Rappers Talk Mental Illness and Depression with VICE
Celebrities are discussing mental illnesses more and more.
Most recently, we say Bryshere Gray from Empire talk about his personal battles, and now Vice has released an article that opens up dialogue about rappers who are openly discussing depression.
As popular as Hip-Hop and as powerful as it could be with regards to its influence, the musical genre usually strays away from discussions around depression because of the hyper-masculinity that often fuels the music. Hip-Hop is an arena where depression and other mental health issues are too often seen as weaknesses, and you can’t be weak when you’re “so sophisticated” like the Teflon Don.
Now, Hip-Hop is not the only culture that dismisses mental health, but the strong lineage of black art is an extension of the general Black community where depression is seen to have dangerous results. Between 1993 and 2012, suicide rates had doubled for Black boys. Even some famous rappers had taken their own lives like Brooklyn MC Capital Steez.
Vice talked to some Hip-Hop artists to gain their perspective on depression, suicide, and the music they’ve dedicated their lives to. Here at Black Youth Project, we are providing you with some of the crucial points. To see the rest of the article, check out the Vice article here.
Hometown: Houston, Texas
By the end of ’13, I lived in Brooklyn—in Williamsburg—and I moved there because the label that put out my last album, Smart Ass Black Boy, had its office in that area. I was getting bummed out on the lifestyle of just going to bars all the time, and my roommate at the time and I were just having some arguments. I just felt like I wasn’t in a good point in my life. There were some problems with [Smart Ass Black Boy‘s] release: The company that put out the record made a huge mistake and didn’t have the record available digitally for the first five days of the record’s release… I had tons of fans messaging me and being like, “Yo, your album is out today, why can’t I buy it on iTunes? Why is it not out on Spotify? Why is Amazon saying I can only order the CD?” It comes back to me, and I end up owing money back to the label for sales that didn’t happen, and it’s just a big mess.
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
I was officially diagnosed with depression within the last year or so. For me, it stemmed from a bad life experience: Three years ago, after I just moved back to Cleveland from New York, I got a DUI. So, for a year, my license was suspended. The only thing the judge granted me as far as driving privileges was to-and-from work and to-and-from church. A lot of it was self-imposed isolation; I felt like I didn’t want to be a burden to friends, who basically any time I wanted to go out with them, someone would have to come pick me up. After a while, I just started accepting that as this is how my life is, at least for now. And it got lonely. There were some dark days, days where I wasn’t necessarily feeling suicidal, but I would question God, “Why are you putting me through this?”
YC the Cynic
Hometown: Bronx, NY
With me, it’s a little different, because I couldn’t identify it if I was. That’s just always the type of person that I’ve been: If I’m sad or I just don’t want to do anything, I just think I’m sad and don’t want to do anything. But I definitely know people who have been [depressed]. It’s really difficult to navigate with those people.
Maybe a lot of artists do suffer from depression, but they’re not the ones who’re going to be outright and say, “I think I’m depressed right now.”
Hometown: Wilmington, North Carolina
I feel like when I’m most creative is when I’m most comfortable with myself, and when I’m most most comfortable—unfortunately and realistically—is when I am depressed. I think it’s such a complicated issue because you have a group of people who believe that their art can only come from their depression, that you become less of an artist when you negotiate with yourself to try to be happy and functional.
When we’re talking about being depressed as a person—being chemically unbalanced—we’re talking about a constant struggle. It’s something that you make bargains with yourself about. You make a choice to move on; nothing comes easy when you’re having to negotiate with these darker points of view.
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
The other day I was in my room chilling, and I heard some dude screaming at some lady, “Man, cheer up! Cheer up! You know how many people in the hood that’s depressed? We don’t go around killing ourselves. That’s some white people shit.” I feel like that’s the general idea of depression. In the black community, it’s like talking about it out in public is taboo.
Hometown: Ithaca, NY
To be perfectly honest, I feel like I don’t even really know how hip-hop addresses depression or mental health issues. I was thinking about it today, and I know Big Sean has a line about how the bigger he gets the more he has to see shrinks. I remember thinking that was an interesting thing, and I appreciated his openness.
Issues related to self-medicating is often kind of overlooked and used as a way to talk about how rap isn’t about anything. But if you’re thinking about mental health, a lot of these songs are talking about, I can’t cope with the world I’m currently in. I often hear that rhetoric even in discussions around legalization of certain drugs or how self-medication is often a part of being black in this country. It’s highly stressful. It’s an important part of the discussion, and I just wish it wasn’t always framed as rappers not talking about shit, because you can definitely find some powerful words or messages in the stuff people are saying about their drug use.
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
“That Chicken” really takes the perspective of a young person in the hood or anywhere dealing with depression from the life that he or she lives or the obstacles faced. It’s kind of the perspective of a person who’s like, Damn, I feel like I got nobody in this shit, but I gotta do what I gotta do to continue living. I’m trying to think deeper into the perspective of the real side of people and not the façade they put on.
The black community and hip-hop community in general has always been a toughen up type of culture. Like the Troy Ave situation with Capital STEEZ, it just goes to show the older school mentality of New York artists and people… But I don’t feel like those people are gonna matter in the long run. I feel like there’s a growing consciousness spreading and newer generations are gonna be exposed to it.
(Photo Credit: Image by Frances Smith for VICE)