Growing up, DJ Cavem lived in a food desert and couldn’t find any fresh food in his area. Lacking access to resources, he decided to start growing his own fruits and vegetables. Then, he started writing music about it.
His self-coined “eco hip-hop” has become a global movement, and he has rapped about climate change, food justice, and plant-based foods everywhere, from his hometown in Denver to the Obama White House. On Episode #7 of the Raise Green podcast, we spoke to him about his time as an activist, educator, vegan chef, and eco hip-hop artist.
History of Environmental Hip Hop
To DJ Cavem, his intersectional form of art is nothing new, and environmental hip-hop has always had its place. He notes a main source of inspiration as Dead Prez, with whom he toured in the early days of his hip-hop career. Though they weren’t strictly environmental hip-hop artists, the Dead Prez duo laid the groundwork for environmental hip-hop artists to come with the release of “Be Healthy” in 2000. Even ten years before that, KRS-One, a pioneer of early hip-hop, wrote “Beef” to speak out about the ethics of the meat industry and factory farming. A strong and steady community of environmental hip-hop artists grew out of these works.
From its origins in the Bronx in New York City during the 1970s, hip-hop has served as an outlet for marginalized communities to express despair and hardship, and speak out against racial barriers, violence, and poverty. It’s only fitting that this cultural movement has expanded to environmental justice as well.
DJ Cavem emphasizes that the environmental movement has largely failed to connect with the BIPOC community. In fact, a 2014 survey of environmental nonprofits, foundations, and government agencies, conducted by Dorceta Taylor at the University of Michigan, found that while people of color comprised about 38 percent of the U.S. population (at the time), they constituted no more than 16 percent of the workforce of any environmental organization. Even more jarring, they occupied less than 12 percent of the leadership positions at these organizations. This disproportionately white “green insiders club” is what DJ Cavem is dismantling through the power of his music.
DJ Cavem’s latest release is BIOMIMICZ, “the first USDA-certified organic, plant-based, zero-waste, environmental hip hop album.” It’s not only completely compostable, but also comes with a mix of kale, beets and arugula seeds. He hopes that his lyrics will inspire and educate listeners, and that his seed pack, once grown and harvested, will allow them to sustain fresher, healthier diets — it’s what he calls “culinary climate action” at its finest.
What is he growing now? He’s focused on “growing people” — both his own daughters and the community of young people around them. He hopes to open their minds to apply “ancient wisdom to address present problems,” as the ideas behind the environmental movement are nothing new. “We need to reprogram,” he emphasizes, “Recycle, reduce, reuse, remember that we’ve already been green, our ancestors have already done this, and we just need to get out of the way of nature.”
At Raise Green, we value art as a medium for expression and impact, and we hope to continue delivering short, accessible conversations with thought-leaders like DJ Cavem, who are utilizing art to pave the way for a healthy, just, and sustainable future. You can find the “Raise Green” Podcast on Spotify, Apple, and Soundcloud streaming services. Be sure to check us out! Have any questions you want us to ask, or a guest you would like to be featured on the podcast? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To get the most up-to-date information on Raise Green content, please sign up for our email list and follow any of our social accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). If you’re interested in making an impact investment now, check out the Raise Green Investor Marketplace.