Topics centered around mental health and depression dominate our public discourse. The national conversation surrounding mental wellness — online and offline — has aided in the stigma of suffering from depression being removed, slowly but surely.
Though society has recently developed the language and perspective to expand our understanding — through data and first-hand accounts — the current conversation surrounding mental health and depression isn’t quite new; it’s been subtly channeled through music through time. And historically, rap music has always served as a medium for artists to share their struggles.
The late Prodigy once said, “hip-hop is our therapy.” But the conversation around mental health is constantly evolving beyond that notion — beyond the catharsis of making and consuming music. Hip-hop artists have delved deeper into discussing the reality of mental wellness and how it affects their personal and professional lives, from being vocal about getting therapy to coping through self-care. All these states of transparency in their music help to promote a fuller understanding of mental health.
So, in honor of Mental Awareness Week, here’s a roundup of 24 memorable rap songs about depression, featuring tracks from Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, and more.
In their classic “Mind is Playing Tricks on Me,” from their debut album We Can’t Be Stopped, The Geto Boys capture the reality of Post Traumatic Syndrome within urban communities. Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill vividly describe the various mental states of paranoia, schizophrenia, and depression. “My Mind Playing Tricks On” Me” was a reflection of Scarface’s own inner turmoil, at the time struggling as a manic-depressive. The truth behind the song gives it an authenticity that is still felt almost 30 years later.
Death was a common theme in The Notorious B.I.G.’s music and never is it more apparent than on “Suicidal Thoughts.” Produced by the legendary Lord Finesse, “Suicidal Thoughts” was arguably one of the most exceptional rap songs on the late rapper’s debut album Ready to Die.
“Suicidal Thoughts” is a suicide note that finds Big conflicted about the hand that life had dealt him, and he calls Puff Daddy to explain the decision that he has already come to terms with.
The song ends in tragedy with a single gunshot, followed by the phone being left off the hook.
Organized Konfusion’s anthem about stress helped to change the narrative about the intersection of mental health and hip-hop. “Stress,” which was produced by Buckwild, accurately depicted the lived experiences of young Black America during the ’90s. While the duo would never gain widespread popularity, their contribution to the conversation about mental health is a noteworthy one.
Tupac was one of the most compelling personalities that hip-hop has ever produced. His influence still reverberates within the culture. On his seminal third album, Me Against The World, he deals with all of the emotion of the human experience, exposing his innermost feelings like never before against the backdrop of an impending prison sentence. “So Many Tears” embodies the vulnerability of Tupac as he feared for his life, expressed suicidal thoughts, and struggled with paranoia.
The iconic group A Tribe Called Quest were trailblazers. Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and the late Phife Dawg created the blueprint that so many have drawn from. On their fourth LP, Beats, Rhymes, and Life, the crew spoke about maneuvering through anxiety on “Stressed Out,” which features Faith Evans and Consequence. The track showcased all of the mental gymnastics that Black people have to go through just to simply exist. Released as a single in 1996, “Stressed Out’ spoke to the realities of anxiety, taking prescribed medicine, and building strong support systems long before it became mainstream.
Over the course of his career, DMX has had his fair share of battles — struggling with drug addiction, alcoholism, paranoia, and manic depression.
“Slippin,” from Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, is an exorcism of sorts. The song finds X reminiscing about all the traumatic events of his life and how they shaped him. In the opening refrain, X, with piercing insight says, “This life shit, this life shit is like is like bugged the fuck out, son, for real. See, to live is to suffer. But to survive…Well, that’s to find meaning in the suffering.”
Jean Grae is your favorite rapper’s, favorite rapper. Her lyrical exploits have gained her legendary status as an underground MC. On “Keep Livin,’” from her 2003 release The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP, she steps up to the plate and delivers some insight on how mental issues have impacted her family and how she deals with the stress. With lyrical precision, Ms. Grae explains that one of the ways she copes with depression is to “Keep Livin.”
Few could match the wit and dexterity of the Clipse when it came to spitting about cocaine and other controlled substances. But even the Clipse could not escape the psychological toil that comes with the drug game. On “Nightmares,” which features singer Bilal, the duo gets real about the PTSD of drug dealing. The paranoia, anxiety, stress, hallucinations —and yes even nightmares —are par for the course.
With the refrain of“I feel like dying”— a sample of Karma’s “Once” — on a loop, Lil Wayne tackles the topic of suicidal ideation with vulnerability. While at the peak of his powers, Lil Wayne came to grips with his own mental health journey and admitted his drug addiction. Although drug use has always been a part of hip-hop culture, Wayne — who was the most popular rapper in the world at the time — describing his dependency on the anti-anxiety pill Xanax was a game-changer. Wayne opened the door for rappers to share openly about the destructive nature of addiction and how mental illness impacts us in numerous ways.
“Beautiful” is a single from Eminem’s sixth studio album Relapse. He first began to compose the song during a stint in rehab in 2005 to deal with his addiction to sleep medication. The song would not be finished until he got sober some years later, and he added a third verse. On this melancholy track, Eminem talks about his drug addiction with pathos. “Beautiful” was the only song he kept that he wrote while in rehab. He explained:
One of the only reasons that I put that track on there is that I feel like it’s the best song out of that batch that I did when I wasn’t sober. At the time I felt like, “This is it for me.” I wrote the first verse and a half in rehab, and when I came out, I finished it. It was the only song that marks that period without bringing me back to that place.
Chance the Rapper wears his faith on his sleeve and is unapologetic about it. But even people of faith are not exempt from the highs and lows that come with the emotional rollercoaster of life. “Long Time II,” featuring Nico Segal, is a passionate plea about navigating through the dark abyss of loss and heartbreak. Over a haunting piano, Chance bares his soul, holding nothing back as he seeks freedom from his inner turmoil.
Pharoahe Monch’s reputation as a legendary lyricist is etched in stone. Ever since his days as a member of Organized Konfusion, Monch has probed deep into his own metal issues through his music.
On his conceptual album Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Monch’s creates every track around some form of PTSD. During the recording process, Monch was struggling with depression and trying to maintain his sobriety. PSTD was not metaphorical but a mirror into his experiences.
“Losing My Mind,” is Monch’s attempt to add to the collective conversation of the need for therapy in the African American community. Maneuvering through the darkness of depression, he skillfully depicts the internal struggle when one is suffering from faltering mental illness.
Before he became a media star, Joe Budden was a formidable and highly respected MC in hip-hop. Always an open book, he bore his soul on “Only Human.” From his Some Love Lost EP, “Only Human” was recorded the day after he was released from jail, details his struggle with his mental state. It also chronicles his thoughts regarding suicide and depression.
Grief has no expiration date. Death is very much a part of life, a lesson that everyone has to learn, and there is no escaping this reality. The best we can do is simply manage grief from day to day, moment to moment. From his album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl Sweatshirt takes on the topic of grief head-on. On “Grief,” Sweatshirt deals with the angst of human mortality. The rapper also addressed themes of paranoia and isolation. He interweaves the loss of his grandmother, distrust of anything and everybody, and all the anxiety that comes along with it.
Kendrick Lamar is one of the most heralded MCs in hip-hop. His lyrical ingenuity allows him to address a plethora of subjects with nuance and vivid insight. Featured on his highly acclaimed LP To Pimp A Butterly, “u” explores his previous encounters with depression, suicidal thoughts, and survivor’s guilt. According to Lamar, it was a difficult endeavor to compose to the song. In an interview, Lamar said, “That was one of the hardest songs I had to write. There’s some very dark moments in there. All my insecurities and selfishness and letdowns. That shit is depressing as a motherfucker. But it helps, though. It helps.”
Vic Mensa has been an open book about his struggles with mental health. His other-worldly talent as an MC is only matched by the internal forces that he constantly wrestles with. For Mensa, his artistic expression helps him to combat psychological trauma and to keep his sanity. On “There’s A Lot Going On,” Mensa looks into his own soul and battles with his inner demons, making a bold artistic statement. Throughout the track, Mensa paints a portrait of his personal experiences of mental health combined with his drug use and consumption of alcohol to ease with the pain.
In 2013, Kid Cudi suffered from an emotional breakdown after ending a relationship. In 2016, he announced on social media that he checked himself into a rehab because of his struggles with prescription medications, anxiety, depression, and suicidal urges. Cudi’s music is often colored with those metal health battles.
On “Wounds,” from his Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ album, Cudi moves through the various mental states and the effects that they cause. “Wounds” is an authentic portrayal of an artist that’s fighting for their mental life.
On her magnum opus, A Seat at the Table, Solange addresses a multiplicity of topics with provocative clarity. “Mad,” featuring Lil Wayne, is an exploration into Black emotional vulnerability. She questions the very notion that African Americans have to justify their anger in the face of American oppression.
Lil Wayne, in one of his most transparent verses, addresses many of things that makes him mad, but he also talks about his suicide attempt at a young age. Weezy has mentioned the shooting before but this is the first time that he reveals it was an actual suicide attempt.
Lil Uzi Vert could be considered the personification of modern Emo rap. He represents the wing of hip-hop where MCs are not afraid to express their emotions. Following his break-up with Brittany Byrd, Uzi found himself in a bad space. He explained:
I was speaking authentic on “XO TOUR Llif3.” Anyone can relate: I was in a dark space, so I went with it.” The rapper revealed his abuse of Xanax, suicidal ideation, and tremendous heartache. “
The song’s famous chorus — “push me to the edge, all my friends are dead” — conveyed the mental torment that Uzi was enduring.
On “1-800-273-8255,” Logic tackles the issue of suicide head-on. The song’s name is the phone number for the American National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL). Logic addresses homophobia and bullying on the track, two common occurrences that often lead to suicide.
Logic has called “1-800-273-8255” the “most important song” of his career. It’s also his most successful, going six times platinum in the United States.
For years JAY-Z has been consistently stoic in his persona. He has shared his past personal experiences through his music occasionally, but he mostly kept his listening audience at somewhat of a distance. But after a very public near-end to his marriage to Beyoncé, Hov learned the art of baring one’s soul through artistic expression, as he does throughout 4:44.
JAY-Z exposes himself in ways that we’ve rarely experienced in his career. On “Smile,” he reveals that his mother, Gloria Carter, is gay, and he cried tears of joy when she met her partner. Also, he talks about how beneficial therapy has been as he attempted to rebuild his marriage that was on the brink of collapse.
With COVID-19 ravaging our country in 2020, self-care is more than just a nice catchphrase. Self-care is essential for our mental, spiritual, and emotional wellness. The late Mac Miller was definitely ahead of the game with his track “Self-Care.” The song was written after his break-up with Ariana Grande. At the time, his life was spiraling out of control. On “Self-Care,” Mac Miller is on a journey filled with pain, addiction, mental illness, and heartbreak that tragically would ultimately be the forces that caused his life to end prematurely.
Juice WRLD’s death in 2019 left the culture with many questions about how to address mental illness and drug usage. Juice WRLD’s most iconic record is “Lucid Dreams.” It’s a song he described as a “therapy session” that he wrote while going through struggles in his relationship. Sampling Sting’s “Shape of My Heart,” “Lucid Dream” is an emo-rap ballad that captures the mental anguish when relationships end.
On Detroit 2, Big Sean speaks openly about the importance of his mental health. Throughout the album, Sean talks about anxiety, meditation, and how therapy has allowed him to be in a much better place. Accompanied by the late, great Nipsey Hussle on “Deep Reverence,” Sean cleanses himself of all of the mental barriers that have held him back and makes the commitment to continually work through his issues.
Rashad Grove is a writer from NJ whose work has appeared on BET, Billboard, MTV News, Okayplayer, High Snobiety, Medium, Revolt TV, The Source Magazine, and others. You can follow him at @thegroveness for all of his greatness.
SZA's S.O.S. album receives artwork, it's slated to release in December. SZA has finally revealed… Read More
Premiering in December, The Best Man: The Final Chapters reintroduces characters from the beloved Malcolm D.… Read More
2Pac's posthumous Greatest Hits album has been on the Billboard 200 for 450 weeks, also the… Read More
After Quentin Tarantino's recent comments on Marvel films, Samuel L. Jackson challenged the director on… Read More
Drake and The Weeknd are the most-streamed artists on Spotify, while Steve Lacy and Jack… Read More