Illustration by Mike O'Shea
Amidst reports of being dropped by both Atlantic and, more significantly, his manager and confidante since 2010, Kevin “Coach K” Lee, Gucci Mane took to his Twitter to publicly lose his shit. In a series of Tweets that were part haiku and part man blindly slamming the keyboard of his phone, you could just about make out accusations that Gucci had had his way with a slew of high-profile hip-hop ladies, including tales that he'd banged out Nicki Minaj, Tyga's girl Chyna and even XXL's Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Satten.
Like lots of other people as soon as he went on his tirade I was constantly refreshing his timeline between laugh-snorting to myself, like, "THIS guy, eh? What's crazy Gucci gonna do next, get a tattoo of a fucking ice cream on his fa…oh." And that's when I stopped finding it funny and started feeling guilty for ridiculing someone who has spent the past two years dipping in and out of psychiatric facilities. At a time where Minaj is the most commercially successful female rapper of all time and an ill-thought out stunt by Macklemore is engaging us in a healthy discussion about homosexuality, is mental illness now hip-hop's last taboo?
In just the last year, Capital Steez's suicide proved a huge blow to Pro Era, Freddy E took his own life moments after tweeting about his depression and mogul Chris Lighty was found dead in his apartment after shooting himself in the head. Lighty's death in particular caused ripples in the hip-hop community as the news was met with abject confusion. Fans theorised that the death must've been suspicious and surely not suicide, though till this day no foul play has been proved. And there's the problem, there is a perceived weakness of admitting mental illness when you're immersed in hip-hop's unshakeable machismo. Couple that with the fans' appetite for a celebrity train wreck and it doesn't feel like attitudes are going to change any time soon.
I mean, the same day that Gucci imploded started with DMX sprinting through a Detroit hotel with his dick out. An artist whose erratic behaviour and substance abuse has overshadowed his entire career. It took him until 2011 to speak candidly about his bipolar disorder and crack cocaine use and though the interview is surprisingly raw, it's never going to spark the same amount of talk as an impromptu skit in the back of taxi when he's chewing his face off and clearly out of his fucking mind. In short; the subject of mental illness makes hip-hop fans uncomfortable.
Similarly, Ol' Dirty Bastard's smorgasbord of mental instability, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies somehow translated into him being Wu Tang's class clown. Even during ODB's time at Clinton Correctional, where close friends now say was where his mental condition detoriated dramatically, his publicists at the time vociferously denied that he'd been receiving any kind of psychiatric help while imprisoned. In fact, most people only realised how fucked up the caricature built of ODB was once he was dead at the age of just thirty-five.
Where other genres romanticise the artists that wrestle with substance abuse and mental instability, it feels like hip-hop will still be using mental illness as a tool for ridicule for many years to come. I'm sorry for laughing at you, Gucci. Get well soon.
Follow Jo on Twitter @FUERTESKNIGHT