There’s been a somewhat disturbing trend in hip-hop recently, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. I’m not talking about mumble rapping, artists releasing streaming-oriented “playlists,” or the sudden urge to hop on a dancehall-inspired beat while it has mainstream popularity.
Our favorite rappers are depressed, and they’re battling it in their music.
One of the biggest songs of the year is built around a hook reveling in the fact that “all my friends are dead.” Isaiah Rashad detailed his addiction issues on The Sun’s Tirade, admitting his struggle with depression as his career took off on a new level. Now, preluded by singles titled “911/Mr. Lonely” and “Boredom,” Tyler, The Creator gives fans a look into his dejected psyche on Flower Boy.
Tyler’s always left room for both abrasive bangers and psychedelic melodies on his albums, but on this one he’s flipped the balance between them. It gives the album an increased feeling of sincerity, emphasizing a side of Tyler that’s typically been restrained to the background. Likewise, he took a new approach to the album lyrically, scaling back the length of his verses while focusing on making every word count. Many of those words touch on his sexuality, with several of the lyrics suggesting he’s ready (or been ready) to come out of the closet. “Next line will have them like woah / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004,” he raps on “I Ain’t Got Time.”
He drops more hints on the song “Garden Shed,” using extended metaphors over his own moving production to increase the weight of his words. “Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase / Thought it be like the phrase; “poof,” gone / But, it’s still going on,” he raps on the song. He’s often brought up the topic in his music as well as his interviews, and he’s expressed frustration with his inability to be taken seriously on the subject. Hip-hop’s dicey history with homosexuality is well known, and although the culture has become more accepting in recent years, there’s still a significant amount of pushback when a rapper announces he’s gay.
I TRIED TO COME OUT THE DAMN CLOSET LIKE FOUR DAYS AGO AND NO ONE CARED HAHAHHAHAHA
— Tyler, The Creator (@tylerthecreator) April 13, 2015
On “November,” Tyler spells out his various insecurities and mentions his fear of being excluded due to his sexual orientation. “What if my music too weird for the masses? / And I’m only known for tweets more than beats or / All my day ones turn to three, fours ‘cause of track seven,” he says while alluding to “Garden Shed,” the seventh song on Flower Boy. There’s more angst on the aforementioned “Boredom,” seeing Tyler lament his loneliness once again. “I’ve been in this fuckin’ room so long / My eyeballs are turning to dry wall / My friends suck, fuck ‘em I’m over ‘em,” he says, inviting Rex Orange County to belt out the chorus.
As the conversation on mental health becomes more widespread, it’s appropriate that the current generation of musicians is taking the time to address their own. Depression is real, and it’s up to all of us to look out for each other and be a resource to those in need. “Tell these black kids they could be who they are,” Tyler says on “Where This Flower Blooms.” Empowerment goes a long way, and being comfortable in one’s own skin is paramount to a balanced, healthy life. Tyler’s struggled with acceptance for much of his career, a fact that will likely hold true as he continues to make moves in the industry. By taking control of his own sexual identity on Flower Boy, however, he’s giving a voice to a rather marginalized side of the hip-hop community. If he’s able to lift even one soul out of despair, he’ll have fulfilled his mission with his most meaningful album yet.