MUSICAL MESSAGE: Put Your Pain On Blast

“Don’t push me, ‘cause I’m close to the edge. I’m tryin’ not to lose my head.”

--Lyric from “The Message”

Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

Usually when we get wind of the mental and emotional pain our entertainers are up against, it’s after something crazy happens: they’ve been arrested (DMX, Bobby Brown), died before their time (Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G.), faced court cases (Jay-Z, Diddy, Foxy Brown) or recklessly lived life in a way that becomes destructive to themselves and/or others (Mary J. Blige, Karrine Steffans).

While the audience responds to each headline in shock and awe from the privacy of our homes, the truth is, what we’re seeing is a reflection of the kind of inner turmoil we ourselves are experiencing, keeping secret, and not handling too well. Our silence is killing us and there’s nothing entertaining about it.

We’re all challenged in some way, and we often act out in unhealthy ways to cope with our issues. But part of our problem has been that, although many of us that something is wrong inside, we don’t know how to express it or deal with it. We feel alone in our misery and ashamed to get help.

As Black people, we’ve endured a long legacy of psychological and emotional pain. The moment our ancestors set their shackled feet on this land our venting, set to music, began. Old Negro spirituals, the blues, jazz, gospel, soul, and funk music and the lyrics we create always reflect our lives and the troubles of our times including racism, poverty, and disenfranchisement. There really is a message our music. Today, all you have to do is turn on the radio or TV to get a glimpse of what’s going on in the souls and minds of many of our new school hip-hop and R&B artists.

Our dirty laundry is airing all over the dial in heavy rotation. One by one, our artists are telling the truth about their pain, and a lot of us can relate. Seeing them “out” themselves and their depression is a huge help in breaking our collective silence about the pain that has crippled our community. Here’s some of what’s been going on:

Alicia Keys revealed to Ebony magazine, “Looking in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. I kept denying the fact that I was really just feeling troubled. I kept getting worse and worse and worse until it got to the point where I could hide it anymore. I finally realized I just became so depressed and I didn’t understand what I was feeling. It was all these emotions and I couldn’t describe them. Even with my closest friends who I felt I could speak to about anything, I was like ‘Yeah, I’m great!’ but deep down inside I didn’t feel so great.”

I just want you to know that I love you, but I’m gonna take a baseball bat one day while you are at work, and I’m gonna kill him.- Chris Brown

Chris Brown sounded off in Giant magazine about his abusive stepfather saying, “I told my mother ‘I just want you to know that I love you, but I’m gonna take a baseball bat one day while you are at work, and I’m gonna kill him. He used to hit my mom…He made me terrified all the time, terrified like I had to pee on myself. I remember one night he made her nose bleed. I was crying and thinking, ‘I’m just gonna go crazy on him one day…’ I hate him to this day.”

Mary J. Blige is noted for singing about her inner pain, particularly on her sorrow-soaked, landmark album and song My Life. Album after album, Mary has spent her entire career keeping it real about her personal issues.

Mario courageously allowed cameras into the heartbreaking world he privately faces as he deals with his mother’s heroine addiction as shown in the MTV documentary I Won’t Love You To Death. His song, Do Right from his latest CD Go speaks to his pain and his commitment to helping his mom fight her demons and “do right.”

Keyshia Cole vents her frustrations out on record and on her popular reality show, The Way It Is, on BET. On a weekly basis we see the pain, the effects, and the therapy involved with depression in a Black family.

Wendy Williams laid bare the wounds she suffers as a result of drug addiction, divorce, miscarriages, infidelity, and feelings of isolation in her pain-filled book, Wendy’s Got the Heat.

The pain hits every segment of our society, most of whom do not have a national platform: corporate executives, our youth, law enforcers, medical professionals, military personnel, and many others. But their voices are often unheard, particularly those who the community does not know how to handle, like the imprisoned or gang members.

We don’t use violence; violence uses us.- Blood member Jiwe

Rarely do we hear the first-hand accounts of gang members, who often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, depression, and nightmares as a result of the dangerous, violent environment in which they have to fight to survive. But Jiwe, a member of the Bloods whom I mentor, talks about this in BLACK PAIN with raw truth sharing his realization that “We don’t use violence; violence uses us. Acting out with violence can never leave us feeling better. The best it can do is distract us for a moment from the psychic wounds that are still bleeding in us, untreated.”

This is exactly the kind of openness and honesty that needs to happen. There are millions in our midst who feel the same way Chris, Jiwe, Alicia, or any one of them does. But we hobble through each day in unspeakable pain holding our problems inside. It doesn’t have to be this way. When we hear the stories of others in pain and witness how they deal with it, it empowers us to finally step forward and admit our own sorrow. Then hopefully, through the sharing of our pain, we’ll realize that we are not on this ledge alone.

Terrie M. Williams is author of the stirring new book Black Pain : It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting and co-founder of The Stay Strong Foundation