The Power of Words and Music

{photo by Julie McCarter of Shoot Photo Inc.}

I know there is power in words. I believe, like Maya Angelou, that they are physical “things”. We speak them into being and they exist. They interact with us and us with them. They can motivate us, hurt us, comfort us or uplift us. According to some religions, it was the power of the word that came first and begat the entire universe.

I am able to put together words in rhyme form and to communicate my complex experience simply, in what is a universal language, the language of music. I do not have a record label, I do not have a marketing team, I do not have a recording budget. I love making music though, it is my therapy. I often joke that I have released more albums that I have fans. I may not be the most marketable musician, I don’t play an instrument, I am not the most “handsome” recording artist. The industry prefers younger, baby-faced musicians. I am thirty five years old, overweight and living with a serious mental illness that has wreaked havoc on my past.

I am realistic that a career doing music for a living, especially in this age of digital downloads and low album sales, is pretty much a faraway pipe dream. I don’t do music with hopes of being famous, with hopes of making a fortune or living the “high life." I do music because I love it, it invigorates me, it moves me, and it makes me feel alive. It is my therapist and I could have spent thousands of dollars sitting on a psychiatrist's couch, or I could grab a notepad, make a beat on my laptop, and rap my problems away.

Songs have a way of getting stuck in our heads, of becoming earworms. They are like the mantras of the Buddhist monks who repeat phrases and absorb power from the repetition. I make songs to “program” my mind, and I listen to them to calm down, to relax, and to meditate. They remove me from reality for a few minutes and the tunes help me get through my daily grind.

There is a famous song by a rapper I grew up admiring named Nas, called “One Mic." It is about the power of the human voice, and the message of the song is that all that he needs, the only thing in this life he needs to broadcast his music to the entire world is one microphone. I believe in that song. I don’t need an expensive music video, I don’t need a platinum record plaque, and I don’t need a stage show with pyrotechnics and fancy back up dancers. All I need is one mic and the power of my words.

I have had several people approach me after the “This Is My Brave” show and say “I don’t usually like rap music, but I like yours.” As a rapper as well as a fan and student of rap music, I sometimes feel awkward hearing that, but I know it is coming from a genuine and sincere place and it lets me know that people are so touched by my stage presence, my words, my music and my story that they can see past a genre that they usually don’t like. They can cross that boundary because of the power of my music. It is the power of one microphone.

I have seen music do powerful things that no politician can do. I have seen music unite people who hate each other, and I have seen music form instant connections with total strangers. I have seen it make people laugh, cry and heal. I feel I have a gift and a responsibility to use my voice, my power, my words and my music to represent the struggles and the turmoil I have lived through. I can provide hope with my music, and just how it can be therapeutic for me to make it, it can be therapeutic for others to listen to it. You never know who is listening and how it affects them. You never know who your experience will reach and touch.

My battle with mental illness has been chronicled by my father in his best-selling book. But that was his side of the story as it happened, and the other side of it has also been chronicled by me in my music, where in my own words, I tell my own truth about living with mental illness. I believe in This Is My Brave, because I believe in being open about my truth and my struggle and even in my recovery and wellness. It lets people know they are not alone in their experiences.

I became a rapper because I felt the power of the words and they moved me. I fell in love with the groove and the rhythm of the beats, and I loved hearing about the experiences of other people, their triumphs, their heartbreaks, their pain and their blessings. Music has opened up worlds to me and introduced me to people I never would have known about. It is such a powerful force. It can take me to the grimy ghettos of the South Bronx, it can take me to the lavish penthouses in Hollywood. It is a journey. I can imagine what places smell like, what people dress like, what types of food they eat through music. I can tell what type of sounds they prefer, how they dance, how they laugh and how they cry. It is this exchange of humanity that makes us feel alive with every beat, starting with the beat of our hearts, which is the literal beginning of our lives.

It is the universal force of music that can make us heal, come together and learn about each other and how we all are living, how we are coping, what makes us happy, what compels and inspires us.

I am proud to be a part of “This Is My Brave” because I believe in all of these things and I know my music can do for others what music I admire has done for me. “This Is My Brave” gives me a chance to broadcast my voice, my experience, my dreams and pitfalls to the entire world.

 

We need your help to continue to recruit talented storytellers like Kevin. We want to grow the impact he felt by being able to share his story of living with mental illness through his music, bringing this opportunity to three new casts of courageous storytellers in May. Your donations will fund the production of shows in Iowa City, Boston and a second year in DC.

Stop for a moment and think of the people in your life. Who do you know who may be suffering in silence because they’re ashamed of their mental health disorder?

Let’s grow This Is My Brave so that we can share more stories like Kevin’s. How amazing would it be if more people could feel the same relief, erasing the burden of the secrets they kept hidden for too long? Help us give them a voice. Please donate today by clicking HERE. Thank you so much!