British rapper hits plan to privatize NHS

Success of YouTube video criticising Department of Health white paper prompts health minister to respond to rapper critic

By Esther Addley
The Guardian, Friday 25 March 2011

Three years ago, when he was 19, a young rapper calling himself MC NxtGen hoped he was on the verge of the big time. Performing at a "battle" at a nightclub in central London, he rapped: "To be found you gotta be loud and have a different sound, step out from the crowd, just rise from the underground!"

The crowd liked him but the title of Britain's Next Urban Superstar was not to be his. He failed to make the final, and returned home to his dreams of superstardom and his job as a binman in Loughborough.

This week, however, Britain might just have been offered a second chance to turn NxtGen into a star, in the very unlikeliest of circumstances. The rapper, real name Sean Donnelly, has found himself a viral YouTube and Twitter celebrity after recording a track that certainly offers a "different sound". Eschewing the traditional hiphop themes of bling, booty and babes, Donnelly has recorded a caustic three-minute rap about the Department of Health's white paper "Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS", and dedicated it personally – highly personally, one might say – to the health minister himself.

"Andrew Lansley, greedy! Andrew Lansley, tosser!" runs the refrain, repeated throughout the song, over a sample taken from The House of the Rising Sun. "The NHS is not for sale, you grey-haired manky codger!" But if Donnelly is far from polite in his political protest, he has certainly done his research.

"So the budget of the PCTs, he wants to hand to the GPs / Oh please. Dumb geeks are gonna buy from any willing provider, / Get care from private companies."

Later, he offers a helpful parse of the white paper, saying Lansley's plans are that "we'll become more like the US / and care will be farmed out to private companies, / who will sell their service to the NHS via the GPs / who will have more to do with service purchase arrangements / than anything to do with seeing their patients."

Finishing his shift on the bins on Friday ("I don't think this is really anyone's career choice"), Donnelly said he'd been overwhelmed by the response, which had seen his Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages "going crazy" and even contact from TV companies. "I didn't really plan for it all to be about me," he says. "I just did it basically so I could speak to the youth."

The song came about, Donnelly, now 22, told the Guardian, because he has "close family and friends" – his girlfriend is one – "who want to work in the NHS in the future hopefully, but they're worried about the cuts. So I researched it on the internet and I just did the song. I feel for the people that are ill in hospital. If they were privatised they wouldn't be able to afford it." And why focus on Lansley in particular? "Because I'm peed off with the guy."

He insists he'd rather rap about "truth" than money, fast cars or sex. "That's what sells, but I'm just not like that."

Donnelly started MC-ing when he was 11 or 12, he says, when he first saw Eminem, whose wit he immediately loved. "It was just the funniness and this complete truth at the same time." The Detroit rapper's influence might be detected in the video to Andrew Lansley – which has been viewed on YouTube more than 30,000 times in 24 hours – in which he enlists shoppers in his home town to wave placards, wear David Cameron and Nick Clegg masks and mouth "Tosser!" and "greedy!" at the camera at apposite points in the song.

At one point, railing against Lansley's involvement of the fast food industry in formulating health policy, Donnelly dons a mask of the health secretary and throws crisps at his face.

He even riffs on the health secretary's expenses record, and – in what has a reasonable claim to be the unlikeliest rap lyric ever – on the controversial donation to Lansley's office by the chairman of a private health company. "He's been given cash / by John Nash / chairman of Care UK, / a private healthcare provider, / who, if they have their own way, / will be the biggest beneficiaries / of Conservative Lib-Dem policies / to privatise healthcare, pull apart the welfare state …" It's some distance from 2 Live Crew's Me So Horny.

He is now trying to release the track on iTunes – "I've had so many people saying, 'Let's get it to number one!'". Then he'd love to quit his job on the bins. "The older I've got the more I've been worried, thinking I'm not going to make it."

He's made a wider impact now. By Friday night the viral video had infected the Department of Health, and Lansley himself was moved to comment. "We will never privatise the NHS," he told the Guardian. "But I'm impressed that he's managed to get lyrics about GP commissioning into a rap."