Soulucien regains his footing with dynamic ‘This Makes Me Feel Better’
The rapper’s new album, due out Friday, finds him making some peace with his tumultuous recent history
Early on This Makes Me Feel Better, the new album from Soulucien, the rapper hurtles into the frantic “Mental Breakdown,” relaying the details of a harrowing dissociative incident atop a big, buzzing beat that mirrors the breathless feeling of a panic attack.
“I always try to be empathetic and gentle when it comes to mental health, but I never understood what a mental breakdown was until I had one,” said Soulucien, born Lucien Wright III, who traced his outburst to his mother’s dementia diagnosis, which sent him spiraling into a long period of depression. “I literally headbutted a mirror. It was pretty bad. … I don’t know what I needed in that moment. I was just so scared because it’s like your brain is freaking out and it’s not communicating with anything. You feel like you’re in danger.”
This Makes Me Feel Better, which is due out digitally on Friday, Feb. 19, arrives packed with these types of raw, unguarded moments, Soulucien recounting the pain of watching his mother’s mental state deteriorate (“Still Smiling”), the ways anxiety can sit like a cinder block on the chest (“Sad Boy Hrs”) and, on the jarring “i exist pt. 2,” the time he briefly contemplated suicide. “I put the gun to my head today,” he raps in a loose, conversational tone, his hushed words somehow hitting like a rabbit punch to the ribs.
“When I said [those words], it was like, ‘OK, that feels like a weight off me,’” Soulucien said of the spur-of-the-moment song, which originated as a sequel to his similarly revealing 2019 track “i exist.” “Me being so honest with my worst moment, I hoped it could do something for someone else who’s in that world, because I’m still here, and I didn’t want to be at some point. If somebody can hear the place I was in, and recognize that in themselves, maybe it could inspire a change.”
Revisiting these moments in the lead-up to the album release can be occasionally jarring, though the rapper said with most of the songs he’s able to maintain a needed degree of separation. Such is the case with “Mental Breakdown,” where the energy and propulsion required of his performance can power him past memories that could be otherwise painful.
“Still Smiling,” however, remains an exception, able to drive Soulucien to tears each time he hears it. Awash in tender acoustic guitar, the album-closing track finds the musician paying tribute to his mother, detailing how their roles have pivoted in recent months as the rapper has moved from the cared-for to the caretaker. The track also explores parts of his mother that can never be reclaimed, with Soulucien directing one passage to a former girlfriend. “I wish you could know her and meet her just once,” he sings, acknowledging that his ex never had the opportunity to get to know the same strong, loving woman who raised him.
“I get teary eyed because it’s my mom and she’s the source of everything in my life,” said Soulucien, who grew up with his mom in Dayton and moved to Columbus in April to be closer to his father, who’s been assisting with her care in recent months. “It’s not like she’s in pain. I get to see her every day. I just got back and kissed her, like, ‘Hey, mom, I’m back from work,’ and she smiled. … But she’s not who she was when I was growing up.”
As a child, Soulucien’s mother, a former dancer, introduced him to everything from the Temptations to Michael Jackson, helping fuel a passion for music that was already interwoven with his DNA. As we spoke, the rapper’s attention drifted to a photograph of his great grandfathers performing together in a band, one of them casually holding a banjo. In addition, Soulucien’s father played drums in a reggae group and his cousin worked as a music booking agent. Still, it wasn’t until Soulucien failed to make the high school basketball team that music emerged as an overriding passion, the teenager transforming his frustrations into a creative burst that led to him releasing four mixtapes within that school year.
Soulucien first discovered hip-hop around sixth grade, initially gravitating toward artists like Lil Wayne. Once he finally heard Drake, though, something clicked, with the rapper realizing that the form could be used to explore life’s more intimate moments, as well.
“It wasn’t very lyrical. It was just honest. Drake’s just singing and rapping about a woman and how she made him feel and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s cool to do?’” Soulucien said. “His music showed me that you could be accepted if you were an in-feelings guy, and I’m really sensitive. I can’t make music just about anything. I really can’t. If you tell me to come at you with bars, it’s going to take me some time because that’s not really what I do. There’s a lot of feeling and emotion attached to my music. … So when I saw Drake’s approach, I grabbed hold of it, like, ‘Cool. This works for me. I can do this.’ And after that things just started spilling out for me.”