How a Lyrical Genius Turned His Life Around After a Cancer Diagnosis


For her new podcast episode, Rina had the absolute pleasure of talking to Henry Williams, known as a member of the massively popular group Sugar Hill Gang. Unfortunately, there were some technical difficulties, so we’re bringing you the interview in written form. 

Henry talks about his cancer diagnosis and how he managed to beat it, as well as the change to his entire lifestyle, including nutrition and fitness regimen. 

 

You are a part of a group that produced the first-ever rap hit Rapper's Delight in 1979, which really set the stage and brought recognition to rap as a genre. How did your story of music begin?

Well, my music journey began when my uncle got home from serving in Vietnam. When he returned, I was just a kid in elementary school. So one day he said to me, let me introduce you to music. And God rest his soul, he helped me discover my love for music. 

One particular time he was outside cleaning his car. He saw me playing in the yard and he said, "Come here for a minute, I want you to pay close attention to this" and he put on Marvin Gaye. 

He was always playing different types of music, like R'n'B stuff because that's what we grew up on at that particular time. And he said this is real music right here. 

So I started listening to it more. And the more I listened to it, the more and more it intrigued me and made me want to be a part of it. Over time, I started working with music. I was creating music, I started singing at school and stuff like that. My school teacher told me that I have a lot of talent. She encouraged me to start putting my talent to use, and she said that she would fail me just to teach me a lesson. She was determined that one day it would pay off, and I never forgot what she told me. 

And from then on, I was just inspired to keep pushing and strive to be the best that I could be. It was my passion and I soon started to write and produce music. 

It led me to work with people like Ya Kid K from Technotronic -  you know, pump up the jam pump it up. I also got to work with so many incredible talents like Whitney Houston, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah and so many more. 

I soon started going out with Sugarhill Gang and quickly became a member of the group. So here I am. Still doing what we love to do.

 

That’s so amazing. I know this interview is not about music, but I would love to use this chance to ask you for any advice you have for young musicians that are coming up.

My advice for young musicians is everything starts with a dream. You need to believe in yourself - that's the number one thing right there. Because in order to get other people to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself first. 

If you keep striving for it, you will start seeing the end result. Don’t be afraid of failure, because failure just makes you stronger. And my other piece of advice is to always be original and different.

Don’t forget that music too is a business. You know, you have to treat everything like it's a business. It’s cool to get up on stage and do what you love to do - perform. You get the crowd going crazy, but don't forget, there's a business side to this. 

Basically, if you take care of your business, business is going to take care of you and your family. So that's the most important thing, you know. Read the fine print of your contracts and take care of the business. 

 

Excellent. I'm sure our listeners will appreciate this advice, even if they're not in music. That's amazing advice. You are also a cancer survivor. And thank you so much for being open to talking about your experience. 

Unfortunately, I've lost my father to cancer. I lost so many people on my father's side of the family to cancer and in 2007 when I went into a routine colonoscopy they found a tumor. It was between my small intestines and my colon. 

This type of carcinoid tumor is one of the smallest slow-growing tumors in the cancer family. So the doctor gave me a choice. He said that at the rate of growth, I could go the next 10 or 15 years, without it giving me any kind of issues or problems. So he said, I can either wait for 15 years or I can just get rid of it now. So I chose to get rid of it right away. It all hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn't believe this was happening to me because, at that time, everything was going so well. Part of me was thinking, that this was going to be the end of me. 

I didn't know how to react to it, but at the end of the day, I didn’t want to worry about things that I had no control over. I'm a big believer in living in the present time. I know that there is no cure for cancer, so then I started praying. Prayer is a powerful thing, and after they took the tumor out, I got well enough to go home and start going to chemo. 

I knew I had to do something to help heal my body. So I started researching everything that was good and wasn't good for me. I quickly realized I had to change my whole diet. I stopped eating pork and beef, basically anything that is hard to digest. I don’t think people realize that when they eat steak, it stays in your system for up to 6-8 weeks.

We really shouldn’t be eating some of the things we eat. You know, not everything that tastes good is good for you. So I changed up my whole diet. I have smoothies, I drink kale and things like that. I like lemon, ginger, dark chocolate, goji berries, cinnamon, turmeric, blueberry, and kale in one smoothie. Blueberries are strong antioxidants that help you get rid of free radicals. I try to be as plant-based as possible. I like portobello mushrooms because they feel like you’re eating meat. I do eat some chicken and fish, which is easier for your body to digest than other types of meat. 

Exercising is so important as well. I like to sweat out the impurities. Since my operation, I changed my whole life around and the doctor asked me to write down whatever I was doing because he wanted to start doing it. 

My advice for anybody out there is to live a healthy life and try to be in the best shape possible. Especially as you get older in life, you need to take care of your body. Your body is like a car. If you never changed the oil in it and never took it to get washed, it’s going to break down. Our bodies are magnificent machines. God created us in his own image and gave us the power to heal. 

Sugar hill gang perform at a concert on stage

I find it amazing how you said it exactly right. You know you found yourself in a situation where you couldn't control what was happening, you had cancer. But then you used that to control your life and to take control over your health, which is incredible. You put a lot of work into changing your lifestyle. So I'm wondering how is the learning curve? How long did it take you to get to the level where you are now?

Well, believe it or not, Rina, it's always a work in progress. When we are born into this world, we all get raised on a certain lifestyle. And it's almost like if you see a baby lion or something and you say - oh, that cute. And you try to make it your pet, but no matter how you raise it, sooner or later those animal instincts kick in. They want to hunt and be wild. So it's always a work in progress because we were raised in a certain way. We are raised to eat certain foods and do certain things. 

It's not like I can say it's easy changing your lifestyle. But you have to constantly work and have to constantly be conscious of it, especially in the business that I'm in. I travel a lot and I may not have the best choices when it comes to food. So in order to keep thriving, you have to think about your meals in advance. Take care of your body. It's all about being the best person that you can be. You have to be able to look after yourself. We are in control of our own bodies. 

You always hear the old saying that you are what you eat, and that is true in a number of ways. You become what you eat, you know what I mean? Basically, your health depends a lot on what you put in your body. 

 

We are constantly surrounded by temptation. It's so difficult to stay disciplined.

Yes, it is very hard. Fast food places are on every corner, depending on what neighborhood you're living in. I mean, it's like they make it hard to resist. But, you know, you have to be disciplined, though. 

 

I'm also curious about the element of longevity. Lifestyle science is constantly evolving. We're constantly learning new things. How do you continue to educate yourself about healthy lifestyles and habits?

Well, I continue to educate myself by reading a lot of books and watching YouTube videos. You know, high blood pressure runs in my family, so all of my family members were victims of high blood pressure, as was I. 

So basically the doctor prescribed me specific pills. I'm taking my blood pills like I'm supposed, and my doctor says to me - Your blood pressure's still high. Well, how come, when I’m taking the pills you prescribed? So he gave me another type of pill to go along with the first one. So I took that and at the next visit, the doctor wanted me to start taking another type of pill.  I didn’t want to do that, because all of these pills have some side effects. 

I decided to start doing my own research on how to lower blood pressure. I learned that beet juice can lower your blood pressure and I drank a lot of beet juice. It did lower my blood pressure and I since found other ingredients as well.  Organic apples, mixed with a tablespoon of flaxseed. If you do that twice a day, the flaxseed opens up your arteries to keep your blood flow going. And that's what blood pressure is, the older you get, your arteries start clogging up. 

It's important to research your symptoms and find what works best for you. It's important to go to the doctor and describe not just your ailments, but also the things that are lowering your quality of life. 

 

You were able to detect your cancer because of a checkup. And I think nowadays we are really trying to emphasize the importance of preventative medicine and personalising your treatment. It’s important to take all of these actions before you develop a disease.

Well, absolutely. I mean, when I go on tour and we all go to the restaurant I do get made fun of sometimes. People used to laugh at me. I was like this even before the pandemic. I carry hand sanitiser with me, clean my hands before I eat, and all kinds of stuff. They would watch me eat, and I would order salads or something similar, while they were ordering steaks and drinking and smoking. 

The first thing I tell the waitress is that I want water. I only drink room temperature water with lemon. It cleans your body, it cleans your kidney, it cleans your liver, all that kind of stuff. 

I used to have dark spots on my back. That was just because my liver was being overloaded and it couldn't clean my body fast enough. So my body was trying to get rid of all the impurities and they were coming through my skin. When I changed my lifestyle, my back cleared up. Because I was functioning properly as I was supposed to.

So you know, getting back to my story, people used to laugh at me, but now they're calling me for advice. They want to know when is a good time to exercise and eat and stuff like that. 

 

Haha, I love that. Can you tell me what type of exercise you do?

I lift weights. I'm not trying to be a bodybuilder or anything like that, but I just stay in shape. I do some pull-ups and I get on the treadmill.

 

When you were talking about your experience with being diagnosed, you said it hit you like a ton of bricks. You couldn't find your footing straight away. So what would you say your advice is for people who have been diagnosed with cancer? How to find motivation? How to make the next step?

Never give up. Keep praying and keep asking God to give you the strength to do what's best for you. It will help you build strength and give you the motivation to move forward. 

 

Would you say that at that period having a strong support system was very important?

Yes, it was. It was very, very important. I had to convince myself that, you know, I could change for the better. 

A lot of times it's all about you. We could do anything if we put our mind to it, I'm a strong believer in that. And as long as we have God on our side, there is nothing that we can’t accomplish.

 

Thank you so much. You are incredible. I feel very lucky to be able to talk to you about this because I think you've gained quite a lot of wisdom through your experience. I think many of our followers are probably curious, where is Sugarhill Gang today? What is new with the group?

Oh, thank you so much. Basically, in a sense, the pandemic just set everybody back. We had to make the best of being at home. So during the pandemic, we developed our own podcast called Sugarhill Gang Paint Pass, and it has done us a lot of good to sit at home and create new content. 

We showed the episodes to Warner Bros and they loved it. So we're in the process of closing the deal, making it official.  Also, we're working on a new EP. We have new music coming out. The last song we did was with Bob Sinclair and it was a big hit. We have a song out now, called Someone Like You, which has like 6 million views on YouTube, and a lot of plays on other platforms. 

So we’re keeping busy, we’re working on new things and we just performed at the Kentucky Derby a while ago. Soon we’ll be coming to the UK. 

 

Oh, perfect. So I can see you in person then?

Absolutely. The same goes for your listeners, come out and see us perform live. I would just like to take this opportunity to give a big shoutout to your CEO Nina. She's the sweetest person I ever met. Bless her. She has a heart of gold, and I want to thank her for introducing you to me and for helping me share my story with the world. 

 

Make sure to check out: The Sugarhill Gang Podcast


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Article written by
Vanja Maganjić

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