#mentalhealthmonday – MH in rap

Hello there, my name is Jay and I shall be your guest blogger for this week’s edition of #mentalhealthmonday. A quick bit about me: I’m a 22 year old British-Asian medical student who loves geeking out and writing about rap music in his spare time. I have my own blog where I write about rap and grime (British equivalent of hip-hop for those who don’t know) music and also blog for ukgrime.com and spiceukonline.com. I am also greatly privileged as the lovely Wendy (aka whatthelog) is my girlfriend and I am honoured to be a guest writer for her.

Rap music is often misunderstood in my opinion. There is a perception that the only topics discussed in rap songs are violence, money, drugs and that rap songs are typically ignorant and devoid of any real meaning. Now while that is the case for a number of rap songs, particularly those that often become popular, to say that all rap music is like this would be unfair and incorrect. In contrast to this rap music has often dealt with important political and social issues such as race, poverty and class. Rap music lends itself to storytelling naturally and therefore is an excellent medium for artists to portray their own personal experiences in a way that allows their listeners to relate and learn about these topics.

I have picked four different rap songs in which the artists talk about their own different, personal experiences of mental illness and have spoken about each. Apologies in advance for the moments where I get a bit self-indulgent and geek out, but I hope you enjoy reading and listening to the music.

*TRIGGER WARNING*: Now obviously these songs contain strong language and language that may offend some, as is expected for rap music. But in addition they deal with topics such as depression, addiction, suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse, panic attacks and excessive guilt.

Lady Leshurr – #UNLESHED 2

This is the sequel to Lady Leshurr’s “#UNLESHED freestyle” and it’s a blistering exhibition of rapping ability! The beat is heavy, complete with strings, brass instrumentation and crashing cymbals, Lady Leshurr uses it to great effect; taking no prisoners and delivering razor sharp lyrics. Seriously every bar and punchline here hits hard and I had myself rewinding the track again and again just to catch all of them properly, no single line is wasted here. The most striking part of the song is the last minute though, where the focus of the track shifts. The vocals change from being aggressive and in your face to being melancholy and contemplative. In this last segment Lady Leshurr talks about personal issues that have affected her including struggles with friends, anxiety, feeling trapped and ultimately revealing that she has attempted suicide as a result of this. On my first listen I did not expect this last segment; throughout the track Lady Leshurr presents herself as being confident in both her lyrics and delivery but in my opinion she seems at her strongest at the end. I really got the impression of how important this was to her and how difficult it must have been to reveal such personal revelations to the world. This is especially apparent in the video where the visible change in her demeanour and the atmosphere of the video is evident.

Vic Mensa – There’s Alot Going On

Now this track is very heavy and very dark in its subject matter, with descriptions of multiple suicide attempts, domestic violence and heavy substance abuse. The lyrics discuss the personal issues that Vic Mensa has gone through over the past few years whilst trying to live up to the hype surrounding him and establish himself as an artist. Whilst rappers are typically seen as being proud and boastful of their achievements here Vic Mensa shows how the struggles he has faced with addiction and depression have prevented him from enjoying these successes. The song is first and foremost about Vic’s mental health and references to his career are used as a way of marking time. It works amazingly well as the song gives an insight into what was going through Vic’s mind at the time of writing different songs and adds greater context and meaning to them. I suppose this reflects the title of the song “There’s Alot Going On”; that, whatever you see of an artist’s (or indeed anyone’s) life, there’s always things going on the background that you are unaware of and what you see on the surface is not indicative of a person’s mental health.

Stormzy – Lay Me Bare

Stormzy is currently the face of UK grime music! His debut album “Gang Signs & Prayer” (released independently) went to number 1 in the UK album charts, a first for a Grime artist, and holds the record for the most 1st week streams from a British artist on spotify in the UK. On closing track “Lay me Bare” Stormzy talks about the depression and difficulties he has faced since becoming famous. Here we see a vulnerable side to Stormzy, a different side to his personality than the usual confident and cocky portrayal he usually presents in his music. Following the release of this track he has spoken about facing his depression on national news in the UK. This deep and personal song came as a surprise to me when I first heard it but in a very good way. Stormzy is an artist currently at the top of his game and currently boasts massive popularity, especially amongst young people. To have artists like him discuss mental health issues, whilst still being exceptionally successful is surely a major step forward in alleviating the stigma surrounding mental health.

Note: I’ve written a 2000-ish word review of “Gang Signs & Prayer” which you can find here, should you wish to read more about me fanboying about Stormzy.

Kendrick Lamar – u

If I were to recommend any one album to anyone it would have to be Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece “To Pimp a Butterfly”. The album tells the personal story of Kendrick since finding fame, the temptation this brings and Kendrick’s attempts to reconcile this with his old life. The tracks in the album are used to tell this personal story as well as used as a backdrop to discuss the issue of race relations in the USA set to lush, hazy, jazzy instrumentation. Different chapters in the story are narrated by segments of a poem, written by Kendrick, interspersed amongst the tracklist. Simply put the album is as near to perfect as music can get and that is not an exaggeration. The song “u” sees Kendrick at his lowest point in the narrative, wracked by guilt, having a breakdown in a hotel room which is portrayed excellently in the song. The first verse see’s Kendrick’s internal thoughts and the lyrics are delivered in a manic, frenzied way whilst the last two verses are delivered from the perspective of a drunken friend criticising Kendrick. There’s even a skit midway through the song which mimics a hotel maid coming to clean the room. If you’re going to listen to this song I would definitely recommend taking time to listen to the full album, not least because it is amazing, but because it really places this track in context of the story being told here.

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6 thoughts on “#mentalhealthmonday – MH in rap

  1. Huntress of Diverse Books says:

    I was not expecting that last minute in ‘Unleshed 2’ even though you mentioned it, Jay. I thought the music videos for the first two songs were fascinating to look at as well.

    Couldn’t listen to the other two as I don’t have spotify.

    Out of interest, can songs also have trigger warnings?

    I wish there were subtitles though, that’s the one thing I really need in music. But rap is easier to understand most of the time, if they’re not going too fast.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mansneverbeenin says:

      Hi,
      Yeah it really comes as quite a shock, especially compared to how in-your face the rest of the song is. Definitely I especially love the performance in “There’s Alot Going On”.
      I have done some searching and have discovered that Kendrick Lamar actually does have a video to “u” (I was not aware of this before). It’s the first 4 minutes of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wZytWFm7x0 . For me this perfectly illustrates the song, I’d love to hear what you think. Can’t find a stream of Stormzy elsewhere i’m afraid.
      That’s an interesting point to make, usually music contains warnings for “explicit content” such as swear words and violent themes, similar to films, but this is not detailed very well and defintely does not extend to things such as suicide and depression. Another point is that music videos which contain sexually explicit content often have warnings but again this does often not extend to things like suicide. I can see this being quite problematic, especially with video’s like “There’s Alot Going On” which do have depictions of acting out suicide (I’ve seen some music videos with even more detailed depictions).
      Finally in answer to your last point I would reccomend https://genius.com/ which has not only transcripts of songs but also annotations explaining the context and meaning behind the lyrics, usually added as soon as a song is released. It’s really cool, most of it is sourced by users and it has a great forum for discussing music and actually books as well, sometimes the artists themselves will annotate the lyrics and explain what was going on when they wrote it.

      Hope this helps,

      Thanks for reading

      Like

  2. mansneverbeenin says:

    Hi,
    Yeah it really comes as quite a shock, especially compared to how in-your face the rest of the song is. Definitely I especially love the performance in “There’s Alot Going On”.
    I have done some searching and have discovered that Kendrick Lamar actually does have a video to “u” (I was not aware of this before). It’s the first 4 minutes of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wZytWFm7x0 . For me this perfectly illustrates the song, I’d love to hear what you think. Can’t find a stream of Stormzy elsewhere i’m afraid.
    That’s an interesting point to make, usually music contains warnings for “explicit content” such as swear words and violent themes, similar to films, but this is not detailed very well and defintely does not extend to things such as suicide and depression. Another point is that music videos which contain sexually explicit content often have warnings but again this does often not extend to things like suicide. I can see this being quite problematic, especially with video’s like “There’s Alot Going On” which do have depictions of acting out suicide (I’ve seen some music videos with even more detailed depictions).
    Finally in answer to your last point I would reccomend https://genius.com/ which has not only transcripts of songs but also annotations explaining the context and meaning behind the lyrics, usually added as soon as a song is released. It’s really cool, most of it is sourced by users and it has a great forum for discussing music and actually books as well, sometimes the artists themselves will annotate the lyrics and explain what was going on when they wrote it.

    Hope this helps,

    Thanks for reading

    Like

  3. Grab the Lapels says:

    I may be wrong, but I feel like rap from the U.S. has a distinct lack of mental health awareness, despite horrible conditions that can lead to or amplify mental health issues. Of course, I have to look way back, though, to folks like Grand Master Flash and NWA.

    Like

  4. Huntress of Diverse Books says:

    Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been super busy.

    I watched the video to ‘u’ and it’s quite intense. I still don’t know what I think about it. Watching him breathe in and​ out gave a lot of substance to the song. Some parts were quite difficult to watch.

    My favourite music video is still Unleshed 2, because the music, the words and the video all tell a story with a lot of feeling.

    Like

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