As an artist who considers himself “off” in some ways myself (for more on that, read my “The Road to Songs For…” blog series from 2013), I’m as blunt as possible when it comes to my struggles. Heck, my newest album was mostly written during an extended bipolar episode and its latest single details my acceptance of that issue. Hopefully this isn’t seen as a (shameless) plug, as it does pertain to the topic at hand.
Going through ups and downs like an EQ is nerve-racking, even though “life ain’t nothin’ but an EQ of highs and lows.” But, I feel that, through speaking on my own mental issues (good and bad), I can help someone through a similar situation with a “if I can, you can too” mentality. Even through all that, I’m just little ol’ Speed on the Beat. I’m one man–a man with a growing voice, but one man nonetheless. This brings me to the question posed in the title of this post.
In hip-hop, artists tend to gloss over these issues, possibly because we don’t want to look weak/human. Mental illness in hip-hop is still a relatively new and touchy subject, often regulated to alternative hip-hop tracks. It’s not exactly summer banger material, unless you can disguise it enough that some listeners won’t “get” the song’s actually about depression, anxiety, or other episodes in addition to hustling, heartbreak, being the best, or what-have-you. Or even if they do, some still may be too busy going wild about your hyper-lyricism and vivid imagery to see it (see Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak and MBDTF and most Eminem as examples of mainstream rap albums that’ve spoken on these issues to great acclaim). But, should artists speak on mental illnesses more in their music?
Personally, I say yes. According to a 2009 study, almost four percent of the United States population over 18 have had at least an ideation of suicide. According to a fact sheet from the Canadian Mental Health Association, “20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetimes.” Just a couple months ago, rapper Christ Bearer of the Wu-Tang-affiliated group Northstar, attempted to sever his manhood and commit suicide by jumping. Simply put, this isn’t something people can–or should–avoid talking about.
Artists have a responsibility to make great music, but they also are given an opportunity to enact change on society. If an artist who suffers from mental illness has an opportunity to talk about their ailments–and is, most importantly, comfortable with doing so, they should. Communication about these sorts of things can help both parties. Artists can speak on it and not keep it bottled up and fans can connect even more and/or seek help themselves. Speaking on mental illness as an artist can be a cathartic experience and develop a mutually beneficial relationship between artist and audience.
But, as always, that’s just my opinion. If you or someone you know is dealing with mental illnesses, please seek assistance. It can be tough, but trust me–it’s worth it.
Until next time (and I promise I’ll be a bit less gritty next time around)
-Speed on the Beat