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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

The Proverbial "They"

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

Admittedly, I was a little late subscribing to the Wu-Tang Clan fandom of the ‘90s. I was introduced to the group’s music in 1997, when stationed overseas and the Wu-Tang Forever album dropped.

A fan since then, I’ve enjoyed solo and group projects from the Clan. Focus of the current blog entry relates to member Method Man, also known as Johnny Blaze, Methical, Mr. Mef, Tical, Iron Lung, Johnny Dangerous, Ticallion Stallion, and Shakwon, among others.

On his album 4:21... The Day After, Tical showcased a song called “Say,” featuring the vocal talent of Lauryn Hill. For those who missed the era of Hill’s reign over the ‘90s, I’m sorry for your loss.

At any rate, I’d like to address the proverbial “they” within the song, using my approach to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Keep in mind that when writing hip hop-meets-REBT blog entries, I’m solely critiquing the content of the music, not specific artists.

And yes, I acknowledge the irony of me saying things about a song that chastises people who remark on Johnny Blaze’s artistry.

First, I think it’s important to define a term. What is the proverbial “they”? For the sake of this entry, “proverbial” simply means something “commonly spoke of” and “they” relates to “those people” with unidentified specificity.

Perhaps you’ve heard people say things like, “They don’t give a fuck about us,” “Evidently, it’s elementary, they want us all gone eventually,” “They’d rather see we in a three-by-three structure with many bars,” and so on and so forth. The proverbial they aren’t readily identifiable, yet people seem to simply go along with the premise of “they” existing.

Next, for those unfamiliar with the Shakwon’s song, I’ll outline the chorus sung by Lauryn Hill. It’s as follows:

They’ve got so much things to say right now

They’ve got so much things to say, yeah

They’ve got so much things to say right now (Yeah)

They’ve got so much things to say, yeah

Defining what “they” is happens to be easier than identifying who “they” are. People often use “they” as relating to the “third person point of view” concerning others from a different group.

This action is sometimes associated with “othering,” which is said to be a “phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting in within the norms of a social group.” There are many examples of “they” within the world.

Ticallion Stallion’s song, as far as I understand it, relates to how his critics have plenty of things to say about his music though he questions whether or not the critiques are valid or reliable. The joint also addresses the proposed fickle behavior of critics.

For instance, Iron Lung raps, “Then niggas gon’ say I lost my skill, when in fact, they all been programmed and lost they feel, for real.” He adds, “When they’re wrong, call the cops, their credibility’s shot. It’s time they learned what hot really is and really is not.”

Johnny Dangerous delivers his final blow by declaring, “The last album, wasn’t feelin’ my style. This time, my foot up in they ass, bet they feelin’ me now,” and, “It ain’t all good. They writin’ that I’m Hollywood. Try’na tell you my shit ain’t ghetto, and they hardly hood.”

Ok, how exactly does this relate to REBT?

When working with a client, during the disputation portion of the REBT ABC Model, I would examine who Methical believes is persecuting him. I use the word “believes,” because belief is that which doesn’t require evidence in order to be accepted.

It very well could be that Mr. Mef imagines he’s beset by critiques. Likewise, it may actually be the case that his art is meticulously scrutinized by others.

Rather than looking for empirical evidence to support or refute the notion, perhaps it would be more impactful to explore with Tical what the meaning of criticism is to him. After all, the way I experience life isn’t necessarily how he interfaces with it.

I wouldn’t want to assume I knew what it’s like to be rated by others on a global level. I imagine if I had the eyes of the world on me, I may develop an irrational belief in the form of a should, must, or ought statement about judgment.

I may say something like, “Others shouldn’t criticize me, and if they did, it would be awful!” By doing so, I would disturb myself into anger, sorrow, disappointment, or frustration when people didn’t obey my rigid rules of the universe.

If you’ve read many of my other blog entries, you likely understand that REBT utilizes the Epictetian notion, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” With this in mind, I’d invite Shakwon to consider replacement of his irrational belief with one of a more helpful means of achieving his goals.

As stated by one of my REBT counterparts, “[C]onstantly disputing can be a taxing endeavor if the irrational beliefs are never replaced with more rational beliefs.” Since the session with Method Man is imaginary, I’ll pretend he’d replace his unhelpful belief with a more flexible one.

This replacement is a core function of an effective new belief. Still, I can appreciate a fictional skeptic—a member of the “they” imaginary audience—stating at this point, “Wait a minute, Deric. I thought you said belief is ‘that which doesn’t require evidence in order to be accepted,’ so why are you replacing one delusion with another?”

I’ve sometimes received similar pushback from clients on this very issue. What is more helpful, using an inner-narrative with which you disturb yourself, adopting a mental script that serves your healthy interests, or perhaps doing nothing at all?

In this imagined session, suppose Iron Lung concludes, “While I wish people didn’t criticize me, the reality is that they do. I’ve been the recipient of pleasing and displeasing feedback throughout my lengthy career. I can tolerate people not likin’ my shit.”

With that, I’d likely reinforce the effective new belief by affirming, “And, at least you aren’t Masta Killa, Capppadonna, or U-God.” (Apparently, I’m the proverbial “they.”)

For more information about my approach to REBT, I invite you to read a separate blog post I wrote entitled Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). If you have any questions, concerns, or comments about this form of therapy, I encourage you to reach out using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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