The flashy, party-centric Southern rapper Lil Jon (left), has had his hand, and distinctive voice, in nearly every pop hit since the early 2000s, from Usher's "Yeah!" to LMFAO's "Shots." Maybe you've seen him on NBC's All-Star Celebrity Apprentice, including the show's 13th season earlier this year. Lil Jon (Jonathan Smith) earned $195,000 for his charity of choice: the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Get to Know Lil Jon
See Lil Jon in full episodes of All-Star Celebrity Apprentice at nbc.com/the-apprentice.
In his previous stint in front of Donald Trump, Lil Jon had played for another charity. In between his seasons on the show, however, Lil Jon's mother had a stroke—a complication of her type 2 diabetes. As Lil Jon learned more about diabetes, the 42-year-old Atlanta-based entertainer realized he had been in the dark about diabetes, its complications, and its risk factors. Sadly, his mother passed away after the taping of the season. "I just never knew anything before she had a stroke," he says. "I didn't even know that people with diabetes had strokes or kidney failure or heart disease. I didn't know the history of the disease, or that it's a lifelong disease. After, I learned a lot more."
Armed with that knowledge, Lil Jon was determined to push diabetes education and awareness using his Celebrity Apprentice platform. He promoted the Association's Risk Test (diabetes.org/risktest) on air and on his Facebook page, shared his mother's story, and touted the ADA's research programs as well as its services to people living with diabetes. Trump was impressed with Lil Jon's passion for diabetes outreach: He bumped up Lil Jon's third-place winnings by an additional $100,000 during the season finale. And though Lil Jon didn't win the top prize (that honor went to country singer Trace Adkins), he believes he achieved what he set out to do.
"My main reason for coming in was my story, with me not knowing that my mom was still dealing with [diabetes for the rest of her life]," he says. "And then I also saw a doc[umentary] about Phife from A Tribe Called Quest ['Diabetes in Rap,' below]. Those two stories … really hit me."
So Lil Jon continues to work with the American Diabetes Association to push risk awareness and healthy living to the forefront. Of course, that's nothing new for the former skateboarder. Health and exercise have always been a part of his life. In fact, Lil Jon has recently partnered with Zumba Fitness, recording a song called "Work" and headlining a nightclub tour of Zumba dance and exercise events.
If that sounds a little out there for a guy who's made a living rapping in raucous clubs, Lil Jon says health and his zest for celebration go together. "It's just about fun," he says. "I'm known for creating a great energy for partying, I guess, and having fun."
And adding his television appearances and collaboration with Zumba is just part of diversifying his appeal—something he says skateboarding did for him as a kid. "It opened my eyes and ears and mind to so many different things," he says. "Being on The Apprentice has showed me that I'm appealing to Middle America. They get to see another side of me, and they see I'm not screaming and hollering all the time. Nothing compromises the other, and everybody still gives me respect. It's rare, but it works."
Moving forward, Lil Jon says he will continue to work with the ADA to promote its mission. He's also looking to do more television appearances and plans to put out another hip-hop album by the end of the year. His charity work will remain front and center, though. "Of course we want a cure," he says, "but we want to help our little ones and help people stay on top of it and manage the disease."
Diabetes in Rap
Lil Jon gained a wide platform for diabetes awareness with his appearance on All-Star Celebrity Apprentice. Other rappers have also done their part to raise diabetes awareness, and funding for diabetes research and programs, through their work on the mic and in the community. Ch-check it out:
Joseph Simmons, aka Rev. Run or DJ Run, is a founding member of the legendary rap group Run-D.M.C. He's also a Pentecostal minister and reality-television star (MTV's Run's House). And as a 48-year-old African American man with a family history of diabetes, he's at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. So Rev. Run's gotten serious about his own health (losing weight, exercising, eating a healthy diet) and is preaching the good word to others. He's teamed up with Novo Nordisk to promote the drug company's Ask. Screen. Know. (A.S.K.) type 2 diabetes risk test (askscreenknow.com) and has taken his message on the road, visiting African American churches across the country to talk about diabetes, its risks, and its complications.
"People need to know about health, and church is the perfect place," Rev. Run says. "You come to church to learn. It really strikes a chord to hear my testimony." Read more about Rev. Run's mission to educate.
Deidra "Spinderella" Roper made her mark on hip-hop as the teenage DJ for the rap group Salt-n-Pepa. But now she has made an impact on the diabetes world, serving as a celebrity ambassador for Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes® in Dallas since 2011. Spinderella found Step Out and the American Diabetes Association after her mother passed away due to type 2 diabetes complications, and learning more compelled her to get involved. "When I connected [with the ADA], I felt like a world of answers came to me, and I thought, by using my celebrity, I could help someone get answers and know what they have access to," Spin says. Learn more about Spinderella's quest to help the ADA Stop Diabetes®.
As a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah (Dennis Coles) would never reveal the Wu-Tang Secret, the often-referenced but never-defined mystery behind the group's success. But he is vocal about diabetes education, after having been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1996. Ghostface is resurrecting his diabetes education nonprofit organization, Making Diabetes Ghost, and is speaking out about knowing the symptoms and getting your health checked regularly. He hopes that others learn from his own cautionary tale, as he ignored the signs of diabetes. Read more about Ghostface Killah's work in the diabetes community.
The life of Phife Dawg (Malik Isaac Taylor) with type 1 diabetes has been well documented. As a member of A Tribe Called Quest, he's been vocal about it, from candid interviews he's done about ignoring his diabetes management, going on dialysis, and receiving a kidney transplant, to his own lyrics referring to himself as the "Funky Diabetic," to Michael Rappaport's 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. Read more about Phife Dawg's career and public diabetes life.