Record exec Shanti Das’ non-profit, ‘Silence the
Shame‘ partners with Jermaine Dupri, Kwamé, DJ Trauma and more to Raise Awareness about Mental Health.
As this country enters into her third month of quarantine, many people are suffering from isolation, fear, and depression. To be quite honest, professionals have noted that even before the pandemic, Americans were in a state of mental health crisis.
Charlamagne the God, a vocal advocate for mental health awareness in Black and Hip-Hop culture, adds that much of our distress is directly tied into social media — and our need to compare our failure and success with the other that appears on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. In his book Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, he wrote: “Social media is training us to compare our lives, instead of appreciating everything we are.”
And while the radio turned tv host seems to put a lot of stock in social media being a core trigger for social anxiety, and his work in creating awareness regarding mental health and wellness is to be applauded, other voices from the industry ring out to address what USA Today calls an “epidemic” within the “pandemic.”
Noted Music Executive, Philanthropist, and Mental Health Awareness Advocate Shanti Das has taken the microphone (usually reserved for the multi-platinum level artists that she has launched campaigns for) to create safe spaces for Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Yers to unpack and unload the stigma of mental health in their lives.
Her organization, Silence the
Shame, is a prophetic message to a world of smoke and mirrors of liberation. And since May is National Mental Health Awareness month, her mission is to reach as many with one message: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
By her early 20s, Shanti Das was one of the biggest players in the emerging Atlanta music scene. Working at LaFace afforded her a front seat to the rise of the living legend Toni Braxton, the CrazySexyCool of TLC, this generation’s most gifted entertainer Usher Raymond, ATLiens Outkast and The Goodie Mob. Platinum plaques lined the walls of her home and cash was ever-flowing in her bank accounts. Success looked good on her and the big city of New York eventually saw that.
Eventually, she moved to New York in the early 2000s and came face-to-face with the demon that is dressed up in glitz, glamour, panic, and anxiety: depression.
Depression in Hip-Hop
We hear a lot about depression in Hip-Hop from the artists’ perspective nowadays. We probably first heard rappers talk about depression in Melle Mel’s historic song, “The Message” that talks about the hopelessness of being poor, Black, and American. The same desperation can be heard in the Geto Boys song, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” While the entirety of the record is filled with the anxiety that poverty and toxic masculinity breeds, Scarface articulates it clear as day when he says, “I know the Lord is lookin’ at me, but yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy. I often drift when I drive. Havin’ fatal thoughts of suicide. Bang and get it over with, and then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullsh*t. I got a little boy to look after and if I die, then my child’ll be a bastard.” Poignant and beautifully vulnerable the rap read in context can bring you to tear.
Logic brought tears to America’s eyes with his courageous performance of “1-800-273-8255,” (the song title is actually the National Suicide Prevention hotline) at the Video Music Awards in 2017. But that is just one example. Lately, Hip-Hop is an open diary to teens and young adults’ struggle with mental illness and health.
Counselor and psychotherapist, Laura Morse actually uses artists like Kendrick Lamar to speak to her male clients.
“Kendrick Lamar got my attention in 2012 when I first heard ‘Swimming Pools.’ Beyond the music is the attention to substance abuse, pushing limits and consequences. Kendrick took it a step further in ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ when he told the world: ‘I live with depression, anxiety AND I’m King Kendrick Lamar.’ The honesty of his struggles that accompany his success took my appreciation for him (and the POWER of Hip-Hop) to new heights. I began to see more Black men in my practice. Not just because their female significant others dragged them to couples therapy. And not only because they were struggling with substance use but because they were struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, vulnerability, and felt like it was safe to at least TRY to ask for help.”
She says that she even uses Beyoncé’s Lemonade suite to work with Black women.
Who can forget Kid Cudi checking himself into rehab, Kanye’s oftentimes uncheck bipolarity (mocked by so many), or Lil Wayne’s 2016 rhyme on Solange’s song “Mad” where he said that he tried to kill himself, but angry he was that he was not successful doing so? Juice WRLD, Mac Miller and so many of the 20-teen rappers that have self-medicated with pills have expressed the weight of depression in their music. Even Drake, probably one of the most celebrated and happiest rappers out, talks about his demons in his song, “Two Birds, One Song.”
But Dr. Steven Allwood, a licensed clinical psychologist and Director of Counseling Services at Morehouse College, while he appreciates these efforts … pushes back:
“There’s kind of a paradox in Hip-Hop as far as mental health goes. A lot of artists talk about depression and other mental health issues in their music. But outside of the music, they seem to bump up against traditional views of masculinity that discourages that kind of vulnerability. Very few seem to take the next step to actually get professional help. Kid Cudi and Eminem come to mind as two artists who have been very public about receiving mental health treatment, but so many seem stuck self-medicating with drugs. Or only get help when they get arrested and treatment is legally mandated. If you look at images of masculinity in the media, it’s very clear that anger is the only socially acceptable negative emotion for men to express. So a lot of times that’s how depression manifests. And it results in men entering the legal system when mental health treatment is what they really need.”
Art gives people outlets. Celebrity affords them fans who not only depends on them, but empathize, sympathize, and affirm them when they are vulnerable. Fans allow artists to have gaping holes in their mental health and say that it creates better art and forgive them whether or not they get help. It becomes great stuff to talk about.
But behind the cameras are those at the desks, who people don’t care or know. Those people who silently suffer — packaging your favorite rap stars so that you can still get a bop while they work through their struggles.
They suffer alone trying to keep up with the image of the sexy music or film executive.
Das’ friend, rising star Shakir Stewart comes to mind.
He signed Beyoncé, Rick Ross, Ciara, and Young Jeezy. A Morehouse graduate, who start college at 16 years old, had spent more than half of life sculpting a career that could make anyone shudder in envy or disbelief. At 34, after ascending to the head of Def Jam Records, the “27-hour workweek” that he often joked about became too much for him. The pressures that encapsulate power took a toll on him and he tragically took his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2008.
Four years later, another mogul (only coincidentally Def Jam connected) Chris Lighty also committed suicide by shooting himself. Lighty was the power force behind acts like Tribe Called Quest, Mobb Deep, Foxy Brown, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent and Fat Joe (to list a very select few).
Surprisingly, many still believe that they were murdered, asking rhetorically, “Why would they kill themselves? They had everything.”
The two of them may have suffered from what is called “highly functioning depression.” But because they took their lives, neither one was diagnosed.
But like them, Das is an example as to why the people close to execs of their caliber (at work and in their personal lives) don’t see signs of trouble in their lives. People in the industry wear masks. The pint-sized powerhouse did anyway … until the masks fell off. #MasksAlwaysFallOff
“As a marketing professional, my job was always to come in and fix others [campaigns, artists], but I could not fix myself.” She shared.
When “The Fixer” needs Fixing
After living in New York City, Shanti began to break down in the big city. Her sister started to notice that she was not her normal self. Years of bereavement from her father’s death, the death of her best friend, and also some hereditary markers that made her more likely than others to have mental health challenges started to emerge. Her sister suggested she start therapy sessions. They made things a little more easy to cope with, but when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009, that was just too much for her to cope with.
She walked away from her flourishing career at its height. She was in crisis and didn’t even know it.
She left New York to return back to Atlanta. The city was a happy place for her soul, filled with the type of industry affirmation that you can’t understand unless you are there. She began to move towards a degree of wellness, focusing on doing things that made her feel good and empowered.
By 2013, the same people that she had in the past help achieve some of their acclaim and glory had stopped answering her calls. And also, for the first time in a long time the money started getting short.
“My love language was always presents and gifts to family and friends … and not being able to provide like I had in the past added to my depression,” Das reveals. But when those things stopped, she felt as though she could not give anything of value to those whom in the past, she had always been able to bless.
Depression gave her mixed messages as to why people loved her.
At a certain point, she could not handle it and had considered taking her life like those that she had worked with, knew about, and/or loved had done over the immediate past few years (Best friend/Stewart/Lighty).
But thanks to a call, her sister and her pastor she is here today to tell her triumphant story of victory. She called the Suicide Prevention hotline and her pastor and he immediately ministered to her soul. But not just that, he too referred her to a clinician.
Rev. David Brawley, pastor of the St. Paul Community Baptist Church, comments on why referrals like this are important for preachers to make:
“[While] clergy are both front-line and essential in the conversation on mental health … [and] are called to speak to the unspeakable crisis of life,” he explains, “Most clergy receive a modicum of mental health training and at best can identify the need for clinical intervention. To attempt to treat people with mental illness and clinical depression without a license is to misrepresent the scope of pastoral duty and to potentially do harm to others.”
Mental health and illness can’t be prayed away in the church and is one of the things that keeps Black and brown people, who remain highly faith-fulled and religious, bond.
Victory after Silencing The Shame
She was able to shift from a space of depletion and sought out the help that would restore her, including working with a doctor to get the right antidepressants to regulate the balance of chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that comes with depression and anxiety.
Working with a therapist, she realized that as someone who had always been a resource from others that it was “hard to pour from an empty cup.” She had never truly dealt with her father’s suicide and other childhood trauma that had nothing to do with her work in the industry… but most certainly compounded everything.
She also learned a different love language: Community Service became my new love language. When you give of your time that is most valuable.”
And she has given from her heart her time, her resources and now her voice as a spokesperson with her “Silence the
In 2015, one of her darkest years (but also the year of deliverance), after Bobbi Kristina had taken ill, she had interviewed with Atlanta radio personality, Ryan Cameron about the prevalence of depression in the African American community and she uttered, “In the African American community we don’t talk about it. We should just silence the shame, yes in the world but specifically in communities of color.”
That is where formalization of “Silence the
Shame” was birthed, making it official in 2016. Four years later, the movement is giving birth to new spaces for people in the Hip-Hop community to turn especially now. With Silence the Shame, and from a personal place, she aims to support the 20 percent of Black people who are more to have serious psychological distress than then their white counterparts. She and her team will provide support for Black teens who are more likely to attempt suicide than white teenagers (8.3% v. 6.2%).
On May 5th, the organization will host its annual “Big Text-A-Thon,” a virtual fundraiser to increase programs, resources, scholarship funds for the foundation. This year is exciting as they are partnering with national DJs and artists to push forward the cause. Names like Kwame, Bryan Michael Cox, DJ Trauma, Dallas Austin, Stephen Grant Hill and many more to host virtual fundraisers on their IG Lives, wellness interviews with clinicians, webinars for the community at large, and much more from May 1st – May 10th. Long time friend Jermaine Dupri will do a virtual dance party called “Dance to Donate” on Tuesday, May 5th from 4 pm – 6 pm (EST). This year’s fundraiser is dedicated to the memory of her sister, the one that started her on her healing journey, who transitioned last year.
The goal is to raise one million in resources for the advancement of Silence the Shame organization.
Follow the movement: www.silencetheshame.com