The Importance of Discussing Mental Health Through Hip Hop
Mental health is a touchy subject in the hip hop community. It’s treated almost as a don’t-ask-don’t-tell deal, so few artists have even touched the subject, but it might be one of the most important for these artists to touch.
So why is it a big deal? Suicide is the third highest killer for black youth. The rates for depression and attempted suicide are consistent (if not slightly higher than) the national rates. Suicide rates for young blacks has doubled between 1993 and 2013. Yet mental health is referred to as a “white people problem,” the black community tends to ignore the mental health issue so very little has been done to change that stigma.
There is not many people stepping up and speaking about mental health in the black community. However, there have been a few hip hop artists who have used their [highly shareable] medium and their platforms to speak up about their mental health in a powerful way.
The development of the Emo Rap subgenre has only recently taken place. Artists like Lil Peep and XXXTentacion are only just gaining more mainstream attention. However many artists have come before who have paved the way to the development of this genre.
It has taken a long time for hip hop to develop to the point of being able to discuss mental health. Most of the early days were more focus on messages about problems in the ghettos or about the luxury of their wealth. It wasn’t until the late 2000′s that “emo rap” began to plant its seeds into the hip hop community.
Kanye West’s 808′s and Heartbreak changed everything in 2008. It was also followed shortly after by Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon at the start of 2009. These two albums both put mental health at the forefront of their albums, these were the first big rap albums to have emotional lyrics about pain and loss at the forefront of the content. The production of these two albums utilized the elements of punk rock, 808s, synths, and auto tune that many modern artists like Lil Peep and XXX have been using in their songs.
In between Kanye and Kid Cudi other artists have sprouted up who have discussed the issues. The biggest ones being Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and Tyler, the Creator. Kendrick has not been as up front as some of the previous artists have been, he brings it up a few times in several songs but it all culminates on u where he speaks about some of his darkest times in life. Tyler the Creator has been putting his mental health on display since his start even having a meeting with his psychologist Dr. TC (who if you couldn’t tell, is actually just Tyler himself) on his first mixtape and first big song Bastard. He continues to speak about his issues on all his albums too.
Why is it so important that songs about suicides like XO Tour Llif3 and Jocelyn Flores hit the mainstream and reach Billboard charts? Finally, people are beginning to discuss mental health in young blacks, and who better to do that than the young artists so many young people are listening to? X is only 19, Tyler is 26, and Lil Peep is 20, Kid Cudi was 25 when he released Man on the Moon, and Kanye was 31 when he dropped 808′s.
These people have a strong pull in the youth, and have been able to push the issues of mental health to the main stage of society through music. Be sure to also check out artists like Isaiah Rashad, A$AP Rocky, and Kevin Abstract (and Brockhampton) for more artists speaking up about mental health issues in their music.
This is so fascinating and well done. I only wish he would have gone into even more detail on how some of these accents should have sounded, and given us more examples of when it is done well. Basically, I just want more :)