Author: Gary Taylor, MSW URMND Contributor and Founder of Uphold 31:8
I prepared for the Backwoods Podcast two weeks ago by introducing topics to the crew. I spoke to one of my team members, Spizzy and he is pretty well versed in the knowledge of the new age rappers. As we spoke about topics, the death of XXXtentacion came up. I told him, ‘Let’s do it!” as he would lead the conversation and give us insight into the young brother and his music. I have never listened to X personally outside of Spizzy playing his latest album for us before, and he never resonated with me.
As a therapist, some of the tracklist and lyrics concerned me. My spiritual, “churchy” side self-picked up on some unique spirits, which I tend to keep to myself. Spizzy gave us back stories on X’s career and reiterated how influential he was to the youth. I had heard talks about his influence on the younger generation but never delved deeper into it. We talked at length about how X was working to turn his life around and how you could hear it in his music. Therapist to reader, I can never be mad at someone progressing to be better than who they was before. Once we finished the podcast episode having in-depth conversation about his influence, it led me into deep thought into what are youth are going through.
If you have not noticed, African American children aged 5-12 are committing suicide at an alarming rate, double of their white counterparts. Researchers indicate that they do not know why, and even as I sit and type, I did not know why the age range was so young. If you peek into our school systems and home environment, you will find most of your answers there. The treatment of black and brown kids in our school systems, increased rate of suspensions for black children, IEPs, bullying, school to prison pipeline issues all raise red flags. Home environments, whether that be living in an impoverished area, single parent home, being abused, (physically, sexually, verbally, mentally) or unable to communicate feelings and emotions also play a major role.
If we look at this age range, we can see why our black teenagers grow up with so much anger, frustration and fear. I have seen black teens with so much anger. So much rage it actually scares me and I know a thing or two about anger and rage. However when I see rage, I see pain and a cry for help. Something is wrong. Inability to communicate emotions, express emotions or process them leads to this. Appropriate communication, free of judgement or immediate consequence is instrumental to our black youth, especially in times like today. They are being judged every day in the school system along with in the community (I still cannot wrap my head around the death of Tamir Rice). Exposure to this world is in the palms of their hands influencing them daily.
So many contributing factors here stay with me.
When our youth have no one that they can vent to, or an avenue to properly express their emotions they then hold it in and bottle it up. Bottling it up is like shaking up a can of soda then opening it. The result is an explosion and mess everywhere. Our youth at this young age more than they can handle, and even more than you can actually fathom. They know more about what is going on in this world than we do! Do not be surprised!
When they have no outlets, they turn to someone or something they can relate to. Someone or something that resonates with how they are feeling and what they are going through. Insert XXXtentacion. As it was told to me, X made music for those who may have been depressed or feel sad. X was influential as many teens were able to relate to his lyrics. It is like me when I heard 4:44 album, and as it stands is one of my favorite albums. Why? I related to every aspect of that album, outside of the cheating.
X wanted to change and help others. It was the reason he put his struggles in his music much like our favorite artists. I know he had domestic assault issues, and I do not condone such, however I forgive for that, especially if he was working on being a better person as a result. Parents, older generations and even part of my generation get upset when we hear these teens listening to this type of music, calling it wack, demonic, not real rap, mumble rappers and etc. What we neglect to realize is that some of this new music is actually deeper than portrayed, music that is therapy for the artist.
Ya’ll know Mary J best music was when she was going through it!
Now what I have said in the past is that music is influential and can drastically shift our moods. It was one of the issues I had with X’s music. His messages seemed genuine but his actions were not lining up. Then I thought, well isn’t that like every one of our favorite artist or celebrity? It is obvious that our teenagers are crying out for help but have nowhere to turn. They have no outlets, no place to express their emotions. So do not be upset when they turn to this type of music. X was only 20, not far removed from our teenagers today. Imagine the things he was going through and had not dealt with yet, similar to are youth today.
I say all of this to say as parents, leaders, mentors, and community partners, please communicate with the youth. Talk with them, not at them. Get to know what they are going through. Create a judgmental free zone, but also correct when needed. Correction can be done in a manner that allows one another to both learn something. Keep in mind that the prefrontal cortex of our youth is not fully developed until age 25. Meaning that their ability to reason, rationalize and impulsive behaviors is still being formed. When you ask them why they did what they did? And they respond “Idk?” It’s because they do not! Get to know their favorite artist or people that influence them.
At the end of the day, love them. The world is scary.