Not to get all Brown Sugar on you, but I remember the first time I fell in love with Hip-Hop.
It was ’96 and at the tender age of 14, I could recite damn-near every lyric Biggie Smalls and Tupac ever spit, although my love for Jay Z, circa “Ain’t No N*gga”, was beginning to bloom.
Growing up in the late-80's and coming of age in the mid-90's, I was fully aware of Hip-Hop music. It was everywhere. I mean, even Barney Rubble was with the shit while slangin’ those pebbles…
However, I didn’t begin to understand and lock into the culture until I entered my early teens. It’s as if my world came alive that year. The music on the radio and TV that once played in the background in my life leaped out and became the center of my universe. I started to pay attention to lyrics and beats and how they made me feel.
I remember thinking that music was possibly the best gift God ever gave us besides life, water, and air.
As music began to shape my young world, a negative bout of depression breezed into my life, bringing with it sadness and suicidal thoughts. I was experiencing my first serious bout with depression and the constant feelings of confusion and helplessness made me feel like something was wrong with me, and that nobody around me understood what I was going through.
Letting music be my guide, I found that listening to songs like Biggie’s “Suicidal Thoughts” and Jay Z’s “This Can’t Be Life” surprisingly helped because the dialogue on the tracks were similar to what was going on in my mind and I didn’t feel alone.
Without an open door of communication at home, it felt like the only people I could relate to were rappers.
Hip-Hop became the driving force behind my journey of self-actualization, self-healing, and solace.
So what triggered the depression?
An incident on my first day of high-school that changed my outlook on life and men forever.
The day started with me wandering through the halls of my brand new high-school for 30 minutes, lost like a GED student watching The Big Bang Theory. Searching for my second hour class, I asked for help from students in the hallway and got ignored. That was until a big, tall, dark-skinned guy adorned in a school football jersey grabbed my schedule and told me that he knew where my class was. I was elated. Finally, someone was willing to help a young freshman out.
The guy had to be at least 6'3 and 200 pounds. He led me to what looked like an abandoned hallway that was dimly lit and vacant.
Gripping both of my shoulders, he walked me over to the darkest corner. Then he unzipped his pants and exposed himself.
I was terrified. So many thoughts ran through my mind as he grabbed my hand and made me touch him down there. I wanted to run, but he had too strong of a grip on me.
So I just stood there while he raped my hand in a dusty, dark hallway. He climaxed, then tried to kiss me, but I broke free and ran like a Walmart security guard was chasing me .
I found myself outside in the back of the school, bent over, crying, and feeling guilty for not defending myself. I couldn’t believe that this was my first day of high school. I dried my tears on my red and blue hockey jersey that Cappadonna rocked in Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” video and went back in to finish up my day at school. I managed to make it through the rest of my classes, trying not to think about what had happened earlier.
I went home hoping my mom would just hug me and tell me that everything would be alright. I felt that through that warm embrace, I could tell her about what had happened.
I needed answers, but I forgot that I never shared warm embraces with my mother, just the occasional congratulatory hug when I achieved something academically.
I went home wanting to talk to my mom, but I was greeted by her criticizing my baggy clothes and telling me how much I looked like a boy. I was stunned since she actually purchased the clothes. Did she not remember being in the Dockers section of JC Penny with me? Did the memory of me asking her if she liked the 3x red and blue plaid Nautica or the 3x green and white Eddie Bauer shirt totally slip her mind? I was a tomboy and she was well aware of it, but maybe it really disturbed her that day. I’m not sure. All I know is that I needed my mom in that moment and she was emotionally unavailable.
So I went to my room, threw on Nas’ It Was Written album, and tried to erase what had happened that day.
After that day, I recall an instant switch in my emotions. My mood was dark and my conversations with people, particularly my parents, were short. I went into my own little world where I was lost in music and my own dreary thoughts. Within a matter of months in the 9th grade, I was skipping school to be with my much older boyfriend, who also shared the same love for Hip-Hop as well as the same dark secret of depression as I did.
He suffered from bipolar disorder, which he kept under wraps from family and friends. Throughout our 7-year relationship, I watched him go from regular therapy sessions and various prescribed anti-depression drugs to self-medicating himself on drugs, alcohol…
From his experiences and my own, I made it a point to learn as much as I could about depression so that I could understand what was going on with us. With my studies, I found that, although it’s a serious condition, it’s also very common. When I learned that depression is not often discussed in the Black community, it made sense that my mother didn’t recognize the blatant signs and symptoms I displayed growing up.
So how did I get over?
Well, as the title suggests, Hip-Hop played a huge part in helping me, but it wasn’t enough. Something that worked for me, and continues to do so, is the help from a strong support system and professional therapy.
I used to think that people that went to shrinks were weak-minded. However, through therapy, I found that it takes great strength to seek professional help. After numerous suicidal thoughts and several serious attempts throughout the years, I’m grateful to have developed the courage to seek help and speak out.
A battle I faced while actually writing this piece is whether I should use the word held instead of holds as if my depression is a thing of the past. I wish I could say it was, but in the words of Nelly: I’d just be kidding like Jason. I still have my dark days where I keep a friend on the phone for an hour or two. I truly know what it means when recovering drug addicts and alcoholics say that they will forever be in recovery, even if they remain sober for the rest of their lives. It’s a struggle, but it’s a battle worth fighting.
These days, Hip-Hop still holds my hand, but with the aide of my new-found growth, I’m finally able to simply enjoy the music instead of relying on it as a coping mechanism. There may not be a cure for depression, but as long as there’s good energy, positive people willing to help, and good beats and rhymes in my life, I’ll be just fine.