Mental Health is the New Black
How Hip Hop Normalized Mental Health And Why You Should Thank the Artists
I’ve got some issues that nobody can see
And all of these emotions are pouring me.
I bring them to the light for you, it’s only right
This is, the soundtrack to my life. Kid Cudi, Soundtrack to My Life
The following is an excerpt from Kid Cudi, a musician whose influence and talent has influenced music and everyday culture. That may seem like a bold statement, but really think about what he’s done:
His debut album, Man on the Moon, brought depression to the center stage while also influencing a generation of rappers from Travis Scott to Playboi Carti.
The lead single Day and Night focused on the effects of depression, but bigger than that, gave a voice to a growing epidemic that would become prevalent in the black community: suicide.
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Mental Health is A Scarlet Letter
Historically, African Americans have always been associated with tenacity and toughness and indeed the history of slavery and systemic oppression lends credence to the thought.
What has often been swept aside, even amongst ourselves, was the detrimental effects of compartmentalizing our stress, anger, and sadness.
In high school, I remember reading A Raisin in the Sun and crying at how the family was forced to preserve and smile amid their pain.
Society often romanticized what our community endured, presenting it as indicative of the American toughness, but it was tragic more than anything. Black people had to learn to cope with bleak and miserable situations which built a certain tenacity and strength, but it also led to early deaths and financial hardships.
Religion stood in the middle of the nihilism and offered black people an outlet for their hopelessness. The church became a place where people could go and be empowered, have a platform for leadership, and most of all served as a place to express their pain and emotion.
But the almost fanatical attachment to the church has also slowed down the conversation. Nothing encapsulates this more to me than the texts from the great black writers such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin.
Richard Wright, in his autobiography Black Boy, depicted his struggles with organized religion, walking us through how frantic his grandmother and the congregation was about the Holy Ghost and outward expression of devotion.
The push for Jesus over mental health has been the mindset for so long, but Kid Cudi’s art and life made it real and expressed an urgency that we can acknowledge now, but not eleven years earlier.
When many think of the art form hip hop images of violence, splendor, and misogyny run rampant. Few think of mental health struggles though.
For mainstream America, the struggles of mental health have always been a common topic in other genres like rock and roll. As a youth, emo rap became the lovechild of music as artists like Fall Out Boy rose to the top. Their struggles and their acceptance has remained constant.
How else can we as a society justify our acceptance of mass violence in movies like the Joker movie and struggle with the anger and trauma evidenced by characters like Killmonger in Black Panther?
Society expects white people to struggle with mental illness and it is common in pop music. It has rarely been honored in art forms like hip-hop. Some would struggle to think of songs that even addressed. However, we’ve frequently listened to heard the songs of artists like the Geto Boys and their hit single Mind Playing Tricks on Me or DMX- Slippin.
A reference to paranoia, the record became one of their biggest hits as a group. But for years artists like DMX made their struggles an integral part of their music. They introduced the problem, and rappers like Kid Cudi and Kanye West made it a norm.
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If you don’t believe so, look at the current wave of rappers that are dominating the charts from Lil Uzi, Logic, and the late XXXtentacion. The current generation has insisted on making it a central part of their conversation and now minorities find themselves empowered enough to admit that they too have these same struggles.
Kid Cudi’s music and bravery as well as Kanye West’s insistence on referring to his bipolar disorder as a” superpower” are all important steps towards making people feel comfortable with themselves.
What few will admit or acknowledge is that the trend of people using their struggles with depression and anxiety stems from the legitimate struggles of impoverished and ignored individuals who chartered unknown territory.
So thank you Kid Cudi, Kanye West, Mac Miller, Lil Uzi Vert, XXXtentacion, and countless others for making humanity acceptable.