Perhaps it was never meeting my biological parents, or it might have been the physical and sexual abuse I endured as a child, or maybe it was losing the only mother I knew to cancer when I was 15, but whatever it was, by the time I graduated high school in 2008, I was beyond f*cked up. Rage, detachment, self hatred, paranoia, and depression were regular themes throughout the day, and the looming idea of suicide was always around the corner, it was something I had contemplated long before I could spell it or understand what the word meant. If it wasn’t for the peace that I found in the controlled chaos of HipHop and rap music, I would have given up on addressing any of these issues and moving past them.
I grew up in church, and I was surrounded by conservative adults who believed everything they saw on FOX TV, and relied on mantras such as “give it to God” and “wait on Jesus” when a problem presented itself. One pastor even saying that “psychologists were worldly, of the devil, and didn’t know what they were talking about.” However well-intentioned they were, the reality was that the church was hindering my healing process by denying me the opportunity to safely reveal my truths. I was miserable, angry, and it wasn’t because I was a sinner, it was because I was sick.
Around 2003, I had my first introduction to rap and HipHop culture by way of Eminem and “The Slim Shady LP”. “Hi kids, do you like violence?” It was the rawest, most compelling, uninhibited and hilarious music I had ever heard. Eminem unabashedly said whatever he felt, and didn’t waste time crafting lofty metaphors or veiled references. Up until that point the music that I had been fed was similar to the life I had been forced to live, beautifully architected, but architected. Fake smiles, hid a dangerously dark existence, and hiding in the shadows of everyone’s ignorance or indifference seemed easier than addressing the issues that dominated my every thought and action. Through the example Eminem set with his music, I realized it was O.K. to be myself, to speak openly, and I discovered that I wasn’t the only person in the world who wanted to say things that would outrage and offend. Simultaneously, rap’s unapologetic description of the world, made me question whether the adults in my life actually knew what they were talking about.
I began to collect any albums I could get my hands on. I discovered N.W.A., G-Unit, Mobb Deep, Nas, Jay-Z, and hid the albums from my parents. I secretly mulled over every word, examining the lyrics, playing them everyday and stashing them under my mattress like priceless valuables. By 2005 the domination of southern based HipHop flooded the airwaves. T.I., Paul Wall, Lil Jon, Chamillionaire, and Slim Thug took over my headphones, and as the vibe of the music became more aggressive, I felt even more empowered. More people than I could have ever imagined were like me: artistic, full of energy, and tired of the way we were living.
Eventually Tupac and Biggie made their way into my playlists and songs like“Keep Your Head Up” and “Sky’s The Limit” kept me hopeful that one day I’d find a measure of happiness. As I dug further into HipHop’s culture artists like KRS-ONE, Erik B, & Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane made me understand my worth as a person, and with newer artists like Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole, I began to fully appreciate the life I had be given despite my painful past.
HipHop continues to teach us countless lessons. Artists have reminded us that pain is O.K., we’re not alone, and that others may have it worse. They have reminded us of our self-worth, and the need to be grateful for all that life has to offer, including the peaks and valleys.
I share my experience to encourage others to find solace in their pain, strength in their weakness, and love in their difference. Remember that hiding your truth will always be to your detriment. Moving through the pain by expressing yourself, is better than becoming suspended in the misery of your secrecy. Continue to keep hope, continue to fight against the odds, and never allow your past to dictate your future.