Silent Killer: Hip-Hop Can No Longer Ignore Mental Illness


“If there’s a God He’s calling me back home, this barrel never felt so good next to my dome. It’s cold and I’d rather die than live alone.” These words though seemingly cryptic rap lyrics are unfortunately the final tweets that rapper Freddy E (pictured above) sent out before fatally shooting himself in the head earlier this week. In 2012, the headlines seemed to repeatedly rock the entertainment world with news of industry vet Chris Lighty, pro athlete’s Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher and even legendary icon Don Cornelious all succumbing to self-inflicted gunshot wounds all ruled suicide.

According to the CDC, suicide is the #3 leading cause of death among young Black males age 15 – 24. Despite this fact, the subject remains taboo within the hip-hop community.  No one seems to question what the real problem is. When other cases of suicide involved victims of bullying and homophobia there’s media coverage and outcries from celebrities. Where is the outrage over young black men committing suicide?

Is it the perceived cowardice and weakness stigma attached that causes the initial shock to become fleeting? Is it because seemingly successful people aren’t supposed to have problems that would warrant suicidal thoughts? Hogwash! It’s bigger than Hip-hop, race, or class. It’s an issue of mental illness and depression and the most serious effect of depression is suicide. Depression is something that Black people are conditioned to believe is a part of life and not an illness, which is why conversations aren’t had on a level of addressing it as being problematic. Clearly there is a problem.

Let’s face it people love to watch a train wreck, celebrity’s demons are fodder for many a twitter conversation and other people’s pain make the most compelling headlines in the words of T.I. “My life, your entertainment./ My sorrow, your amusement./ Laugh at my pain and anguish./ So famous I could lose it.”

These aren’t just lyrics, this is life. The struggle is real although music can tend to romanticize the situation in a clever metaphor the problem doesn’t end when the video stops.  DMX is a highly esteemed lyricist, whose struggle with bi-polar disorder has repeatedly played itself out in the media only to be met with judgment and ridicule, but there is nothing funny about mental illness and we need to start addressing the signs before we wonder what made them pull the trigger.

Since I run with the devil I’m one with the devil,
I stay doin’ dirt so I’m gonna come with the shovel,
Hit chyou on a level of a madman who’s mind’s twisted,
Made n##### dreams caught the last train, mines missed it,
Listed as a manic depressin’ with extreme paranoia!
and dog I got sometin’ for ya! hear my name, feel my pain

from “F#####’ Wit’ D”
off the It’s Dark and Hell is Hot Album

Before we can address a cause, we must first understand the signs of depression.

These signs include:

  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Headaches, stomach aches, pain all over
  • Chronic fatigue – not wanting to get up in the morning
  • Sadness that continues for up to a month – spontaneous crying
  • Social withdrawal – a loss of interest in activities and things once considered enjoyable

Though the signs may vary from each individual, the fact remains that depression is a curable illness that that doesn’t have to end in death, but it has to start with the conversation. Successful treatment of depression is a realistic goal. The majority of people with depression can get better with treatment. A common approach is a combination of prescription medication and talk therapy, but the first step is acknowledging there is a problem.