Tragic death of rapper Riky Rick raises question of mental health within the creative sector

The young talented rapper was one of the most influential hip hop artists in the country, whose music connected easily with young fans. His tragic passing, said to be suicide raises the question of mental health in the entertainment industry.

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

“I’ll return a stronger man. This land is still my home.” These words are the last tweet of multi-award winning South African rapper Rikhado Muziwendlovu Makhado Rikhado, known in the industry as Riky Rick. These apparently telling words were written by the 34 year old rapper before he allegedly took his own life on Wednesday, February 23, 2022.

He was found dead by management of his record label at home, allegedly hanging from a rope. These are the painful words, that will be carried for ever on social media alongside his short but rich musical heritage. Sadly, the very same words will haunt many of this young rapper’s fans in the hip hop sector for years as they try to make sense of what happened to someone whose music they loved so much.

His death, just like that of actor and gender activist, Patrick Shai last month, also through his own hand, tells another sad story of the state of mental health in general and in the entertainment sector in particular in South Africa. This mental health issue is real as sadly demonstrated by these recent tragedies two of the most prominent entertainers in the country, Shai and Riky Rick.

The mental health risk in the creative sector also comes against the background of severe depression faced by artists as they struggle to earn a living and protect their livelihoods under threat from the challenges of Covid-19. Without a platform to perform for the past two years due to the several coronavirus induced lockdowns, many artists are experiencing depression and other mental health challenges. It is however not clear what challenges Riky Rick was facing, and so too is the case in Shai’s tragedy.

However both of them appeared to be strong men in the sector. Shai having been active as an anti gender based violence activist and highly decorated TV and film actor, often spoke confidently and actively about the thorny issue of toxic masculinity and patriarchy in society, having personally been rehabilitated as a perpetrator himself.

On the other hand young Riky Rick, was an influential rapper of the now increasingly influential music genre in South Africa and the US, especially among the youth. Notably, this is a genre in which sexism and strong man imagery are intrinsically part of the culture and are paraded seemingly with no accountability in songs and video performances.

But beneath these strong man gimmicks lie ordinary vulnerable youth in fact not immune to the vagaries of life, such as mental health and other vulnerabilities affecting ordinary people daily.

It is not clear what demons were afflicting this young and talented rapper, driving him to allegedly take his own life, as from the outside, professionally his profile was on the rise, and was highly rated within the hip hop sector in South Africa.

He was also a married man who appeared happy with his wife Bianca Naidoo and their two children. Only recently on Valentine Day he released a video of himself and his wife dancing together to his new song. The video attracted wide public scrutiny with some on social media suggesting that the camera shy Bianca did not seem to be interested in the dance.

However, there is no doubt that professionally, Riky Rick’s career was on the rise. He has done many collaborations with several artists in the genre, and this is proof enough of his skills as a rapper respected by fellow artists, who did not shy away from taping from his well of rapping and songwriting.

Among others Riky Rick has worked with Big Zulu, television presenter-turned rapper Boity, and Bongani Fassie. And so his journey in hip hop had just begun, and the industry was still to bear witness to more of his talent. But that is not going to happen, as he allegedly took his own life, and with that act, went his talent too.

And disturbingly, others will also remember well, how HHP, the innovative originator of a certain type of hip hop, delivered mainly in SeTswana known as Motswako, also took his own life, not so long ago. He too was at the top of the game in the hip hop sector, and this trend of talented young rappers taking their own lives should rightly worry many who care.

Riky’s family yesterday confirmed the rapper’s passing and asked for privacy as they dealt with their loss.

Riky Rick leaves behind his wife, two children, a mother and five siblings.

May his soul rest in peace.

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