Over the weekend beginning October 19th, Science Gallery London hosted the HOOKED Weekender, during which multiple events were held to raise awareness about various forms of addiction. Among these events was the Hip-Hop Psychiatry Listening Station, hosted in collaboration with King’s College London’s very own Rap Society.
In light of the recent deaths of Mac Miller and Lil Peep, both young rappers suffering from substance abuse issues, these conversations are incredibly necessary. The main idea of this event was to discuss the complexities of hip-hop’s relationship with mental health and addiction by listening to famous tracks from notorious rappers such as Biggie and Lil Wayne.
The event was put together by Mandeep Singh, a member of RapSoc. He explained that his aim was to fight the stigma surrounding rap music by having an open discussion about its effects. Hip-hop and rap are often portrayed as violent and harmful to their audience; they can promote messages about crime and the glorification of drugs. This is one of the reasons that the creation of the Rap Society came with a lot of backlash from KCL. These negative views of hip-hop are exactly why Mandeep believed this event to be necessary. Like many other artists and hip-hop fanatics, members of RapSoc view writing this style of music as extremely therapeutic.By analysing songs that describe this complex relationship with drug usage and addiction, we can truly understand why this art form exists.
When asked who the most important voices for mental health were in the hip-hop industry, RapSoc praised the work of Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne and Kanye West, artists whose songs were played during the listening session. Each artist encouraged the conversation around mental health in the hip-hop industry in a different way. Kendrick Lamar did so through the use of characters and veiled messages in his extremely personal albums. Lil Wayne was one of the first rappers to ever talk about his own struggles with addiction and Kanye West recently admitted to being addicted to opioids and dealing with bipolar disorder.
The session itself was led by RapSoc members with added insights from members of Key Changes, an organisation that provide music recovery services for people suffering from mental health issues. Their expertise allowed for interesting conversations surrounding songs like Swimming Pools (Drank) and Move That Dope. Questions were raised about why hip-hop was so reprimanded as opposed to other art forms that also portray dark representations of topics such as drugs or violence.
Another debate brought up was whether or not drugs could benefit artists in creating good music. One member of RapSoc admitted to disliking the music created by Lil Wayne when he was not under the influence.This caused the group to ask themselves whether or not there was a need to stop addiction in music. Unfortunately, some artists’ creativity can be stunted when they are off addictive substances.
Another topic brought up by Rap Soc was how raising awareness about mental health in hip-hop can go wrong. This was done when the groups listened to a track off of J.Cole’s latest album. Artists, like J. Cole and Russ, another rapper, can come across as preachy and condescending when addressing people who are trying to fight their issues with addiction. Ultimately, the main message of the conversation was understanding the issues that come with glorifying addiction, whilst acknowledging that there was a reason as to why these addictions existed. Another interesting point brought up was that hip-hop differed from other art forms because of the rapper’s proximity to his music and therefore his audience.
Overall, the debate was eye-opening and hopefully allowed for all those participating to discover a new side of hip-hop and understand the frustrations that come with such a complex subject matter as mental health.
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