Advocating for Heart Disease Awareness

How Kidney Failure Changed Philly Rapper Freeway’s Music and Life

Freeway / Credit: Elana Gordon

Just as he was stepping on stage to perform for tens of thousands of people at the Made in America Festival, Philadelphia rapper Freeway felt like he was going to pass out.

For months, Freeway was having trouble keeping food down. He was chronically exhausted. He couldn’t pin down why. Now it was coming to a head, as a massive crowd waited in anticipation at one of the country’s largest concerts.

Somehow, though, Freeway soldiered through the performance, but his nagging symptoms wouldn’t disappear. Shortly after, he wound up in the hospital, grappling with a life-threatening diagnosis: kidney failure.

In retrospect, the warning signs could not have been more obvious, Freeway says now. But he was shocked to learn how many other friends and fellow artists are in a similar situation.

African Americans are nearly four times as likely as whites to develop kidney failure. Diabetes and high blood pressure, two conditions that Freeway had developed in the years prior, are also major risk factors.

“I was clueless to it,” said Freeway. “I feel as though it’s not talked about very much because it’s something that a lot of people are ashamed of.”

“I have family members that had high blood pressure and diabetes, but I wasn’t really too in tune with what it does to you and the effects that it has on the body,” he said.

“There are countless artists that have high blood pressure and diabetes. You know, it’s normal in the African American community,” he said. “It’s really serious. It’s really affecting us.”

“I feel as though the key to living the lifestyle that I live is taking care of yourself, making sure you’re eating right, and keeping a good team around you,” he said.

Awareness is the key if you know the risk factors you’re ahead of the game! One risk factor is high blood pressure. Another risk factor is diabetes and another risk factor is simply just being an Afro American. Be aware!

This interview addresses the disproportionate number of black people with high blood pressure and heart-related illnesses. Statistics show that minority groups, especially black individuals are more likely to suffer from hypertension. There are numerous social factors that increase the likelihood of adopting high blood pressure, including systemic racism. Living in an unjust system dramatically increases stress amongst oppressed individuals. This stress leads to a higher risk of hypertension and heart diseases.

The interview also touches on the lack of education and awareness about blood pressure and heart health. Although heart-related diseases are the leading cause of death globally, these statistics still do not incite an urgency for education on the topic. Freestyle talks about the stigma that exists around heart illnesses and openly discussing them. Even some individuals who are aware of its prevalence in their family history, do not feel an urgency to monitor their own. Before being diagnosed with Kidney failure, Freestyle acknowledges that he had a family history of high blood pressure and experienced “warning signs” but did not seek help because of the stigma.