Mental health is one of the most prominent subjects that dominate our public discourse today. The national conversation surrounding mental wellness — online and offline — has aided in the stigma of mental illness being removed, slowly but surely. The current conversation surrounding wellness and mental health isn’t quite new; it’s been subtly channeled through music through time. And historically, rap music has always served as a medium for artists to share their struggles.
“Slippin” by DMX (1998)
Over the course of his career, DMX has had his fair share of battles. Often fighting his demons in the public eye and in his music, X has struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism, paranoia, and manic depression.
“Used to get high, just to get by/Used to have to puff my L in the morning before I could fly/Ate somethin’, a couple of forties made me hate somethin’/I did some coke, now I’m ready to take somethin’/Three years later showin’ signs of stress/Didn’t keep my hair cut or give a fuck how I dressed/I’m possessed by the darker side, livin’ the cruddy life”
“Losing My Mind” by Pharoahe Monch (2014)
Pharoahe Monch’s reputation as a legendary lyricist is etched in stone. Ever since his days as a member of Organized Konfusion, Monch has probed deep into his own metal issues through his music.
“Dear God, where are we?/That’s what I scream towards the skyline but probably/No one can hear a word of what I was saying/Insurgents surged in the temple where I was praying/Now flashbacks wake me abruptly when police pass by/Lights flash, if I could only put the past on a flash drive I’d/For peace of mind, install an external drive/So I’d be more driven internally to survive”
“Wounds” by Kid Cudi (2016)
Kid Cudi has become one of the faces of mental illness in hip-hop: he announced a couple of years ago on social media that he checked himself into rehab because of his struggles with prescription medications, anxiety, depression, and suicidal urges.
“We all have times when we weep/It’s a troubled life, traumatized psychologically/I pray, in the shadows when I’m speakin’ to no one/Myself, did everything right, didn’t I?/So why aren’t I whole?/You know you better dig deeper/Don’t lie to you/You better dig deep, deep”
“XO Tour Llif3” by Lil Uzi Vert (2017)
Lil Uzi Vert grapples with relationship problems, suicidal thoughts, and acts of betrayal on this song. He details the extremely emotional experiences of being trapped in unhealthy relationships and how the use of substances becomes a mechanism for escape.
“She said I’m insane yeah/I might blow my brain out/Xanny numb the pain yeah/Please, Xanny make it go away/I’m committed, not addicted but it keeps controlling me/All that pain now I can’t feel it, I swear that it’s slowing me.”
“Smile” by Jay-Z (2017)
For years Jay-Z has been consistently stoic in his persona. He has shared his past personal experiences through his music, but he kept his listening audience at somewhat of a distance as he guarded himself. But it looks like Hov learned the art of baring one’s soul through artistic expression.
“Blood diamonds drippin’, we cute/I still ain’t trippin’, that’s life, winners and losers/Drug dealers and abusers, America likes me ruthless/My therapist said I relapsed/I said, “Perhaps I Freudian slipped in European whips”