For The New Girls: A Zulu girl who ‘knows stress’

By Nombuso Nkambule (@HRH_Nombuso)

But we don’t really talk about our troubles openly. Displaying emotional or psychological distress is often seen as weak, and for men, as effeminate. In the South African context, President Jacob Zuma was once quoted in The Sowetan saying:  “I don’t know stress. There is no word for stress in Zulu.” He also said, “I don’t cry – at all. A man never cries”. Sure girls are allowed to cry, but this makes me feel like I can’t talk about my troubles because, culturally, as a Zulu girl,“I shouldn’t know stress”. 

I don’t want to become the girl known for being sensationalist, so naturally I raised my brows in suspicion at my broaching of this topic: depression (and drugs) amongst the youth. Evidently I was persuaded to just do it so here I am. I wanted to write about something that I felt has been almost glamourised and publicised by a dysfunctional celebrity elite (think Britney Spears’ head shaving incident in 2007). Not much qualifies me to write this piece as an expert, but as a person who has been, and sometimes still is, deep down in the doldrums, I think I am qualified.  And I’ve listened to enough Capital STEEZ and Ab-Soul and to know that often, the deeper story lies in the rhymes.

It’s not easy to ‘admit’ that I ‘suffer’ from major depression and generalised anxiety. It’s the first time I’ve told more than a handful of relatives and besties and boys I may have liked (in retrospect, that was a bad move ladies, too early to pull the crazy chick!). The medical therapy and counselling had and still has its benefits, but you know what makes me feel really okay? Music. And I’m not being corny I swear. The thing about being sad is you either want to perpetuate it (there’s something poetic there I guess) or just get over it. I’m a perpetuator of my feelings through music, and one artist I had on repeat in my times of discordance was Capital STEEZ of Pro Era (Progressive Era). The talented, but troubled, rapper who took his life at just nineteen years of age in Manhattan, New York on December 24, 2012.

Capital STEEZ was the force behind Pro Era’s youthful and conscious sound which has brought back the shift and lift to the once forgotten 80s and 90s ‘Golden era of hip-hop’. Their debut mixtape, The Secc$ Tape, birthed what is now known as the Beast Coast movement. His debut solo mixtape, AmeriKKKan Korruption Reloaded, was particularly compelling for me. STEEZ had bars and introduced a new sound to young and conscious rap in our generation. The compilations shows off his rapping abilities and anti-establishment views, but it also tells the story of a troubled young man’s life. In an interview for The Fader, Eli Rosenberg says, “His (STEEZ) words reveal a young man who was starting to feel let down by the world as he began to deal with adult life and its pressures.” That’s an alarm; something was going on behind the creativity and all the rap juxtapositions.

Just two days after the release of Pro Era’s first album, P.E.E.P: The aPROcalypse, Capital STEEZ committed suicide by jumping off a building in Manhattan, New York. The details surrounding the death of this young, gifted artist are vague and rumours of mental health issues go unconfirmed. Rumour or not, we should have talked about those alarm bells. On 18 May 2014, American artist BMacTheQueen,  tweeted that “record labels should have a counselling/therapy department”. Everybody’s favourite doom-soul singer Jhene Aiko retweeted the tweet. Twitter is where people go talk about stuff that’s on their minds. Therapy is on their minds. And troubles are on their minds.

But we don’t really talk about our troubles openly. Displaying emotional or psychological distress is often seen as weak, and for men, as effeminate. In the South African context, President Jacob Zuma was once quoted in The Sowetan saying:  “I don’t know stress. There is no word for stress in Zulu.” He also said, “I don’t cry – at all. A man never cries”. Sure girls are allowed to cry, but this makes me feel like I can’t talk about my troubles because, culturally, as a Zulu girl,“I shouldn’t know stress”.

The word for me is not what is important here, the lack of recognition of it is. And I think a lot of us know what stress is, and whatever the stress may be, it causes emotional or psychological discordance that may push a person to their limit.

Recognising the signs of stress may not be as obvious as just being down in the dumps, perhaps someone’s just not around to hangout anymore, or your friends all think you’re just mellow or ‘deep’ because you pop some benzo’s with a little juice just to get you through your day. This seems to be my society’s way of coping, but it is maladaptive coping. I don’t know what the best coping tactic is, but I think that talking about stress is a good starting point. RIP Steelo.

FURTHER LISTENING:

You might also like 17 year old New York rapper, Bishop Nehru. If you’re in the mood for something a little more out of the lines you can check out fellow beast-coasters Flatbush Zombies.

WATCH: Pro Era’s Joey Badass live freestyle on Sway In The Morning.

READ: Article on Death of Capital STEEZ In Complex Mag

Nombuso Nkambule is a modern day princess of the Valoyi clan. Not only is she Vanguard’s Fashion and Culture Editor, she is your go to New Girl on opinions on love, boys and oestrogen. A born writer, doctor in the making and struggling model who is just trying to survive the bone throw in these Jozi streets.

 
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