2011 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival - Day 3

Hip Hop Can Cure Mental Illness

Hip Hop connoisseurs have always agreed that there’s an infectious power in the music.

Hip Hop can alter moods, make you dance, and stimulate you intellectually–but does it also possess the power to heal psychological issues? The members of Hip Hop Psych certainly think so. Hip Hop Psych, a collaborative team of research associates from Cambridge University along with interns from various universities discuss Hip Hop lyrics and its ability to aid the mental health industry.

Despite the negative connotation associated with Hip Hop culture and music, and it’s alleged ability to negatively influence fraternity kids to spew racial slurs (Insert eye roll here), Hip Hop Psych aims to prove that lyrics go far beyond excessive cursing, misogyny and an obsession with material wealth.

In it’s mission statement Hip Hop Psych states:

“Hip hop music is rich with mental health references related to addiction, psychosis, conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and so on, as well as multiple environmental risk factors (e.g., urban city, poor nutrition, destructive parental influences resulting in childhood maltreatment in the absence of positive role models) and predisposing genetic and epigenetic risk factors.”


Dr. Becky Inkser (left) and Dr.Akeem Sule (right)

In an online journal, The Lancet Psychiatry, Hip Hop Psych’s co-founders Dr. Akeem Sule and Dr.Becky Inkster explain how Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics can help mental health physicians and patients alike understand deep psychological issues. The article used Kendrick’s “Swimming Pools” as an example of insight into a person suffering from alcohol dependency (“Wake up, drank, pass out, drank”), the peer pressure that may accompany such an addiction (“some people wanna fit in with the popular, that’s my problem”), and even the familial ties that can create it (“Grandaddy had the golden flask”).

The group also dissected songs from Kendrick’s “To Pimp A Butterfly,” using “u” as potential insight into depression, stress, and survivors guilt, and “i” as an example of positively dealing with negativity. Dr.Becky Inkster, co-founder of Hip Hop psych, explained the relevance of Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics, saying

“The lyrics could provide a valuable way for young people to understand and consider their own vulnerability and life choices, but in a way that is relevant and accessible. With this information to hand, they can start to look at their own situation and environment in order to make more informed and empowered choices”

Hip Hop music still takes lyricism very seriously, despite experiencing a new wave of styles and musical innovation within the culture. There are a number of legendary lyricists who were studied; Tupac, Nas, and Biggie also made their mark.

According to the University of Cambridge, “The co-founders are keen to take Hip Hop Psych into prisons, schools, and hostels to promote positive self-esteem through engagement with hip-hop artists.”

For more on the researchers: 
Hip Hop Psych is co-founded by Dr Akeem Sule and Dr Becky Inkster. Sule is a Consultant Psychiatrist in General Adult Psychiatry, South Essex Partnership Trust, and an Honorary Visiting Research Associate at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge. Inkster is a Clinical Neuroscientist in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge and she holds an Honorary Contract with Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. Inkster and Sule are both affiliated with Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.

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