No Drugs In Heaven: Therapeutic Storytelling

In my lifetime, I have always felt a deep love for music in every single aspect of its art form. Some of my earliest memories, best times, and darkest moments are typically attached to a song that represents that period for me and forever will go hand-in-hand with that experience. The idea of music helping the listener and/or the creator is something that I continue to appreciate more and more as I get older. It truly fascinates me.

There are a handful of songs throughout my lifetime that have really stood out to me from a narrative point of view; songs that have moved and provoked me to feel some sort of emotion. The first one is Saba’s “PROM//KING” off his 2018 classic, CARE FOR ME. Another record that pops into my head is femdot’s incredible “NCAA Rules” — the description is so vivid that you feel like you’re watching a movie in your imagination. Diving a bit deeper into my childhood, I could almost remember where I was the first time I heard songs like Biggie’s “I Got A Story To Tell” as well as Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.” The way that Common made me feel when I first listened to “I Used to Love H.E.R.” was indescribable — a legendary track that later inspired the Chicago anthem “Homecoming” from Kanye West.

Whether it was the feeling of wanting to shed a tear listening to an artist vividly describe a tragic situation, or that adrenaline-pumping “oh sh*t” moment when the story comes full circle and ties in nicely, no matter what the emotion is, it’s the fact that the music is making you feel. Music, more specifically storytelling, can be used as a vessel to relate to people with similar experiences, and it also helps folks consuming the music deal with emotions that they potentially otherwise couldn’t easily sort through.

*Exhales*

With all of this being said, these types of “reminiscent” records are few and far between, so when you hear one of them for the first time, it turns into a moment that you forever wish you could relive. About a month ago, I stumbled upon one of these deep cuts through my brother Eric, when he texted me a track called “No Drugs In Heaven” by an artist named John Wells. I first played this song while driving on Lake Shore Drive, listening with the intent to fully absorb was he was saying. Before I knew it, I was aimlessly driving around Chicago with the song on repeat for nearly an hour, utterly enamored by the picture that John was painting.

John Wells is a 26-year-old artist out of East Baltimore, and as of late, he has been one of my favorite musicians to listen to. John views Baltimore as a fun place to grow up, a place with good food and a great culture, a place that has the feeling that everyone knows everyone. However, John also realizes that his hometown has its downfalls.

“I also recognize that being from here has probably contributed to some of the lower points in my life,” John tells me. “My dad’s addiction was definitely fueled by the fact that we’re kinda like a heroin capital. People die a lot, people go to jail a lot. Poverty and lack of opportunity contribute to damn near all the crime that happens on the ground out here.”

Unfortunately, this harsh reality hit very close to home for John, as some of these issues were affecting his father Richard Thomas Scible, who went by Ricky to most people. Ricky and John had a relatively normal childhood/father upbringing. They bonded over fishing, music, swimming, and watching football. John started to recognize some issues, though, later putting two and two together around 2006.

“When I was like 8-9, he decided to go to rehab, and before he went he kinda just explained to me that he had a problem he needed to get help with and he was gonna be gone for like a month,” he explained. “He told me it was just drinking but over time I realized it was deeper than that. As a kid dealing with it, I kind of resented him for it and I distanced myself from him, stopped hanging with him and basically just stayed to myself.”

In my opinion, it’s human nature for someone to distance themselves when they see a friend or loved one displaying destructive habits, especially when it’s a parent or a father/mother figure. It’s typically never from a place of resentment, but natural to attempt to subconsciously prevent yourself from the traumas that come along with dealing with situations like these.

“Some people say this is the best song I’ve made so far in my career, which I definitely agree with. Somebody even said it’s one of the greatest hip-hop songs of our generation which is dope to hear. One guy commented on one of my IG posts and told me it inspired his dad to go to rehab, that’s like the best feedback I got throughout this whole process.”

The cohesiveness of this record was an aspect that truly stuck out to me. John started the story on the day that his father was born, vividly describing who was inside the room and what was going on that day. He went on to provide further context on his father’s parents and his father’s siblings, leading to events throughout his father’s childhood, the first time his father saw drugs, and even when his father and mother met. John left no stone unturned in this story; he provided places where his father worked, and lived, tragic incidents that he survived and so much more. All of it leads up to when John was born, and the story begins to get very graphic and authentic to John’s point of view. I don’t want to touch on the story too much, because I want the new listeners to experience it for themselves, but creating a touching story like this that starts with his father’s birth and ends with his death was beautifully touching.

On top of the cohesiveness of the story, let’s talk about the vulnerability that John showed on this track. John truly didn’t shy away from anything on this record, he put everything on the table and left it for the world to judge. Let’s be honest, it’s tough for any of us to speak about traumatic experiences that we’ve been through, especially when it comes to family members or loved ones, it almost feels like taboo to speak about drug addiction within your immediate family; I know this from experience.

In my time working in the music industry, and overall being a music fan since I was young, I have this theory that artists who are the most vulnerable in their music are typically the ones who have the closest relationship with their audience. Any artist or creative has a level of fear or hesitation with putting their art out into the world because as soon as you do that, it leaves it up for the public to critique and judge. Especially for musicians, I can only imagine the level of anxiety that might be attached to releasing a body of work, or more specifically, a song as descriptive as this one by John Wells.

Full transparency: I do not know John personally. We’ve spoken via Instagram a handful of times over the last few months, but this record makes me feel like I know him. The level of vulnerability that he displayed on this track won’t go unnoticed, he gained a fan out of me with this — and I know that I am not the only one. I admire the incredible effort that John went through to completely paint the picture here, and it got me thinking, it must have been extremely therapeutic for him to tell this story. Instead of continuing to hold everything in, he made a beautiful song that others can use to help them through their own troubles. John confirmed this, adding:

“It was definitely therapeutic in a way, but I think I was more proud of myself than anything after I wrote it, cause I knew it was one of the best joints I ever wrote. It’s tough to admit but I kinda got this defense mechanism with my music where I try to look at it as if I’m on the outside looking in when I’m creating it or performing it. At least when it’s emotional to this magnitude.”

I’ve written about 5,000 articles in my decade here at Lyrical Lemonade. However, as I have progressed through the company, it’s not too often that I write anymore these days as my priorities have shifted. I couldn’t tell you the last time that I put 2,000 words into one story, but that is how moved and inspired I was when I heard this record; I felt such an urge to help him push his story. Thank you for helping me feel inspired to write again John, I know that this record along with the rest of your catalog will continue to inspire your listeners on many different fronts. You are extremely talented musically, and I can’t wait to see where you take it from here.

I’ll never forget that my exact reaction when I found out he was dying was “I couldn’t believe I let that happen,” even though deep down I know it wasn’t really something I could control in the first place. I just always felt like I was the only one that could hold the people I love together so it was up to me to make sure he was good, and I didn’t. And that’s where the song derived from, because my girl had to explain to me one day that he’s probably way better off now that he’s not dealing with the pain he had to deal with while he was alive. So right after we had that conversation I started writing the song, and that’s why it ends with “I can confirm it really ain’t no drugs in heaven, and I’m better than I was before, don’t feel the need to do em cause nobody up here hurt no more, and regardless of the fact I had no money when I died, I’m the reason lor luckee the best rapper alive” cause that was a confirmation that he’s not in pain anymore.