In October, Kid Cudi announced via Facebook that he was checking himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. A month later news broke that Kanye West’s tour had indeed been cancelled and he had checked into a hospital on reports of extreme paranoia and depression. Mental illness and the hip hop community has once again taken center stage, thanks to these recent events. Besides the obvious discussions of how the black community “doesn’t talk about mental health” and the “push for seeking help when needed”; we have overlooked a different conversation. We have allowed the signs of mental illnesses to be labeled as creative genius, instead.
13.2% of the nation’s population identifies as Black or African American, yet over 16% (6.8 million) of those who identified as black/African-American in 2014 had a diagnosable mental disorder, according to the United States Census Bureau. From Biggies’ 1999 ‘Suicidal Thoughtz’ – “I can’t believe suicides on my fucking mind, I wanna leave I swear death is fucking calling me”; to newcomer Bizzy Crook’s mention of his battle with depression in both his songs and interviews. It debunks the myth that rappers don’t acknowledge the issue of mental health. However, the apparent symptoms of a mental disorder such as mood swings and the excessive use of drugs & alcohol aren’t viewed upon as warning signs, but an outlet for creative self-expression, instead. Granted, we all have our off days, but constant feelings of loneliness, extreme mood swings, and the abuse of drugs & alcohol are in fact, not considered to be normal behavior. Yet we constantly accept, even defend our favorite rappers when we catch wind of their latest antics involving these behaviors or hear mention of it in a song.
Kanye West and Kid Cudi are both respected individually, for transcending the sounds of their time period, therefore influencing the sonic shift in hip hop music. Kanye’s 808&Heartbreakz and Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon are both praised for being bodies of work that transcended the sound period of that particular time. However, around that time, Kanye was coping with the loss of his mom and Cudi was looking for ways to deal with his sudden rise to fame. The public found Kanye’s growing public rants and outbursts to be entertaining and labeled him as the “Greatest of All Time” for being what seemed to be unapologetic for speaking his “truth” in his music. When Kid Cudi referenced his personal experience and exploration with drugs, we applauded him for being so transparent and open. We’ve listened and watched as these artists and many others just like them battle their mental disorders in real time.
After a series of unprecedented outbursts and run-ins with the law in early 2010, it was reported that R&B star, The Weeknd had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. Often praised for his tales of drugged out nights, The Weeknd recently opened up in his first full on-camera interview with Zane Lowe about his extreme anxiety. We’ve allowed our minds to accept the often-destructive behaviors we see as part of the creative process in order to create great music. We’ve allowed ourselves to excuse erratic behavior, claiming it for the greater good of entertainment – the show.
There is a stark difference between creative actions and the warning signs of a mental illness. And as fans, it’s alright for us to identify and seek solace in the music; however, when your favorite rapper is heading down a destructive path that could ultimately put their life in danger, we shouldn’t encourage nor make spectacles out of them. Kanye and Kid Cudi are not the first nor will they be the last to publically battle their demons on the world’s stage.
If you or anyone you know are going through a rough time and need to talk don’t be afraid to dial the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.