Rappers on steroids to 'be badder dan dem'

Ben Sisario

Ben Sisario

NEW YORK - When news surfaced at the weekend that 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean, Timbaland and other rap stars had been implicated in a steroids investigation, some hip-hop fans were shocked, but to many in the industry, the accusations seemed inevitable.

Public accusations of steroid and human-growth hormone use by rappers and R&B stars - including Mary J Blige - named in an investigation, according to a report in the Times Union of Albany, New York, are all but unheard of.

The latest news struck a chord about the increasing pressure on these performers to maintain perfect, even superhuman physiques, as part of their overall image and brand.

"The spectacle of hip-hop now is so much greater than it's ever been," said Jeff Chang, the author of the hip-hop history Can't Stop Won't Stop.

"There's always the battle aesthetic at work, this idea that you're going to go up there and show that you're badder than everybody else.

"It's part of the swagger that hip-hop carries."

The investigation, by the Albany County district attorney's office, has focused on doctors who illegally prescribe drugs for non-medical purposes.

None of the celebrities have been accused of breaking the law, though the Times Union of Albany, citing anonymous sources, reported that the stars have received packages of prescribed steroids and human-growth hormone at their homes, at hotels across the country and at the offices of a Long Island chiropractor.

But the recent news highlights an issue that has long been whispered about in hip-hop corners as some performers have leaned ever more heavily on a Schwarzeneggerian body as part of their public image.

The producer and rapper Timbaland, whose real name is Tim Mosley, weighed more than 140kg before his dramatic turnaround a few years ago, when he began a rigorous exercise regime and transformed himself into a body builder, dropping more than 50kg in the process.

Representatives for Timbaland and 50 Cent did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

A spokesman for Blige said that the singer had never taken steroids.

While a spokesman for Columbia Records had no comment about Wyclef Jean.

Anabolic steroids and human growth hormones can have immediately visible results in rappers as in athletes, decreasing fat tissue and increasing muscle.

But the long-term consequences of the growth hormone can be severe, said Dr Alvin Matsumoto of the University of Washington and the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System.

"If you take it in excessive amounts, it will stimulate a lot of soft-tissue growth, make the jaws larger," Matsumoto said. "There could be a lot of the manifestations of organ enlargement - heart enlargement, liver enlargement.

"All tissues are enlarged, basically, because of growth-hormone stimulation. And that's not good."

For a decade or so now, talk has swirled around about rappers who have maintained suspiciously Olympian figures. - New York Times