Certain songs speak to you. From the moment I heard it, “Lighthouse” by The Roots screamed at me. From the stellar album undun, “Lighthouse”, ft. Dice Raw is a song about depression; a theme that is often visited in hop hop. From Big’s “Everyday Struggle” to DMX’s “Slippin’”; many hip hop artists have tried to capture how it feels to suffer from this complex mental disorder. Perhaps no one has done this more eloquently than Dice Raw in the first verse of “Lighthouse”.
The first time I heard this verse, I cried. Dice Raw’s lyrics describe depression in a simple, yet very powerful way. What many fail to understand is that depression is not about feeling “down”, or having “the blues”. Depression is not about feeling sad. It’s about feeling…empty. Isolated. Or worse yet, dangerously indifferent.
21 million people in North America suffer from this psychological disorder, and many go undiagnosed or untreated because depression is something that “we” don’t talk about. When we’re feeling low, we’re taught to “shrug it off”, or “snap out of it”. When we cannot cope with life’s obstacles, we are perceived as weak. Depression is often dismissed and trivialized and because of this, millions of people suffer in silence.
I know someone who suffered in silence, until one day, he chose to silence his suffering. Permanently.
Having lost a loved one to suicide, I have become a strong proponent of opening a dialogue about depression. Before we can begin to help those who suffer from it, we must understand what depression is. We can start by looking at some of our favourite hip hop songs for insight. Take Dice Raw’s verse for example…
The Roots ft. Dice Raw—Lighthouse
If you can’t swizz-im, then you’re bound to drizz-own
Passing out life jackets ‘bout to go did-down
Get down with the Captain or go down with the ship
Before the dark abyss, I’ma hit you with this
The entire song paints a metaphor of our beloved protagonist, Redford Stephens, drowning in an ocean. I look at the ocean as a metaphor for life. When we’re born, we’re kind of thrown into the world and left to sink or swim. As we age, we’re given a host of things to deal with…the waters of life get deeper with time. If we don’t learn how to deal with life’s many obstacles as they come, we become overwhelmed. We start to drown.
And no one’s in the lighthouse
You’re face down in the ocean
And no one’s in the lighthouse
And it seems like if you scream there’s no one there to hear the sound
And it may feel like there’s no one there that cares if you drown
Face down in the ocean
The chorus delivers powerful imagery. In my mind’s eye, I picture Redford’s lifeless body floating in the middle of the vast, dark ocean. He is perilously far from the shore, and there are no other people around for miles. Even if he screamed at the top of his lungs; even if he used every ounce of his strength to call out for help, not a soul would be able to come to his rescue. Imagine how helpless that must make him feel? This is what depression feels like.
Smoking cheap weed, sipping on cheap vodka
You pick your poison down Davy Jones’ locker
It’s rum we be wanting
By the tons my consumption
Take a look at my lungs and my liver it’s disgusting
The solution for many people with undiagnosed depression is to self medicate with drugs and alcohol. They use substances to numb themselves and to provide temporary relief from the pain that they’re feeling. Their habits rot their lungs and their liver; corrode their bodies from the inside out…the same way that depression corrodes the spirit. The weed and alcohol Redford is using is “cheap”. Maybe it’s all he can afford, because at this point in the album, he is poor. But I also look at it as another sign of his self loathing. He doesn’t even care to indulge in the “good stuff”. Something low quality and damaging is all he feels he deserves.
“Davy Jones’ locker” is a euphemism for dying at sea; again tying in the theme of drowning.
Take a look at the man in the mirror
We start fussing
Only one person gets hurt when throwing punches
And the man behind the glass just laughs
It has been said that depression is “anger turned inward”. I suppose this is true. When you’re depressed, you become, as I said earlier, dangerously indifferent. You stop caring about yourself. You drink and smoke in excess, not caring that you’re abusing your body. You don’t care about your appearance or proper hygiene. You don’t treat yourself as though you matter. Depression is like your mind beating you from the inside out.
Self-loathing is a tricky thing. You try to release your anger by expressing it toward yourself, but you end up hurting yourself in the process. Therefore, there is no real release. It’s like trying to punch your reflection. It does you no good, because when the glass breaks, it’s YOUR hands that start to bleed.
The waves come over my head and just crash
My hands start bleeding; water starts receding
I feel it comes into my heart
I start believing that
I actually might survive through the evening
Survive my own thoughts of suicide that’s competing
With thoughts of tryna stay alive
Which’s been weakened by the feeling of putting on a smile while being beaten
Living with untreated depression is an everyday struggle. Every day, you have to use every ounce of strength you have just to get out of bed. Simple things like running errands, or chilling with friends become laborious tasks — not because you’re lazy, but because it starts to feel pointless to you. Life becomes a chore, or a burden. And you feel as though, if you didn’t have to live anymore, the burden would lift.
People think that depression is about crying all the time or being mopey like Eeyore. On the contrary, it’s more like putting on a happy face and acting like you’re alright, when inside, your soul is completely falling apart. It’s like “smiling while being beaten”.
Maybe Redford is high and drunk by this point. The substances have offered him enough relief that he may find it in him to live for another day.
The fear of drowning
Still diving in the deep end
The waters carry me so far you can’t reach him
no one in the…
Our protagonist wants relief. As scary as it may be to end his life, there is a sick form of “freedom” in drowning, or dying. Even though he’s afraid of death, he still embraces it. He dives into the deep end of the ocean and lets the pain consume him until he is completely immersed in his misery and nobody can help him come out of it. I love how Dice Raw’s voice trails off at the end of this verse, too. The way he delivers the last bar sounds like he’s slowly drifting away into the ocean, further emphasizing the image of drowning that he created in the chorus.
I can’t put into words how much I love this song. “Lighthouse” is a simple, yet jarring track that haunts the listener. Although it’s about a fictional character, it perfectly explains a condition that silently afflicts real people everyday. It is a beautiful song that definitely stuck with me!