The Intersection Between Hip Hop & Mental Health
Updated: May 1, 2019
Up and coming Chicago rapper, Keiph, discusses the correlation between Hip Hop & Mental Health
Behind the music, mental health has been the underlying factor that some artists struggle with. Imagination and creativity find habitat in the brain and mental state. Endless accounts of great musicians and artist battling mental illnesses despite their accolades and achievements have been the center of many conversations in every era. Particularly though, I’m here to examine the relationship between mental health and Hip Hop. Since it’s humble beginnings, Hip Hop has been a culture of inclusion, yet certain sectors of society haven’t been represented in the same manner as others, one being the mental health community. Recently though, Hip-Hop artists have brought mental health and illnesses to the forefront of their content, some in subtle ways, others more in your face. Increasingly, songs are being released with themes and aspects of depression, addiction and suicide. That’s not to say albums like Biggie’s Ready To Die (1994) didn’t touch on elements of mental illness with records like “Suicidal Thoughts” and the title track “Ready To Die”, but artist such as XXXTentacion makes Biggie’s efforts seem more like a surface level discussion rather than a deep dive into the depths of what dealing with mental illnesses feel like. That in-depth perspective XXX and other artists give seems more relevant and familiar as a result of the society we have come of age with versus the society Biggie and his peers grew up in. Technology and major tech companies have been steering this ship to a destination where information is immediately available, and accessibility drives popularity. Our existence was to become enhanced, but with the implementing of more and more tech we are starting to see some adverse effects. Artists, fans and all the unseen people in-between the creator/consumer dichotomy is affected by the tech overhaul.
I’m one of those Millennials who were born in the early 90s, so I caught a minute glimpse of what this planet was like before the internet and before file sharing and social media dug its nails into our lives. Access is what we have now. Too much of it in many senses. Too much access to information, a ton of access to music and other forms of entertainment with the explosion of streaming, and way too much access to the creators and celebrities of this age. Granted, these celebs open themselves up to be consumed like a can of Pringles in this manner, but at this point it’s a relationship most of them couldn’t refute even if they wanted to. Twitter and Instagram are woven into the fabric of our society; TV personalities and the likes have their social media usernames in graphic on screen more times than not. Humanity as a whole has grown attached to social media, but I’m willing to suggest that high profile individuals, such as successful rappers, have it especially tough. Because it’s not only the fans who have this unprecedented access to their lives, but also the naysayers, haters and trolls. Many artists of today catch fire from viral hits. Their songs tend to explode but flame out quickly because of the sheer amount of music released. Premature viral success without development and much thought behind sustainability creates a situation where the artist endures pressures to replicate the viral success without having the necessary tools. Pressure from the public in addition to labels or management can manifest in many ways; self-doubt, anxiety, depression and other byproducts of mental instability.
There is a quasi-positive to this effect of social media though. Platforms like Instagram and Twitter have become launch pads for conversations regarding mental health and our dismissive nature towards it. Even artists have recently used these platforms to inform the public about their personal struggles and to encourage others who are dealing with similar issues. Kanye West would be one of the better examples of this. Last year was a whirlwind for those who follow Kanye on Twitter; ‘Ye made irrational comments regularly it seemed, but he actually did use his platform to address the things the he had endured. Whether you agree or not, that simple yet bold action could affect millions. Big Sean reemerged on social media weeks ago to discuss inner turmoil he dealt with over the past year, along with the process he went through to get back on track. I, for one, was beginning to wonder where Big Sean was, and had no clue that he retreated in order to rebuild his mental state. That let it be known that this mental unfitness can occur with anyone, because in my opinion Big Sean had never displayed susceptibility to that in his music.
Hip Hop is the genre of pure expression, and it’s becoming more acceptable to express a number of things across the spectrum of human feelings and thoughts. For that I applaud our current society. We’re prying open the lid on many topics that were once deemed taboo. Even though social media has generated some of these issues, it has also been the catalyst for a lot of the conversation. Like most things in this world, you can use Social Media with intent to spread good or you can use it in destructive ways. We’re at the infant stages of this entire social media world, so I like to think that moderation and constructive use will be learned and applied in the near future, as we continue to discover the benefits and detriments of extensive use. All I can think about is how important it is that we seek to protect our mental health just as we do our physical health. Be selective about what you follow and the messages you allow yourself to encounter on these platforms, because there are repercussions that can be drastic. Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!