Flying Lotus’ “You’re Dead!” album dropped about two weeks ago, and the album has been playing almost non-stop on my iPhone since I was able to get my hands on it. I can probably make a case for why each individual song is life-changing and necessary to your life but there is one song that stuck out in my black feminist mind as darn near revolutionary—The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep.
The morbid but entrancing song, featuring vocals by Lotus’ rap alias Captain Murphy, addresses boys who look to prescription pills to escape their troubles. The line “I know of a place inside my mind where I can fly, take another pill, take another pill, take another pill ‘fore I go” is repeated throughout the second half of the song. This piece of art, made by a black musician, references a problem that is usually given a white, young, male face—prescription pill addiction.
Lotus is not the first rapper or black artist to speak about the prevalence of drug addiction amongst black youth as a means to leave their stressful and hectic surroundings. In an era where black activists are constantly championing for the recognition of black male humanity as real and complex, songs like Lotus’ “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep,” or Schoolboy Q’s “Prescription” add an additional layer to the narrative of black manhood.
In these songs black men are not seen as soulless, mindless rage-driven beasts, an image the public discourse loves to reinforce, but as damaged, hurting and vulnerable beings. Beings that are searching for and yearning for love and who are constantly looking for meaning and acceptance. The brilliance of placing such a song on an album like “You’re Dead!”—where death is the general theme—is there is no judgment on these boys for their choice. There is no “we know your life sucks but why didn’t you man up and push through it like a real man blah blah blah” undertones. The purpose of the song is to tell the story of a troubled boy, or man, and show how he has chosen to cope with his reality which is quite the feat to say the song is less than two minutes long.
Three songs later, the album closes out with “The Protest” where the words “we will live on forever, forever” are repeated throughout. The boys who died in their sleep are included in the “we” and even though they lost their life to self-inflicted tragedy they too are now free in Lotus’ world.