By: Imani J. Jackson
I want Scott Mescudi, better known as rapper Kid Cudi, to be okay – for himself, for his family, for his loved ones and for those who sought – and for those who will seek professional assistance like he did — when their burdens are too weighty, complex, and repeated to carry alone.
A few weeks ago, Cudi posted about his lived experience with depression, anxiety and the potential for self-harm, including suicidal ideation. He wrote, “It’s been difficult for me to find the words to what I’m about to share with you because I feel ashamed. Ashamed to be a leader and hero to so many while admitting I’ve been living a lie. It took me a while to get to this place of commitment, but it is something I have to do for myself, my family, my best friend/daughter and all of you, my fans.”
Fans, cultural critics and observers celebrated Cudi’s transparency and wished him well. The #YouGoodMan Twitter hashtag continued a discussion de-stigmatizing black men’s mental health challenges. People who used the hashtag talked about how to work against the toxic masculinity teaching that black men cannot and should not feel anything. And then early this week, Drake released “Two Birds One Stone,” a song that took jabs at at Cudi, who criticized Drake last month by suggesting that Drake’s rhymes are more the result of a lab-class sized writing room than individual lyrical finesse. It’s a topic others believed Andre 3000 addressed on Frank Ocean’s “Solo” when he said, “After 20 years in, I’m so naïve/ I was under the impression that everyone wrote they own verses…. Was I working just way too hard?”
Drake’s diss track violates commonsense cultural codes that can apply to rap music and being a decent human. A righteous clap-back is not a punch-down. Treating mental illness as if it is a joke perpetuates the idea that sick people should not pursue help. Hip-hop culture can and should include responding in a proportional way to slights like Cudi’s without harming so many others in the process.
“You were the man on the moon, now you go through your phases
Life of the angry and famous
Rap like I know I’m the greatest and give you the tropical flavors
Still never been on hiatus
You stay xan and perked up so when reality set in you don’t gotta face it.”
These rhymes can be interpreted as disposing of a brooding, addicted artist who flees truth. In actuality, Cudi ran toward assistance in the bravest and loudest way possible. We were not owed information about his rehab check-in. By publicly sharing his challenges, Cudi moved beyond mere musical references to helping normalize people who fight internally daily.
Some people think Drake did his job by responding to another rapper’s critique through song. They could argue that with “Two Birds One Stone,” Drake fell in line with a long tradition of battle rappers, remixes, and features dedicated to lyrically one-upping an opponent. They could reference Nas’ “Ether” and Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style” and say Drake did not crudely question Cudi’s sexuality or allege an affair with his significant other. And both assertions would be true, but so are cultural shifts.
Collectively, we have too much access to information about mental illness, substance abuse and suicidal inclinations to mock people’s lowest moment, especially shortly after they share it.
The most honest among us would admit that all views are not rosy and problems do not always accompany clear-cut solutions. The most in-tune with our emotions would admit that feelings can be a spectrum and that mental illness and addiction are not the best Achilles to lyrically weaponize when a person is on the precipice of a mental crisis.
Of course, we know celebrities’ lives are not perfect. That black music is popular music. That popular music informs popular culture. That popular culture includes popular people whose widely followed lives do not insulate them from mental illness. This means we can, and should, celebrate people who use their platform in a humane way to normalize journeys to and through sadness: from Alicia Keys to Kanye West, to other artists who rhymed about their blues, to the person in the mirror who can experience seemingly unshakeable sadness.
Whether Drake created “Two Birds One Stone” well in advance of Cudi’s personal statement to fans and rehab check-in is not currently known. What is known is that people with mental health needs are not alone. People who suffer suicidal ideation are not alone. People, particularly people of color, who regain a will to live and share their experience to help others should not become punch-lines.
More than three million Americans have persistent depressive disorder, which typically lasts at least two years. More than 15 million Americans suffer from major depressive disorder. These millions of people should not be placed squarely at Drake’s feet for a poorly-timed rhyme.
But perceptions inform realities. Part of the reason this song seems tone-deaf is Drake’s curated lover image. He keeps fans, broadens his base and remains lucrative as an emotive biracial black male millennial with diverse creative experiences. In a sense, he treats vulnerability like his brand’s armor. So, leading into his own 30th birthday with a music release that lashes out at a similarly situated black male millennial artist who just shared a potentially life-threatening illness translates as poor taste, or as my mama would call it “a lack of home training.”
Society should encourage people like Cudi and people who felt liberated by his admission. We should not strive to reinforce illness based shame. We should remember that art is a dialogue within and about cultures. We should see that the issue is not censorship, but sensitivity. Here, people rightfully cried foul because of the topic, target and timing. As Drake likely knows through everything from romantic relationships to song creation, needing help does not make you soft.
If your will to live is compromised, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Photo: Wiki Commons (Drake) and Flickr (Kid Cudi)
Imani J. Jackson is a columnist and policy adviser with Dynamic Education Foundation. She earned a mass communication B.A., with a journalism focus and psychology minor, from Grambling State University and a J.D. from Florida A&M University College of Law. She has written for a variety of publications including the Black Youth Project, USA Today, Teen Vogue and Politic365.