Artist and Actor talks mental health, suicide prevention and making an impact through music
by Cayman Bentley, PVF’s Program and Communications Associate
“You can overcome it, so many people done it, gotta let it go, can’t try to outrun it.” – Gunna Goes Global
Isiain Lalime X, known colloquially and professionally as “Gunna Goes Global”, is an Actor and Musician born and raised in San Francisco, California. Isiain first rose to prominence in 2019 when he was featured in the film “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”, playing “Gunna”, a dramatized version of himself. Isiain has been making music since his youth but he started releasing music professionally under the moniker “Gunna Goes Global” around 6 years ago, and has released projects consistently since then. Isiain is also the founder of The Isiain Foundation, which is fiscally sponsored by Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. PVF Program and Communication Associate Cayman Bentley caught up with Isiain to talk mental health in the black community, suicide prevention, philanthropy, advocacy through music, his latest project “Therapy In The Ghetto“, and the album’s lead single “I Know“, a love letter to those dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, domestic violence and overall mental health issues.
Isiain was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Fillmore District, a neighborhood known for its rich African-American history. He was born to a “philosophical” father and “spiritual” mother , both of whom he credits for instilling the values and beliefs in him that he lives by to this day. It wasn’t until his parents split, and his mother started a new relationship that he had his first experiences with trauma.
CB: “What traumatic experiences did you have growing up and at what age were you able to name it as trauma and address it?
ILX: “Really early on, after my parents split up, my mom started a relationship with this really verbally and emotionally abusive dude. Around the time I was in 3rd grade was the first time he ever tried to abuse me physically. That was the first time I ever felt like I was in danger, as a kid. That’s not something a kid should ever feel. I started to feel like I had to defend myself and my mother and that’s where nickname “Gunna” came from.”
CB: “So in a way, your “Gunna Goes Global” persona was born as a defense mechanism to the trauma you were experiencing as a child?”
Isiain’s latest project “Therapy In The Ghetto” was soft launched on May 19th and will be supported by the single “I Know” along with the accompanying music video. Both the song and project are love letters to those experiencing trauma, mental health issues, PTSD, domestic violence, anxiety, post partum, depression and suicidal thoughts. “I Know” also features Bay Area artist Rob Woods, and the music video was directed by “Melvina’s Son”.
CB: “Can you talk to me a little bit about “I Know”? It features Oakland artist Rob Woods. How did the collaboration come together?”
ILX: “Rob and I met while we were both incarcerated. I was released first and when he was released we kept in contact, the song was recorded in Houston though between late 2017 and early 2018. Initially, when we decided to collaborate on the song he ended up sending me a hundred or so bars. Even though he went crazy and I was amazed by his wordplay, I had to tell him that shorten his verse to fit the song.”
CB: “That must’ve been a hard conversation to have.”
ILX: “I never like to tell another artist to change anything about their art, especially another musician, but he was really professional about it and he definitely delivered.”
CB: “I Know is definitely a powerful song. Not many rappers these days like to touch on subjects as deep as mental health. The subject itself is already so taboo amongst black men. Why do you think that is?”
ILX: “As far as rappers, if they are independent, they often don’t even have the support nor the resources to create, much less create something that deals with the issues our community faces on a day to day. On the flip side of that, even if an artist is signed and has label backing, they often times don’t own their likeness and aren’t in control of what they put out. When I was growing up, I used to listen to songs like “So Many Tears” by Tupac. That was really my first example of a rapper that I looked up to being vulnerable on a song. He talked about how senseless violence scarred his childhood and I felt like I could relate. That’s what laid the groundwork for me to make songs like “I Know”.”
CB: “Back to the song, “I Know”, the accompanying music video is amazing. The production quality is honestly next level. Can you talk to me about the team you put together to shoot this visual and if you did any research on the topics that are touched on in the video prior to filming?”
ILX: “So the team is actually the same team I’ve been working with for a while now. I’ve collaborated with a bunch of them hella times and it just felt right have my people help me with this. Our cinematographer, Ben Casias, is actually from the Bay so I’ve known him for a while, really talented guy. My editor, Chaz Smedley, is from Fillmoe (Fillmore District) so I’ve been knowing him for a while too. I’m the type of person that believes in collaboration, it takes team, and I’m proud to say my team comes from where I come from. As far as the research, I definitely did my digging. For the black community in the City (SF), most of our mental health struggles these days, come from the gentrification we’ve had to endure. I grew up in the era when San Francisco had a Black population of 15%. I remember what things were like here before all of this. It’s not the same.”
CB: “I’m so glad you brought up gentrification. I feel like the generational effects it has on communities aren’t talked about enough.”
ILX: “For sure, gentrification, the disenfranchisement of Black people in the Bay Area, all of these things are part of a psychological attack on our community. African-Americans, actually, Black people in general, are community driven. If you force an entire demographic of people out of their community, what happens? You destroy a community’s connection to itself and it severs the ties that bind us as one, and that’s what affects the mental well being of people that look like us. I was featured in a film called “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” that basically speaks on the gentrification and disenfranchisement of Black San Franciscans, in a nutshell.”
CB: “I feel like you’re an advocate for Black mental health in the Bay Area, I hope it’s ok to call you an advocate. Can you talk to me about how you plan to advocate for mental health in your community and what the City of San Francisco could do to right its wrongs, in terms of the gentrification and disenfranchisement of black people and black resources? ”
ILX: “I’d prefer to be called an Activist. I also don’t want to make like I have all the answers, because I don’t. I’m the light, not the savior. Meaning, I want to be the one that brings this knowledge to my community so we can start having the conversations that need to be had around our mental health struggles, a vessel. I feel like I can break it down in a way that my people understand, like how I break things down in my music. Me being a rapper/actor and an activist creates duality. Without that duality, it strips me of what makes me relatable. As far as what the city can do, too many things to list. Off the top of my head, I’d say reparations and financial literacy resources, supporting black owned businesses, vendors and creatives, just sponsoring Black San Francisco in general, that’s what this city can do. The Bay has also been a place of progress. We can be ground zero for a new mental health movement. We can lead the pack in terms of showing black communities in other states how to deal with trauma in our community. I believe that.”
CB: “Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I’m actually a huge fan of your music, so to be able to get your thoughts on these topics that are so important to our community, it’s an honor truly.”
ILX: “Thank you, that’s much appreciated.”