It’s 11 p.m. on a Monday, and the L.A. breeze bounces me from cloud to cloud, feeling like I’m on a water raft down the Milkyway; I love it. The colors around me change with each breath, and I’m almost sure they’re racing the beat. For a moment, I considered asking Siri to skip to the next song, but I decided to give in and let the music consume me.
I pearled the perfect jay for dinner, stuffing it with apples and bananas spliff with lavender for an upgraded first class seat to space. When the opportunity to indulge presents itself, and with me, it often does, I give in. So soon as I thought I reached my peak, I heard, “if I’m inhaling—cause I’m tryna relax.” Confirmation was received loud and clear. I crank the volume, double tap repeat, and let the melody marry the mary and wrap me in their arms like a needy baby.
Music is my therapy, and cannabis is my preferred medicine; they’re my besties. When I’m at my lowest of lows and highest of highs, I turn to my besties to center me and bring me back to me. So, while experiencing the lowest I’ve ever felt due to the recent passing of my father, I rounded my girls up to take a trip — and it inspired a thought: I should listen to songs from artists I’m fond of where they pour their trials and tribulations on a track to help me find the words to describe the depth of my sadness.
In this time of grief, I’ve been nurtured with abundant love, especially from the men in my life. Their embrace and reassurance that I’m not alone have comforted me more than I can ever thank them. Losing my daddy shook me to my core. That’s a permanent loss I can never physically have again, but I’m maintaining, and that’s because of the men he left behind to carry me in my weakest moment.
But who’s uplifting them and the millions of men around the world? Who’s reminding them that releasing and relying on others is okay? Do they even believe that it’s okay for them to do it? And when they choose to, how do they release it? All rhetorical questions, but for real, though, how do they release?
Often it’s through and with music. So, I asked my friends which songs they listen to when they’re going through something or that they recall an artist expressing their pain therapeutically.
Since June was Black Music Month and Men’s Health Month, here are six songs by black men who use their voices to call attention to prevalent issues from coping mechanisms to wealth disparities and everything in between.
Exploration of 6 Songs by Black Male Artists
1. Sativa by Shaffer Jones (@Shaffer.Jones)
It’s only fitting that I kick this off with the perfect song to describe my self-prescribed therapy. Recently, sativa has been the push to get me through my daily tasks — and I typically don’t prefer sativa dominant strains. Too much of it makes me feel anxious like caffeine because my body thinks it can compete with my daily sober, racing mind, ha! But over the years, I’ve learned how to dose my tolerance responsibly.
Shaffer’s metaphors are always enjoyable because the stories he tells feel familiar. “Sativa yeah yeah yeah / I done hit the line three times tryna reach ya …/ lately I been going through it / barely coping but I’m focused still in motion.”
When my daddy first passed, I chose to cleanse from cannabis alone at home because I didn’t want to rely on it to get me through the day or use it to numb my pain. If I’m being honest, I was scared I would spiral into the darkest place mentally and be unable to pull myself out of it. However, I’ve studied and consumed cannabis enough to know that the wrong strain paired with a fragile mind could lead to an unpleasant experience.
Once I felt mentally confident that I wouldn’t spiral or push my feelings away due to being under the influence, I started to indulge again — and fell in love with sativa.
Shaffer lists various adversities he and other men may face on any given day. While he doesn’t let these situations interfere with the goals he strives for, that doesn’t mean he can’t feel the weight of them pressing down on him. If a few hits of Sativa allow him to balance the scales to conquer his opponents, then so be it.
Let’s be clear, Shaffer and myself aren’t promoting substance abuse. Instead, you should seek help from professionals and allow them to prescribe you treatment.
2. Diryte Boy by Heavy Crownz (@heavycrownz)
I had the opportunity to attend an intimate listening session for Heavy Crownz’s recently released project, Whole Lotta Seedz. In attendance were farmers of the literal and figurative sense—people who nurture their chosen communities with resources, knowledge, and helping hands. Receiving the invitation made me blush. When intentions are pure and stem from a place of love, kindred spirits tend to gravitate toward one another.
Heavy played his project three times, welcoming different perspectives each round. We dove right in as I shifted my demeanor to a more relaxing posture while sparking up another perfectly pearled jay. When we hit track number five, my head bobbing changed course. Diryte Boy dropped, and I astral projected back inside me so I could catch every word he’s spitting.
It’s raw, real, and honest. If I ever describe your lyricism with such simplicity, know I’m initially speechless. I mean, what else is there more to say when Heavy already said, “we talk lasting in the game cause we come from real pain and the resilient mindset with the need to sustain …/ I am the dreams of my ancestors …/ go into the soil I’m a diryte boy I had to go into the soil.”
Black people constantly have to get it out of the mud. Even when we’re well off, we have to prove our worth. Heavy had to go within to bring himself out to remain the blueprint and the caliber. The first thing you learn when caring for a plant is that burying the seed and watering it here and there isn’t enough. A balanced routine for nourishment and maintenance is required for your seeds to flourish.
Getting your hands dirty and learning what’s in your soil is key to being the best version of yourself. No one can do that but you. And you’ve been doing it thus far, so dig deeper this time and nurture roots.
3. Higher Power by Cozz (@Cozz)
Honestly, I started listening to Cozz as a solo artist recently. I’ve heard him before, but I couldn’t name a song of his off top, but now? I can decipher his lyricism to you in my sleep because that’s how much I understand and feel where he’s coming from.
Cozz immediately lets you know what’s up: “it’s easy to tell that I belong to a higher power / even when I seen hell, I didn’t wreak hell / I didn’t rekindle my firepower.” He’s reiterating that his album Fortunate is a poetic testimony.
Cozz highlights the hierarchy of a nurturing household when the stability of shelter reigns supreme to mental wellness. He uses his voice to paint a picture that we’ve all seen before. Whether through lived experiences, observation or on a T.V. screen—you can envision the many trials he touches on. Every unfortunate circumstance he’s been subjected to made him stronger to fight another day.
Learned negative behavior can only harm you when you choose to make it a cycle. For Cozz, he learned to give his problems over to God and seek the opportunity in everything. “So please don’t believe that I don’t belong / every demon I’ve conquered them all / I felt the rain. I felt the sun.”
In a time of such uncertainty, Higher Power reminds me that as long as my heart and soul are in it, as long as I’m doing this for me because it feels good, my joy can never truly be gone. And that’s when I know I’m blessed for real.
4. Cinematic by Dell Fargo (@dellfargo)
If it’s one thing Dell Fargo will do, it’s give you bar after bar after bar. If you’re not paying attention, many of Dell’s lyrics will go right over your head. The first track on his E.P., titled Mental Health, is a cinematic flow indeed. Dell illustrates what it’s like fighting to survive and provide for your family. You can tell that Cinematic was the release he was waiting for by the way he’s holding his breath to spit three minutes straight.
“Hold my anger in so there’s tension, need help with my mental, it’s not the healthiest, but I’m mending …/ my woman told me take some me time, but I’m too broke to pay me attention.”
I’m not a lyrical artist, but the studio has become my sanctuary. When I’m in that space, I witness musicians in their bare form. Until musicians reach the point of the booth being their daily office, booking sessions is often their escape for self-care. You compromise when you can’t afford leisure that isn’t meant to eventually payoff and makes you residual income.
Neglecting your mental health can be detrimental to not only you but those around you as well. If a loved one or acquaintance suggests positive behavioral changes to help you, it’s because they recognize the signs that you may be ignoring yourself.
The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) reported that “about one in five Americans struggle with a mental illness in any given year, regardless of their race … African Americans are 20 percent more likely to have serious psychological distress than their counterparts.” Unfortunately, our communities lack resources at higher rates than others. Still, there are tools obtainable to aid you in releasing the battles you struggle with and harbor mentally daily.
A recording booth may not be in your grasp or your desired sanctuary, but I hope you prioritize your me-time and pencil in some self-care.
5. Count Me Out by Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar)
Listen, I know I don’t have to tell you how great of a masterpiece Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is and how timely it is! The entire project echoes, “damn, life can be such a b!^@#, but you can also find happiness through internal peace if you choose to.”
Count Me Out got me when Kendrick said, “I care too much, wanna share too much / in my head too much, I shut down too / I ain’t there too much, I’m a complex soul … this time around, I trust myself / please everybody else but myself / all else fails, I was myself” because same.
One thing I always encourage the people in my life, especially men who feel the pressure to confine themselves to labels placed upon them, is to be themselves. It was easier to preach this once I applied it to myself. I spent my entire life in my head and putting my dreams on back order to those I felt needed to dream first. Whenever I gained the courage to share my ideas with anyone but my diary, I instantly felt sick from a nasty case of oversharing.
My limitations were in my head, though. In reality, everyone isn’t going to feel me, but I now could care less because I feel me. I love when people count me out; it weeds out those whose roots aren’t grounded with my own and meant to nurture my soil to grow.
According to the NIMHD, “suicide is the third leading cause of death among African Americans ages 15 to 24, [and] African American men are four times more likely to die by suicide than African American women are.”
Whatever you’re fighting through, don’t count yourself out. You’re already going against the grain by being a black man defying the only statistics they choose to recognize. Instead, challenge their ideologies by speaking up and seeking help for whatever health issues you’re battling.
6. Braindead (LLMJ) by BA (@badams23)
B.A. was the first person to encourage my passion for analyzing the different layers of a song. To know me is to know that 50% of the music I listen to is unreleased hits in the making from my friends. Observing an artist as they transform their pain into lyrics and amplify it with a mic hits different, though.
While I wasn’t present when B.A. wrote and recorded Braindead, I’ve seen firsthand how he pours his love for his late cousin Mani into his craft. The process of healing isn’t linear and is often constant. So when you find a healthy way to cope, hold onto that.
“And it’s killing me cause I pickup the phone and can’t hit you / have you ever lose someone you love / to the jail, to the streets, to these drugs … I’ll be the first to admit, it ain’t the same without you / I never went through this much pain without you.” Whew… This song radiated through my entire being after my daddy passed away. I’ve been listening before the release and felt every word but now? I live it. I can’t turn to a cheerful song and forget it.
Braindead was the first song I heard that I was like, “yup, that’s exactly how I feel. But I can’t tell people because they’re already worried about me; I don’t want to cause them more concern.” That’s when I surrendered to the melodies and allowed my body to release. Listening to Braindead, I can easily get lost in the keys playing in the background and reflect on all my memories — which hurts like hell to do so, but it’s necessary. As much as I want to use my pain to fuel my passions, the pain has to be felt before it can be transformed.
I could go on and on pulling out lines and decoding hidden messages from many artists, but I think you get my point. Whether these songs were chosen because I relate to them or were recommended by someone who feels seen because of them — the correlation between music and mental health is clear: it’s therapy. It may not be traditional in the western sense, but it’s been used long before a degree in psychology existed. So if you can’t find the words or courage to say how you feel, pick a song and allow it to be the voice of the voiceless. Share with someone you trust along with “mood,” “same,” or any other indicator that you’re crying out for help.
Happy healing and nurturing. May you know peace over pain for the years to come.