It takes courage to look at yourself critically. Our redeeming qualities often pale in comparison to the demons we keep buried beneath the proverbial floorboards. Stripping away those floorboards to examine personal flaws requires a self-awareness capable of opening floodgates of embarrassment or, worse yet, pain. Without this self-awareness, though, our faults and weaknesses own us instead of the other way around.
Meaning, there is power in accepting your flaws. Of course, coming to terms with one’s flaws is nothing new in rap. Yet, of late, rap artists Future, Sheff G, and Medhane have all offered a modern approach to digging deep within yourself.
Dark hedonism has been Future’s bread and butter since the Dirty Sprite days. However, on his eighth studio album, High Off Life, the Atlanta trap balladeer offers a closer look at his state of mind. One moment, he’s tongue-in-cheek (on “Solitaires,” he jokingly says, “I think I need to see a psychiatrist”). Another, like on the standout track “Ridin Strikers,” he drops all pretense and dwells within the darker corners of his mind.
“Ridin Strikers” is a recounting of Future sending shooters after enemies that also features one of the most naked lines of his entire career: “Won’t enjoy life if it ain’t toxic.” It‘s easy, considering his track record on and off the mic, to take him at his word. Nevertheless, it’s still shocking to hear Future momentarily drop the facade and admit to his love for chaos on wax.
If Future’s admission on “Ridin Strikers” is shocking, then “Accepting My Flaws” is a revelation. On the song, he unloads a bevy of weighty thoughts: “Lord forgive me, I’ve been on a rampage / Grim Reaper ridin’ in the Rolls Royce.”
These are croons laced heavily with regret in the form of a three-minute, uninterrupted venting to his then-girlfriend Lori Harvey, a tacit admission of dangerous behavior (“Talkin’ on the phone, you can hear my tone, mischievous”) and deflection (“Fall in love with revenge, hopin’ that’ll kill my demons”) wrapped up in designer shopping sprees.
There’s catharsis in admitting guilt, but true healing can only come from acceptance. Future has made a career out of petty romantic squabbles and posting up with demons with nonchalance. On High Off Life, and in particular, “Accepting My Flaws,” Future doesn’t merely offer us a look behind the curtain; he actively takes the song’s title at face value.
The penultimate line of “Accepting My Flaws” emphasizes Future’s breathless admission: “I don’t need a ghost to write my promises.” He doesn’t want the record to be a half-baked therapy session. By holding himself accountable for all the world to hear, Future has taken a bold step away from the demons haunting his life.
Acknowledging one’s flaws is commendable, but of greater importance, it’s liberating. On “Note to Self,” a song from his latest project, One and Only, Brooklyn rapper Sheff G uses flaw recognization to serve as his fuel. “Bitch, I talk to demons,” he growls through distortion. The streets of One and Only run red and white with the blood of ghosts. Sheff G’s come-up within Brooklyn gangs and the drill scene is interlinked in ways more potent than the pure voyeurism many rap fans bring to his music.
“They say I’m promotin’ the violence, I guess it is what it is,” Sheff G says reservedly on “Once I’m Gone.” Later, on “Michael,” he bookends the standout selection with chest-out braggadocio and a somber middle section, briefly opens his heart:
“I get deals off that drillin’ / I got pain that ain’t healin’ / When it’s rainin’, I feel it / Hoodie on, you know somebody get hurt.” –Sheff G
Sheff isn’t searching for redemption. He knows the path he chose was wrong yet he finds nobility in being able to take care of his family. Listen to the way he says, “Get my mother rich, seen the chance and I took it” on “Weight On Me.” Sheff G’s uses these flaws—these reminders of his past—to color his future. Without his history in the streets, he might not have met the people who inspired him to rap in the first place. His flaws and mistakes have become his ammunition for a better tomorrow.
Creating fuel from flaws is an act that fellow Brooklynite Medhane, who has experienced a creative renaissance over the past six months, is also intimately familiar with. His album Own Pace, released last November, is a sepia-toned trek through muddy waters, while FULL CIRCLE, released in February, is an attempt to pull himself from the same puddles. Cold Water, his newly-released full-length, finds Medhane at the end of his rut. “Can’t sit in the same spot / Gotta move, standin’ still never changed much,” he raps on “Watch My Step.”
Medhane is rightfully opposed to jogging in place. Too, he understands moving on isn’t as simple as stuffing emotional baggage out of sight. With that, Medhane gets to the root of his troubles on Cold Water, reliving harrowing moments by “shadowboxing with the devil” (“All Facts”) and sidestepping “demons screaming tryna hear my soul” (“Truth and Soul”).
During our interview last month, Medhane stressed the importance of making music addressing his struggles with mental health: “People hit me every day thanking me for the work and saying I helped them reevaluate things. I remember how it was going through my shit and not having no music to turn to,” he said.
By confronting his demons and flaws head-on with Cold Water, Medhane has taken control of his mind and body. In naming his demons and flaws on-record, Medhane is performing an act of exorcism.
“I ain’t show it but I been through the most / Took a minute just to get in my glow,” he admits on the standout song “Na Fr.” With his soul cleansed, he’s able to truly confide in his family (“New Drip”) and his friends (“Live!”). Medhane simply refuses to burn out. Accepting his flaws is the only way he can move on and spark a newfound fire.
Under the right circumstances, the pain of yesterday can illuminate the path to tomorrow. In a world that has been forced into isolation, listening to Future, Sheff G, and Medhane approach their past mistakes through music—to heal or to fuel an ascending fire—is comforting. The past does not have to own us.