Hip-hop is known to host a few things within its music; guns, women, money, all of that type of stuff. But one of the most notable and consistent topics of discussion is that of mental health. Be it depression, anxiety, paranoia or any such thing, it’s had a place in hip-hop for a while. It shows that no matter how big and tough a rapper may portray themselves to be, mental health issues can affect anyone. This isn’t meant to be an encyclopedia of every mental health issue ever mentioned in hip hop, just a brief overview of a few to help those dealing with any realise they’re not alone, and it’s okay to not be okay.
The early 90s are considered by many to be the golden age of hip-hop by many hip-hop heads, the rise of G-Funk, the Wu, East vs West, etc. At the same time as this, the South was making a noise, with Geto Boys coming through and developing into one of the greatest rap groups of all time. Arguably their most notable track is Mind Playing Tricks On Me, a detailed insight into the paranoid mind of a gangster. He believes a figure is following him wherever he goes – even in his sleep. The track was able to showcase to people what some of the negatives of that lifestyle are, and allowed the rappers to express – even if it may be a satirical story – what living that life can be like.
One of the members of the Geto Boys, the late Bushwick Bill, also released a song detailing how he lost sight in his eye during a tussle with his girl. The song, Ever So Clear, is laden with information about his life and projects his insecurities onto wax, from being small to thinking people are only around him for his money. Alcoholism and suicidal thoughts are present within the song and it’s a harrowing yet interesting journey into his life, but shows the perils of bad mental health are present amongst so many people.
Biggie Smalls is one of the greatest to ever do it, and whilst old heads might accuse new rappers of being too soft for what they rap about because they’re so in tune with their emotions, it’s as if they forget Biggie was too. His first album was titled Ready to Die and on it, he addressed a lot of mental health issues for the world to hear. Everyday Struggles has the line in the hook “I don’t wanna live no more, sometimes I hear death knocking at my front door” and throughout the track he lets the listener know how he’s feeling. Later on, in the album on the song Suicidal Thoughts, we see Biggie at his most vulnerable.
He’s remorseful for everything he’s done, he’s a dark patch in his life and it’s Diddy on the other end of the phone playing the role of the friend who doesn’t really know to handle it. It was an eye-opening, and a key moment in hip hop – showing that vulnerability, they want to be helped, and poor mental health are all okay and don’t make you any less of a man.
DMX is another one to showcase vulnerability on a track, his song Slippin’ is an ode to his struggle with mental health and his drug addiction. He knows he has to get up and fight back and fight for himself because wallowing in self-pity won’t get him anywhere.
What people tend to forget is that even though these rappers may seem larger than life, or cooler than your average person, they are still people. They still have feelings and still go about life in the same way we do in many aspects, and many times they use their music as an outlet for this. Writing that reminded me of Andre 3000’s last verse in Elevators, “true I got more fans than the average man, but not enough loot to last me to the end of the week”, these rappers still have problems to face that we all do.
Earl Sweatshirt made a whole album revolving around the fact he became a recluse and didn’t go outside, the album itself was full of somewhat dark tracks, but being able to see that as a coping mechanism for him, the guy was pouring his heart out on these beats and it allowed a lot of people the world over to connect with him, and better themselves because of it. The same goes for a lot of new age artists, from Tyler to Danny Brown to Big K.R.I.T. There is always something there to help a person cope, and mental health has always had a prevalent place in hip-hop
Mental health issues affect a lot of people, and if recognizing that rappers face these issues too helps you then so be it, listen away and connect with some great artists, but just remember you are never alone with this. If you ever need somebody to talk to, call Samaritans at any time, for free on 116 123.
Words by Rohan Parmar @rohanjparmar
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