“Ay fuck cancer,” Young Thug says by way of introduction on his latest heater. “Shoutout to Boosie.” And from there, he’s off, letting his mind race—to the vagaries of disrespect; the wonders of prescription medication; good friends, blind loyalty, and lust. The song is called “F Cancer (Boosie).” Its cover art features an image of Young Thug, MD. He’s in pink surgical scrubs, mask and all. He’s being dripped upon by melting codeine mountains. And he’s ready to operate.
The specific inspiration for the track appears to be a recent diagnosis of kidney cancer suffered by the aforementioned Boosie, with whom Thug has collaborated multiple times. “Spread the message early detection is KEY,” Thug added on Instagram, along with hashtag plugs for “cancer awareness” and his just-released new mixtape, I'm Up. On its own, "F Cancer" is another hyper-melodic smash from the magically prolific young man. But in context, it’s a bit more complicated. Unwittingly or otherwise, Thugger has now entered himself into the increasingly contentious conversation that surrounds cancer awareness programs in America.
Last fall, the New York Times reported a “Growing Disenchantment With October ‘Pinkification’” nationwide. Thanks in huge part to the work of the massive Susan G. Komen Foundation, October has been very efficiently branded the Breast Cancer Awareness month. The color associated with the disease is a bright pink. As such, pink is now everywhere every October: on the side of commercial airliners, on the hand towels of NFL quarterbacks, even splashed onto local police department handcuffs. The simple “pink ribbon” has been associated with breast cancer for over two decades now. And every year, there’s more pink.
The reasons for the recent disenchantment are manifold and, as you might expect, emotional and complicated. The crux of it, though, is the sector of cancer activists that believe there has been too much attention paid to cancer awareness and not nearly enough paid to cancer research and support. “Certainly some organizations that receive money from pink campaigns spend at least part of it on research,” says the Times. “But the campaigns have rarely made science their main focus.”
More startling: “How much of the money from pink products goes to any breast cancer cause at all is also unclear. The Dick’s Sporting Goods website notes, in fine print, that some of the companies selling the pink products it offers do not donate any money to breast cancer charities.”
In 2013, the New York Times Magazine’s Peggy Orenstein—herself, as she writes, a cancer survivor—went long on the question. In “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer,” Orenstein lays out the most damning rebuttal to Komen-style full-bore pink permeation and its insistence on regular mammograms:
“Recently, a survey of three decades of screening published in November in The New England Journal of Medicine found that mammography’s impact is decidedly mixed: it does reduce, by a small percentage, the number of women who are told they have late-stage cancer, but it is far more likely to result in overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment, including surgery, weeks of radiation and potentially toxic drugs."
"And yet, mammography remains an unquestioned pillar of the pink-ribbon awareness movement. Just about everywhere I go—the supermarket, the dry cleaner, the gym, the gas pump, the movie theater, the airport, the florist, the bank, the mall—I see posters proclaiming that 'early detection is the best protection' and 'mammograms save lives.' But how many lives, exactly, are being 'saved,' under what circumstances, and at what cost?"
The backlash to pinkification is now nearly as well documented as the initial pinkification phenomena. No one on the anti-pinkification side argues that awareness toward early detection is no longer important. The argument is that awareness campaigns must be handled with care—that they must be carried out with full transparency and as part of a full suite of anti-cancer efforts.
There's also something deafening in the sprawl of Komen. That long month of communal—we're all in this together!—corporate-interest support can perhaps unintentionally take away from what is in large part an incredibly private thing: the individual struggle with cancer.
On the cover art for "F Cancer," Thug drenches himself in pink. Considering the color's dominance in the realm, it's no surprise that Thug—despite acting here in explicit support of his friend Boosie’s kidney cancer—has done so. (It’s also, yes, most likely a nod to the aforementioned lean). Technically, he is working here in unspoken tandem with Susan G. Komen. What makes this different, new, and wonderful is Thug’s subtlety in the actual song. He doesn't wave the flag, or shout the slogans. He just says his little bit.
After that first mention, the disease is never brought up again. In place of that suffocating pinkification, Thug spins tales of irreverence and joy. The message is implicit. My family depend on me, that's who I do it for, he raps. Of course I do it for my bitch and for my crew for sure. Oh, and also: I do it for my jeweler, my ice off a fucking boat. Friends, family, the love of a good woman, a particularly icy boat: he is telling us, simply enough, of the things that make diseases worth fighting.
There’s no money being asked for, no participation requests. Like so much of his catalog, Thug has flung this out there to let it do what it wants. “Ay, fuck cancer”—the phrase, as delivered, works as emotional support for Boosie, or for anyone else that might find some small succor in it.
And on the former point, some good news. “Surgery went well..God is good!,” Boosie wrote on Instagram on December 8th. “Next step recovery! Cancer has been removed from Boosie kidney... Thanks to all Boosie family and friends and all my real Boosie fans for all the prayers from#badazzmusicsyndicate... I am a #cancersurvivor." He ended his message with emojis: a long, bright string of pink ribbons.