Hip-Hop Artists Have Been Writing About Mental Health For Decades

#YouGoodMan is important, but the conversation isn't new.
Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

When Kid Cudi announced via social media last week he was checking himself into rehab for depression and suicidal thoughts, many people responded on Facebook and Twitter in support of his heart-wrenching post. His message opened up an important conversation online to discuss mental health, race and masculinity, through the use of the hashtag #YouGoodMan.

It’s a deeper push within the black community to continue dialogue about self-care and wellbeing. Many people who weighed in thought Kid Cudi’s disclosure was a breath of fresh air, based on the idea that hip-hop artists don’t usually talk about mental health.

But Jordan Simpson took exception to this idea. A writer and slam poet, he wanted to remind everyone that musicians and rappers have been talking about – and experiencing – mental illness for decades.

“To say that hip-hop artists don’t talk about mental illness is wack,” Simpson posted on Twitter. “They do, y’all just don’t listen.”

The misconception that hip-hop is a channel for cars, clothes and money, rather than something more meaningful, bothered Simpson, he told The Huffington Post. So he took to Twitter to correct it.

“Don’t hit me with that, ‘We aren’t talking about it.’ Y’all ignore rappers’ mental health,” Simpson tweeted. Users retweeted his post more than 6,000 times.

Then Simpson tweeted lyric after lyric from the likes of Notorious B.I.G, Chance the Rapper, Beanie Sigel and Vic Mensa, all reminding listeners that hip-hop artists have been writing about the experience of living with mental health conditions since the beginning:

“What really inspired the thread was the backlash of people that aren’t as in tune to hip-hop,” he said. “A lot of hip-hop artists have used their song and what they go through not only to connect with their fans, but to find healing in themselves. I identify [with that].”

Growing up in The Bronx, New York, Simpson says he was always surrounded by hip-hop, but it wasn’t until he was hospitalized for neuromyelitis optica which resulted in permanent vision loss in his right eye that he started to analyze rap lyrics.

“I literally had to look at the world from a different perspective and being able to identify with artists and knowing that I am not alone keeps me grounded,” he said.

His thread inspired a dialogue from hip-hop fans around the internet, with many chiming in with their own favorite mental health-related verse. Even those who first tweeted to talk about men of color and mental health helped get the conversation going.

More and more people are speaking up on the subject: Kid Cudi is one of several celebrities to challenge mental health stigma and use their platform for mass reach. Zayn Malik, Wayne Brady, Howie Mandel among other artists, personalities and actors have come forward to open up about working through mental health, and it’s a good thing: nearly 60 million Americans per year suffer in some way from mental illness and each voice that comes forward reduces the stigma against it.

Hip-hop’s conversation about mental health is nothing new, Simpson says. It turns out fans have been communing over these important lyrics all along.

“It’s also a transformative process,” Simpson said. “These lyrics spread awareness.”

CORRECTION: This article previously misstated that Jordan Simpson lost vision in his left eye and that it was removed.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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