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Last week I started a music detox.
I went through my music library and scrubbed it (temporarily) of some artists, albums, and genres. I created new playlists and I synced new music to my iPhone. I’ve been feeling it building up for a while and finally decided it was time to sit down and just do it. Music has a really intense way of affecting our mood and a lot of what I’ve listening to lately hasn’t done much other than bring my mood down into places of anger, frustration, or sadness. I listen to a lot of gangsta rap and hip-hop and for a while that was exactly what I needed but lately it has felt like it has just been fueling my anger and negative mood. That’s not to say it’s bad music, it’s just bad for me right now.
When I first started listening to it, it was exactly what I needed. At the time I had a lot of pent up anger and frustration due to the environment I was living in at home. I was angry, hurt, isolated, controlled, and overall just not in a good place. It wasn’t healthy and I had so much rage, too much for a kid, and no way to let it out. I didn’t feel understood or connected to the world at large until I discovered gangsta rap and hip-hop. Suddenly I realized that there were a lot of people out there that were angry like me and I needed that.
It became a part of my identity. I needed it and I fed on it daily. It was all of it, the whole vibe, that connected with the brokenness I was feeling. I had spent years holding in so much angst, anger, frustration, resentment, and loneliness and the music that these artists were putting out gave me something to hold on to. I no longer felt like I was suffering alone. There were others that were hurting too and they were making sure the world knew it. I adopted that mentality next.
I spent years feeding on that anger and while I know it may be surprising to a lot of people, that anger helped to heal me in a lot of ways. Listening to the hardcore gangsta rap and hip-hop music helped me to
- Identify my anger and accept that some of the things that were happening were not ok
- Find my own identity which was very much separate from the life being built around me
- Stand up and fight back against things that were causing me mental, emotional, or physical harm
It taught me that I didn’t have to sit quietly and take shit or abuse from people and it didn’t matter who they were. It was angry but in its own way it was healthy for me. I needed someone to say to me that it’s not ok for anyone to threaten you or hurt you and that music did that. It fueled rebellion against authority and I wore that anger as my shield for years.
Until last week I was still listening to that music.
I don’t have the same anger and resentment I did when I was an abused kid but we all have the tendency to hold on to the things that shaped us into the people we are now. To some people it might be a favorite movie or a favorite book, but to me it’s favorite albums or tracks. I still collect the vinyl records I loved back then (and recently picked up a new one at Criminal Records in Atlanta during Record Store Day) and I still listen to the music (via my iPhone and Bose headphones) but the impact it has on me today is far different than it was years ago.
These days when I listen to that music it reminds me of how many people are still out there suffering in ways very similar to myself when I was a kid.
There are kids out there being pushed around, hit, and abused and they are finding themselves uncertain about where to go or who to turn to. Those kids are questioning the things that are happening to them and wondering if they deserve it because they are bad kids. That type of environment is building kids that are going to turn into adults with anxiety disorders and mental health issues because they’ve been victims their whole lives and been raised to believe it was their fault and they deserved the hurt. It’s messed up but it’s the reality for a lot of lives. Music can be a savior and as our friend Vince Edwards shared in this guest post about gangsta rap a while back, the music is often unfairly blamed as the problem when it can just as easily be the catalyst that makes a kid finally stand up for himself and say “Enough!”
I love gangsta rap and hip-hop music. I always will and I’ll defend the genre against those who try to blame it for the negativity and violence in the world. I don’t believe that music is the villain but it can certainly help to expose the seedy underbelly of a world that most people don’t want to acknowledge. Music can be the trigger that finally pushes a person to stand up and say, “This is wrong. It’s NOT ok and I’m not going to take it.” If people don’t like the message in music perhaps they should spend more time looking at the environmental or lifestyle factors that caused the songwriter to write the message rather than fighting the message itself. Music doesn’t create villains; villains create the environment which fuels the emotion and message behind the music. There’s a place for gangsta rap and hip-hop and we need it as a genre in music, although I am taking a music detox and letting go of it for a little while.
That early love of gangsta rap and hip-hop ultimately introduced me to the world of DJ’s and the music mixes that they spin (see my interview here for specifics). As I moved on from the scars of the past I took on that persona as my own. It was less angry and more uplifting, fun, and energetic. It encourages creativity and personal expression as the artists take bits and pieces of other forms of entertainment (music, movies, television clips) and mix it together to form a new creation.
I’ve listened to thousands of DJs and their extended mixes and one thing that has always stood out to me is how they are capable of taking the smallest sample or soundbite from a song or a movie and turn it into something new. In their music there is a reminder that in everything there is greatness, no matter how small and inconsequential it may seem at the time.
So I’m backing away from listening to gangsta rap and hip-hop for a time. I need to take this music detox and let go of some of the frustration and negativity that lingers from early in my life and move into a place of creativity and artistry. DJ mixes say, “Take this old thing and make it new” which is what I’m trying to do with certain parts of my life. It’s about taking time to walk away from what is over, letting it go, and accepting the new creation that exists in the here and now.
But, as I’ve told Ashley, it’s a temporary thing. I’ll go back to gangsta rap and hip-hop because it saved me and it’s a critical part of who I am. I’d never be the person I am today if I hadn’t heard it as a kid. I think we all have something in our lives that defined who we became as adults and I know that discovering that music is mine.