Lately, mental health has become a buzzworthy topic within the hip-hop community. Notable acts, from Jay-Z to Logic, have rightly asserted the importance of the subject; the conversation has also spread to a newer generation of artists whose members include Chance the Rapper, Isaiah Rashad, and Kay Anthony. Anthony, a 22-year-old rapper from Brooklyn, was inspired by this wave of public discussion to finally share his own struggles with mental illness in full force.
In the new short film “Demons/Paranoia,” Anthony unpacks his most gnawing feelings and insecurities, whether they be about the oppression of obsessive thoughts or the experience of just trying to exist without a father figure. Directed by Wicked Swamii, the video — which unfolds in elaborate, dexterous extended takes; its director of photography is Micah Miller — opens with the “Demons” portion, a gritty street scene of Anthony rapping rapidly and emotionally while walking away from a coterie of figures, some friendly, some antagonistic. Later, with the streetlights turned on, the scene repeats from a different angle. The “Paranoia” segment switches to a hazy neon filter and displays Anthony constantly looking over his shoulder. Making frequent use of personification, the rapper intones: “Paranoia, why do you like to feed on my flesh…/Paranoia why you act like I owe ya…” The dark setting and ominous tone takes the viewer on a cryptic psychological journey.
The strain of growing up in a single-parent household with five other siblings has contributed to many of Anthony’s bouts of depression. In an email exchange with the Voice, he opened up about his mother’s attempted suicide and the repercussions it has had on him and his siblings. “She tried to kill herself when we went to school by drinking bleach,” he wrote. “I constantly wondered why she didn’t love us enough, [why she resorted] to [attempted] suicide, but later learned that it wasn’t something I could control, nor was it a ‘me’ thing.” His mother was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the conversation surrounding mental health immediately became a priority within his family.
In his emails, Anthony also touched on the turmoil of not having a father around. “Him being a drug dealer and getting deported really left me at a lost point for a long time. Like, not knowing how to treat women. It didn’t hit me until my last relationship.” Rather than self-medicate with drugs, Kay remains sober and copes through music. He has even expanded his artistry beyond his songcraft: A “Demons” merchandising campaign on his social media platforms (including Instagram) has proffered a schema of red, white, and black colors all meant to represent the frustrating emotions Anthony endured during his dark moments of depression.
When asked about where his mind-set is at going forward, Anthony paraphrases a mission statement from Tupac: “I may not change the world, but I will spark the mind that will.”