How Rapper Mic Righteous Sparked A New Debate Around Mental Health

Words: Yemi Abiade

Last month, Twitter went into shellshock concerning the wellbeing of the rapper Mic Righteous. His final tweet for a couple of days, on June 21, reads: “FUCK THIS SHIT, I’VE HAD ENOUGH. I WISH THINGS WERE DIFFERENT BUT THEY’RE NOT. I’M SORRY. GOODBYE,” a statement triggering a flood of messages expressing extreme concern. Righteous suffers from bipolar disorder and has battled with it throughout the majority of his adult life and has shared it in his music. It had gotten so fervent that many had concluded he had taken his own life, though the language of this tweet would mirror such a belief. For hours, fans and friends wondered whether the MC had taken his own life, only for him to return to Twitter with a link to his new track “Pathways”, changing his name to Mic Reckless. A fitting pseudonym re-up. This divided the web, with many praising his message of promoting mental health, while others ‘cancelled’ him for what, seemingly, was a conceited, vain PR exercise. He doubled down a day later, refusing to apologise for the tweets, adamant they reflected “something I feel” and the “voice inside my head that tells me stuff that sounds completely rational”. Either way, his actions struck a chord with many.

There is a lot to unpack here. But, as a disclaimer, I’m not an authority when it comes to matters of mental health, a topic as complicated to cover in a piece as it is to understand its processes. It isn’t a discussion many have. For reasons that continue to elude, it is a prickly subject, and in this age of “political correctness”, the majority may not have the wherewithal or the patience to really dissect it. And while in poor taste, Righteous’ actions have done much to heat up the debate once again. The proof in this pudding is social media in the wake of his re-emergence, with many stressing the need for more engagement. I’m not ashamed to say that I was one of the many who dismissed his actions, even calling him ‘wack’ on Twitter. It felt very much like his moves were at the expense of all who care about him, as they scrambled to find out whether he was still alive. But this was before watching Righteous explain himself via Instagram Live, a number of videos that were as enlightening as they were disheartening. In them, Righteous looked dishevelled, exhausted and bereft of hope, resigned to his fate of battling the voice in his head for the rest of his life. I had never listened to his music and his name had only rang a few faint bells, so to criticise him from the outside looking in was easier said than done. But experiencing his trauma and the obvious toll it has taken on him—which led to such drastic behaviour and marketing—made me appreciate the daily struggle through which he seeks normality. 

But his methods were questionable, completely blurring the lines between reality and self-promotion. Oddly in this case however, the two have interlinked on a road leading, hopefully, to positive dialogue. Righteous has said his intentions were not to make light of mental health but to draw attention to it; if that was his intention, he has played his part to make sure it is brought further into light among people whose lives it might not affect. However, the manner in which he went about the business side of this move left a bad taste. But aiming vitriolic comments to a person with historical mental illness, in hindsight, isn’t the best tactic either. Statistically, suicide is the single biggest cause of death among men under 45 in the UK; this alone should send shockwaves to the system, and it is not a topic to be taken lightly. We should try to start understanding what brought him to this stage, the root causes of what was a hot topic before cooling down. The positive reactions to the tweets, with people reaching out, were a great sign of how we're growing to become more upfront with our underlying issues.

Ultimately, who has the authority to put on the hat of the judge, jury and executioner and cast their opinions? Unless you live in his world, you have no idea what he goes through. Obviously, the messaging of his track was lost in the initial frenzy, but his explanatory videos later show how deep it is for him, and it’s worrying to watch. But hopefully it serves as a wake-up call to fans and non-fans that people endure this every day and that we as a society need to take these actions as a cry for help rather than dismissing it because it doesn't fit our description of what is right.

In his track and visual, “Pathways”, Mic Righteous tells a frantic, harrowing story about being at his wit’s end, writing a suicide note to his loved ones after seemingly giving up. He tries every method to end his life, from taking an excessive number of pills to cutting himself, but none seem to work. This will be a traumatic viewing experience for anyone, mental illness or not, but it serves as a snapshot of the lives of many sufferers on a daily basis.

Righteous, unlike many, has been bold enough to express his illness—albeit through the outlet of his music—and is a leader in the respect of forcing people to face up to the realities of poor mental health. He offers a voice to the voiceless as it were, to the silent sufferers who have yet to open up their lives on such a scale that he has. Social media, in the end, should not be the scale through which we measure the rationality of single individuals, especially with such a condition. It is a snake pit, an after effect of which makes people feel insecure about themselves, and to compound this with mental illness makes the struggle almost unbearable for young men and women. Righteous’ behaviour was, above all else, a desperate call for assistance that served a dual purpose, uncaring of what his perception would be and, rightfully, on his terms. Only time will tell if it was all worth it, but the emotional rollercoaster his family, loved ones and fans endured will, most likely, take a long time to recover from.

So, to Mic Righteous, while I don’t condone your actions, I apologise for my hasty response to what is your daily struggle and, if there are others like me who also jumped the gun, you have fulfilled your intention to help and educate to a tee.

Posted on July 17, 2018