Rapper Fox started making music in his bedroom in 2008. In the years since, he’s become widely recognised as an authentic artist with a penchant for penning relatable lyrics, wearing his heart on his sleeve and refusing to shy away from challenging topics.
But since his release from prison in 2018, the Birmingham-native has been battling with his mental health, using music as a way to escape and to remind those listening that they’re not alone in their struggles.
Fox has amassed over five million views on YouTube and in December 2020, he collaborated with SBTV on a mental health-focussed documentary to help eliminate the stigma that surrounds it. You can watch it in full below.
In the run up to Mental Health Awareness Week, M sat down with Fox to discuss his ongoing battles, conversations surrounding mental health within the Black community, and the role music has played in preserving his mental wellbeing.
Sam Ilori: Can you start by introducing yourself and giving us a bit of insight into your background?
Fox: I’m Fox. I’m a rapper from Birmingham. I’ve been rapping for about 10 years behind-the-scenes but in the last three or four years I’ve started to actually put music out on YouTube and then things have started to take off for me.
Sam: Why is speaking up about mental health so important to you?
Fox: There is a lot of toxic masculinity around ‘men having to be strong and not talk about certain things’ however, I believe you can still be masculine and inform people that, ‘I’m going through it right now, I’m depressed, I’ve got anxiety, I don’t really want to come out of my house, I’m broke, I don’t feel like I can afford to live the way I want to live, my own perception of myself is so low.’ For me, to address the topic in a position that I’m in, I feel like it helps people.
'I use the feeling of pain as a drive to get out and paint that picture in such a way that people get goosebumps and that’s helped me the most.'
I’ve received thousands of messages from fans who are going through situations regarding their mental health and have listened to my music and they’re like, ‘Bro, you are like my light. You helped me realise that if you are in your position and you’ve got all these views and these fans and you’re still going through your stuff and you can speak about it, I know mine can’t be that bad.’ A lot of people, they listen to my story and think, ‘He’s been to prison, he’s been sectioned, he’s been on the road and now he’s doing music. Your stuff is way more trauma-involved than what we’re going through.’
Sam: How do you feel these conversations surrounding mental health are received as a Black man, within the Black community?
Fox: It’s a double-edged sword. You’ve got the people that recognise that one-in-three men deal with issues around mental health and it’s something that we all need to speak on, then you’ve got the guys that are dealing with stuff on the sly and not telling anyone and are preaching the whole toxic masculinity, ‘Chin up,’ and ‘Get a grip.’ So, it’s one of those things, I just keep pushing it and I’m resonating with more people than I’m getting stick from, so that for me is great.
Sam: How important a role has music played in the preservation of your mental health?
Fox: If my mood is low or suicidal thoughts creep in every now and again, I will channel it in my music. That’s why when I speak and people hear it, they feel it because I’m being genuine, and I'm not leaving anything out. For me writing is my therapy. That is my coping mechanism. It’s weird, I use the feeling of pain as a drive to get out and paint that picture in such a way that people get goosebumps and that’s helped me the most. Speaking to people as a form of therapy is cool but getting my thoughts out on the page and being able to relay it to hundreds of thousands of people, that’s where it’s been the most therapy for me. That’s what it’s always been.
'When I came out, it was overwhelming. There were PS4’s, iPad’s, contactless bank cards and all these apps on the iPhone which blew my mind.'
Sam: You make reference to having spent time in jail. In your experience, how readily available is mental health support within correctional facilities?
Fox: Finding people to speak to is not that bad, to be honest, because you’ve got systems where such as the Listeners Programme where a trusted prisoner will have received training on a course on how to speak with people regarding their mental health, and you are able to request he sit with you and talk to you.
In terms of medication and actual healthcare professionals, there are people readily available. It just depends on how frequent you will be able to see them, dependent on where they place you as a priority.
Sam: You mentioned that it was when you came out jail and you were exposed to so many changes, that’s when your mum started noticing a shift in your mental health. Prior to that, were you aware of any changes?
Fox: When I came out, it was overwhelming. There were PS4’s, iPad’s, contactless bank cards and all these apps on the iPhone which blew my mind. I realised I started getting a bit paranoid and was a little bit aggressive at first because I was just in a rush to catch up with everything I’d missed. My mum, who works in mental health, started to notice ‘these symptoms are a little bit like the patients at work,’ but she did not want to make the call to have her son restrained and sectioned.
I remember having my episodes, but they were not consistent. Mental health issues are a chemical imbalance, so you can be having an episode for 20 minutes where you are totally one-track minded or paranoid and then you’re alright again. For your family it’s hard to deal with because they may think, ‘He’s been cool today,’ but then tomorrow you might have a bad day where they may feel, ‘How are we going to manage this?’
As time went on, things got out of hand, so my mum inevitably made the call but during that time, I focused on resting and not having access to my mobile phone really helped. I didn’t receive any medication; it was generally spent monitoring my behaviour.
Sam: Do you think social media has impacted your mental health?
Fox: It's easy to go down a rabbit hole on social media. You can wake up in a good mood, jump on socials and see something triggering such as a black man getting killed by the police in America or some other form of negativity and it can easily mess up your day. So, when one is feeling low and has their own mental health issues in the background and sees these things, it doesn’t help. You can start feeling like your life’s a mess because someone may have a better car or watch than you, it’s not a great place.
When I was sectioned, I was able to have time away from my phone. It was an adjustment period where I’d watch the news, see what was happening and begin to ground myself. After 28 days I was released as I’d proven I was okay. They gave me an early intervention team, so if there were any issues I could call them and they’d come out to me, and we’d speak and provide therapy and counselling where necessary.
Sam: A lot of great music has been made while artists are in correctional facilities. Did you find that being there sparked your creativity in any way?
Fox: I believe it all depends on how you view life. If you’re a spiritual person and you believe that souls connect and things happen for a reason, then yes it did. I feel like the head space that I was in combined with the talent that I had in me, even though I wasn’t realising it, it felt as though the universe put me there to fulfil my purpose. No distractions, no phones, no girls, nothing. I was just writing and the blessings were coming.
I recall not even having instrumentals to write songs to, but there was a guy on the wing that’s had a CD full of beats, he heard me rap and just gave me the CD. At the time I was extremely antisocial so for him to find me and say ‘Oh, here you go’ was just random. There were a couple of occasions where I thought to myself, ‘Nah, this is really what I’m meant to be doing.’ Then my social media started to grow while I was inside, I got a follow back from Giggs and then J Hus which confirmed that I was on the right path.
'I want to be in a position where in a year or two I feel like I have fully given myself the best shot at a music career. A fully self-sufficient artist with a focus on mental health.'
Sam: The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is nature. Would you say nature has ever played a part in your recovery?
Fox: Yes, most definitely. When I’m feeling low, I go for a walk and I connect to nature and give myself time to think. As a spiritual person, I meditate, I read tarot cards and I spend time in one of my local parks. It’s a massive park with ducks in the water and I really like the vibe. I’ve read that as a human you should ground yourself with the universe so walking outside in your bare feet on the grass really helps. There’s a lot that goes on spiritually attached to your mental health. I just believe everything is interlinked and connected. So connecting with the outdoors is a big deal, I tell people all the time, ‘Make sure you exercise and you’re going for jogs and you’re outdoors and you’re getting active outside.’
Sam: What piece of advice do you wish you would have been given when you were younger?
Fox: Many people I speak to have financial anxiety, or childhood trauma or trauma from abuse. With the money side of things, I would love to have been told: ‘It will happen for you, as long as you put the work in.’
You’re getting all this pressure, but you’ve put that pressure on yourself without even realising. Things take longer than you expect so instead of putting a time limit on it, just do it for the passion and you’ll be better off. This becomes difficult because everybody is watching social media but not understanding that that it isn’t an accurate representation of reality.
Sam: What’s on the horizon for Fox? What can we expect to see and hear from you next?
Fox: I want to be in a position where in a year or two I feel like I have fully given myself the best shot at a music career. A fully self-sufficient artist with a focus on mental health. I want work on getting a hub open for those battling with their mental health and I’m just going to be prolific with the music.