Wednesday, February 19, 2014
10 reasons to acknowledge mental illness in hip-hop culture
We may not talk about it now, but perhaps we should.
I’m taking a bit more of a serious tone with this installment of my weekly hip-hop centered articles.
As many hip-hop heads now know, over the weekend Detroit native and on-the-fringes emcee turned “alternative hip-hop” darling Danny Brown took to Twitter for a vent session that alarmed more than a few fans, publications and the like.
Some of his messages went as follows: “I can’t sleep my anxiety is at an all time high (sic) but don’t none of y’all care about that sh*t.” Or: “Depression is serous y’all think I do drugs cause it’s fun.” And: “Nobody cares if I live or die.. That’s the bottom line.. Y’all want me to overdose just don’t be surprised when u get what u asked for.”
To be fair, Danny Brown has been speaking candidly about his struggles with mental health for years in his music. Yet and still, it’s something that the hip-hop community either shuns or just sweeps under the rug.
Some may dismiss this as the whining and pining of a hip-hop star diva. But the truth is, in the last few years alone there have been more than a few signs of strain in the hip-hop community with regard to mental illness, which can potentially lead to drug abuse (read: DMX) and even suicide (read: Capital STEEZ), as well as Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino for his somewhat troubling Instagram note from last October where he spoke of fear, loneliness and making mistakes. So maybe it’s time for the hip-hop community to stop with the posturing and turning of a blind eye to the issue of mental illness. Here are a few reasons why our undivided attention is needed.
Lack of standard healthcare as part of the job: We all know being a performer is not like having a regular 9-to-5, and so common knowledge asserts that the benefits of said 9-to-5 don’t come along with being an artist — mainly, healthcare. Many times it’s left to the artists to fend for themselves. With the state of the world seemingly growing more dire by the day, emcees suffering in silence might need all the help they can get.
Music's long history of self-destruction: Maybe not always attributed directly to mental illness, but music has a long list of artist that have crumbled right in front of our eyes. Should we take Danny Brown’s tweets as a game or as a full-fledged cry for help?
The stress of life on the road: The life of an artist signed to a major deal ain’t for the faint of heart. Countless festival appearances, cancelled shows, not knowing what city you’re in half the time — it can potentially put a rapper on a road straight to meltdown.
Hip-hop's recent struggles with suicide: Again, not always directly associated with mental illness, but there’s on obvious connection. With the death of Capital STEEZ, both artists and fans have begun to take notice.
A decline in access to mental health services in communities of color: Jamilah King’s story on Danny Brown on Colorlines.com pointed out that even with suicide being the No. 3 killer of African American boys and men, they are the least likely to access mental health services. Add to this how mental health services have been stripped of urban communities throughout the country, and the issue becomes that much more stark.
Our fascination with burned-out music stars: Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse are two of the greatest examples in music history, but burned out hip-hop stars are becoming more and more common, as well. With life on the road, it’s easy to see how artists can experience such burn out.
Drug culture: It’s not merely just a recreational thing anymore, even though the popularity of harder drugs in hip-hop lyrics has grown in recent years. But Danny Brown, DMX and Prodigy of Mobb Deep have all given accounts of using their own mix of prescription and non-prescription drugs to try and make the pain of both physical and mental illness go away.
The lack of artists willing to speak up: Whether it be focusing on their own problems, refusing to comment or being dismissive of mental illness and disorders not being a problem, hip-hop needs more of its artists to take a stand and make their voices heard loud and clear, and that’s not happening.
The conditioning of hip-hop artists to show no emotion: Sure we joke about artists like Drake, Kid Cudi and Wale getting all emo, but at least they’re willing to not hide their true feelings. There might be tons of emcees keeping lots of feelings bottled up and packed down, which is never healthy.
The need for greater awareness: This can go back to the willingness to speak up and speak out on the part of artists, but everyone in the hip-hop world needs to get educated to see just how much this issue is effecting the artists we love.
The real question going beyond Danny Brown’s disturbing tweets is, who will be willing to step up an help this man out? And even greater, when will the hip-hop community face up to the fact that many of the people we look to for expressing and maintaining the music and the culture may very well be going through some very dire internal situations that they can’t face alone?
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