Hip Hop Could be the Beat in Beating Mental Illness

In recent years, Hip Hop has become more about misogynistic lyrics, materialism, violence and crime. However, there’s still Hip Hop that stays true to conscience, positive lyrics that the music was built on. And it’s those positive lyrics that could be the key in beating mental illness.

To quote Jay-Z,


I think that hip-hop has done more for racial relations than most cultural icons. Save Martin Luther King, because his dream speech we realized when President Obama got elected.

[Hip-hop] music didn’t only influence kids from urban areas. People listen to this music all around the world, and [they] took to this music.

Once you have people partying, dancing and singing along to the same music, then conversations naturally happen after that.

We all realize that we’re more alike than we’re separate.


A study done at Cambridge University saw Hip Hop is effective in combating depression, bipolar disorder and addiction. The study was done by two scientists in the U.K.

“I’ve been listening to hip-hop since its inception,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr Akeem Sule, from  South Essex Partnership NHS Trust and does tutoring at Cambridge University’s department of psychiatry.

“I wanted to be a rapper, but my parents wanted me to do psychiatry. I’m from Nigeria. You did what your parents said.”

“Hip Hop Psych is opening up a new culture which branches across medicine and hip-hop with amazing responses,” revealed Sule’s partner, neuroscientist Dr Becky Inkster from Cambridge University. Just like her colleague, Inkster has also been a life-long fan of Hip Hop music.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of hip-hop, I didn’t even live in a community where it was popular.

“My first album was Basement Flavor featuring MC Lyte.”

The duo teamed up with rapper J Cole to get people with mental health problems to open up. Cole has been pat of online magazine, Soul Culture’s  #OKNotToBeOK campaign.

“When you listen to the album you’ll notice how it flows from darkness to light, from hell to heaven, depression to happiness,” J Cole said ahead of the release of his second album Born Sinner in June 2013.

“It literally was a way out… I’m writing my way out of a negative place, a darker place.”

Dr. Sule found:

Much of hip-hop comes from areas of great socioeconomic deprivation, so it’s inevitable that its lyrics will reflect the issues faced by people brought up in these areas, including poverty, marginalization, crime and drugs.

We can see in the lyrics many of the key risk factors for mental illness, from which it can be difficult to escape.

Hip-hop artists use their skills and talents not only to describe the world they see, but also as a means of breaking free.

We believe that hip-hop, with its rich, visual narrative style, can be used to make therapies that are more effective for specific populations and can help patients with depression to create more positive images of themselves, their situations and their future.

Maybe the most known example would be the classic lyrics to the late Notorious B.I.G’s staple hit, Juicy. The track is about how he rose from deprivation on the scandalous streets of Brooklyn to the covers of magazines, and a life of affluence. The song is about making it against impossible odds.

We could also site Jay-Z’s On to the Next One and  Kendrick Lamar i. There’s so many more.

Speaking of Lamar, the singer penned i as form of encouragement and inspiration for prison inmates and suicidal teenagers.

“I wrote a record for the homies that’s in the penitentiary right now”, Lamar revealed to New York radio station, Hot 97.  “and I also wrote a record for these kids that come up to my shows with these slashes on they wrists, saying they don’t want to live no more.”

Political minded rapper, Killer Mike put it simply,  “The kids spending hours per day writing rap songs aren’t a threat to society; they are often trying to escape the threats from society.”



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