Hip-hop music is a huge part of my life. During my morning routine, hip-hop is playing as I brush my teeth. While I’m working, Pandora’s hip-hop station is blasting sick beats and autotune in my ears. And on my dreaded commute home, hip-hop knows just how to comfort me on the over-crowded subways. It has a way of getting us through the day – but do we ever stop to think about what’s getting some of our favorite hip-hop artists through the day? I mean, I know I have bars, but what’s keeping artist like Jay-Z going? How is my favorite hip-hop artist doing, mentally? This is a question that might not have been on anyone’s mind as recently as a few years ago, but the mental health conversation has found itself on hip-hop’s main stage.
Some of hip-hop’s biggest icons have been crying out for help – some, through their music and others, through public breakdowns. Throughout Logic’s latest album, Everybody, the rapper calls out the industry for turning their backs on mental illness. Compton-born rapper Kendrick Lamar admitted to dealing with depression on his Grammy award-winning album, To Pimp A Butterfly. Famously, the death of Donda West in 2007 would, years later, be a contributing factor to her son Kanye’s suicidal thoughts, seeing a psychiatrist, and starting medication for depression. Jay-Z’s thirteenth studio album, 4:44, attempts to defy hip-hop’s anti-therapy narrative, opening the doors for black men to engage in topics about seeking professional help. Within the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed hip-hop’s pivotal moment in the mental health space.
The day Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” was released, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline saw its second-highest call volume in its history. Following the 2017 VMA performance of the same song, which took the song’s success to the next level Logic delivered one of a kind speech that brought many of the viewers to tears. He thanked the audience for giving him “a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about: mental health, anxiety, suicide, depression and so much more that I talk about on this album.” When rappers publicly address pressing issues like mental health, it equips their fans with the confidence and strength to navigate through similar situations. For many, Logic was a turning point in the industry’s de-stigmatization of mental illness.
In his sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics have shed light on several mental health themes around addiction, depression, and stress resilience. The “street poet” was asked about some his powerful lyrics in an interview with MTV. “I’ve pulled that song not only from previous experiences, but, I think my whole life, I think everything is drawn out of that.” Lamar said.” He shared how balancing his two different lives negatively contributes to his mental health – one that’s constantly gracing the stage for his fans, and the other that’s still in tune with his adverse childhood.
In an interview following the death of Chester Bennington, global hip-hop icon Jay-Z opened up about mental health following the death of Chester Bennington. “We have to watch our health—our physical health and what we’re doing with our bodies,” he said. “But also our mental health. A lot of people going through trauma like that, and you’re too embarrassed to get help for it. Especially in these neighborhoods where we grew up. They talk about post-traumatic stress. I mean, sh*t. There are people, like, two of their brothers are dead, and their father got killed—that’s trauma. And that’s a lot of things that are not being dealt with.” When the stigma about mental health and mental illness is broken and people learn that mental health is just as important as physical health, more people could be receiving the help that they need.
The idea that hip-hop is all about sex, money, and drugs is slowly coming to an end. Rappers like Logic and Jay-Z made me become more aware of the lyrics I listen to and the impact they could be having on listeners with similar struggles.
While fame can be an important force in empowering people to get help, the process should start with normalizing conversations about mental health among our friends and family. We have to show compassion for those with mental illness while remembering to choose empowerment over shame. We all have to “get that dirt off of your shoulder” and continue pushing forward!