"Mentally warped". "Completely bonkers". "Insane and weird".
No, they're not insults. They're positive judgements of music, in this case the musical output of hip-hop producer Shondrae "Bangladesh" Crawford. The thing with Bangladesh is, I wouldn't be totally surprised if he actually turned out to be mentally ill somehow. I've looked at some video interviews, and he got this great weirdness about him: slow, deliberate diction, looks away from the camera, half-closed eyes with really long eyelashes.
Probably it's nothing, but if it was, would it matter? If his musical output was indeed a sign of mental illness, should we really be encouraging him by buying his records?
I once listened to a radio documentary about a schizophrenic woman in the sixties who painted pictures as part of her therapy. The reporter told the story of how she'd been moved around through different institutions, how her foresighted therapists had managed to secure funding for the then-controversial painting therapy, about her life and eventual death.
What they deliberately did not talk about was her art. I think that's a fairly sympathetic attitude towards the mentally ill - obviously allow them to express themselves, but don't say positive things about output that, to them, obviously represents their horror and angst at their disease. Don't encourage the disease, encourage their recovery from it.
In that light, the way the record-buying public has treated some mentally ill people is completely shameful. Take depression. For Ian Curtis and Nick Drake, their mental illnesses were ultimately fatal, yet here were people all along their way, encouraging their behaviour, applauding their depressiveness. I would definitely say that the audience of Joy Division especially was complicit in the eventual suicide of Curtis - they should have done everything they could to try to make him not make as depressive music, yet instead they were just standing there, lapping it up.
And what about drug addiction? Only tangentially a mental illness, but how many musicians haven't been encouraged (again often fatally) by the success of their drug-romantic records? DJ Screw made records about taking drugs and people bought into it big-time, and there he was a few years later, dead from a codeine "syrup" overdose. How much haven't people (of all social groups) been celebrating records made under the influence of such horrendous drugs as cocaine, heroin, amphetamines?
It's a shame because the musical output of the mentally ill and drug addicts can often be very good and artistically of a high standard, and certainly gets celebrated a lot in pop culture. Just in the sixties not buying into "diseased records" would have to mean, among other things, not buying most records produced by Phil Spector. And probably also not buying Pet Sounds. But could it be worth it if we were actually saving lives?
For my part, I certainly hope Bangladesh's "insane beats" are not, per se, the output of a mentally ill person. If they were, I'm not sure I could quite look at them the same way again.
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