Bill Burr, Kanye West & Drake: The Fine Line of Emotional Artistry(Don't Leave Your Blues Out Of It)
Updated: Mar 27
I’ve been very emotional lately. Just as a human being. Obviously it’s due to the state of the world, lockdown, the way I’m living, not seeing the sun, the rest of life, there’s a bunch of reasons. I’m also an artist, which means I channel my emotions directly into whatever work I’m doing, it's a form of therapy for me. When I’m inspired & passionate, my work is inspired and passionate.
When I feel great, it's great, it feels great to make, it feels great to listen back to, or read back, or whatever. When my work is positive, & someone tells me they saw it, I feel good. But when I’m overly emotional, and I’m not feeling positive emotions, and I express it, I feel embarrassed. Anything you say in a moment of sadness or weakness is vulnerable and extremely embarrassing, in general, It can feel pretentious & corny, but especially if it's in a song or a piece of art. You're offering a piece of yourself for the world to see and judge.
I'm a man so I'm speaking from a male perspective. Men have this unwritten contract with existence that states: we’re never allowed to show any emotions. But, I’m an emotional man. I really am, I feel things, deeply. I'm very self aware and am great at controlling my reactions, but I feel everything. I assume everyone does, but we’re not allowed to show it. It feels extremely corny and vulnerable and weak, and a bunch of other things, that definitely require tons of therapy. Men, specifically young men, aging from 12-100, are constantly hiding how they feel, because that is the cultural & societal norm. We constantly have to wear a mask to disguise how we feel, even before The Rona.
Guys like Drake & Kanye have reached unheard of levels of success by breaking boundaries, in the macho and bravado filled Hip Hop that raised so many of us, by being emotional men who could describe their emotions in a cool way. So much of life as a postmodern male writer is trying not to sound cliché or corny, trying to sound cool & yet still having that emotional substance, & that is a very difficult line to walk.
Both Drake & Kanye straddle that line extremely well, you could attribute their success to their teams of writers, but even then, despite being emotional men, they required other factors to make them appear cool. Drakes entire claim to fame was being memed as an emotional rapper after crying about his feelings in songs like Marvin's Room, and even he has to constantly talk about catching bodies or sleeping with strippers, just to balance out his emotional side. Kanye was signed to Roc-A-Fella records and has a huge ego, to balance out albums like 808s & Heartbreak. It took Jay Z nearly 20 years to create a completely vulnerable album, and even in 4:44 he had a certain bravado to shelter him from his vulnerability. There aren't many male Kurt Cobain types that put their entire emotions out there so viscerally, without a need to compensate for their vulnerability in some way.
It is very rare to find straight male artists who are capable of baring their souls, without requiring to balance it out by attempting to appear tough or cool in a certain way, and that’s just a male thing. The bravado in Hip Hop is a direct reflection of male culture. That's why so many songs talk about murder, most rappers have never shot anyone, but every rapper talks about a Glock, because these kids need something to talk about, and digging inside is embarrassing. Most new artists leave their Blues out of their work. That’s genuinely how a lot of us are in real life, we leave our Blues out of life. Its the same sentiment from Bill Burrs ‘What Are You A Fag’ bit, that I’ve discussed in the past.
Bill Burr said he decided to buy a pumpkin so he can carve it with his girlfriend, as he walked to the store to buy the pumpkin, he began having all of these thoughts, like how he knew it was gonna make her happy to carve pumpkins together, and how they would have a lovely time, and then he heard a voice in the back of his head say “What are you a fag?” The premise of the joke is that whenever a straight guy does anything remotely thoughtful, sensible or anything that will make you a more loving, compassionate, or caring human being, all of your male friends will begin to make fun of you. And he believed men let that feeling control us and repress our emotions into an early grave. Its not a homophobic sentiment, it’s actually a fear of vulnerability, and its completely accurate.
Groups of men aren’t vulnerable and therapeutic like groups of women, we’re constantly trying to appear tough or posture, to a certain degree, even unconsciously. I grew up with 3 brothers, a dad, male friends, cousins, and uncles. I would not dare speak with the same emotional vulnerability I attempt to achieve through my art, among my boys. That’s just not the nature of our hangouts. Nor do I want it to be. Toxic masculinity does exist, men are culturally told not to cry and all that good stuff feminists say, and it’s not always bad, but it is always present. So when I write, or express, I have the Bill Burr ‘What are you a fag’ voice, in my head. I’m constantly trying to write in a manner where I’m expressive, containing substance, and if it was brought up in homie court, I could defend myself.
But as I get older I'm realizing how limiting that is. I’m still trying to word things in the perfect way, but I’m attempting to be done with all these male blockades. I'm no longer concerned with appearing cool. I’m now purely focusing on finding the perfect way to precisely describe the truth behind my emotions. If you’re not allowed to be corny while you’re young, when are you allowed to be corny? Writers say they have writer's block, but really they have writer's doubt, because you begin to scrutinize your work based on some criteria you fabricated, and one of the main criteria that holds me back is feeling corny.
There’s a debilitating force whenever one, okay by “one” I mean myself. Where one feels like any type of artistic output that doesn’t have to do with something “real” is corny. And I’m a man, in a man's world. And in a young man's world, expressing your emotions is corny. But then you get to a certain age and you have to reflect on yourself. What does it mean to be a man if you can’t even express it? How can you talk about what’s “real” if you can’t even be real?
The way I’ve been coping with the terrifying ordeal of having my emotions perceived by the world is by remembering the Blues. The guys who began singing the Blues had problems, and they picked their instruments up, and they expressed them, in order to work through them, regardless of who heard them.
There are few people to ever live, cooler than Muddy Waters, but he would pick that guitar up, and cry his heart out, loudly, about some woman. Obviously he would occasionally have to remind you he’s a Bad Man, because he’s still a man, and that's what we do, but he still got it off.
The repression of male emotions is one of the main ordeals among young men. It's not just in the art space, it's just a human issue. I'm 22 & in my personal experience, young men are constantly trying to appear strong and impenetrable. Guys will kill each other, or themselves, to avoid feeling weak. A lot of men will tell you they transmute their fear or sadness into anger, to avoid feeling weak, and that's the root of many global & social issues. Blues singers used the guitar to transmute their anxieties and sadness into sounds, instead of violence. I’m by no means a tough guy, I'm an artist, but even I have a severely hard time being openly vulnerable about negative emotions, because I'm a man.
I'm not gonna lie to you, that coldness might be necessary in a mans world, to a certain degree, but everyone needs an outlet & my art is my Blues. All men need to have their version of the Blues, so they can fully express themselves without the shackles of perception. I gotta sing about it, I gotta write about it. I gotta talk about how I’m feeling, because that's what I did before anyone ever saw this. It was just me, 11 years old, lonesome in my bedroom afterschool, playing the keys on my blackberry notes app, after a game of brick breaker, trying to figure life out through it. Now that you can see it, I don’t wanna leave the truth out of it. I don’t wanna leave my Blues out of it, and if you find your guitar in this life, don't leave your Blues out of it.
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