The Year 2018 in Review
Author: Steve ‘Flash’ Juon
2018 was a very strange year.
For the first time in 40+ years I had to admit that I was suffering from depression and was in denial about it almost the entire time. In fact I used to tell people when I was in my 20’s that “hip-hop saved my life” without thinking about the literal truth of the sentence. It’s the kind of thing you say when you love hip-hop music and culture and you’re obsessed with it to a potentially “lock you up and throw away the key” degree, just to show people how committed to the arts you truly are… but it’s true. The days in high school about climbing up to the top of a tall building and jumping off to become a concrete pizza, I just sat in my room listening to Public Enemy and De La Soul. The days in college when I thought about driving into a wall at high speed or downing a whole bottle of gin until I blacked out and didn’t wake up again, I sat in the office chair in the radio stations’s production studio and listened to Souls of Mischief and A Tribe Called Quest. Every time I got to the edge something about hip-hop pulled me back in and said “No – this is worth living for. There’s good in this world. No matter how sh–ty things get you’ve always got hip-hop.”
Then one of my best friends SINCE college died of liver failure in a hospital room right in front of me in 2017. For the first time hip-hop wasn’t enough to pull me back from the brink. It’s not easy to talk about hitting an emotional rock bottom in a well that deep, because admitting it makes you vulnerable to unsympathetic people who say “Suck it up and be a man.” I’d heard that advice for a long time and all it was doing was making me bury trauma deep down in that well, but it didn’t stay buried, and it came bubbling up to the surface and threatened to suck me down under with it. When I hit that breaking point I had two choices — do something that could never be undone, or pick up the phone and ask someone for help. I asked for help. From that moment on everything changed. 2018 saw a shift in my entire way of thinking. Thankfully I have a loving family and amazing friends that supported me in this journey, but along the way to rediscovering myself I also had to re-evaluate my relationship with hip-hop.
When I was growing up it was inspirational to see how much rap artists achieved – breaking through on commercial radio, starring in mainstream movies like “New Jack City” and “Boyz N the Hood,” getting the cover of magazines that were normally lukewarm at best to hip-hop like Rolling Stone, and generally just proving haters wrong who said rap music was a fad. There was this overwhelming feeling that if you grew up somewhere with no opportunity where tremendous poverty and urban blight suffocated any hope, your talent in the arts could pull you up out of despair AND give hope to the next generation behind you to achieve their dreams. It was that same feeling of hope that I came to depend on in my own life. The wide expanses of the Midwest are in no way comparable to the concrete jungles of a major urban metropolis, but it’s just as easy to lose your way if you don’t see that there’s a way forward to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Where has that hope gone in hip-hop? That aspiration to rise up and be more? All I see now is rappers living backward. They achieve the dream of becoming superstars and then get nailed for running drugs, armed robbery, gun trafficking, assault and battery, you name it. A lot of hip-hop artists are being set up by snitches and crooked police officers, but a lot of rappers are also so desperate to prove how real they are that they’re proud to keep running around doing dumb shit. If you blow up on the mixtape circuit or get a crossover hit on the radio and can suddenly tour around the country/world, you should “stop f–king around and be a man.” (And I mean “man” in a gender neutral sense – it’s just a movie quote that was used in the intro of an album.) I’m tired of seeing rappers in caskets and posting RIP on message boards. I was tired of it 25+ years ago but with all due respect to social media I feel like that’s made this shit worse. People used to joke about “internet beefs” on internet newsgroups when I was in college, right up until the first time somebody from a newsgroup actually tried to take it to real life at a Cannibal Ox concert. In hindsight that was an early warning sign – calling people out by name leads to a lot of dumb s–t happening in the name of ego and pride.
In short this is my “year in review” and it’s not a list of albums this time – it’s a list of demandments. I think hip-hop music and culture can and should do better for the people in it, the people around it, and the people who are growing up inspired by it. I’m an “internet keyboard warrior” from the Midwest and to some people that may be all I’ll ever be to them, but I don’t think this is about how “real” you are to a group of people who don’t know you or your life anyway. I’m medicated and caffeinated and for the first time in a long time my vision is clear enough that I really don’t give two f–ks about how I’m being judged so I’d like to see hip-hop artists stop trying to prove how “real” they are too. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a nice crib or subsidized housing. It doesn’t matter if you have a Ferrari or a hooptie. Your gender, skin tone, religious affiliation, or how many racks and stacks you have are all irrelevant. You have nothing to prove to nobody other than yourself, and if you’re dope then you’re dope — PERIOD. There’s no need to beef, cock pistols, or beat someone down to prove it and then wind up in a casket. I’m not naive enough to think my words change anything, but there are some artists who care more about making good music than proving how “real” they are or winning made up beefs that lead to not so made up bodies in caskets. When I make a list of “The Year 2019 In Review,” that’s who you’ll be hearing about. In the meantime my advice to you all is simple — achieve and inspire. Be more, do more, rise up and overcome.