By Victoria Jonas
For decades, rappers used hip-hop as a way to express themselves. Hip-hop is a space for rappers to vent using their rhymes and bars. It's an outlet for artists to speak about their issues, thoughts and situations: the good, the bad and the ugly.
This month is Mental Health Awareness Month, a perfect time to start a conversation about mental health in the hip-hop industry. Rappers often share their feelings and traumas openly within the music.
"I'm numb faced while I'm thinking about suicide. Wanna know what this sounds like when I'm not on drugs?," Kid Cudi said on "Don't Play This Song."
Similarly, Biggie shared his mental state on "Suicidal Thoughts":
"The stress is buildin' up, I can't— I can't believe (Yo, I'm on my way over there, man.) Suicide's on my fuckin' mind; I wanna leave. I swear to God I feel like death is fuckin' callin' me."
Also, artists use their music to discuss their relationships with substances. For instance, J.Cole's recent album, "KOD," which abbreviations are "Kids on Drugs, King Overdose, and Kill Our Demons."
On "The Beautiful & Damned," G-Eazy said, "All the toxic things that I'm using. All the substances I'm abusin'. "All the sex, and the drugs, and the boozin'."
Music is a form of therapy for rappers. However, there is still reluctance surrounding "traditional" treatment. There is a certain "negative" stigma.
"I feel like mental health is so stigmatized because people don't want to be labeled as crazy," Vic Mensa said in an open letter to Instyle in 2017. "You can talk about any type of sickness or wellness except your brain because it's considered different from maintaining your health in other ways. We know we gotta go to the gym to be in shape, but nobody tells us that going to therapy will help you stay in shape mentally. "
Besides, mental health is often a taboo topic in the African American community, especially amongst black men. There is also the issue of African Americans declining mental health services, although they face more challenges like racism, economic disparities, oppression and prejudice. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, roughly 43.8 million adult Americans—one in five people—suffer from mental illness each year. Yet, African Americans used mental health services at about half the rate of whites in the past year.
In her New York Times article titled "How to Stay Sane While Black," poet Morgan Parker said, "Sometimes I think my depression is the most normal thing about me. We should all get free therapy. We could call it reparations." She implies black Americans should have therapy as a birthright.
Despite the stigma, several rappers have spoken publicly about using therapy services. Jay-Z rapped about his therapist on his "4:44" album. And Big Sean recently shared a post on Instagram mentioning taking a break and trying the "traditional" approach to mental health treatment.
"I started therapy — you know what I'm saying? I got a good therapist. I stepped back from everything I was doing, everything I had going on because somewhere in the middle of it, dawg, I just felt lost and I didn't know how I got there," he said.
Kid Cudi is a rapper who talks honestly about therapy as well.
"A year ago I wouldn't even go to a therapist or psychiatrist. But I gave it a shot. It's working for me, but it's not for everyone. I've got some fucking problems," he said. "It's good for me to talk to someone who helps me see things. I had no other choice."
The flow of rappers who are willing to be transparent and vulnerable about their mental state and treatment has been beneficial to the hip-hop community and its listeners. The number of calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline increased by 50% after Logic released "1-800-273-8255." The Hip Hop Therapy Global Institute empowers its youth outreach program by using rap for therapeutic techniques.
Hip-hop is creating a resource and a safe space for the normalization of mental health conversations.
In 2016, Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. published a book called, "Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide," which he discussed mental health issues and seeking professional help.
He also said to the HuffPost, "I realized that therapy isn't 'soft. Therapy is gangsta."
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