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RIP Phife Dawg: Hip-hop culture and diabetes

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Phife Dawg (Photo credit: YouTube screenshot Phife Vevo)

Hip-hop is mourning the death of Malik Issac Taylor aka Phife, one fourth of the legendary rap group A Tribe Called Quest. Phife’s health issues have been public knowledge for many years. He hd been battling diabetes over the course of his career and even mentions it in a verse in the song, “Oh My God” from the classic album Midnight Marauders. “It’s the energetic who mean sound pathetic, when’s the last time you heard a funky diabetic?” That lyric was delivered 23 years ago. Phife succumbed to the disease at 45.

According to the American Diabetes Association from a study done in November of 2013, 13.2 percent of all African Americans age 20 or older have diagnosed diabetes. African American males are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic Whites.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease in which the body’s inability to produce any or enough insulin causes elevated levels of glucose in the blood. Type 1 diabetes generally affects children and teens, and in most cases insulin is required to normalize levels of glucose. Type 2 diabetes also known as “adult onset” diabetes usually develops after the age of 35 and is connected to people who are overweight and have sedentary lifestyles. Both can be treated and managed reasonably. Whereas type 1 may require insulin shots because the body is not able to create insulin, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be controlled by a change in diet and exercise.

According to, type 1 diabetes accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all cases among African Americans. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all cases. Diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death for those age 45 or older.

The fact that an overhaul in our lifestyle can lessen the risk of being diagnosed with this disease cannot be overstated. Black men of a certain age can remember when having a birthday past 21 meant you avoided the bullets and survived. Let’s embrace our health and work toward living our lives as healthfully as possible for as long as we can.

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