produce, mix and master sound, set up the studio equipment, and even build a stage. DMC was blessed and saw his potential beyond being one of the greatest MC’s ever. He has turned his negative into a positive, and tours the country delivering positive messages about adoption and completing assignments in school to prepare you for life assignments.

“If I had not been adopted, I would have never been in New York, would have never met Jay and Run, and there would have been no DMC,” says DMC. His story is motivational, and when you can, check out his website and his work with adopted children. He is the King of Rock!

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. Visit Dr. Rani and get more information at