“Pesticides and herbicides have destroyed our soil and microorganisms, and contaminated our water. Our oceans are becoming acidic and we are losing the coral reefs. I hope my lyrics will inspire and educate. And I hope the seeds will be planted, literally.”

Dr. Ietef “DJ Cavem” Vita

Biking down the streets of Denver’s historic black neighborhood of Five Points, a young man raises his voice against the air pollution that has been affecting his town for decades. Wearing a gas mask, Ietef Vita, better known as DJ Cavem or Chef Ietef sheds light on the health effects that poor air quality has had on his community and his family, but he’s found an innovative way to break through the noise: through hip hop, his art.

DJ Cavem: “Hybrid Lex talks about being on the front line as a climate activist who grew up with asthma from the air pollution in the Hood, and how I ride my lowrider bike to set the example among younger generations in my community.”

Raised in the Five Points neighborhood — also known as the Harlem of the West — DJ Cavem’s childhood was filled with art, music, and environmental activism. The son of Ashara Ekundayo, a respected poet and activist, DJ Cavem is no stranger to the social and environmental inequalities that continue to harm his community to this day.

Growing up in a food desert where the freshest produce available was a lemon at the liquor store, DJ Cavem started growing his own food and cooking for himself when he was five years old. Influenced by his mother, who made nutrition, health, and activism fundamental parts of his life from an early age, he has been growing produce for most of his life. When he was 13 he reached a turning point in his life. After being expelled from school, DJ Cavem travelled to Africa. Upon returning to the United States he joined the animal and wildlife rights movement, becoming a vegan at age 14. Joining these movements not only helped him stay away from the lure of gang lifestyle, it cemented his passion for environment and food justice. That is how DJ Cavem was born — from his determination to bring attention to these issues by bringing them to life through music.

DJ Cavem: “Cool to Live is a song about a kid in the Hood, who is growing up in an environment that he learns how to change for the better.”

His debut single Wheatgrass with rapper Stic.Man of the hip hop duo Dead Prez, came out in 2007, motivating older and younger generations alike to “cultivate the earth.” Three years later, he released his debut album The Teacher’s Lounge, followed by The Produce Section in 2012, which went beyond your typical music album, including lessons on plant-based cooking, organic farming, and alternative energy. That same year he returned to Africa, this time to study indigenous agriculture and agronomy practices at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. DJ Cavem also holds a PhD in in Urban Ecology.

As part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, DJ Cavem and his wife and collaborator, Arasia “Alkemia” Earth, performed a culinary concert — vegan cooking lesson meets hip-hop show — at the Obama White House in 2015.

DJ Cavem has continued his world travels, both as an artist and an educator, focusing on honoring the ancestral connections we all have to food and land, and bringing awareness to the relationship that exists between race, poverty, and the lack of access to fresh and healthy food. As an artist he has collaborated with hip-hop artist and indigenous environmental activist, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, as well as sharing the stage with Nick Jonas, Public Enemy, 2 Chains, Questlove, and Wyclef Jean, among others. As an educator, he has worked with thousands of youth around the world to promote wellness, healthy eating habits, and climate awareness. Along with his wife, Alkemia, he has visited communities in countries like Azerbaijan, inspiring young people through their workshops and talks to work toward green careers. He is also a two-time TEDx speaker, having appeared on TEDX Manhattan and TEDxYouth@MileHigh, and was recently featured in Leonardo DiCaprio’s new climate change documentary, Ice on Fire”.

For his latest EP, BIOMIMICZ, DJ Cavem put his love for organic gardening and sustainable practices into use by creating the first USDA organic compostable and plant-able album. To do this, he partnered with a local seed company to create small packs of organic beet, kale and arugula seeds with a QR code on the back, which allows people to download the music, grow fresh produce all year long, while helping to sequester carbon.

DJ Cavem’s life mission is to educate, encourage, and inspire action in communities, schools, and businesses through civic engagement. That is why he is currently touring schools and community centers with his Recipes for Resistance: a Culinary Climate Action workshop, motivating Americans to do their part in reducing their carbon footprint by composting, investing in urban and school gardens, utilizing eco-friendly products, and adopting a plant-based lifestyle.

DJ Cavem: “Sprout that Life addresses culinary climate action, growing food, and creating green jobs while dropping seeds of knowledge over trap beats.”

DJ Cavem has spent almost a decade demonstrating that it is possible to utilize hip-hop for social and environmental change. This month, as we follow the thousands of students around the globe marching on the Youth Climate Strike, we need to remember DJ Cavem Moetavation’s great example of will, passion and commitment. Like he says, we need to empower our youth to be the change that our environment so badly needs: “You gotta be the change! We gotta be the change!”

To support DJ Cavem’s mission to green schools and urban communities, visit www.chefietef.com and subscribe.

Like what you read? Please consider making a donation to support National Wildlife Federation’s critical conservation work: