Final Project: Disabilities and Mental Illness in Current Rap

10 Dec

Introduction

Rap is a music genre that has not been around for a very long time in comparison to others. It began to come to fruition around the 1970s, where many New York City citizens enjoyed hearing DJ’s isolate the breaks in percussion within soul and disco-like songs. An individual would then talk over these made beats to energize and interact with audiences.[1] Eventually, these individuals that spoke over the beats began rhyming their words, which ultimately lead to what rap is today.

One of the first examples of rap. This song is called “Noah” by the Jubalaires. As you can hear, there is a huge contrast between what “rap” was back then, and what it sounds like now.

As we are now moving into the 2020s, the genre of rap has debatably become the most relevant amongst pop culture. Today’s teenagers are the most populous bunch of listeners of the genre, but some may listen for other reasons rather than musical enjoyment.

Both physical and mental disabilities have found a place in modern rap. Rap has become a successful platform where rappers can speak their truth about their ailments. There has sadly been a huge spike in mental illness in our current generation of kids and young adults, and rappers are included when saying this. These include rappers like Juice Wrld, Kid Cudi, and mute rapper Isaiah Acosta.

Meet the Rappers

Physical disability is a physical condition that affects a person’s mobility, physical capacity, stamina, or dexterity.[2] Individuals with such a condition may not be able to partake in certain tasks due to the physical inability to do so. One such individual in the current rap industry is without a mouth. His name is Isaiah Acosta.

Isaiah Acosta was born with Situs Inversus, meaning that his major organs in his body were almost all misplaced. He was also born without a jawbone. This missing jaw has made him unable to speak for all his life. Despite his physical setbacks, Isaiah loved to write his own rap lyrics, he just needed to have his voice heard. As his talents began to take notice from the people around him, he started gaining attention all over social media.

This led to Phoenix raised rapper, “Traphouse”, to reach out to him, as he fell in love with his story. “Traphouse” believed that he could rap the lyrics that Isaiah writes down, creating a dynamic duo where one person is stating the lyrics, while the other is writing. “Traphouse” had no interest in taking the fame as he believed it was all Isaiah’s hard work that made everything happen.

Listen from 45 seconds to 1:10.

In his most famous song and music video, “Oxygen to Fly”, we get to see the duo in action. We can see at one portion of the video, “Traphouse” begins to rap the lyrics given to him. In the video frames, we only see the lips of “Traphouse” in the background while Isaiah’s entire body is upfront with him moving along to the beat and song. This moment in the video depicts that the song is Isaiah’s words, and that in a way, it’s HIS voice the viewer is hearing. In the article “Waitin for the light to shine”, it was brought up that dancing and singing in musicals is universally human, and that anyone can do it. This isn’t necessarily true with individuals that have physical disabilities, who may not be able to perform certain actions. The same is with rap, where anyone can create a flow and rap over it. In Isaiah’s case, he cannot rap, but with help from “Traphouse”, he is able to get his name out there.

Kid Cudi is a modern rapper who took the industry by storm when he dropped his album “A Kid Named Cudi” in 2008. In fact, he gained so much popularity that he was eventually signed onto Kanye West’s label. In 2013, Cudi spoke publicly about his mental health issues and the severity of it, which was seen as revolutionary.[3] Cudi had rapped about depression and doing drugs, but no one had heard or seen such a large rap figure state these personal issues about themselves publicly, so it was hard to believe by many.

Listen from 1:15 to 1:45

After speaking so much about his personal struggles, Cudi released the album “Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’”. Many fans were anticipating what the album would be about. In his song “Wounds”, Cudi’s lyrics are very depressing and the use of his voice also plays along with this feeling. The song has a very low pitch and is very bass oriented. The mid-tempo speed, low pitch, and Cudi’s voice all come together to bring about a depressing narrative in the song. He has become a very successful rapper, but there’s something he feels that’s missing, that isn’t making him whole. He uses his platform to address this through his lyrics to help individuals stray away from the path he went down. He also takes this song to focus on healings to combat depression and any other mental illness. Cudi states that “You gotta dig deep” and “sew the wounds”, which could be saying to sew the wounds of the current issues that one may be facing.

Another rapper that has hit the media by storm for openly discussing their struggles was Juice Wrld. Juice Wrld was an artist dealing with many illnesses like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Juice was a Chicago raised artist. He looked up to and learned many of his rapping skills from local rappers like Kanye West and Chief Keef. Even before his fame, he had already been around the drug world. As his success increased, he began to generate a lot more wealth.[4] This wealth was ultimately his downfall due to the easy access he now had to even more drugs.

Listen from 30 seconds to 55 seconds.

In Juice Wrld’s lyrics in his song “Legends”, he questions his own ability to make it to the age of 21. Despite being such a young age, he knows that his struggles with mental health and substance abuse were taking a hold of his life. The song itself has a very slow tempo with Juice Wrld using his trademark boisterous voice to really release the feelings he has during the song. The song itself sounds very sad and as if he is reminiscing on the past. This reminiscence is of his two friends and rappers that had passed away during the past year. Juice Wrld took almost all his songs as an opportunity to speak about his issues, but he sadly could never escape them. It’s sad to say, but Juice Wrld correctly predicted his own lyrics in his song, as he passed away at the age of 21 last year in December.

Juice Wrld and Kid Cudi are very similar in the way they portrayed their mental disabilities. Both of their songs had both a depressing tone or beat mixed with lyrics that would follow a similar pattern. These two rappers for themselves and their fans create a feeling where the music itself is therapeutic. They put their trauma into rhymes in a way for people to deal with pain, fear, and anger. Their rap lyrics also shed light on the harsh living conditions many communities, especially of color, still face today.

Solving the Issue

These mental disabilities being implemented into music by popular rappers play a huge role in the colored community. Today, mental health issues are most likely related to being “white people problems”. In the eyes of other ethnic and racial groups, a sign of depression could be looked down upon as having a “weak” character or mindset, and that it is very easy to overcome. This is not the case in every situation. Even the largest names in the rap industry like Juice Wrld and Kid Cudi face these obstacles, with Juice Wrld not being able to put up with it anymore and losing his life to substance abuse.

Many rappers are opening up and rapping about the importance of mental health awareness. The only issue is the way some rappers go about coping with their mental health struggles. Better known as “Champagne Therapy”, is when rappers’ lyrics consists of drugs, violence, and material consumption in order to solve issues. This can have a very bad impact on those that listen to these types of songs. Many individuals may have a similar, harsh upbringing to their idol rappers, so they turn to the actions their idols rap about to solve their problems.

“‘It makes it easier for all kinds of other people to see themselves in that situation, rather than do what those artists have talked about on records previously when seeking out help was perceived to be sort of the ‘weaker’ route,'” says A.D. Carson, professor of hip-hop and the global south at the University of Virginia. “‘To hear your favorite rapper talking about getting treatment, I think it definitely does change how you have that conversation.’”[5]

Conclusion

It seems that there is a need for more awareness among rap culture to the issues that many, especially African American young men, deal with. Some rappers may speak out in their songs about disability or struggles against mental health but erase this completely when asked in a simple interview. This is the idea of “violent masculinity”, trying to act like someone that they are not or do not aspire to be.[6] No one aspires to be in a situation where they need to harm others in order to gain popularity or fame, so it needs to be erased completely. This will be the case whether one has any physical disabilities, like Isaiah Acosta, or mental health struggles like Juice Wrld and Kid Cudi.

Footnotes and References

[1] Dye, David. “The Birth of Rap: A Look Back.” NPR.org, February 22, 2007. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7550286#:~:text=Rap%20as%20a%20genre%20began,generally%20interacting%20with%20the%20audience.

[2] “What Is a Physical Disability?” Achieve Austrailia, 2019. https://achieveaustralia.org.au/ndis-overview-and-faqs/physical-disability/#:~:text=A%20physical%20disability%20is%20a,and%20visual%20impairments%20and%20more.

 

[3] Mohamed, Hibak. “How Rappers Are Helping to Break the Stigma of Mental Illness.” Highsnobiety, 2019. https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/rappers-mental-illness-hip-hop/.

 

[4] Haring, Bruce. “Juice WRLD Dies: Rapper For ‘All Girls Are The Same’ And Other Hits Suffers Seizure At Chicago Airport.” Deadline. Deadline, December 8, 2019. https://deadline.com/2019/12/juice-wrld-rapper-dies-age-21-1202803939/.

[5] Schrodt, Paul. “Hip-Hop Finally Reckoned with Mental Illness in 2018.” Men’s Health, December 5, 2018. https://www.menshealth.com/entertainment/a25335660/hip-hop-mental-health/.

[6] Hinton, Anna. “‘And So I Bust Back’: Violence, Race, and Disability in Hip Hop.” CLA Journal 60, no. 3 (2017): 290-304. Accessed December 4, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26556986.

 

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