Artists like Lil Peep and XXXTentacion tackle issues of mental health and depression
California rapper Lil Peep is leading a new nexus of rap artists. He recently released his debut album, Come Over When You’re Sober — a self-obsessed project which grossly portrays depression as something to be fetishized. Peep raps lethargically about depression over pop-punk inspired trap instrumentals, which usually transitions into a banally sung chorus about taking Xanax and smoking a healthy dosage of weed. When he sings, it resembles the nasally cadence of blink-182 or Simple Plan.
Also like Peep, Soundcloud mammoth XXXTentacion uses his history with suicide and depression as the focal point of his image and music. The topic of mental health serves as a means for these artists to establish an air of authenticity, given the grave imagery expressed in the music. In an interview with Pitchfork, when discussing his history with depression, XXXTentacion said, “Some days, I’ll be very down and out, but you won’t be able to tell, really, because I don’t express that side of myself on social media. That’s the side of myself that I express through music. That’s my channel for letting all that shit out.”
Suicide is an especially relevant topic in hip hop right now, with rappers of varying influence and range ruminating on their experiences with mental health. When surveying the current music scene, the vast majority of new rappers who have personally faced mental health issues rarely shy away from expressing their tribulations.
XXXTentacion’s has been making waves on Soundcloud with his mix of emo lyricism and edgy, anything-goes demeanor. His new song “Jocelyn Flores” peaked at number three on the Billboard. Lil Uzi Vert’s sleeper-hit, “XO TOUR Llif3,” which centres on the hook “Push me to the edge / All my friends are dead,” ubiquitously earned the award for Song of the Summer at the VMAs last August. The song ponders the mental hell of contemplating suicide in the midst of a failed relationship.
That same day, Logic performed his suicide-prevention anthem “1–800–273–8255.” These topics can be cathartic for artists. It may come as a surprise, then, that much of the public hadn’t expressed more involvement or concern about mental health until after seeing Logic’s performance. Following the VMAs, it was reported that the suicide prevention hotline saw a 50 per cent spike in calls.
If you’re confronting the same feelings the rappers describe, it’s understandable why you’d feel inclined to gravitate towards artists like XXXTentacion—someone who has yet to overcome his problems. For that reason, this has the potential to position XXXTentacion as a more pragmatic and sympathetic figure. Yes, it’s a troubling proposal for artists to sing so candidly about death and depression. But, this approach may very well offer a window into the ways X’s fans relate to his music.
Depression and suicide imagery in rap music isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon. Not only because rappers as successful as XXXTentacion are bridging the gap between art and reality, but because his own experiences are intrinsically intertwined with those of his fans. He is one of the main proponents of death as art or aesthetic, which he put on full blast when he posted a controversial Instagram video last August where he simulated his own hanging.
Consumers are actively seeking music which puts these topics of mental health centre stage. But if this concept of depression as a trend disturbs you — as it should — the imperative is not to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. For us to instill mental health awareness, it’s important to absorb a certain understanding of the larger, systemic complexes of mental health. This may lead us to a deeper understanding as to why an artist like XXXTentacion might feel depressed.
In addition to the pain that came with growing up in a broken home, his propensity for sporadic violence reflects America’s blatant reluctance to promote conversations about mental health. This also explains why a large portion of his fan base might be predisposed to suffering from depression.
These young rappers who display a certain fixation on death recall the MySpace melodrama of the early-2000s emo revival. Perhaps this is a byproduct of culturally-imposed gender roles, in which boys are discouraged from expressing a full spectrum of feelings for fear of being labeled “weak” or “soft.” This new embrace of the sad-boy aesthetic might be a step in the right direction. It’s definitely a start in the process of dismantling preimposed stereotypes, but not necessarily an end to the stigma surrounding mental health.
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts or emotional distress, please call Suicide Action Montreal at 1-866-277-3553 or visit Concordia’s mental health services for help.
Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth