By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0127-Feature-Dee-1_Blog

Before he became hip-hop artist Dee-1, David Augustine was on the school chess team. He played basketball and his favorite subject was math.

“I wasn’t a performer by any means,” he said. “I really didn’t even like being the center of attention.”

He turned to music during what he calls “the roughest time of my life.”

He had just started college at Louisiana State University when a close friend was murdered. Having grown up in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, his family struggled to recover after Hurricane Katrina. He didn’t make the university basketball team, and he had his first heartbreak.

Dee-1 struggled to process one blow after another. So he channeled his emotions into music, and by the time he graduated with a business degree in 2009, creating hip-hop music was a passion.

He took a job as a math teacher at a Baton Rouge middle school, but performed at small clubs on the side. That’s where he met Dr. Rani Whitfield, a local family doctor who shared his love of music.

Dee-1 and Whitfield, who goes by “Tha Hip Hop Doc,” began creating songs that focused on health, including obesity, heart disease, drinking and driving and conflict resolution.

“I just felt these were issues that we shouldn’t keep quiet about, because they affect us,” said Dee-1, who is now 26. A Twitter chat with Dee-1, Whitfield and nurse Alice Benjamin is scheduled for Jan. 28 at 12 p.m. Central time.

Growing up, he saw the toll of unhealthy habits. His aunt died from complications of a stroke and several family friends had heart attacks. He spent years trying to convince family members to stop smoking.

“I want to entertain as well as educate people with my music,” he said. “If I can make a song that will get someone to dance and get more exercise, or educate them about the warnings signs of heart disease, then I want to do that.”

Dee-1 has experienced his own health woes. In high school, he had surgery for achalasia, a disorder of the esophagus that prevented food from moving into his stomach. The experience made him appreciate feeling healthy, he said.

After two years of teaching, Dee-1 decided to focus on his music full-time. He has since released 11 mixtapes and performed at major music festivals, including SXSW, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the Essence Festival. His debut album will release this year.

While the health-focused tracks account for a small portion of Dee-1’s entire collection, it’s one he holds close to his heart.

“I want to help people actualize their potential in their lives,” he said. “Potential doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s about actualizing it.”