Me Against The World: Understanding Mental Health Issues In Urban America

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Hip-Hop artist Kid Cudi made headlines this week after checking into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. Across social media, fans debated the issue of mental health, as well as whether or not Cudi’s success deemed him worthy of being depressed. Never mind the custody battle between the rapper born Scott Mescudi and his daughter’s mother that has made headlines for several years.

The topic of mental health as a whole has yet to be fully embraced aside from medical specialists who exploit those troubled for financial gain. The world has been even harder on individuals in the spotlight, albeit entertainers or public figures in general.

 It’s safe to say the music world still hasn’t recovered from the death of rock star Kurt Cobain, despite it being nearly 23 years since he committed suicide. For some, it was the untapped potential left lingering of a rockstar that could have been so much more. For others, it was the misunderstanding of how a man with everything could take his own life.

These sentiments are similar in the African-American community, but people of color tend to be more harsh on their “weaker” brothers and sisters. Although suicide is an extreme, the thought of even remotely recognizing self-heath issues is a copout or plea for pity to many. To others, they are dealing with their own issues that have been ignored, and as a result, have turned cold to those vying for help.

Deceased rapper Tupac Shakur’s legacy runs deeper than the 25 million-plus albums he sold and films he starred in. Fearlessly, Shakur tackled the issues that plague this country to this very day, from racism and police brutality, to colorism, poverty and feminism. Like many rappers of the 1990’s and even today, Shakur’s cries for mental stability are overshadowed by his party anthems.

Although hip-hop gets a bad rep for “brainwashing” youth into negative mindsets and promoting violence and misogyny, it also has always been an outlet for expressing pain. This pain is the vocalization of the psychological gripes of life as black men/women, an outlet for expression in the form of metaphors and choruses.

One of the most pivotal songs in the catalog of the late The Notorious B.I.G is “Suicidal Thoughts”, detailing the helpless mindset of the biggest rapper in the world at the time upon release in 1994. Like Biggie Smalls, 2pac sported a teflon exterior, yet poured his heart out through his lyrics.

Whether the suburbs or the poverty stricken streets of America, there are more african-americans struggling with a mental health disorder than you can imagine. The split in these individuals comes in the recognizing of what is deemed an issue. There are those who exert physical traits of mental disorders (Attention-deficit, Schizophrenia) and those who don’t always show evident symptoms (Anxiety, Depression). Those who show evident symptoms are often labeled “crazy”, a term that in many urban communities, serves as a trait of survival or victimization. As if their issues aren’t enough, those deemed crazy are often left alone, out of fear of their unpredictability. Or they are preyed upon, tormented for their unorthodoxy. 2pac discussed the symptoms for many of these issues in his music prior to his death, and one album in particular showcases many of the problems that continue to plague people of color untreated today.

Things couldn’t have been going any worse for 2pac upon release of his third album Me Against The World on March 14, 1995. A month into his imprisonment for a 1993 sexual-assault case in which he vehemently pledge his innocence, 2pac had plenty to be stressed over. Not to mention being shot and robbed the year before in New York’s Quad Recording Studios.From 1991-94, Shakur was involved in several legal battles, from his 1993 shooting of two off-duty Atlanta police officers, to his assault of director Allen Hughes in 1994. Couple that with the struggle of attempting to push forward the advancement of people of color and dealing with the music industry, and it’s truly no wonder why he seemed so angry at times.

The 15-track album is an in-depth look at not only 2pac’s life and mindset at the time, but the thought process and problematic symptoms of those affected by various mental health disorders. Here is a look at the album in terms of lyrics and how it relates to the issues of black’s suffering from these conditions without a microphone to project their issue.

2. If I Die 2Nite – “I’m seeing cemetery photos of my peers, conversating like they still here” (PTSD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is often selfishly used simply to describe veterans of the armed forces. Individuals that are psychologically and physically affected by the recurring replaying of events in their minds, namely the execution of allies or foes. Unfortunately, PTSD has claimed victims of color from the beginning of time, from the days of slavery as wives and children watched their men whipped and hung by slave masters. Forgotten is the mental lesion of watching someone raped, beaten or even murdered, a daily occurrence in the homes of many, as well as in the streets. Nowadays, the execution of blacks by police is broadcasted and replayed across television and entities like Youtube repeatedly, subsequently conditioning the mind.

3. Me Against The World – “Got me worried, stressin’ my visions blurred, the question is will I live? No one in the world loves me” (Anxiety)

The album’s title track is one of 2pac’s most in-depth depictions of his angst, as he unconsciously voices the issues of many in his mental position. As black men/women, statistics show that we often are forced to make the best out of life given the short end of the stick. Not only does this lyric depict the hopelessness of an imminent future, but the heartache of life on a daily basis. There is someone that you know or know of, whether it’s vocally or via social media, expressing their pessimism and downtrodden mindset. Instead of ignoring that person or writing them off, words of encouragement may be enough to keep them looking forward.

4. So Many Tears – “Back in elementary, I thrived on misery. Left me alone, I grew up amongst a dying breed. Inside my mind couldn’t find a place to rest” (Depression)

There is nothing sadder than the subjugated mind of a youth, someone who hasn’t lived long enough to go through life without hope. At a young age, the harsh words of an adult or even fellow children can shape our mindset of our insecurities and imperfections. Not to mention the shortcomings in the household or  lack of understanding from others, negative mindsets are developed, whether taught or grown through experience and lack of nourishment.

 8. Lord Knows – “I smoke a blunt to take the pain out, and if I wasn’t high, probably try to blow me brains out, I’m hopeless. They should’ve killed me as a baby, and now they got me trapped in the storm, I’m going crazy.” (Bipolar Disorder)

Bipolar disorder is defined as a disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. 2pac experiences a chronic low here (no pun intended), giving the notion that the marijuana is the only thing keeping him from taking his own life. A shift in mood that drastic, whether on drugs or not is a reality for many. Young and old, black men and women cope with their vice of choice as a means of escaping their reality. In this case, the weed is used as the soothing factor. Although the overall message of the song deals with depression, the switch in tone across this lyric is much more than just a hot rhyme.

11. Can U Get Away – “Now the picture’s getting clearer, all he does is hit ya hard. I tell you to leave him, and you tell me keep my faith in God.” (PTSD/Anxiety)

This song in particular is speculated to be dedicated to deceased TLC rapper Left Eye, who at the time was in a tumultuous relationship with NFL star Andre Rison. Domestic violence is a touchy subject, especially in the black community. Many people share the mindset of minding their own business, neglecting to intrude on the matter. On the other hand, many women stay out of fear or love, hoping the person can overcome their violent ways. There are many women of color, ravished by the disorder of dealing with DV, not only afraid to step away from their situation, but to even seek help in the first place.

14. Death Around the Corner – “I guess I seen too many murders, the doctor’s can’t help me. Got me stressin’ with my pistol in the sheets, it ain’t healthy” (PTSD)

It isn’t healthy, living in a constant fear of a life-or-death moment awaiting you at the turn of every corner. Same situation, different location displayed in the 2014 movie American Sniper, depicting the life of celebrated U.S. Navy Seal marksman Chris Kyle. The inner city streets of America are often a similar depiction of the war-torn areas of Afghanistan and Iran. Queens rap group Capone-N-Noreaga made a splash with their 1997 debut The War Report, as they compare the violent streets of Queensbridge and Lefrak Projects to third-world countries Iraq and Kuwait. Not only are the perpetrators in the street wars affected mentally by these acts, but the community around them.

There have been countless rappers discussing their reality through rhymes, and many of the greats have had their outcries mistaken for “real” or “deep” lyrics.

Baton Rouge rapper Boosie Badazz summed up the issues of mental disorders in the black community best on his 2006 track “Goin Thru’ Some Thangs”.

“Wish I had a real friend to holler, they tend to laugh when I tell them about my fucking problems.”

Mental disorders are no joke, and making an effort to help others get help for there issues should be as important as recognizing your own symptoms and getting help immediately.

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