We're teaming up with CALM, a charity that is focussed on raising awareness of depression amongst young men across the UK, for an interview series entitled ‘Love Yourz’. Hosted by CLASH hip-hop editor Grant Brydon, the conversations will explore the impact that a career in hip-hop has had on the mental health of artists and other personalities in the hip-hop industry.
My own mental health and wellbeing was never something I’d really considered until a few years ago, when an interview meandered down that path. I was sat in an empty boardroom talking to J. Cole about his forthcoming album ‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’ and he was explaining his intention to connect with the things that truly made him happy. “I was really consumed with career and success,” he explained, of his previous albums. “My happiness being based on my success rather than appreciating what I have.”
This seems obvious now, but at the time I’d never realised that climbing the career ladder and happiness, aren’t necessarily reliant upon one another. At that time, I believed that the two were linked, and I couldn’t have one without the other. I’d subscribed to the idea that sacrificing a few years of my life to stress and hard work would ultimately pay off when I arrived at the top of my career mountain and reaped the rewards and riches. Obviously this doesn’t happen, the inbox never empties, there is always some way we can do better, and I’d have undoubtedly found myself decades down the line wondering where all my time had gone, or worse.
As our conversation went on, it transpired that many of these ideas had been instilled in us by the competitive braggadocio that we’d grown up on as hip-hop fans; a culture that’s largely built around hyper-masculine posturing and competition. We’d watched Jay Z sign unprecedented endorsement deals and 50 Cent make millions from Vitamin Water (after dealing enough lyrical blows to Ja Rule to ruin his career completely). It seemed like every rapper became an entrepreneur. And they boasted about these deals in their lyrics, in the same way that up-and-comers these days document their brand-endorsements, gifted products and exclusive parties on their Instagram feed. We’re now fighting FOMO and living through other people’s images and experiences, or too busy showing off our own, to truly enjoy the world around us and live in the moment.
My conversation with Cole sparked an interest in mental health and wellbeing, and I began to learn that by working to remove some of the anxieties that were being imposed on me by an inflated, egocentric idea of what success is, I could actually operate much more effectively on the work that I was doing, and enjoy doing it. I’ve observed the way breakthrough stars are marketed as teenage overnight sensations and the affect that this has on the artists around me: PR hooks and social media tricks infiltrating their minds, making them feel pressure instead of fulfilment from their creative process, more focused on how the end product will make them famous than the perfection of their craft.
The hundreds of conversations that I’ve had with hip-hop artists over the years - at various stages in their careers - have exposed me to the truth that these guys that I’ve looked up to for years, some since I was a teenager, all have the same human conditions as I do. Many have learned to deal with them, and are content, and others seem fairly unhappy and paranoid, despite the success. I’ve found that there’s a lot to learn from their success stories; Big Sean has recommended me life-changing books, Wiz Khalifa instilled in me the importance of self-evaluation and Anderson .Paak implored me to trust in the process. I’ve asked artists about what they’re most proud of, what obstacles they’ve had to overcome, and what their ideas of success are - interestingly I’ve never had an artist tell me that money has anything to do with success, in fact, the majority go out of their way to dispel that concept before they answer.
Through ‘Love Yourz’, a new interview series presented by CLASH and CALM, the intention is to strip back the glitz and glamour, and to reveal the humans behind the art that we love; to learn how high performers deal with their personal obstacles and to inspire us to all start thinking more about our own mental health and well-being, before being swept up in the rat race.
Look out for the first edition of Love Yourz on these pages soon.
Illustration by Oliver Macdonald Oulds.