Chubb Rock: From Hip-Hop To Fighting For Black Health

Chubb Rock

Chubb Rock 2016/Photo: Jason Davis/Getty Images for National Museum of African American Music

When the beat drops followed by the melodic, “Go, go, go, go…,” you cannot control your hands or feet! Even the rhythmless nation among us finds a way to look like seasoned vets on the dancefloor. However, if we silenced the beat of the smash hit, “Treat ‘Em Right,” we would hear a timeless lesson from a hip-hop pioneer on the annals of Blackness. Chubb Rock, born Richard Simpson, narrated the struggle, soul and strength of Black America through his music. In “Treat ‘Em Right” he invoked the name of a young boy whose story is far too familiar today:

Leave the knife and the gun in the store

And ignore temptation, sent by the nation

Racial gain causes pain; need a new rep

In your hearts and minds never forget Yusef

Yusef Hawkins. I will write his name again. Yusef Hawkins. He was a 16 year-old Black boy who was killed in 1989 by a vicious mob of white teens who believed Hawkins or one of his friends had been dating a white girl in their neighborhood. The gang of up to 30 youth used a 1982 Pontiac that was for sale to lure and subsequently violently blindside Hawkins and his two friends.

Hawkins died of two gunshot wounds to the chest. He was the third Black person killed by white gangs in New York City in the 1980s.

“Yusef was our Trayvon Martin of the time. Things haven’t changed in that time between that and Trayvon,” Chubb Rock told me during our recent interview.

The Politics of Black Health

Today, Chubb Rock is still fighting for issues in the Black community. He’s turned his eyes and heart toward health equity. “Most health situations and diseases are treatable and reversible. Our society is really setting us up: criminal justice system, child support, education,” he says. “Health is another form of eradication, except for this front, we have control.”

The lack of access to healthy foods contributes greatly to the not so accidental health disparities epidemic. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many other chronic illnesses complicate living well. The Black community confronts these health issues at an earlier age.

“We have a breakfast issue,” Chubb laments when talking about current school lunch programs. “I speak at schools and kids are falling asleep because they’re hungry and when they do eat it’s not enough.”

Governmental programs may help provide some relief but we need to revive our community’s organization to fix at least this problem. Chubb explained, “The Black Panther party was so important to our neighborhoods because of their breakfast program. If you don’t do it, who do you expect to do it? Energy equals focus.”