How Seriously Does Hip Hop Take Suicide?

Brings a new meaning to “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late”, huh? (image credit: Wikipedia)

Last month I published a piece concerning Kid Cudi’s random Twitter attack on Kanye West and Drake for having used numerous writers in their music. As it turns out, while I speculated that Cudi was putting his own career at risk by picking an arbitrary battle with two of the biggest rappers in history, he had more important issues to deal with. And at least he used Facebook this time.

On October 4th, Cudi announced that he had gone into rehab “for depression and suicidal urges”. Whether this is surprising or not is up for debate. The headline of his April interview with Billboard is “Kid Cudi Reveals His Struggle With Drugs and Depression: I Was Living a Nightmare”. Despite the positive tone of the article, Cudi’s behavior has proved to be increasingly erratic leading up to now. Following the unprompted attack on Kanye and Drake, Cudi was served with an emergency restraining order by his daughter’s mother Jacqueline Munyasya, who claimed that Cudi sent her a total of 168 threatening text messages over a four-day period in August.

While Cudi clearly needs to take a break from his phone, his public statement has been commended across the Internet for breaking stigma against mental illness, particularly in the black community, where it is less likely to go treated due to lack of access to health care and fears of emasculation. The Facebook post inspired a trending hashtag, #YouGoodMan, to encourage black males to share their own experiences with depression. Tennessee rapper and Top Dawg Entertainment member Isaiah Rashad, who recently opened up about his drug addiction on his recent album The Sun’s Tirade, tweeted a string of messages encouraging others to speak up.

Cudi’s statement coincides with the release of Solange’s new album A Seat at the Table, which notably contained a guest verse from rapper Lil Wayne on the song “Mad“. Wayne almost casually mentions a suicide attempt on the song, that likely dates back to a true story about shooting himself when he was twelve years old. This is a story he has been painting as an accidental shooting for years, but he finally called it a suicide attempt on his 2015 song “London Roads” (can’t link the actual song – I hate TIDAL). Since then, Wayne has grown increasingly open about his struggles, shocking many fans with a tweet in early September that suggested he was quitting music.

Many fans and artists, including Chance the Rapper, Missy Elliott and Flying Lotus, misinterpreted Wayne’s tweet as being indicative of depression and responded with their love and support, and Wayne later clarified that he was fine. Still, he’s grown visibly concerned with the issue of suicide, writing in his prison memoir “Gone ‘Til November” (which was recently and hilariously panned by CUNY professor Baz Dreisinger), “I’ve never been this close to suicide before” and details his experience working as a suicide prevention aide at Rikers Island. Wayne is also part of the current hit song “Sucker for Pain“, where he raps “Might cut my head off right after I slit my throat”. It may be in poor taste to point this out but, “Sucker for Pain” is part of the soundtrack for, of all movies, Suicide Squad.

Suicidal thoughts and depression have been visible topics in hip hop for a long time, but only recently are artists beginning to discuss it in depth. Top Dawg Entertainment has its own complicated history with suicide: early TDE affiliate Alori Joh committed suicide in 2012, inspiring Ab-Soul to write, “The Book of Soul“, a song dedicated to her memory and his struggle to understand her decision, and Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 song “u” features an intense internal dialogue where the rapper questions his self-worth. DMC of hip hop group Run-DMC recently published a book entitled 10 Ways Not to Commit Suicide where he detailed his alcoholism and depression. Even Kanye West, who loves Kanye like Kanye loves Kanye, rapped about using the antidepressant drug Lexapro on this year’s “FML“.

The consensus seems to be that depression is not something to be ashamed of, and, unless you’re The Weeknd, killing yourself is not a good solution. However, judgmental attitudes still persist. Hip hop Republican Troy Ave was widely condemned earlier this year for his March diss track “Badass”, directed at fellow Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$, because of the song’s explicit reference to Capital STEEZ, a close friend of Joey’s who committed suicide in 2012.

Cause I’m a savage, this gon leave you sad bitch<br> Don’t get suicidal like ya friend, here’s a casket<br> Steez burning in Hell, my burner’s in my belt<br> I’m really killing shit, you niggas killing yourself<br> Fucking weirdos, off the roof, “Steer clear yo!”<br> This niggas tryna fly, he think he a superhero<br> Splat man! Fuck you and that man
― Troy Ave – Badass

Calling in to Sway In the Morning to clarify his position after the track quickly attracted criticism, Troy stressed “positivity”, stated that “God gave you your life, it ain’t your right to take that”, when pressed by Sway on whether he went too far, he said “I don’t care, that’s not my business” and called STEEZ “a bozo and a dickhead”. So much for positivity. After the interview, rapper Styles P, whose daughter committed suicide last year, expressed his disappointment with Troy’s comments, and received a measured apology.

Although Troy Ave reiterated his disdain for Joey Bada$$ by releasing a music video for “Badass” later that month, he prefaced the video with a candid intro where he invites anyone with suicidal thoughts to reach out for help, although he doesn’t censor or edit the song lyrics referring STEEZ. The music video stops being interesting after that point unless you’ve never seen a rap video before. But while the Internet was quick to jump on Troy for suicide-shaming, R&B singer Kehlani received an opposite response when she posted an Instagram photo from her hospital bed after attempting suicide, incidentally the same month the Troy/Joey beef took place. Numerous fans made memes about Kehlani’s relationship with NBA player and real baller Kyrie Irving, while prominent feminist Chris Brown insinuated that Kehlani was lying for attention.

For what it’s worth, Brown was diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorder in 2014 after a lengthy history of violent behavior. So he must be professionally qualified to judge Kehlani, right?

Regardless, Paper Magazine (yes, this is the same Paper Magazine that published Kim Kardashian’s nude photoshoot) wrote an impressive article about the sexist double standard evident in the public response when an artist speaks out about their own depression. Kid Cudi has been valorized for speaking up about his mental health, while Kehlani’s suicide attempt was written off as a publicity stunt. So while hip hop has become more open about discussing mental health issues in a public setting, the way we’re discussing it still needs work. Tweeting a hashtag raises awareness of the problem but does little to solve it. And it’s telling that Kid Cudi, a man who has been making music about his depression since 2008, only now decided to get help. Audiences have been listening to him for years, but only just heard what he was saying.