Opinion: The health of Hip-Hop

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years… 400 years? That sounds like a choice.”

With those words, Kanye West blew up the internet in April, kickstarting several months of a wild political journey that included a visit to the White House, an outburst during an SNL taping, and months of tweeting support for President Trump.

Many of West’s rants are self-attributed to his rampant bipolar disorder, a mental illness West has grappled with for years, where he even scrawled the phrase “I Hate Being Bipolar / It’s Awesome” on the cover art of his latest album. But it’s not his mental illness or political outbursts that are the problem: it’s the toxic masculinity within the hip-hop community that prevents proper discussion about mental health.

The rap community does not partake in any action once songs or projects concerning mental health are released; there are no projects, no fundraisers, no movements, both in the general hip-hop community and the larger entertainment industry. This lack of real change is at the epicenter of what is wrong with the hip-hop community, and it is saddening to see artists vocalize their struggles to overcome their demons yet be met with backlash.

The release of Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” stands as a beautiful exception, as the song resulted in a 50 percent increase of calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. But this is one song out of millions, and while its effect was definitely felt, it in no way changed the status quo.

Back in 2016, Kid Cudi, recording artist and rapper, had revealed that he had checked himself into therapy concerning his suicidal urges. Soon after, Drake, another rapper, dropped a diss track titled “Two Birds One Stone,” directly belittling Cudi’s mental illnesses by rapping “You were the man on the moon, now you just go through your phases.”  

When West canceled part of his tour months later, citing the growing severity of his bipolar disorder, he was met with ridicule on social media, almost as if the mental illness was a punishment for his controversial attitude. It was only once he was hospitalized that the general public began to take his mental illness seriously, and even then, major news organizations such as the LA Times were quick to report more on the perplexity surrounding his breakdown rather than the mental reasons for having done so.

It’s these examples and more of toxic masculinity permeating the hip-hop community that create such a stifling air that encourages the silencing of victims with mental illnesses in order to maintain the status quo.

I feel like mental health is so stigmatized because people don’t want to be labeled as crazy,” said rapper Vic Mensa in a 2017 letter to InStyle. “You can talk about any type of sickness or wellness except your brain.”

However, this air of emotional stigma, while certainly troubling, does not characterize all of hip-hop: artists such as BROCKHAMPTON, Lil Uzi Vert, and Kendrick Lamar have actively embraced the topic of mental health, addressing topics such as suicide, substance abuse, and depression through impassioned rap verses.

But it’s not enough for individuals to drop their toxic masculinity; the hip-hop community as a whole must take active steps to discuss mental health. In 2018, where 21.4 percent of all youth feel a severe mental disorder sometime during their life, according to Mental Health America, there is no excuse for the rap community, home to one of of music’s most youthful and progressive genre-defining styles, to not be able to properly address mental health issues.

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