Monday, September 24The Voice of London

Music And Mental Health: Is There A Line?

Are there some things you just should not rap about?

Reporter: Bella Dawe | Sub-Editor:  Chrys Salter

Hip hop fans are used to their favourite artists throwing low blows and hurling insults at each other: from Ja Rule calling out Eminem’s mother, baby mama and daughter on Loose Change in 2002, to rap legends Jay Z and Nas warring for years before finally quashing their beef in 2005. The fact is, rap is supposed to be gritty and thought-provoking. However, fans of the genre have been divided recently on social media following a feud between two highly influential artists: Drake and Kid Cudi.

Just in case you didn’t know – and really, you should – Kid Cudi is somewhat a legend. The Day N Nite rapper/producer has been making hits since before anyone had heard of Toronto rapper Drake, and Cudi was working with artists such as Kanye West before most Controlla fans were even born. But this feud isn’t about how many Grammy’s they’ve won or how many records they’ve sold. This feud is about something much more important: the stigma surrounding mental health.

Kid Cudi has been one of the only rappers brave enough to speak openly about his own mental health issues. In an open letter to fans at the start of last month, he stated that he was pressing pause on the production of his new album as he was dealing with suicidal urges, and had been admitted to a mental health facility. Social media was flooded with messages of support and solidarity from artists and fans alike, with the hashtag #YouGoodMan trending on Twitter.

Beforehand, the Man on the Moon rapper had fired shots over Twitter, naming Yeezus and Drizzy as the main culprits behind a culture of ghost-writing that is already a topic of great debate within the rap community.

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Subsequently, Drake hit back by calling out Kid Cudi in new track Two Birds One Stone, set to appear on his upcoming collaborative project More Life. However, fans weren’t pleased that the 6 God chose to use Cudi’s recent rehab stint and open letter as ammunition for a diss track:

“You were the man on the moon, now you just go through your phases / Life of the angry and famous … You stay xanned and perc’d up, so when reality set in, you don’t gotta face it,” rapped Drake.

“Look what happens soon as you talk to me crazy / Is you crazy?”

Making reference to Xanax, a drug used to treat the symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders, Drake has potentially alienated a large proportion of listeners. In 2013, over 50 million prescriptions were filled for Xanax in the US, a rate that has continued to rise by 9% annually.

In addition to this, recreational use of Xanax and addiction/abuse related to the drug are at an all time high. Making fun of someone who needs prescription drugs to treat a mental health disorder, and has been brave enough to talk about it is pretty low, even in rap culture. Not to mention the fact that Drake himself is known for being ‘in his feelings’ ninety-nine percent of the time.

More importantly, Drizzy’s ignorance towards the stigma surrounding mental health is alarming, considering that a majority of his fan base is made up of young, black men. Statistically, black men are far more likely to experience mental health problems and are far less likely to talk about them or seek help. According to this 2015 report, black men who suffer from depression “underutilise” mental health facilities and have the “highest all-cause mortality rates of any racial/ethnic group in the US”.

In a time where musicians often have more influence on young people than most politicians, it seems irresponsible to shame and make light of someone from your own community who is struggling, and to then set this example to young, impressionable fans.

Where Kid Cudi’s open letter provoked conversation and much needed discussion on mental health in the black community, Drake’s diss track stands to shut down any progressive conversation and adds to existing stigmas.

Arguably, rap culture is fuelled by feuds. The back and forth keeps the game moving so to speak, helping rap veterans remain relevant and giving upcoming artists an opportunity to earn their stripes. But recent events raise the question: are there certain things that just shouldn’t be rapped about? And do rappers, if not all musicians, have a responsibility to relieve stigma and push progressive conversations, particularly in their own communities?

It’s safe to say that Drake has crossed a line here – 100 percent of participants on our Facebook poll agreed. Maybe the Canadian rapper should stick to rapping about booty and heartbreak, rather than victimising those who are actually suffering.