Anxious People Tell Us How Hip-Hop Is Therapeutic

"I find myself mimicking 2Pac's demeanor and living my life unapologetically."

Music has always given me the power to have an alternate persona and connect with people that I've never spoken to in my entire life. I felt like Jay-Z had his arm around my shoulder when he rapped in "Renegade." Through the song, he told me of his struggles, which seemed akin to the bouts of anxiety that plagued my own search for identity.

This past summer, Hov evolved even further into the role I'd assigned him—big brother/therapist—when he dropped his 13th album (sometimes a black man needs a little time before he starts addressing depression) 4:44, in which he touched on his infidelity on the baddest chick in the game as well as his own mental health. He also recently addressed how the suicide of Linkin Park member Chester Bennington changed the dialogue of mental health and music.


While conversation about mental illness is still taboo for most communities around the world—and an excess of melanin can also mean an excess of shame and denial surrounding the topic—music has been long known to be a healing agent for both the listeners and for those who have the opportunity to create it.

Hip-hop is now starting to make mental health more a priority in its music and in its activism. Mental health professionals are using it as a way to connect with troubled youth and open up about potential depression and trauma. Last month, Maryland-based rapper Logic used his platform at the MTV Video Music Awards to perform his single "1-800-273-8255" where he speaks from the perspective of someone ready to end their life. The phone number itself is the direct line for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and directly following his performance, calls surged up to 33 percent from the same time last year—it was the second-highest call volume ever for them. Both alarmed and moved by this, we asked people with depression or anxiety what they listen to when they need a little lyrical lift.

Donovan Rainey, 23, Richmond, Virginia

When I'm depressed it's hard to find music that's really going to stick to my ribs. But I think that's what really helps me through some days.

In my mind, no one can touch A Tribe Called Quest. They do an incredible job of getting their message across and making it easy to listen to. I can relate to their lyrics on songs like "Stressed Out" and "Find a Way" because they touch on mental health and make it relatable to the lives of black men. ATCQ has really gotten me through some times when I thought I was gonna feel a certain way forever. I know they have saved lives with their music.


I also have a strong connection with Outkast's music. André 3000 builds my confidence as a person and an artist when I listen to him rap because the stories he tells sounds so much like something I have gone through. It feels like Outkast is talking to me directly when I have headphones on, especially when it feels physically and mentally impossible to get out of bed some days.

Marli Cain, 30, Waipahu, Hawaii

Over the years coping with my anxiety and depression, I have been able to use music as a type of guide for my mood. I grew up listening to Slick Rick and The Notorious B.I.G. Those are my regular go-tos even though they are much older on the hip hop spectrum. Listening to nostalgic songs can allow you to tap into those happy moments (which can be rare when you are constantly anxious and depressed).

Even when you are feeling uninspired to be happy or feeling the need to run away from hectic anxiety-fueled thoughts, music can give you three to five minutes of peace. Just turn on 'Apache' by the Sugarhill Gang and I swear it will help. Missy Elliot has been the one artist I turned to when I felt as though I was overwhelmed. Her songs make you want to move.

Bronson Beverly, 27, Washington, DC

Two particular artists whose music have been able to carry me through hard times—including my anxiety—is Pharrell Williams and Big Sean. Pharrell's music from even back in The Neptunes and N.E.R.D. days to now has always been unique, pleasant, smooth, and upbeat. The sound, no matter where I am or what I'm going through always generates a vibe that's easy for me to get lost in. In a sense, I would say his music helps bring me back to my center.


I've been listening to Big Sean from very early on and I relate to his content. I've heard the frustration in his music but I also hear the hunger and optimism. He's someone that I believe has problems—the same way I or anyone else does—but remains focused on his goals and continues to get positive results. This motivates me to keep my head up, push through whatever I'm going through and continue to work towards a better life for myself.

Cierra Liles, 26, Waldorf, Maryland

I've struggled with anxiety from elementary school well into my early 20s. Music has always been a form of therapy for me and my favorite artist is 2Pac, because of his authenticity. The rawness of his music, wrapped in poetry is what drew me in immediately. He talks about struggle, love, pain, and so many different aspects of life that I could relate to in my own.

Pac, however, never let his hardships tear him down. Instead he said, 'Fuck all the bullshit; fuck what you think—I'm doing this my way no matter what anyone has to say.' The confidence he exuded through his music made me believe in myself that I too could achieve that same level confidence. I find myself mimicking his demeanor and living my life unapologetically.

Without the energy of people like 2pac, I would still be in a state of constant worry, miserable and depressed. It's important to find someone that feeds your soul. Someone that feeds your confidence.


Mong Linh Nguyen, 23, Washington, DC

I was raised in a traditional Vietnamese home where mental disorders carried a negative stigma. Trauma or suicidal ideation were frowned upon with judgement and prejudice. Along with art, music has become stabilizing and comforting in my coping with PTSD and depression. Music gives me the tools I need to step out of my past experiences and re-purpose those memories as soundtracks for new possibilities in my life.

My older brother, James, and I lived apart the majority of our lives. I needed a way to stay connected with my family and music gave it to me. James and I maintained our bond through it, he introduced me to southern hip-hop artists I fell in love with like Big K.R.I.T. and UGK.

Big K.R.I.T'S "Red Eye" places me in a self-reflective state. He talks about the strain of maintaining a relationship while battling his personal demons. I found the piece versatile enough to be applied beyond romantic relationships. The willingness to admit to his own faults reminds me that I'm human and I won't always be the ideal partner to everyone in my life.

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