LET'S TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH IN HIP-HOP
Written by: Olufunmilayo Oke
Mental health is often a topic that is taboo for many especially in the minority communities. In hip-hop, in particular, the genre has been characterized by hyper-masculinity which leaves little room for weakness, and of men putting forward a tough, adversarial persona.
According to a 2004 study, “Black people mistrust and often fear services, and staff are often wary of the black community, fearing criticism, and not knowing how to respond, are fearful of black people, in particular, young black men.” In America, nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness. To put further in numbers, “42.5 million American adults or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States.” With the cards seeming to be stacked against black and brown bodies where it comes to mental health we’re also seeing a societal shift where it comes to openly talking about the subject matter. In recent years, we’ve seen more artists opening up about their emotional and mental struggles in the public eye and on albums.
Quite recently, we've seen the likes of Kanye West struggle with his mental health. Some fans, of course, reacted negatively towards him until the news broke out that he has checked himself into the hospital due to the outstanding grief of his mother. Doctors mentioned that dehydration and exhaustion were the cause of his hospitalization. In time we’ll know the full scope of what really went wrong with Kanye. Essentially, his mental health was at risk, but he wasn't the only artist this year in hip-hop that dealt with this issue. Artists like Kid Cudi, DMX, and Lil Wayne had their share of mental health battles as well.
Hip-Hop has been an arena where we see the manifestation of mental illness increasing. Rap has always had a complicated relationship with depression. Depression is evident in many different ways, including anxiety, general discontent, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, and even recurring suicidal thoughts. Though, it often goes undiagnosed, it’s a mental health issue that affects many, but seem to be a reoccurring theme for musicians. For starters, the musical genre was born with black men trying to measure up to the masculinity that society had placed on them. Masculinity has always been at odds with clinical depression, mostly because copping can be a sign of weakness and destroy the image they are trying to uphold. Emotional disorders carry a certain stigma that hangs over black communities like a fog, causing many to suffer in silence. To be an openly depressed rapper is to disassociate oneself with the image of an archetypical hip-hop star. The hyper-masculine, always in control, womanizer. To have a mental illness means you're portrayed as weak. And rappers, of course, are far from that.
Image by: Richard Martin
Recently, rapper Kid Cudi mentioned in his Facebook post that he has been having destructive thoughts. In his letter, he shared his deeply personal story with mental illness. He wrote:
“It's been difficult for me to find the words to what I'm about to share with you because I feel ashamed, ashamed to be a leader and hero to so many while admitting I've been living a lie. It took me a while to get to this place of commitment, but it is something I have to do for myself, my family, my best friend/daughter and all of you, my fans." Cudi continued, "I am not at peace. I haven't been since you've known me. If I didn't come here, I would've done something to myself. I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions every day of my life. There's a ragin' violent storm inside of my heart at all times. Idk what peace feels like. Idk how to relax." My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it."
Cudi continued in his letter to fans.
"I can't make new friends because of it. I don't trust anyone because of it and I'm tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me? I guess I give so much of myself to others I forgot that I need to show myself some love too. I think I never really knew how. I'm scared, im sad, I feel like I let a lot of people down and again, I'm sorry. It's time I fix me. I'm nervous but ima get through this." Cudi has shown us that mental illness is relevant in Hip-Hop and that it is looked down on to acknowledge it. Luckily, he chose to break the cycle and get some much-needed help for himself.
Dmx is another rapper that we’ve seen struggle with mental illness time and time again. He has expressed that he has been battling with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. He has opened up about going to rehab and putting an end to his drug addiction. Even though they portray him as an enemy, he has publicly shown that he is getting help and is not embarrassed about it. Even with the hyper-masculine and crude image that he has been upholding, he has shown that no matter how strong you may seem there are certain wounds that can make you fragile. And this just points to the fact that he is all too human like the rest of us.
Thankfully, now there are artists like Chance the Rapper who are in support of artists who choose to get the assistance they need. There are now rappers who make sure to publicly tell their fans that this isn't a joke but a serious issue that we must address. We are now seeing hip-hop artists break the chain of hyper-masculinity and becoming more in tune with their health and actual feelings. We hope for this to continue!