From dropping the first song in music history to premiere from outer space and touring globally with the Wu-Tang Clan, to creating award-winning raps about medicine, Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine alum and hospitalist Kamran Khan, D.O. (’10), proves combining medical and personal passions can lead to new heights.
Move over informational pamphlets — Kamran Khan, who goes by the stage name Lazarus, is raising awareness about health issues through songwriting.
A practicing hospitalist physician based in Las Vegas for the past 10 years, Khan is also a professional hip-hop artist. “When I get out of the hospital and I take the white coat off, I go in the studio… that’s how I unwind, that’s how I release my stress,” he explained. He takes on an alter ego of Lazarus, rapping about medicine, race and other personal topics.
With over 114,000 YouTube followers and 65,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, he has been using his sizable platform — and connections with big names in hip-hop and rap — to educate listeners about medical topics and relevant issues. During the pandemic, he shared information on COVID-19, encouraging people to use preventative measures to stop the spread of the virus and get the COVID vaccine.
“I was on the front lines with COVID-19,” Khan said. After receiving advice from mentor Chuck D of hip-hop group Public Enemy to share medical messaging with his audience, “I became a spokesperson in the hip-hop world about COVID and things that we can do to stay healthy. I even made rhymes about it as educational tools.”
As an award-winning, Pakistani American hip-hop artist, Khan is challenging the typical image of both a physician and a rapper — proving that there are many ways to put your own spin on improving the health of the community and expressing yourself musically.
His track “Open Heart Surgery” won Song of the Year at the Underground Music Awards in 2015, in which he raps about each step of the surgery and his emotions. In addition to releasing a single with Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan (WTC), he has toured globally with Nas and WTC — a self-described “mind-boggling” experience for Lazarus, since the influential group is “what inspired me to be a hip-hop artist.” He has since performed at the Sydney Opera House, Wembley Stadium and other large-scale venues around the globe.
Khan almost quit his music career when starting medical school at the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine due to the rigorous curriculum and study hours, but realized that he couldn’t set aside such a big part of his identity. Instead, he found a way to balance and fuse the two.
“[Hip-hop] became a part of everything I started doing. I would be studying for a course in medicine, writing rhymes about these different pathologies, and I couldn’t help myself from doing that,” he said. Music helped him adapt to the demands of medical school with a learning style that came naturally to him — and made learning more enjoyable.
The rhymes worked so well for him that he used them to teach others in formal lectures, as well. “I love utilizing hip-hop as a means for education,” he said.
Catch the lyrics he wrote as a student at MSUCOM about heart functioning, which were featured in this Discovery Channel documentary.
Lazarus began recording his first album while in medical school. The organizational and time management skills he honed as a student are now used to balance touring and music production with his shift schedule at the hospital.
His commitment and tenacity to pursue both music and health has led him to interesting crossovers and history-making opportunities beyond medicine: this year he released “Pale Blue Dot” in conceptual collaboration with NASA, an original hip-hop song about space and the first song ever to premiere from the International Space Station. As he has matured as an artist, he is venturing into topics that he feels need more attention in the public eye, such as global warming and environmental conservation.
“To this day, it’s hip-hop and medicine. I can’t leave either of them,” he concluded. “I can’t really exist without both. I need both to cling onto for me to be who I am. I need the medicine for the hip-hop and the hip-hop needs the medicine. It’s like they work together in synergy.”
He hopes to continue using hip-hop to educate others: “To me, that takes hip-hop further. It takes it as a form of communication and as a form of art further because you can now share information and help people with it.”
On the medical side, he is excited to continue learning, staying up to date on new therapies and providing patients with the knowledge and experience he has developed as an osteopathic physician.
And sometimes, his two worlds merge outside of songwriting: “I was performing at one of the venues and there was a patient who passed out — they were having a seizure in the crowd. I stopped performing and went to check on them because I had that expertise.”
He encourages others to pursue a passion, even if it is unrelated to their degree, by sharing his journey about pushing past doubts to forge your own (untraditional) path. “I just want to be able to motivate others who are told they can’t do something to say, ‘You know what, just believe in yourself, know what you are capable of. Stay passionate, manage your time well and do your best to achieve your goals. You’re going to get there.’”
Looking to the future, Khan shares his optimistic mentality: “They say the sky’s the limit. I say, ‘No, it’s not. I had my song playing in the International Space Station, so now the sky isn’t the limit anymore.’”