In The Battle Against Depression, Hip-Hop Has Healing Powers

Kendrick Lamar's 2015 single lands in mental health campaign. 

“I love myself.”

A simple statement can become harder to recite, what with increasing pressures of age and various responsibilities. Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 single ‘i,’ helped induce our daily dose of self-love as a culture, and earlier this month healthcare consortium, Kaiser Permanente used the Compton rapper's lyrics in their "Find Your Words" campaign fighting the stigma around depression.

The advertisement features a young boy walking throughout his town reflecting on life, while emulating Lamar’s lyrics.

Watching the Kaiser’s advertisement, with Kid Cudi's admission into a mental health facility in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but reminisce about other examples of  hip-hop's healing effects, and influence.

The genre has definitely grown since its birth in the Bronx, more than four decades ago. So much so that author and Georgetown University professor, Michael Eric Dyson, created a course around the Sociology of hip-hop in 2011, using Jay Z as his muse of dissection. Speaking to USA Today at the time, Dyson noted Hov as “an icon of American excellence” with immense cultural appeal and “lyrical prowess”as it relates to his articulation of  black culture. 

Dr. Becky Inkster and Dr. Akeem Sule founders of, “Hip-Hop Psych,”  also used Lamar as a bases for research. Specifically, the team contrasted Lamar’s ‘u’ and ‘i’ tracks from To Pimp A Butterfly between external locus of control -- denoting life’s events to external causes, and internal locus of control vs. believing it’s in your own power to influence life’s outcomes. The more hopeless feeling that the ‘u’ track presents allows K. Dot to appeal to those going through dark times, while ‘i’ enables him to tell a story of perseverance.

Dr. Inkster and Dr. Sule suggest that fusing hip-hop and psychology, may help practitioners understand the plights of their patients, and may “also be a way for young people to understand and consider their own vulnerability, resilience, and life choices in a culturally relevant and easily accessible manner.”

Using Biggie’s “Juicy” as an example for "A Hip-Hop State of Mind," Dr. Sule and Dr. Inkster discuss positive visual imagery in hip-hop. Not only does the vivid and skillfully crafted lyricism play a role in assisting in a positive self-image, but reciting along with these lyrics does so as well (just imagine listening to your favorite “hype” song and what rapping along bar for bar does for your mood).

J. Cole has had a hand in motivating the masses too. In 2014, an unemployed man penned a Tumblr letter explaining how Cole’s “Love Yourz,” track saved his life.  The man was contemplating suicide after being homeless for two weeks and going days without food, on top of trying to find a job and shelter. Thankfully, he came across  Cole’s record and the lyrics gave him “a bit of strength to try and continue.”

Hearing your favorite artist spit about overcoming adversity can inspire you to defeat your own challenges. The boy reciting Lamar's lyrics in the Kaiser Permanente advertisement is yet another reminder not to neglect the healing, educational and inspirational powers of hip-hop culture.

When things get too stressful, there's no shame in plugging in your headphones and getting a dose of lyrical medicine.


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