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Black Men in Hip Hop Are Suffering. Is Anybody Listening?

Article Written by: Priscilla María, Mental Health Advocate and Writer

In recent years, hip hop artists from J. Cole to Lil Wayne have become increasingly vocal about their mental health experiences. In 2018, Big Sean unexpectedly canceled his tour to address his anxiety and depression. Since the age of 17, he had been self-soothing through meditation until he realized he needed professional intervention. After feeling completely lost, he invested in therapy to nurture the relationship with himself. In 2016, Kid Cudi entered rehab to treat his depression and suicidal urges. At one point, he expressed on Facebook that “anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it.” His admission prompted the hashtag #YouGoodMan which sparked dialogues around mental illness among Black men. Similarly, Kendrick Lamar has initiated conversations about mental health by expressing lyrics that describe behaviors symptomatic of addiction, bipolar disorder, depression, racial trauma and suicide ideation. In fact, his lyrics were part of Kaiser Permanente's Find Your Words campaign which encouraged individuals to openly discuss their depression.

Why Does This Matter?

Due to cultural beliefs and inaccessibility to mental health resources, living with and receiving treatment for mental health conditions are often associated with weakness and debilitating instability. Mental health stigma is especially prominent in the Black community. This stigma is intensified for Black men because of gender stereotypes and systemic racism. Historically, American society has emasculated Black men through countless tactics such as: welfare policies that encouraged the separation of the Black family, draconian laws that target men of color and disparaging stereotypes in the media of Black men as irresponsible dependents.

On a global scale, cultural and religious traditions typically dictate that men be posited as household providers and protectors. By this standard, men are expected to tend to the family's financial needs. Fulfilling the role of a provider for oneself and/or for others compromises the amount of self-care and mental health care an individual can utilize. Additionally, systemic racism complicates the ability for some Black men to fulfill their responsibilities; Black men earned the same 73% of white men's hourly earnings in 2015 as they did back in 1980. Furthermore, unemployment rates for Black Americans have consistently been at least double than that of white Americans. Apart from these dire statistics, Black men are more likely to report lower levels of job satisfaction and work jobs with increased chances for occupational and psychosocial hazards. Ultimately, cultural demands coupled with sociopolitical realities result in Black men suffering from high rates of work-related stress and disease. In other words, the mental health needs of Black men have been consistently pushed aside.

The Power of Hip Hop

Hip hop has been overgeneralized by mainstream society to be aggressive, hyper-masculine and scandalous. In reality, there are many Black male hip hop artists using their lyrics and influence to voice the injustices that persist in the Black community. It is appreciated, commendable and necessary that hip hop artists like Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi continue to place faces of color next to mental health initiatives. Their advocacy counters stereotypes about Black men and mental health and reminds America that Black mental health matters.

Hip hop is the most consumed music genre of America's multi-billion-dollar music industry. The success, influence, and profits of hip hop should be given back to the Black community in meaningful ways such as through the promotion and sponsorship of mental health initiatives to empower and heal Black people. A quick listen to some of contemporary hip hop artists reveals many concerning lyrics that read as cries for help. Some examples of serious rap lyrics include: Lil Uzi Vert's “All my friends are dead, push me to the edge,” Future's “I'm an addict and I can't even hide it,” and NBA YoungBoy's “Herpes in my blood and that shit got me cryin.'” Countless people around the world listen to hip hop but how many of us are listening to and willing to support the mental health of the Black men behind the music?

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