Long before Flava Flav became a reality show punch line (or a would-be fried chicken mogul), back when Chuck D was more of a political subversive than the kind of respected activist who would be called on to testify in front of Congress, Public Enemy released the track “Night of the Living Baseheads.” Like many songs from that era, the lyrics dealt with the crack epidemic that was decimating African-American communities around the country in 1988, the year it was released. In the song, Chuck D calls out black crack dealers who sell to their own, rapping, “Another kilo/From a corner from a brother to keep another/Below.“
The Oakland-based group SOS Juice has reframed the classic hip-hop narrative of the ’80s and ’90s that “Baseheads“ fits into. Instead of being critical of people contributing to the African-American disenfranchisement by selling drugs back into the community—or of the government injecting crack-cocaine into black neighborhoods as a means of repression—the group’s new music video sets its sights on a modern epidemic: the domination of cheap, highly processed food in minority neighborhoods.
Instead of the choice between a crack pipe and a future, the young protagonist of the video has to pick between a carrot and a Red Bull. Street bums are shown drinking sodas instead of malt liquor; a white dusting of aspartame coats the upper lip of an addict rather than a Schedule 1 drug; death-by-processed-food is recurrent.
“Who would have known you can die from a diet,” raps Seasunz, who both stars in the video and had his hand in various production elements, “Diabetes and the -itis from the dairy and the dose of the high fructose.”
Related stories on TakePart:
• Seeds of Change: Filming Food Justice in Oakland
• The Surprising Solution to Urban Food Deserts (Hint: It’s Not More Supermarkets)
• One in Four U.S. Kids Don’t Know Where Their Next Meal Is Coming From
Willy Blackmore is the food editor at TakePart. He has also written about food, art, and agriculture for such publications as TastingTable, Los Angeles Magazine, The Awl, GOOD, LA Weekly, The New Inquiry, and BlackBook. Email Willy | TakePart.com