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Archie Green is a rapper and mental health advocate from Cleveland, Ohio. His sound has been compared to Kanye West and Jay-Z. Archie has been featured on VICE and NPR, as well as produced works for Converse and featured on a Talib Kweli mixtape. Most recently he has been sharing his own mental health journey and helping others who are struggling. I had the chance to chat with Archie about music, mental health and life.
Check out his work:
Describe yourself in three words.
So the first word for me is CLASS, it’s a way of life for me. It’s a mantra, it’s a slogan. It’s actually an acronym that stands for creatively learning to achieve sustainable success. The reason why CLASS is something I am passionate about is in terms of etiquette. It’s how I treat people, it’s how I do business and it’s how I treat my fiancée. I’ve been blessed with the skill set of not just being an artist but a business minded artist. I just started working at a new job with the new museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland and I’m a programs manager which is basically like a dream job. It’s basically like being an artist but I’m curating events that are tied to different outreach efforts as well as ongoing art in the museum. But I treat everybody with the same respect weather they are a visual artist, a musician, the janitor or an high up executive.[The next word to describe me is] creative, ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been a creative. Before I was writing music I was writing stories. I was a big fan of Michael Jackson so I would do little dances and watch his moonwalker video non-stop. I eventually started to record music but before that I used to do these little radio shows with my little sister. I’ve always been a creative. I feel like as a creative or if you have a creative bone in your body there is this little kid with a limitless imagination that can create anything. That to me is how I live my life, just as creative as possible in all aspects.And then lastly the word I would use to describe myself is spiritual. I am a christian and I am definitely active within my church but I connect primarily through the spiritual realm as opposed to religion. I kinda believe that in a way most religions are saying the same thing right? But at the same time from a spiritual place I am a firm believer in meditation, I believe in the law of attraction. We’re all interconnected, there's no such thing as coincidences, everything is supposed to happen for a reason weather good or bad. I’m also a believer of that spirit within.
How did you begin rapping?
I started rapping when I was 13 years old, so it’s been 20 years. Up to that point I had heard rap before but like I was never interested in that being a form of creative expression for me, then Jay-Z’s video “Hard Knock Life” came out and that was like the most inspiring thing ever to me at that point. You know he’s rapping, he’s driving this blue Bentley and the sample was really infectious, the hook was memorable. Up to that point I knew I wanted to be an entertainer (actor or a writer or whatever) but rap seemed more accessible. I didn't have to go to school for it, it was something that kind of came natural to me. Shortly after seeing Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life video I wrote my first rap and I’ve been writing and rapping ever since.
Top three musical influences?
Clearly Jay-Z is one of my top [influences]. I always thought his raps were really cool, I think he’s a really dope person period and his evolution has been incredible. He’s honestly like a motivational speaker, especially now with 4:44, like there is some type of financial book that spawned from that album. There's so many things you can learn [from him]. So Jay-Z is definitely a major influence in terms of that fact that he was the first guy who made me want to rap.I think Kanye West was the first rapper who made me believe I could actually make a living as a rapper. When Jay-Z came out gangster rap was still kind of popular and focusing on that type of lifestyle (violence, guns, drugs, sex). So that’s what I was talking about at first because I thought that's what you did as a rapper. When Kanye West’s College Dropout came out it totally changed the game, like there was no one out there really talking about what it was like working at the Gap or going to college. You know it totally shook up the world and it totally motivated me to actually believe I could make it because he broke that door down. Now Kanye has said in interviews, “I’m that shot of espresso you have in the morning,” [and] “If you are a fan of Kanye West you’re a fan of yourself.” He’s very intentional in the music he does to get his fans to believe in themselves. I feel like that’s why he’s so inspiring and why he’s been such a major influence to 90% of the musicians (whether rap or otherwise) that you hear now a days.Lastly, Kid Cudi. Kid Cudi is from my hometown, we actually briefly went to the same high school. I knew him as Scott back then, I didn’t know him personally but I knew him as Scott. I kept on hearing everyone talking about this new Cleveland rapper Kid Cudi, and then I just went online and searched for him to listen to his song, and then when I looked him up like for a picture of him or something, I was like ‘oh shit that’s Scott!’ Like I thought it was crazy! Then he ended up signing on with Kanye West’s label. The other reason why Kid Cudi is definitely influential is because of his transparency with his mental illness. Around the time that he shared the letter with his fans about going to rehab I had really just started telling my own story and it really helped. Cudi has definitely been a major musical influence. His music has gotten me through very dark times in my life.
In 2015 you wrote the song “Layers” which chronicles your mental health journey. What made you decide to share your experiences so widely and how has this impacted your work?
Vice approached me about an interview and I realized that my story is important enough to share. That same year I had met Tomás Alvarez, he’s a social worker based in Oakland and he had started a non-profit called Beats, Rhymes and Life. He basically brought hip hop and mental health together to build this new platform, his form of therapy is having his clients freestyle. When I told him my story he was like “Dude, you need to tell that to the world. There's a lot of people who could benefit from hearing your story”. At the time no one knew I was struggling, except for my one friend who actually referred me to a therapist. No one I knew talked about mental health, talked about therapy, talked about depression. In the black community there is a huge stigma, at least for me in my experience. I had heard white kids talk about going to their therapist, it was just normal, but in the black community it wasn’t normal. Once I found out the benefits [of therapy] it saved my life. I don't know how I would have been had I not been to therapy, I still go. I almost felt like I discovered this life hack for my condition “Oh shit I just meet with somebody, tell them what's going on in my head and they tell me like why I’m acting this way, what things I can do to cope and then I’m good?! ” So fuck this not wanting to talk about it and all these misconceptions about it being better to keep it bottled in. Fuck that, I feel like there's no reason at all it should be like frowned upon if you talk about it publicly. In my opinion hip hop is the most influential vehicle in music in the world and so I wanted to use hip hop as a vehicle to start the conversation.Since I’ve started this advocacy work I’ve lost friends to mental illness and suicide. Now I feel compelled to talk about it, if it’s going to save somebody’s life so be it. I will talk to whoever is willing to listen; I’ve been on VICE, BBC and I’ve been on pretty much all the media here in Cleveland. I am willing to talk to anyone about it, especially if it’s a large platform to continue the conversation. I think it’s an important conversation needing to be had.
How do you see mental health being viewed within the black community, in the past and present?
In the past the stigma was huge within the black community, the stigma is still there. Really it’s not just in the black community but it’s across the board. In the past you were seen as crazy or weak. If you were a man you were perceived as less of a man if you couldn’t hold it together, if you couldn’t move on so to speak. I met a young woman [Imade Nibokun] who was running a movement and a blog called Depressed While Black. She once said that being black, mentally ill and vulnerable/open is a privilege. Black men and black women were/are always supposed to be strong. If you have issues you pray about it, you go to your parents about it, you got to your pastor about it but you don’t open up, you don’t cry. You know that is primarily miseducation.As far as where it’s going, the last two years the conversation is becoming more normalized. I think a big boost was Cudi coming out with his admission of going to rehab, but he had talked about his depression and mental illness though his music as well. Soon after that Kanye was going through mental health treatment and then Logic came out with “1-800-273-8255.” Now you’re not only seeing it in music, but you’re seeing it in shows like Insecure. Insecure is a very popular show on HBO, there's actually episodes where they talk about therapy. In the Netflix show She’s Gotta Have It, the main character has a therapist. This is based in the black community. I think we’re seeing a shift in behaviour and conversation regarding mental health in the black community. Our generation, the millennial generation is really at the forefront of that because millenials in general are a little more open, a little more understanding of difference and more accepting. I think that in the black community it’s getting better, we still have a ways to go but it’s getting better, alot better.
What advice would you have for young black men struggling with mental illness?
When friends of mine confide in me there's always five things I always recommend they do. The first thing I recommend are breathing exercises. Close your eyes, inhale, hold for 3 seconds and exhale. Do that continuously for like 5 continuous breaths. I do that a lot to calm down when I have to deal with my anxiety, I don’t know any creative that doesn’t deal with anxiety. Breathing is definitely something that's important.Meditation. So there's a million different ways to meditate now a days whether you listen to different podcasts on youtube, use an app like talkspace, there are all kinds of ways to meditate. Meditation is a great way to get centered. There's actual guided meditations specific for different mental conditions such as anxiety and depression. I’m spiritual so meditation is definitely important.Third would be physical activity. I’ve actually started working with a personal trainer. I’ve worked with trainers in the past but I really like locked in and my depressive episodes/days have been few and far between. I credit this to staying active. The thing I learned from my therapist is that exercise gives you the endorphins to combat that down, depressive mood. The thing that people need to understand is that depression is like a cold. When you’re feeling down or feeling sad it’s not you it’s just your mind, there's nothing wrong with that. It’s a common so exercising is the third recommendation.The fourth one is eating right. My fiancée is a Zumba instructor, she is very conscious of what she ingests. As a result my diet has changed since we started dating. I cook a lot more, I’ve grown to love quinoa and cauliflower and all these healthy foods I never thought I would love. I think cooking is actually therapeutic. One of the biggest things I would tell anyone with depression or any mental illness is to try eating healthier for like a month and see how it makes you feel. I like Wendy’s Baconator as much as the next guy, it’s my all time favorite burger, I love it! But if you eat too much of that stuff it brings down your mood, weighs down your body, there’s chemicals they inject directly into that food that affects your brain and your mood. Whereas if you are eating a healthier diet, staying away from greasy foods that are super processed, you feel lighter, you feel energetic, you’re able to get around a little bit better. So healthy and eating right, that's another step.The fifth thing I always recommend is to verbalize it. Talk about it whether you’re talking to a therapist, a friend, or even to yourself (journal,use your phone/voice memo) but verbalize it. You don’t want to keep all those thoughts bottled in. One other important thing I would say is that we don’t own our thoughts. They are the equivalent of clouds in the sky that come into your view, you have the ability to grab these clouds and observe them. You can sit there and observe them meditate on them, try to understand them or try to poke holes in them. Bring them down, observe them and let them go.One of the other things I recently suggested to a friend was to give the illness a name. I recently read a book by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, she talked about giving your creative side a name. I gave my creative side a name, Noah. So like when I’m in the studio I’m like “Noah I’m here, it’s time for you to start doing your part, it’s time for you to start showing up and showing out.” So I told my friend “The same way I do that for my creative genius, give the monster, the mental illness a name and talk to it. Like ‘alright dude I got shit I got to do, if you want to hang around that’s fine but I got stuff to do, if that’s not something that sounds interesting to you then you can always leave’.” It’s just an empowering thing to look at it objectively, it’s not you, that’s the thing you have to remember.Finally it's tough to be in an environment where you don’t have that support from your family or friends. I would say find that support system, find friends that you feel comfortable sharing personal information with. Find people who experience the same condition or know how to deal with it and aren’t going to judge you or look down on you for it. I would have conversations with my friends and tell them “There may be certain times when I just need to be around you, I might not even talk that much but I just need to be around you because I’m having one of my depressive episodes or I’m just having a bad day”, so my friends get it. My fiancée has also been a big support. I would not have quit my job and I would not have followed my dreams without her support. Find that support system that really cares, people who are willing to sit there while you’re going through your issues and help you out, give you a couch to sleep on, or a shoulder to lean on whatever the case maybe. Find that support system that really believes in you, I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have someone who believed in me that much.
What is Peel Them Layers Back and why did you start this program?
I started it in fall of 2016, it was sparked from the reception and popularity of the song “Layers.” If you listen to the song the hook is “peel them layers back” over and over. The song went viral, it got 25,000 streams and I realized there's a lot of power behind this. I decided to create a platform for conversations around mental health through hip hop. I created the name Peel Them Layers Back and I started putting together events. So Peel Them Layers Back events consist of panel discussions, performances as well as open forums. The first event I put together had a panel of myself, a psychotherapist, the pastor from my church and a music therapist. It was an effort to kind of introduce members of the black community to the different forms of therapy. I’ve also done talks with other artists and creatives that deal with mental illness as well. Then lastly there's an open forum. Open forum is when we open the mic up to anyone who has questions, testimony, wants to scream, or wants to vent. We want to create a space that’s welcoming and non-judgemental for anyone who's never shared their what they are going through openly. The main goal for these events is to motivate at least one person to call for a therapeutic consultation. I think that’s important, I know therapy doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked for me. It really did, I’m inspired to do that for as many people as possible. So Peel Them Layers Back was motivated and inspired by my song and my desire to help. As I was saying before within the last year I lost two people who I knew personally to mental illness, suicide. After that I felt more compelled to do this kind of work because there are more people out there that are still quiet about it, that are still suffering in silence and don’t feel comfortable talking to someone about their problems. If I can somehow help with my initiative and my music so be it.
What's next for you?
I’m working on a new project called “I Like to be Wierd”. I’m working with the co-producer of “Layers” and my last EP, Perry Wolfman, he is a musical genius. The songs are pretty much done, we just have to fine tune a couple of things.I’m trying to do more special performances; more with live bands, unconventional hybrid performances with different types of music, different types of bands that you wouldn’t expect from a hip hop artists. Also, I would like to start performing outside of Cleveland as well as taking Peel Them Layers Back to the next level. I would like to do workshops not just in Cleveland but in Dayton, Ohio, Columbus and eventually bringing it to different cities across the nation. I was also interviewed by another international mental health publication, Marbles, which is based in Edinburgh, Scotland. They contacted me for their very first issue. Eventually I would like to go over to Europe with the mental health work. I would eventually like to establish a non-profit with Peel Them Layers Back, I would be able to get more funding behind some of the efforts I am doing.
I guess the last thing I would say is believe in yourself. I’m a firm believer in the law of attraction. If you believe you can or cannot do something you are right. Don’t let anything stop you. Whatever it is you want to do believe in yourself and the universe will make it happen. I am living proof of that, I quit my job, I didn’t know how I would get paid, and now I’m living the life I always dreamed I would so its hard but as long as you stay committed to it your dreams will come true.
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