Depression and suicide are common themes that are prevalent in the music of many artists. Some rappers bluntly state their mindset, such as Tupac. In one of his most popular records, ‘Changes’, he raps,
“Wake up every morning and I ask myself / Is life worth living? Or should I blast myself?”
To open a song, in which he describes his socio-economic conditions, with those particular lyrics, displays how some rappers of the past were outwardly vulnerable with the depressive trauma caused by the predicament that they were faced with – being young,black, impoverished men.
Apart from occasional lyrics, certain artists have dedicated entire songs to their suicidal urges and depression. For example, Biggie wrote ‘Suicidal Thoughts’, where he contemplates ending his life throughout the track. His confrontations with the topic of death are further evident in his album names, ‘Ready to Die’ and ‘Life After Death’.
These weren’t tracks recorded with the intention of topping charts and having record-breaking sales. Rather, they were produced because the artists were suffering from immense trauma and they used their music as a platform by which to express themselves.
Other examples are less blatant in an artist’s work.
A more recent video that particularly hit home for me was Kanye West’s ‘I Feel Like That’. The song itself is officially unreleased and the music video is only at the back-end of his ‘All Day’ single, which was released in 2015.
The video features a physically exhausted Kanye, staring blankly into the camera. Following a series of questions regarding paranoia, anxiety and depression, similar to the Hopkins Syndrome Checklist, Kanye simply responds, ‘I feel like that’.
The simplicity and candidness of the video is what made it incredibly moving. Kanye, a complicated individual, on this instance tackles his insecurities in an unashamed and direct nature. Somehow in that intimate moment, even as a listener, one feels less alone in the world.
Kanye has been one of the most intriguing and polarizing figures in Hip-hop and his battles with mental illness are no secret. Yet, it’s fascinating how a song that speaks loudest for his mental condition is not on any of his classic albums, rather stashed in his back catalogue.
Sometimes, stating a fear or condition doesn’t require anything more than a blunt admission.
Migos are pioneers of ‘Mumble Rap’, as critics know it, an increasingly popular sub-genre of Hip-hop, which hardly places lyrics at its forefront and is more known for the melodies and catchy beats. So much so, most fans tend to remember the ad-libs of songs rather than being able to decipher the lyrical content.
Thus, it is probable that their allusion to mental health might be coming from a shallower place and their condition might not be as severe as Kanye’s or their paranoia might not be as great as Biggie’s. Yet, if even groups like Migos, amidst all their decadent boasts and unsophisticated lyrics, are able to, albeit fleetingly, mention depression; is mental well being ignored in Hip-hop?
Written by Ali Humayun
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