12 years ago, a rapper named Coolio, fresh out of Compton, came out of nowhere with these lyrics in arguably the best selling hip-hop single of the 90’s: “Gangsta’s Paradise”.Â Not embellishing ‘hoodlife’ or drugs or crime, the song gave middle America its first real look at the inner city from people with first hand knowledge.Â The words in the song spoke about life in a city where people dealt with death on an all too frequent basis; where even something as simple as having a job was out of the reach of most residents.Â No longer was rap/hip-hop a genre relegated to the back corners of a few select record stores; it was about to explode in a huge way and ready or not, it was going to bring some powerful messages with it.
Executives of the gritty high-school drama “Dangerous Minds” decided to use this song as the anthem of a nation – a nation of underprivledged, underachievers stuck in America’s inner city with essentially no way out.Â This nation, where acts of crime are committed as often out of necessity as they are out of greed, had never had a strong voice outside itself, which meant that the message of such poverty in an otherwise rich country was a rather new message to many people.
I remember being at home one day that summer and turning on MuchMusic (Canada’s version of MTV) before going out to race my bike against my friend Jon; something we would do daily.Â This was the day that the video for “Gangsta’s Paradise” was premiering, and I happened to catch it, not realizing at the time how much influence this single song would have on both myself and North America as a whole.
Now here we are, over a decade later, and this lyric is the one that still holds the most weight for me.Â I’m sure you’re all asking why, considering that I turn 24 in 9 days; let me explain.
[Editor’s Note: This is the first time I’m sharing this story with anyone that isn’t my therapist.Â Please read the whole thing before you jump to your phone to call another one.]Â
As most of you know, when I was younger, I was a fairly ‘troubled’ little guy.Â I would get quite depressed, didn’t have many friends, you know, the usual social outcast stuff.Â I remember being about 15, and thinking that the first thing I wanted to do when I turned 18 was get a tattoo.Â No, not a tattoo of some Chinese symbol that says “idiot”, or a tribal band around my miniscule bicep; I wanted to get a barcode, and not on my upper arm, but on my wrist.Â Why?Â Because that way when I turned 20, I could use a razorblade in place of a lazer, and slit my wrists while I “scanned” the barcode.
Obviously, I wasn’t all there upstairs.
I remember thinking that it would be mostly symbolic, being that I was obviously a product of technology, and that since technology wouldn’t kill me itself, I would aim to emulate the same as closely as possible.Â Attention seeking?Â Absolutely.Â Ingenious?Â A little.Â Pathetic?Â *ding* *ding* *ding*
It’s weird to see how less depressed I’ve become over the past 5 years.Â I’m not saying that I’m 100% better, in fact just a few days ago I was feeling really down, but the frequency of my depression has definitely slowed down.Â I remember there were entire months where I wouldn’t go a single day without thinking about how I would rather be dead; about how I really didn’t matter to anyone.Â Now if I feel like that, it’s rarely for more than a day or two, and I’m able to tell myself that I won’t be feeling like this in a few days, so I don’t worry about it as much.
As I’ve said on this blog time and time again, I think the mind is a very incredible thing; in the span of less than a second, I’m able to have a thought about suicide, realize that committing suicide is 100% ludicrous, and convince myself to smarten the hell up.Â And it’s not just as simple as those words; in my head I basically go through a huge scenario of me dying, followed by the funeral, etc., and then I think about what life would be like if I was alive (having Sunday dinner at Gramma Smith’s; waking up one morning to a mini-Justin begging to open his presents on Christmas day, etc.) all in less time than it takes for you to count to 1.
Hell, even just this morning, I found myself realizing how much happier I’ve become.Â I was sitting at my desk, when LaVerne (a co-worker) walked by and asked me how I was doing.Â Without really comprehending what I was even saying, my brain managed to spit out “I’m living; can’t get any better than that!”Â Even before she had fully walked away, I was still sitting back, amazed that something that positive had actually come from my lips.
I guess what they say is true after all: you can change, if you really want to.