Wicked (Good) Vibes Blog

Interview With Jamaican Producer Dakrome: “Listeners’ Ears are Moving”

I sat down to a zoom call with top Jamaican producer and vlogger Dakrome to talk about his life, dancehall and producing. Full of energy, the words came tumbling out of him. He radiates positivity and brings an authentic and energetic vibe that is evident in many of his vlogs. With a formidable catalogue already behind him, he also gives the impression that there are many hits to come. As he says, “listeners ears are moving”, and he is definitely moving as well.

What did you think that being a producer was going to be like, and what did it really turn out to be like?

Honestly, it was about the girls at first…It was about being the cool guy (laughs) It was like you’re this guy and you’re a public figure and you get the girls and stuff. But I mean, it was about the innocence of pure music, and then when you actually get to progressing and you need to make a livelihood of it, because as you get older…I mean quickly you turn eighteen, you got bills and a kid and you say “this aint no joke”. But if I was going to matriculate from the idea of what music is, from where I really want to go, then definitely there has to be some business structure to it. And definitely I had some good advice, because I had a friend that kind of caught a break and introduced us to different people in the industry and we started making relationships and we started to do the work! It’s not about “oh I have to make a good beat today, it’s like I need ten good beats, because people are actually hitting you up and saying “hey I heard you’re making hits. I need a song from you.” Every year for the last 5 years I always had one song that had a street buzz. Compared to most of the other producers in the country, if you look at it I think I have good content but they are way ahead of me in terms of hit songs. You check someone else and they have like 30 hit songs because of their relationships. To answer that last part, it’s really hard work, trying to maintain these relationships and trying to make hit music.

What songs or artists are on your personal playlists? What songs or artists are you feeling right now?

At this point I think the music in Jamaica is pretty much influenced by a lot of different music right? In the local scene as a producer, I’m looking at the young talent like Chronic Law…Tommy Lee…You know Vybz, you can’t leave out Vybz Kartel. He’s like that musical genius, right? You have Shenseea…Jada Kingdom…actually you have some young artists right now that are really getting it in. In the US scene…Da Baby…and definitely Drake. Come on, if you don’t say Drake…

Are you cool with his appropriation of dancehall culture?

I think everybody is being crazy about the culture vulture thing, but I mean if you’re willing to do a hybrid and you pick my culture, man I’m with you man. There’s a lot of eyes on that guy. So that’s value added right there, without even asking.

Talking about both the present and the past, what are or have been your favorite producers and riddims?

Let me just say, for the Old School, I would definitely go with Dave Kelly. You see that pattern, that drum pattern, it’s crazy. And you have Lenky. Lenky had this one beat that I’d never stop playing, it had Wayne Wonder on it, you know the Diwali Riddim? Yeah Diwali riddim was my riddim. The Tony Kelly and Dave Kelly stuff was always programmed for success, the way they programmed their drum patterns and stuff, definitely Dave Kelly. If I’m really to dive into other old bounty killer stuff, like King Jammy’s was always the sound. You had Bobby Digital as well…and Dr. Dre for those crispy drums. And oh, Shocking Vibes had a lot of stuff. their production was pretty much on point. For the new school definitely Stephen, Stephen McGregor I think changed the game, chimney records as well. You have people like J Crazy, he did a lot of stuff for Kartel, and Marcus. Those young people definitely are really good. And then Rvssian, how could I leave out Rvssian? Rvssian is a the pinnacle of the thing.

Talking about your own catalogue now, what are your favorite tracks or riddims and why?

Definitely on a positive note, I would say Vershon, “One More Day”.

Why I say that is because It’s completely positive, the whole riddim was called “One More Day” and it had a lot of positive songs. Dj Ice from zip 103 Jamaica (who is one of their top DJs), we did this riddim called “Wise Up” as well and Jahmiel had a good record on that one and Jim Ladin, Alladin had a good song.

But for the street stuff there is Tommy Lee…I did a song with him called “Forty Ball” with him and it was a real street smash.

I think Masicka as well, Masicka did a song with me called “Squeeze”.

I think Squeeze kind of shined a light on me where people said “Yeah he’s bad. His stuff is good.” And some other stuff, Rocket Riddim with Shenseea, I had a song “Bruk Man”

I got a lot of international buzz from that too…and Ding Dong gave me a song too:

But we’re definitely trying to get more songs out now so you know the story continues.

How have you developed as a producer? How would you define your style?

Man…(smiles) Dark at first, and then I tried to transition into the international stuff. I have other stuff that I would love to get into the hands of international people cuz I’m like, the sound on this is crazy! I could see this succeeding in the Caribbean and still being accepted in the US and Europe. But definitely started dark, and now I’m trying to be more commercial. Because that’s where it is, because Jamaica can support you for so long. I mean even the core of our artists, their lifestyle is based on flying, and doing shows overseas, and making deals overseas to really live that luxury lifestyle that music can provide, other than that you’re pretty much a local entity, so hats off to those people.

You said in one of your videos that producing is about the driver and not the car.

Definitely, man.

But wait a minute, can you really get that far if you have a bad car? What makes a good car, and how does it get you where you need to go as a producer?

So definitely for me a good car is talent mixed with business. Now where I see the bad car can still keep up with the good car. The good car is going hit the button on the connections, on the business relationships, on the packaging, right? Because really and truly the bad car is a talent. You’re a talented guy to even keep up with the good car. You gotta have that talent. So if you’ve got that talent, then I’m like, what if he really did have a good car? So what happens in Jamaica is there’s just a plethora of raw talent. There’s talented people! You’ve got writers and musicians, they’re just talented! But when it comes to handling the business, negotiating contracts, reaching out to people, having conversations to take things to the next level, a lot of people in Jamaica don’t have that. So either you can’t speak well, or you can’t find anybody to represent you properly but guess what? This guy’s got talent! And that’s my definition of good car/bad car. I think I’m a middle car though. I’m no Ferrari, I think I’m one of those high end Hondas going up to that BMW kind of thing, but you know, I’m working.

What is your workflow like? What happens in your production videos before you turn the camera on?

So I was aiming for, presenting the concept properly. So the previous videos would be, I would make a beat, you know people like this beat, so me and my team, so we just dissect it to see what was the thought process was. Then I noticed, cuz I slowed down over the last few months because of Covid. I’ve been doing other things and trying to make other things work, and I had to step away from the Vlogging because it was a little bit time consuming. So I started doing cook ups: Ok screen record me and see this is what I would do uncut. There is no program, nothing. This is purely on the fly. It’s me trying to find some kind of energy, some kind of vibe. So with that we normally get the beat done before, cook it up in stages, and then we video it and put it up and this is the idea but we’re trying to get people to say what’s your sound selection like, what is the vibe, what am I really aiming for. Cuz sometimes you go in the studio, not knowing what you’re gonna do. It’s like playing on that keyboard, I found that snare…and the ideas just start poppin, yeah so my process is really like that now.

What’s something that you learned as a producer that you wish you knew a long time ago?

Man! The business! I could have shaved maybe five years off of development by knowing the business. I think programming music comes naturally to me but solidifying relationships, knowing what move to make in the right time, being brave…was just not there. If I had my team, the lawyers…the people that negotiate all these contracts, this guide to say “hey don’t make that move. Don’t do that. Hold off first.” I would have been five years ahead now compared to back then, definitely.

What advice would you give to someone trying to level up their game?

I would say to any young producer that if you have a talent, and you know you have a talent, keep on developing new sounds. Because the game changes so quickly. Even look at danchehall right now: trappy kind of flirty sounds vs. the boom bap sound we know dancehall as drum and bass, so keep on always trying to find new stuff. I beat myself up a lot about that because I get complacent about what I use sometimes. I get different kits from time to time…I mess around with splice. But definitely I would tell them though, please organize your team properly. Everybody knows the business is shady. The business is crazy. And any way someone can take advantage of you they’re definitely gonna do that. I mean how are you gonna have a lawyer and retain him. I mean even knowing the lingo of the business, I mean what’s “work for hire”? What is three percent royalty? What is three points on a record? What does it mean to exploit you in the musical sense? You need to understand the jargon when people are talking to you, and if you can level up real quick, try to get someone on your side. Try to get someone to negotiate for you, and don’t talk for yourself sometime, unless you can.

What makes something Dancehall?

I think the vibe. The chill. That laid back vibe. Sometimes it’s about the pattern though. If you notice dancehall music, it has a certain beat. And definitely you would identify a dancehall beat from hiphop, from country western, just by the beat. So it’s that vibe, you know, it’s that beat, it’s that sequencing, so pretty much that’s how dancehall is derived.

Do you think that’s getting watered down through trap dancehall and things like that?

That’s a dangerous question, and here’s my delicate answer. But to say diluted and watered down, my answer would be I think music MOVES, like energy. But! Are you maintaining the core? Are you maintaining the core of this music? If you’re not maintaining the core of the music, that would be diluting it. If you’re maintaining the core, then I think it’s perfectly fine.

The core is that vibe? That beat? That’s the core?

Yeah. I think listener’s ears are moving. I mean trap is this big thing, all around the world. And the young people these days are so in to trap, it’s influencing so many other musics, probably even country music, god damn you have triplet high hats…What?! How does a drummer even play that live?! So I call Jamaica a state in the US. It’s like a little USA. You know what I’m sayin it’s like a little Miami area, New York or whatever. So defintely the music is being influenced. Is it being diluted? I wouldn’t say that. But it’s definitely taking a turn.

So what do you say to someone who says that all dancehall music sounds the same?

Man..that’s crazy! You know why? You listen to ska….You listen to Rocksteady, and let me tell you something…. that is the SAME groove, bro! All that stuff? Nobody talks about that though. Certain beats come up, and it’s the same type of groove. They may have a different type of singer. You might have a guitar that’s different or maybe a different key, but it’s the same type of groove. So I think that talk is pretty crazy though. And people like to create competition but it’s pretty crazy.

So what’s harder? Being a producer or an artist and why?

Ok I look at it like this. I look at the producers as coaches, and I look at the artists as players. And the coach will always outlast the players. So I think each of them has their own merits, but I think being an artist is harder. The reason being you are consistently in the public eye and you need to entertain. Your job is entertaining. A producer can be hot this year and not be hot next year, and comes back the third year hot. It’s hard for artists to do that. If you’re hot now you’ve got to be hot for five years. You solidify that brand and then you can live off that brand. A producer can be hot this year, have a couple songs, take a break and skip a year, then come back next year hot. But now producers are being more upfront though and being almost like artists these days. Nothing’s wrong with that, but I still think being an artist is tougher.

Ultimately what do you want your legacy to be?

Man…if it was left up to me, definitely my family and my daughter comes up and folowing the path, being that forerunner for me when I’m on these crutches, so definitely I would like to have most of my music international and getting recognition, so that’s why I’m trying to build these relationships. So definitely for the long haul…that glory. I would be like Drake saying hit these pinnacles I’m trying to reach but day by day man saying I’m trying to get to that status But the brand is established and we could walk away from it or we could keep it like the Marleys…That stuff’s crazy to see how that works. That’s definitely it.

What projects are you currently working on?

So right know there’s a lot of big names. So I recently got a call about somebody from Kartel’s camp. You know I’m always working with certain people like Sheba or Gage. But funny enough I’m working on something for myself. It’s a contradiction, but I rap and I’m a dancehall producer. That is crazy. I’m trying to grow businesses as well. In my community we’re trying to… I mean music is a real tool, and I think one tool can help the other tool out . Like if you have a shovel with a shovel it’s hard to build a house. I’ve always been partly a promoter. We’re trying to make some of these businesses a reality. We started our own music videos. It’s a struggle but we’re getting there because the aim is to officially do a production house. An artist just walks in, and we have an idea and we actually have you on radio. We’re definitely working on some business stuff. It’s hard to get everything to work so we’re keeping focused.

If you had to quarantine again and couldn’t leave your house, what 3 things besides food and necessities would you want to have?

The studio…my girl…and my daughter. That’s the support system right there. My studio for creation. My girl is there and my daughter. That’s all. That’s all I need.

Many thanks to Dakrome for making himself available for this interview.

Check out his Youtube Here:

Wicked (Good) Vibes Blog

From Cult to Dancehall: Poco Man Jam

Today, we are going to look at one of the most recognizable and important riddims of all time. Through its various iterations, it has spawned a number of hits and even bigger than that, one of its forms has singlehandedly generated a whole genre of modern music. I’m talking about the Poco Man Jam Riddim, created by Steely and Clevie.

According to, “Pocomania or Pukkumina (possibly from Span., ‘a little madness’). Afro-Jamaican cults descended from surviving forms of African religion mixed with Protestant elements from the time of the Great Revival in Jamaica in 1860–2.”

Supposedly one of the folk rhythms from pocomania worship made its way into dancehall in the form of Steely and Clevie’s Poco Man Jam riddim. Pocomania was played with a single drum and a fife but was rooted in African rhythms. The riddim swaps synths for the traditional fife but keeps the African rhythmic elements

Below is an example of pocomania revivalist chanting. Listen to the rhythm, especially around 1:37.

Now listen to the original “Poco Man Jam” song, that was a hit for Gregory Peck on one of the first voicings from 1989.

Notice any similarities? If you want to hear more pocomania recordings you can listen to the following album on Spotify:

The Poco Man Jam Riddim has had over 95 voicings including a 2014 revival that included Mr. Vegas’ “Okama”.

The Dem Bow Ridding and the Bully Beef Riddim are two other main examples of “sub” riddims that the Poco Man Jam riddim is credited with. The Bully Beef riddim is credited to the late producer Bobby Digital in 1991.

Riddim ID credits King Jammy as the main producer of the Dem Bow riddim in 1990. But, it also credits Bobby Digital with probably the most famous voicing of Dem Bow, Shabba Ranks’ “Dem Bow”. This is the track that inspired (and was copied) time and time again so that most people credit it as the entire foundation of Reggaeton music.

Here is a recent Daddy Yankee (reggaeton) track:

There is no question that Poco Man Jam has had a huge impact on Dancehall, importing this folk music/African beat into the modern dancehall vocabulary and subsequently Dem Bow inspiring the entire genre of Reggaeton.

Poco Man Jam was one of Steely and Clevie’s (many) superb riddims including Punaany, Street Sweeper and Bagpipe. Their contribution to dancehall reggae music can not be underestimated. They were one of the early masters of drum machine programming. They deserve a blog entry all to themselves. Sadly, Steely died in 2009 from health problems but Cleveland “Clevie” Browne continues to produce and also serves as the first chairman of the Recording Industry Association of Jamaica.

Finally this voicing on the Money Mix Riddim (2017) by Vybz Kartel shows how influential the Poco Man Riddim continues to be:

Wicked (Good) Vibes Blog

Hiphop is Getting to the Truth

This series from the University of Rhode Island examines why Hiphop matters. The second installment (track 2) includes James Haile III, a professor of Philosophy and his writing on Kendrick Lamar and identity:  “Lamar gets us out of the politics of our identities and more to something significantly true.”

Wicked (Good) Vibes Blog

What is a “Riddim” or Where Do I Get That Song?

I want to address some basic issues that, as a DJ, people have asked me in regards to urban music in general, and specifically to what is generally called “dancehall” music. I’m not going to go into what really defines something as dancheall at this point, because it can get a little messy, depending on whose definition you are using. I’ll leave that for a future entry.

In promoting and playing dancehall and other music, besides the usual “what song did you play?” questions, one of the biggest questions I hear is “where do I get that”?  Though Shazam does work for a lot of music, there is a lot it doesn’t seem to work for and to be able to navigate the world of dancehall music, it helps to understand some basic principles.

The Jamaican record industry works on principles that are a little different from the US.  Here in the US most artists release songs or “singles” that come out by themselves or as a preview of a number of songs that form an “album”.  Most of the time the instrumental or backing track of a song is unique, meaning it is separate and copyrighted and different from other artists songs.  Artists frequently do “cover songs” where an artist redoes another artist’s song in their own special way, but usually the lyrics and melody are very similar to the original, even if the artist gives it their own flavor.

Here is the original version of the Nine Inch Nails Song “Hurt” and a cover version by Johnny Cash. The similarities should be obvious. Johnny Cash did not take the backing music and write new lyrics, he put his own spin on them.

However one prevalent aspect of the Jamaican record industry is that a producer will either make or acquire an instrumental backing track and record several different artists who write DIFFERENT lyrics using the same instrumental backing track. The instrumental backing track is called a “riddim”.

Here is one of THE most massively successful riddims ever produced, the Diwali riddim produced by Steven “Lenky” Marsden (follow him on twitter @LenkyMarsden) This is the instrumental version of it with no one singing or speaking over it.

And here is Sean Paul’s “voicing” or lyrics added to that Diwali instrumental backing track to make his hit single “Get Busy”.

Don’t get fooled by the introduction. Producers will sometimes alter the introduction or certain other elements of the riddim for a particular artist. We don’t have time to get into the whole issue in this blog post but a number or riddims are “refixes” or reinterpretations of previous riddims. Some are inspired by older riddims or songs and some actually sample elements, melodies etc. from previous ones. Here is Wayne Wonder’s song, “No Letting Go” that has a different intro from the Sean Paul voicing, but then goes right into the Diwali instrumental at (0:38).

And here is Lumidee’s voicing called “Uh Oh” with the basic riddim stripped down and slightly altered:

And here is the artist Bounty Killer’s voicing on the Diwali riddim called “Sufferer”

So as you can hopefully see, the original instrumental riddim is “voiced” over by a number of artists. There are a number of other artists who voiced on this riddim as well, as you can see by the “cover” of the riddim including Tanya Stephens, Beenie Man and T.O.K. All of these artists wrote their own lyrics to the same riddim and recorded them as separate songs with the same instrumental backing track.

Understanding what a riddim is and how they work is key to understanding “Where Do I Get That?” Riddims are usually released with all the voicings a producer has recorded together under the name of the riddim. And riddims are named after pretty near anything you could think of. Most of the time the “album” title of a riddim recording album is just the name of the riddim. So for example the album name of the riddim we just heard is the “Diwali Riddim”. If you type “Diwali Riddim” into the search field on Apple Music the album, released by Greensleeves, will come up. (Interestingly if you do the same thing in Spotify you will get a bunch of playlists that feature songs from the Diwali Riddim but the actual Greensleeves release isn’t on there.)

This is one reason why a song can be hard to find. Also a DJ or selecta may juggle (mix together) several voicings on the same riddim and it may sound like one big song. If they are doing a good job mixing, it may sound seamless. Here’s an example of a produced mix of the Diwali voicings by DJ Easy Mixmaster.

It’s important to note that not all songs are released in dancehall on riddims. Singles with their own unique backing tracks are also very popular, and a number of artists also release regular albums. A song could be a song on an artist’s album or be a unique stand-alone single or a release from a riddim album. If you are at a dance or hear on the radio different voicings on the same backing track, odds are good that it is a song from a riddim album. To locate it you’re going to need the name of the riddim so you can look it up on Apple Music or Spotify if Shazam doesn’t work. A real selecta (DJ who selects the songs to play) will chat constantly throughout the music and at times give out names of riddims, but if they don’t you can always ask. Just please wait til your DJ finishes a mix so you don’t interrupt them!

We’ll talk more about riddims in future entries.

TruSound Blog

J Cole’s Noname Diss

J. Cole logged on to Twitter bright and early this morning to double down on his alleged Noname diss, but also to say that he honors and appreciates her.Make it make sense! Thirty-five-year-old Jermaine Cole’s new song “Snow on Tha Bluff” addresses the current protests against racism and police brutality across the world and alludes to J. Cole’s own feelings of inadequacy surrounding activism. But instead of just being up front about those insecurities, he spends over half of the song dragging an unnamed woman many assumed to be Noname, based on the tracks’s description of the woman’s tweets.On Twitter Wednesday morning, J. Cole said he stands behind “every word of the song that dropped last night.” “Some assume to know who the song is about,” he said in a thread. “That’s fine with me, it’s not my job to tell anybody what to think or feel about the work. I accept all conversation and criticisms. But let me use this moment to say this. Follow @noname. I love and honor her as a leader in these times. She has done and is doing the reading and the listening and the learning on the path that she truly believes is the correct one for our people. Meanwhile a nigga like me just be rapping.” He finishes by saying he’s not a leader, but appreciates Noname for “challenging” his beliefs. “We may not agree with each other but we gotta be gentle with each other,” he left with a peace sign, no petitions linked, no GoFundMes, no bail funds.

J. Cole’s idea of being “gentle” with Noname is spending the majority of “Snow on Tha Bluff” making assumptions about her and excuses for himself. “She mad at the celebrities, low-key I be thinkin’ she talkin’ ‘bout me / Now I ain’t no dummy to think I’m above criticism / So when I see something that’s valid, I listen / But shit, it’s something about the queen tone that’s botherin’ me,” he raps in the beginning. Cole is presumably talking about Noname’s recent tweet, where she called out “top selling rappers” in general who haven’t used their platform to show support for Black Lives Matter. He continues by assuming that Noname had “parents that know ‘bout the struggle for liberation,” but Noname herself had to read more about activism and capitalism after being dragged by Twitter last year. He suggests that she “treat people like children,” instead of calling them out, then, finally, turns to look inward. “But damn, why I feel faker than Snow on Tha Bluff?” he finishes. “Well, maybe ‘cause deep down I know I ain’t doing enough.”

Update, 2:30 p.m.: Chance the Rapper has caught up on the discourse. Chance, who helped boost Noname’s career with a feature on his mixtape Acid Rap, came in with his camp-counselor demeanor to try to create peace on Twitter, but J. Cole fans are not happy with the stance he took. “Yet another L for men masking patriarchy and gaslighting as contructive [sic] criticism,” he tweeted. When a fan tried to argue, he followed up with this: “They both my peoples but only one of them put out a whole song talking about how the other needs to reconsider their tone and attitude in order to save the world. It’s not constructive and undermines all the work Noname has done,” he continued. “It’s not BWs job to spoon feed us. We grown.” Finally, he tried to reach across the Twitter divide. “Everybody’s argument on either side is, we can’t personally attack each other if we really want to see a revolution,” he tweeted. “I can agree with that and can apply it in my own life. I wish we could learn that w/o two artists I admire having a public dispute.” Is this a dispute? Considering Noname hasn’t responded yet, it looks more like just another day as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

By Zoe Haylock

Wicked Vibes

Bounty Killer’s Birthday Video

Only an artist like Bounty Killer could bring such a turn out of the dancehall world. Look out for Beenie Man and a great moment with Kofffee.

TruSound Blog

The Millenial Mental Health Crisis

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone. If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.

Throughout the summer of 2012, Tylor Morgan would call his sister Lacey at night and beg her to come over and sit with him.

It wasn’t obvious why Tylor felt so depressed. Growing up in Pocatello, Idaho, Lacey and Tylor had a fairly happy childhood. Tylor was shy, with lily-white hair and blue eyes. He retreated to the background while their charismatic older brother, Mark, drew the limelight. Their parents had divorced and remarried, but the siblings stayed close. Recitals were attended and mountains explored. Tylor was “pretty much a normal kid,” Lacey, who is now 26, told me.

Tylor graduated high school in 2007, right before the Great Recession. But even that initially seemed okay; he liked to work. As a young man, he managed stores and fast-food restaurants around Pocatello. In his free time, he would tinker with his pickup truck or ride motorcycles.

The only troubling thing Lacey noticed was that Tylor had been drinking a lot. Occasionally, he would get drunk and tell Lacey that he was in pain, and he wanted it to stop. The air felt heavier around him. He would get upset about girls, or not having a good enough job, or not making enough money. The exact problem wasn’t always clear. A few times, Lacey sat with him in the hospital, where he was staying the night because his blood-alcohol level was teetering on deadly.

Then, that May, Mark died at 25 in what was ruled a suicide. His brother’s death left Tylor awash in guilt and horror. The brothers had argued the night of Mark’s death, and Tylor blamed himself.

One night three months later, Tylor called Lacey again and asked her to come over. Lacey couldn’t go that night—she can’t remember precisely why—but she promised to see him in the morning. “I need you to just wait until tomorrow,” she told him.

Minutes after they hung up, Tylor called the police and reported a suicide at his house. Then he picked up his gun and pulled the trigger. He was 23.

Tylor’s and Mark’s deaths became two of a growing number of suicides among Millennials. Though they might seem in the prime of their life, recent research shows that Millennials—people born from roughly 1981 to 1996—are more likely to die prematurely from suicide and drug overdoses than previous generations were.

Perhaps that’s to be expected, given the turmoil Millennials have faced in recent years. After scrambling up a slippery career ladder during the Great Recession, Millennials were slammed with the opioid epidemicBillions of narcotic pills were shipped to parts of the U.S. where people had few opportunities, but plenty of pain.

Read: America’s other epidemic

Now even more challenges loom over young people. Many Millennials who had their careers crippled by the 2008 recession are being flung into yet another economic downturn, just as they’re supposed to be hitting their career peak. Because of social-distancing restrictions meant to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, young people who hoped to find a partner haven’t been able to date in person for months. And still more outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, might occur this year. As David Grusky, the director of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, put it to me, Millennials are “the bad-luck cohort.”

Interviews with more than a dozen experts on suicide and mental health reveal that Millennials are financially and generally stressed, and it’s driving some of them to extremes. Older Millennials snapped into adulthood after 9/11, fought in two wars, entered the job market during a recession, and are now weathering a global pandemic in overpriced one-bedroom apartments. They’ve experienced slower economic growth than any other generation in U.S. history, according to a Washington Post analysis. And having been clobbered by the last recession, they’re about to get clobbered again.

In a report published last year by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, the economists Mark Duggan and Jackie Li found that mortality rates for people from ages 25 to 34 had risen by more than 20 percent since 2008. “That is, mortality rates among millennials ages 20 to 34 were substantially higher in 2016 than among their counterparts from Generation X when they were [their age] exactly 16 years earlier,” they write. The main contributors to the increase have been suicides and drug overdoses, and the increase was highest among white people.

Another report from the Trust for America’s Health last year found that drug-related deaths among people ages 18 to 34 more than doubled from 2007 to 2017, while alcohol-related deaths rose by 69 percent and suicides by 35 percent.

This tendency toward premature death has been especially pronounced among Millennials who, like Tylor, never earned a college degree. In 2017, white people without a bachelor’s degree born in 1980 were four times more likely to die by suicide than those with a college degree, as the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton write in their new bookDeaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. Among those without college degrees, the later you were born, the more likely you are at any given age to live in pain, binge-drink, have poor health, and die from suicide or a drug overdose. White people in their 20s and 30s are dying from alcoholic liver disease, a condition that normally takes decades of hard drinking to develop.

Read: Poor Americans really are in despair

To be sure, the rise in Millennial suicides is set against a broader backdrop of despair: Rates of suicide are going up for all Americans, including Gen Z, the generation after Millennials. People ages 45 to 64 still have the highest overall risk of suicide.

For Millennials, the reason behind this uptick appears to be that young people with less education face more financial strain than previous generations did. The good jobs that used to be available to people without college degrees have slowly evaporated. “Jobs are a source of meaning in our lives,” says Cheryl Fulton, a professor in the counseling program at Texas State University. “So if you don’t have a job or are underemployed, you’re not deriving that satisfaction that comes from the meaning and purpose a job provides.”

Rising health-care costs have encouraged employers to reduce head counts and have eaten into employees’ salaries, Case and Deaton write. In addition, the decline in manufacturing jobs and the rise of the gig economy have driven non-college-educated young people’s wages into the ground. Millennials without a college degree are earning far less in early adulthood than previous generations did, according to another report in the Stanford series. The median salary for a 25-year-old man with a high-school degree or less is $29,000 a year, which is about $2,600 less than what Gen Xers earned at that age and nearly $10,000 less than Baby Boomers. In 1970, more than 90 percent of 30-year-olds were earning more than their parents were at the same age; in 2010, only half of 30-year-olds were. Millennials have, on average, no housing wealth.

Therapists who treat Millennials told me that many of their clients feel frustrated and embarrassed that they aren’t able to afford “adult things” such as houses and vacations, either because they don’t earn enough or because they are handcuffed to enormous student loans. Marriage can alleviate loneliness and ease financial strain, but Millennials are getting married later than previous generations. “They feel that they shouldn’t be in this situation,” says Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist who works at Weill-Cornell Medical College. That can cause shame, and shame is “one of the bigger drivers of suicide.”

The difference between what we have and what others have can prompt the bone-deep shame that leads to suicidal ideation, says Jonathan Singer, an associate professor of social work at Loyola University Chicago and the president of the American Association of Suicidology. People might start to feel like a burden or, if they’re unable to land a job, like they have no way of building a social network. More so than in other cultures, Americans tend to intertwine their jobs with their identity. “In the United States, if somebody is unemployed, we see that as an indication of bad character,” Singer told me.

Yet Millennials are the first generation to have come of age with Facebook and Twitter—compelled to compare themselves with others but not jaded enough to know how empty these comparisons can be. Gen Z actually has a more healthily skeptical view toward social media, says Kate Comtois, a professor who focuses on suicide prevention at the University of Washington. These platforms had already ripened by the time Gen Z became teens, and perhaps as a result, they see social media’s downsides more clearly. Millennials, by contrast, were the first to reveal their life to an online audience, and some felt stung by the reception. As Lacey, Tylor’s sister, put it to me, “We have our blooper reel in our head, and everyone else’s highlight reel in the palm of our hands.”

Lacking the money they need and the idyllic life they crave, Millennials experience extremely high levels of anxiety and perfectionism, several therapists told me. “They have almost double the rate of anxiety disorders compared to Baby Boomers,” says Nadine Kaslow, a psychiatrist and suicide-prevention expert at Emory University School of Medicine, who estimates that at least a third of her clients are Millennials. “The anxiety, depression, perfectionism, and substance use all increase their risk for suicidal thoughts.”

Derek Thompson: Millennials didn’t kill the economy. The economy killed Millennials.

The nature of these substances, for that matter, blurs the line between overdoses and suicides. Some people use depressants such as alcohol to take the edge off their anxiety, then wind up depressed. And some suicides are simply drug overdoses in disguise—someone who doesn’t care much about living might get less and less careful about not overdosing.

The competing crises of 2020 are likely to make all of this worse. One study found that graduating into a recession has long-term negative effects on life expectancy into middle age. People who entered the labor market in the recession of the early ’80s suffered higher rates of lung cancer, liver disease, and drug overdoses later in life. For Millennials who entered the labor market from 2008 to 2010, “all kinds of expectations they had about how they’re going to move right into the next job blew up,” Comtois told me.

As the economy folds in on itself, the gains that older Millennials have made in the past 10 years may be erased entirely. A recent survey found that 31 percent of people ages 18 to 34 lost their jobs or were put on a temporary leave because of the pandemic, compared with 22 percent of those ages 35 to 49 and 15 percent of those ages 50 to 64.

The recent protests against systemic racism and police abuses are yet another example of the frustrations faced by young people, especially black Millennials. In recent weeks, there’s been an outpouring of examples of unequal treatment of people of color in prestige industries such as journalism and publishing. Though racism itself can harm public health and life expectancy, the protests and police tactics used during them are also likely to spread the coronavirus. That could mean more deaths from COVID-19 in coming months, or another economy-crushing shutdown.

Every person I spoke with was concerned that suicides among Millennials and other groups might rise further in the coming years. Diana Anzaldua, a therapist in Austin, Texas, says she’s heard more of her Millennial clients talking about suicidal ideation recently. The social connections that buoyed us have been stripped away because of pandemic-related social-distancing measures. One study projected that the pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional deaths from drugs, alcohol, and suicide. Most gun deaths are suicides, and there’s been an uptick in gun purchases during the pandemic.

What does suicidal ideation look like? Some researchers theorize that it’s a feeling of defeat and humiliation followed by a sense of entrapment—of no exit. Some people say they’re thinking about hurting themselves, or that they feel utterly alone. Others are more explicit: “I just want this to be over.” When someone says, “I’m thinking this is how I would do it,” the alarms clang in therapists’ heads.

These alarming trends don’t mean we should give up on Millennials—or on anyone else who is contemplating hurting themselves. Suicide prevention can be, in fact, extremely effective. Admitting that you struggle with depression can still summon more stigma than help, but Millennials, at least, are more open to talking about mental health than previous generations were.

In fact, in part because the quarantine struggle has been a shared experience, some early reports have suggested that suicides have not increased so far during the pandemic. People see that others are depressed and lonely, making defeat feel more like a temporary problem than a permanent condition. The pandemic is a shared burden, not an individual one.

One of the best ways to prevent suicide is to make people feel less alone by assuring them that someone cares about them. It doesn’t even have to be a special someone. Some studies found that suicidal people were less likely to act on their thoughts if the hospital where they had sought treatment mailed them a simple form letter, as Jason Cherkis reported for HuffPost. Just because someone is suicidal doesn’t mean they’re hopeless.

Lacey felt guilty for a long time after Tylor’s death, but was also unsure exactly how much guilt she should feel. If Tylor had said, “Hey, if you don’t come over, I’m going to kill myself,” she would have rushed to his side. Ultimately, she has come to the conclusion that, given how many times he had alluded to suicide, he would have likely harmed himself at another time.

Lacey credits Tylor’s death with changing her perspective on life. She no longer goes weeks without speaking to her family members after an argument, “because we know what it’s like to one second have them, and one second not,” she says. Even though she’s only in her mid-20s, she’s been a foster mom to 10 kids and adopted a baby girl. When I asked how to describe her in this article, Lacey said, “A mom, foster mom, and adoptive mom.”

She knows the quote about making lemonade out of lemons is a stretch. But, she said, even after the worst tragedies, you can make something resembling lemonade, approaching lemonade. Even if you don’t have lemonade, you’ll have something.

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OLGA KHAZAN is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World.ConnectFacebookTwitter

Wicked Vibes

Who’s Going to Sell More Albums? Buju or Kartel?

This is one of the few podcasts that I actually enjoy listening to. Like the title says, “Let’s Be Honest” and its honestly a lot of fun. If you’re a Buju or Kartel fan you definitely want to give it a listen. Highly recommended.

TruSound Blog

Advice for Teenagers Looking for Summer Jobs

When Kyra Kelly, a 15-year-old who lives in the Bay Area, decided she wanted to find a summer job to save up for a car, she checked the websites of the local businesses she and her friends visited regularly.

“I found that an ice cream place was hiring, and I went to their website and signed up,” said Kyra, who then received an email from the store manager and went in for an interview.

Her experience applying both online and in person is typical, but may be unfamiliar to parents who are not sure how to help their teenagers navigate today’s job market.

In addition to the benefits of making money, having a summer job can help develop organization, time management, communication and conflict management skills. And at a time when helicopter parenting often extends into young adulthood, getting a job on one’s own can be a step toward independence.

But fewer teenagers are working traditional summer jobs. According to a 2018 Pew Research Report, only 35 percent of teenagers ages 16 to 19 held a paid position over the previous summer, compared with 51 percent in 2000. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that more teenagers attend school during the summer months than those in previous generations. In July 2016, 42 percent of teenagers were enrolled in school, compared with just 10 percent in July 1985.

Despite historically low unemployment levels, “teens just work less now,” said David Neumark, a professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine.

Personally, I liked most of my summer jobs, which included working at a candy store, making sandwiches at a local lunch spot, selling furniture and fine linens and tutoring students. Looking back, I now realize the problem-solving and negotiation skills I used to avert a customer’s impending meltdown about her wedding registry can have lifelong applications.

Now, in my work as an educational consultant, I’ve seen many students use the summer months to take classes, fulfill community service requirements or work in unpaid internships, perhaps seeking to bolster their college transcripts. Student-athletes on competitive travel teams often find intense practice and tournament schedules don’t match up with employer needs. So a summer job may not work for everyone.

But Adam Peck, interim vice president for university affairs at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Tex., believes students should look at summer jobs as an opportunity to develop skills they’ll need in their careers and seek out jobs that provide a chance to refine those skills. “That doesn’t always mean working in the exact industry that you hope to go into,” he explained.

Given how much of the application process happens online these days, navigating a summer job search may be confusing. Here are some strategies for teenagers and college students to land a summer job.

Thinking about the kind of job you hope to do and asking friends and family about potential openings is an important first step.

Monica Thomas, student services manager for Year Up, a national nonprofit focused on young adult work force development, believes much of the challenge is not knowing what is available. Parents, mentors, educators and community members can help identify opportunities that might not be widely advertised.

Jobs may vary based on location and transportation options. In Charlotte, N.C., the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program builds partnerships with private, public and nonprofit employers to create paid work experiences for students over age 16. The program’s mission is “to provide all Charlotte youth with equitable career development opportunities to explore the world of work, build social capital, and enhance economic mobility.” Similar programs exist throughout the country, though program requirements and opportunities vary by city.

Many students make the mistake of focusing on why they want a certain job — ideal hours, a convenient work location, a fun work environment — but “an employer needs to derive return on investment when they pay somebody,” Dr. Peck said. Crafting a successful pitch is all about helping an employer see what you bring to the potential role.

Before applying for a job, take stock of your skills, abilities and previous experiences. It can be helpful to use online resources to mock up a résumé, as well as to draft an introductory email or cover letter that can be customized for each position.

Even if you don’t have formal work experience, you can list leadership skills and responsibilities you’ve gained from clubs, volunteer work and specific academic experiences, said Fahnie Stewart Shaw, community relations and engagement program manager at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County School District. According to Dr. Shaw, an often-overlooked part of a successful job application is having strong references who “will answer phone calls, and emails, and get back with people for you, on your behalf.” If you’ve helped neighbors with babysitting, dog-walking or yard work, they could serve as potential references.

Being both flexible and specific can be crucial to receiving a job offer. Talking to potential co-workers and getting a sense of different work cultures can also be a helpful part of the application process. Online job sites like Handshake, focused specifically on college students and recent graduates, and, allow users to filter results based on certain preferences.

“I knew I wanted to work in the food service industry, but I didn’t really want to work in a sit-down restaurant,” said Ben Hosansky, 17, who got a job at Chipotle Mexican Grill in Louisville, Colo., last summer. “I applied to a number of fast casual places, including Chipotle, and they were the first to set up an interview.”

There may be more opportunities for students in food service, or entertainment and sports venues, than in retail. Students who like working with children might contact their local recreation center or nearby day camps. Nonprofits like the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools Program, a six-week summer literacy program with 183 program sites across 28 states, can also provide summer employment opportunities.

Even employers interested in hiring students might get distracted by day-to-day operations, and a gentle reminder could be welcome. Ben initially applied to Chipotle online and then visited the store in person when he didn’t hear back. “I asked if they still had jobs available,” he said. “They actually told me to sit down at a table and interviewed me about 15 minutes after that and then hired me that day.”

Many states require work permits for minors; check your state Department of Labor’s website. Some information about child labor laws is available through the federal government, too.

Kyra, who lives in California, received her work permit through her high school. Many states also require those handling food to get an additional card or certification.

It’s also a good idea to find out if a job requires you to purchase a uniform or follow a dress code. If it’s a food service position, you deserve to know how and when tips are distributed.

If you’re saving toward a goal and trying to calculate what you will be earning each week, remember that taxes will be taken out of your paycheck.

[Read more about the benefits of summer jobs. | Read a financial checklist for young people.]

And if the job you land isn’t exactly what you had in mind, give it a chance. Before Ben started at Chipotle, he had his sights set on a noodle shop closer to his school. He said he likes his job now, in part because “I really know everybody, and we kind of have a nice little community.”

Ana Homayoun is the author, most recently, of “Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World.”

TruSound Blog

Cinefix Top 10 Most Uplifting Movies of All Time

When was the last time your life was uplifted? What wasn’t included? What is your top all time most uplifting movie?