Courtney Jamal Dewar, who went by the rapper name Capital STEEZ, committed suicide in New York City on Christmas Eve in 2012 by jumping off a building.
Since then, the upcoming New York hip-hop collective and close friends of STEEZ called ProERA, have been conducting the STEEZ Day annual festival throughout the tri-state area filled with performances and socialization to keep his name alive.
Mental health is slowly becoming a topic within the hip-hop community. But is hip-hop doing more good or bad for those suffering from mental health?
The genre was birthed in lower-income communities. Now, it is one of the most popular genres and is still used as a tool of expression. Through this tool, however, indications of mental health issues have continued to make their way through the waveforms.
Hip-hop artist Logic made a song called “1-800-273-8255,” named after the Suicide Prevention Hotline number. Starting with the chorus “I don’t want wanna be alive” and ending with the chorus “I finally wanna be alive,” blatantly shows that the artist’s purpose was to uplift those who suffer from mental health.
Another song, “Jocelyn Flores,” made by now deceased upcoming South Florida rapper XXXTentacion, was meant to share his personal pain and perhaps connect with his audience if they ever felt the same way. But lyrics such as “I’m in pain, wanna put ten shots in my brain. I’ve been trippin’ ‘bout some things, can’t change. Suicidal, same time I’m tame” can also be taken the wrong way, especially from those who oppose the genre.
“Counselors can expect internal and external resistance regarding provision of services to hip-hop clients that validate and infuse their own cultural values…,” according to Damaged Petals and Tenacity: Values Expressed in Fourth Generation Rap, a 2015 thesis study by Vanessa Martinez-Morales (Arizona State University, MBA ‘15).
Depression, bipolar disorder and addiction are some of the issues frequented in today’s hip-hop music. For some listeners, the music has become their “therapy session” because of a level of relatability.
Rappers such as Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky are said to have encounters with fans who thank them for their music due to its influence to prevent tragedies such as suicide and provide hope.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decade. Should hip-hop music be blamed for that? Some will try to make an argument for it. But to say that hip-hop music encourages the behavior more than the nation preventing the conversation about mental health in general, could lead to a long process of unpacking layering that goes deeper into lifestyle rather than just song lyrics.