2016 has seen some of the biggest rappers in the game dealing with mental health issues. Lydia McKay looks at what separates them and what unites them.
Kanye West has been reportedly admitted to hospital following temporary psychosis caused by exhaustion and sleep deprivation. The rapper has had to cancel the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour to focus on his health. During the last few shows of the tour, Kanye went on a number of bizarre rants that lead some fans to worry about the state of his mental health.
Depression and anxiety have been previously touched on by Kanye in songs such as 'Clique', which mentions the rapper being suicidal following his mother’s death, as well as 'I Feel Like That'. The latter literally lists symptoms of anxiety with Kanye repeating that he feels like that “all the time”. So why is the public shocked to hear of him struggling now?
Mental illness is surprisingly common with the top rappers in the game: Kanye, Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar and Gucci Mane have all dealt with mental illness in some form of another. I’m sure there are many others less vocal about it too. The lifestyle that these people live and the hyper masculinity imposed on them are key factors to their battle with mental illness.
The rise of gangsta rap in the late 80s turned the genre into a competition between rappers on how great their lives were. It was all about bragging that they were making more money, getting more sex and taking better drugs than everybody else. It’s easy to notice the change in attitude of rappers from this point onwards. If someone were to release an emotional track about their battle with depression, it either wouldn’t have sold or would have been slated by others in the rap scene.
This attitude toward lyric writing will have affected the rappers themselves in mostly negative ways. If you embellish your capability for violence in your work, then you could end up becoming more violent as a result. This hyper masculinity involved with gangsta rap is toxic for the men who feel they are mentally ill, but think they can’t show it for fear of being called out on it.
Kid Cudi recently announced that he was voluntarily checking himself into rehab due to suicidal thoughts. Having had history in the past, Drake called Cudi out on this in his track 'Two Birds, One Stone', in which he stays: “You stay xanned and perked up / So when reality set in you don't gotta face it”. Fans of both alike were disgusted that, even in 2016, a man was being made fun of for seeking psychiatric help.
While Kid Cudi received a lot of support and love for seeking help, both from fans and fellow musicians, it seems odd that Kanye on the other hand gets ridiculed for keeping his problems private. One man is praised for opening up about his mental illness whereas the other is mocked for exhibiting symptoms of his mental illness.
I don’t doubt that the celebrity lifestyle rappers have will contribute to mental health problems. Alcohol and drugs are known depressants and they are rife in the rap community. It was also reported that Kanye West’s psychosis was attributed to lack of sleep; he would stay up for 48 hours at a time between being in the studio and going out on stage. This is obviously dangerous and was bound to catch up on him in the end. The drive for success can be so strong in musicians that they will sacrifice their mental stability to be the best.
Depression isn’t pretty, anxiety isn’t cool and when a well-respected member of the rap community is suffering from these kinds of illness, it’s particularly messy. If they are open about it like Kid Cudi, they could be dissed by other rappers; and if they bottle it up like Kanye West, they could have a very public meltdown. Always remember that your favourite celebs are still human and they will be going through things you will relate to.