Strength In Vulnerability: How Kendrick Lamar’s ‘i’ Is Writing The Next Chapter In Mental Health Awareness

11.10.14 3 years ago 66 Comments
Kendrick Lamar Visits Music Choice

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“What do you want from me and my scars?”

Last week, the decision was made to speak with someone. I suppose the clinical term was “going to see a therapist.” The thought had been lingering for months, but was always subconsciously labeled as a sign of weakness. It wasn’t until the combination of David’s strength and one song opened my eyes to the true power of stripping yourself of insecurities meant. My first visit hasn’t happened yet. But I figure there’s no time like the present.

It’s something I’ve put off for years. The weight sitting on my chest was once easy to ignore. Now it’s impossible to imagine life without the burden, though the hope remains one day soon it’s possible. My story is no different from yours, the person in Chicago reading this or the person in Paris. Any day, at any given time, we’re all fighting a battle, albeit internally or externally. But it’s internal struggles that’ve come to present the biggest hurdles in finding some sense of normalcy in life again.

Mental health and the surging wave of awareness behind it have defined life in 2014. I’ve lost friends to it. Some are products of American correctional system, a revolving door if there is one in this country. Some literally disappeared. And some…well, some aren’t here anymore.

My friend Yusuf taking his own life this year impacted me greatly, perhaps more than I realized it would at the time. We were the same age, only a year separating us in school and fraternal lines. On the surface, his ducks appeared to be in order both professionally and personally. But that’s the thing about demons. They’re oftentimes undetectable until it’s someone on the other end of a phone call in tears. Peace arrived in the form of his mother. With the blessing to speak to her on several occasions and witnessing her strength firsthand through the worst tragedy a parent could face, she is living proof the only thing tougher than tough times are the people who embrace them head on.

Yet, even beyond Yusuf and others I knew personally and in passing, an incident as mainstream as Robin Williams’ suicide only confirmed what was already known. Success and the idea of the “American Dream” meant nothing if the mind could only process nightmares.

When Kendrick Lamar’s “i” initially released, I panned the record. It wasn’t what I expected or wanted from an artist in ownership of arguably the most anticipated sophomore album in well over a decade. “i” was what I needed, though. The video spawned a complete 180, a rarity in today’s genre where the term “music video” has been reduced to a shell of itself with Ciroc bottles, silicone-stuffed video vixens/Instagram models, foreign cars and wads of money, the latter two of which are rented in many cases.* The visual, coupled along with several drives home from work with the song becoming a growing fixture on Richmond’s 106.5 The Beat and Soundcloud, demanded more of an effort be made to dissect the lyrics.

So I did. Portions of my life and my experiences began to permeate through the obvious Isley Brothers sample.

Last week, Kendrick sat down with Houston 93.7 The Beat’s Devi Dev for an interview proving both entertaining and therapeutic in many senses. The 20-minute clip is a lesson on perspective. One man’s prayers could be the next man’s reality. And one man’s realities could be the next man’s prayers. The gray area in between are the insecurities.

Kendrick opened up about the song and how it was intended to be an uplifting ode, more along the lines Hip Hop gospel than a traditional three-verse record. “i,” he hoped, would impact a crowd he intended to inspire, motivate and, in the most drastic of cases, save. Including himself.

“The thing about it from jump…the record feels great and it feels good, but it comes from a place of depression. It comes from a place of insecurity,” he said. “Not only them, but for myself. It’s a lot of things I deal with personally, that you deal with, that all of us in this room deal with.”

Kendrick continued, “[Depression] faced my life not only then, but now in these recent years of being in the limelight. And, you know, trying to deal with that balance of your personal life with the music and what you do. It comes with a lot of turmoil.”

For years, my own issues were internalized. They still are to an extent. Issues of career focus, “stuck” at home, a relationship put on ice for reasons beyond our control and one where the question of “What if?” begets both anguish and frustration, friends no longer here (mentally and physically), a close friend incarcerated for the majority of his adult life, a murder-suicide near my job involving a two-year old that has stuck with me more than I care to admit and the constant internal battle every 20-something-year-old encounters summed up in three simple words: So, what now? These issues weren’t worth burdening with others, or so I convinced myself.

Bottling the thoughts has been more and more difficult to control in recent months. Earlier this summer, I caught myself drinking more. A lot more. There’s something symbolic about an empty glass or an empty bottle, knowing it breaks the body down, but temporarily subsides the chaos lodged in our heads. Drinking helps until it hurts.

And the bottle contains pieces of our souls impossible to replace.

kendrick I video

“Am I worth it? Did I put enough work in?”

These aren’t seeds of something darker, much less depression in the medical diagnosis. Above it all, I’m blessed for more reasons than I’m stressed. Blessed to have opportunities many may never experience, such as traveling to Dubai twice. Blessed to have a house to move back to after being laid off last year. Blessed to find another job to save money until whenever the next move presents itself. Blessed, most importantly, to be alive.

Therein lies the concept of mortality. What plagues me the most isn’t ever getting the chance to say “I do.” If and when the day comes, I’ll be ready. It’s not missing out on the opportunity to have kids, though forcing my little man and/or little girl to be Dallas Cowboys fans and passing down my Martin DVDs as family heirlooms sounds nothing short of incredible. Nor is it stumbling upon an idea that’d make me wealthier than my wildest imaginations, though that is certainly welcomed, too.

Leaving before accomplishing something that changes the world, or at least a handful of people in it, is terrifying. I don’t know what heaven is like. I’ll look forward to talking football with my uncle again, reconnecting with friends who left far before their time and asking Tupac what was he thinking not wearing a bulletproof vest the night of September 7, 1996.

Whenever I meet the higher power who blesses us all, I want to have an answer if and when the question is asked “What did you do to leave the world a better place?” As of this very moment, the answer is “I don’t know.” Mark Twain’s famous quote says “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” The first date is easy – February 1, 1986. The second date, however, is responsible for sleepless night after sleepless night, outburst after outburst, tear after tear.

Whenever judgement day does arrive – hopefully several decades down the road – prayerfully at least one person can eulogize me as someone who changed his or her life for the better and taught them at least one lesson previously privy about themselves.

If all this sounds foolish, realize I’ve told myself the same statement countless times over the years. That being said, these are thoughts every person has to some extent. Not a soul on Earth is 100% mentally stable. That much is palpable.

Music, at its purest state, should be an extension of the soul. An out of body experience confirming while pain is universal, strength is, too. From Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, ‘Pac, Amy Winehouse and hundreds of others including Kendrick Lamar in the current landscape, music has always best utilized been an escape. Nevermind the reviews, critical nuances or record sales, the most timeless music – the melodies, chords, lyrics and symphonies – has and will continue to bridge a gap between spirituality and reality.

“Call up my dog who been in and out depression
Said boy how you living, don’t lie to me bout your feelings
On the outside you look fine but on the inside could be killin’
You act like a comedian but now you’re Robin Williams
And now we crying rivers that nobody wants to swim in
When one phone call could’ve been the one to prevent it…” – Big Sean on “4th Quarter”

These are my confessions, however trivial they come off to the next man. Others won’t out of the same fears of ridicule and resentment. Take the time to change someone’s life. A simple “what’s good?” or “how’s life?” message is invaluable, as is time. Today is tomorrow’s yesterday.

The worse place to discover the extent of a loved one’s pain is in an obituary.

* – Not saying I don’t watch them regardless because I do for some, but it is great to see a video with a purpose every now and then.

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