In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that found the suicide rate among black youth had swelled over the course of the last decade, so much so that black youth were now killing themselves far more frequently than adults. According to the findings, suicide is now the third leading cause of death among blacks between the ages of 15 to 24.
Joyner Lucas, the Massachusetts-raised rapper, wanted to give a voice to the kind of trauma he’d known up close. His video for “I’m Sorry” — debuting today on The FADER — chronicles the dark, harrowing reality of suicide. It’s a moving visual that will stay with you even after the video ends. You can check out the video, and an interview with Lucas, below.
FADER: You’ve previously mentioned how you developed a sense of “feeling and healing” from watching your dad, who was a soul musician, growing up. What did you mean by that?
Joyner Lucas: Watching my pops, I would get that little butterfly feeling in my stomach. I loved it, it was feel good music that I loved listening to. I knew at an early age that this was something that I wanted to get into. As I got older, I disregarded using my life experiences in being able to put that energy into a record. My music doesn’t sound different now. When I was a kid, I was just rapping about school and stuff like that. It wasn't until I realized that I had a gift to be able to convey my thoughts and how I felt about certain things, that I shifted my focus.
Was there a certain experience that sparked the change in how you approached the music-making process?
Just looking at the industry, it kinda seems like a lot of people are in the same lane. I felt like at one point, I was chasing other people. I was versatile, but I didn't really know who I was. But then I started not caring about what other people wanted to hear from me, and started doing my own thing. For a long time, I was being pulled in a bunch of different directions. I had my dad telling me, “You need to make club music because club music is hot.” Whatever wave was going on, that’s the music he wanted me to create. We would argue and get into fights.”This person’s hot, so you gotta be like them,” he would say. And I never understood that. I was like, ‘I don't wanna do that, I don’t wanna be like them. I wanna be like me.” He would tell me the type of music I wanted to make didn’t sell. We would get into it constantly. I just got tired of being pulled in different directions. At one point, I couldn’t get away from people telling me what type of music I needed to make — “You need to sound like this person” or “You need to make a club banger.” What really shifted my energy was me just basically blocking everything else out and saying, ‘I don’t care what anybody wants to hear from me, I’m gonna make the type of music I wanna make.’
I just started living life — for me. I began seeing certain things happen in my life and other people’s lives, and getting inspired by it, and writing about it. And that’s where you get “Happy Birthday” from, and “Ross Capicchioni” from, or you even get “I’m Sorry” from. These were experiences I’d gone through. I just started focusing on my visuals, which I felt were very important. Once I figured that out, I started writing the videos before I would even write the record. I started doing everything backwards, and it worked for me. When I did “Happy Birthday,” I wrote the treatment for the video before I wrote the record. And once I wrote the video, I had a clear understanding of what I wanted I created the soundtrack to that video. When it comes to certain records, the songs end up being soundtracks to that movie. That’s pretty much how the shift happened.
How did “I’m Sorry” come about, and why did you feel you needed to make this record?
One of my stepfather’s friends committed suicide a couple months ago. But even before that happened, a lot of fans had reached out to me telling me that they were dealing with depression. I didn’t know what to say to them, because I'd never dealt with it. My little brother was suicidal at one point, and I had conversations with him about it. I knew I wanted to make the record; I always wanted to make a record like this. I just didn't know how to approach it. How do you really tell somebody, or try to help somebody through something like this? How do you make songs about something like this without coming across as cheesy in a way? How do you make a record about something that people already know?
I’m thinking about all the things that they must’ve already heard, and I told myself I have to come across differently. I have to relate to them some way; I have to give them that platform on which they can also understand, from the outside looking in, how other people may feel when they’re gone. So I wanted to touch on the issue in a different way, to kind of make the listener understand completely where I was coming from. I wanted to make it more personal.
Do you think the song can be a salve for those that listen to it who are battling depression or suicide, as a way to better help someone come to terms with what they’re going through?
Absolutely. I’ve already played this video for a lot of people, some of which I didn't even know were suicidal at one point. They were all like, “Wow, this is really gonna help me.” I played it for my boy, who I didn't even know was suicidal, and he started crying. He said, “No bullshit, I thought about killing myself a couple weeks ago, and you just gave me a clear picture of what would happen if I did, and I'm happy I didn't do that because I feel like it's God telling me, or showing me through you, not to do that.” And that’s exactly the message that I wanted to get across in this video. My videos are meant to make people look at themselves at the end of the day. They all have a message. This video is meant for someone to look at his or herself and make a decision: Is this what you wanna do?