Are you feeling down? Is it time to self-care? Here is a collection of albums to listen to, featuring classics from Solange, SZA, Outkast, and more.
Two weeks after the 2016 presidential election, Google searches for the term “self-care” spiked. It’s understandable. The carelessness of Donald Trump’s rhetoric had contributed to an enormous amount of stress and anxiety for marginalized folks.
For years self-care has existed as a part of the medical lexicon as term therapists used to encourage patients to put themselves first. In the ’60s and ’70s it was used as a political mantra for people of color to remind themselves to think about their own well being, during times of extreme bigotry, racism, and sexism. Self-care was a radical act: to declare ownership of your own body and mind, when others did not view you as human.
We have always been taught that caring for yourself, is a selfish act. We are taught to always put others above ourselves, no matter the cost, but it’s become a habit that many are learning to reject. Giving yourself attention and love is an important self-care practice that many are adopting in times of need. There are various ways to do this. It could be as simple as not taking on too many projects at once or using different types of media as a form of escape.
For example: music.
It has been proven that music has therapeutic properties. Music can be a useful tool when it’s time to self-care. In these 15 albums, each artist views self-care differently. From Mariah Carey’s liberating Butterfly to the optimism of Noname’s debut project Telefone, it’s clear that self-care is not limited to one definition, but a term that encompasses a wide range of emotions.
Here are 15 great albums for self-care.
A Tribe Called — Quest Midnight Marauders (1993)
A Tribe Called Quest’s third studio album, Midnight Marauders, focuses on unity and positivity in the hip-hop community. The cover features over 71 of hip-hop stars at the time. They are wearing headphones acting as one community. This was the group’s way of acknowledging all the artists that they respect and admire. It’s songs like “Award Tour” and “Electric Relaxation,” with smooth beats and humorous lyrics — “Bust off your couch, now you got Seaman’s furniture” —that will boost your mood.
Mariah Carey — Butterfly (1997)
Butterfly is marked as a transition album. During this period, Carey struggled to gain creative control of her work. She was also going through a divorce at the time, which led to her exercising her creative freedom. Carey tells her story of overcoming struggles through the song “Close Your Eyes,” where she must gather the courage to face misfortune against all odds. While the title track details the ability to let love go while coming into your own.
Outkast — Aquenmini (1998)
Outkast’s magnum opus focuses on the group’s own emotional introspection. In the song “Liberation” it’s all about freedom. We all need freedom from the obstacles and struggles that keep us from achieving our goals. At one point Cee-Lo, who is featured on the song sings:
There’s not a minute that goes by that I don’t believe we could fly/But I can feel it in the wind, beginning or the end/But people, keep your head to the sky.
When we go through tough times, it’s easy to let the bad memories affect how we make decisions for the future. The only way we can progress is if we acknowledge and accept our past.
Lauryn Hill — The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
A transcending album of it’s time, Lauryn Hill’s debut album spoke on spirituality, love, growth and heartbreak. The album is influenced heavily by Hill’s pregnancy (“To Zion”) and her relationship with God. In an interview with Guardian in 2013, she spoke about her decision to have her son and how she had to put herself first:
I had always made decisions for other people, making everybody else happy, and once I had him that was really the first decision that was unpopular for me. It was one that was based on my happiness and not what other people wanted for me or for themselves.
Religion can be a source of comfort when we want to alleviate mental stress. In Christianity, the theme is always love, how through growth and love one can achieve spiritual enlightenment.
India.Arie — Acoustic Soul (2001)
India.Arie’s Acoustic Soul focuses on internal beauty. Most of the tracks talk about having strength, wisdom and the ability to see the beauty within oneself (like her breakout single “Video.”) She also reiterates that black is beautiful, and women with melanin should embrace their skin in “Brown Skin.” There is a sense of empowerment and love that spreads throughout the album that lifts your spirits like on the airy ballad “Beautiful”.
Kid Cudi — Man on the Moon: End of the Day (2009)
Many of the songs on Kid Cudi’s debut are depressing, with themes of addiction and suffering (“Day ‘n’ Nite (Nightmare.)”) They’re dark and grim which speaks to Cudi’s own mindset, as he has been open about his struggle with depression (“Soundtrack 2 My Life.”) Living with a mental illness can be isolating, especially when it feels that there is no one to relate to. With this album listeners can relate to the feeling of being swallowed up by a black hole. But also the feeling that they can in fact overcome it (“Sky Might Fall.”)
Alicia Keys — The Element of Freedom (2009)
The most important aspect of this album is its emphasis on freedom and love. Speaking about the album, Alicia said: “Love does play a prominent role in the album because I believe love is the most important thing in the world. It’s the one thing we can all understand.” Songs like “Wait Till You See My Smile” and “How It Feels To Fly” allow listeners to escape and feel emotions that we usually ignore.
Solange — A Seat at the Table (2016)
It’s been two years, and black women still look at A Seat at the Table as an ode to self-care. Solange acknowledges the traumas that black women, specifically, must endure each day. She says herself that the album was influenced by her own personal journey towards healing. The album itself is a journey, from speaking on depression and the dangerous ways we try to cope (“Cranes In The Sky”) to an expression of anger on the burden of experiencing microaggressions (“Mad.”) And finally, towards the end, a feeling of empowerment knowing that we seek validation in ourselves versus externally (“Scales.”)
Noname – Telefone (2016)
The path to adulthood is scary. Sometimes it’s confusing and uncomfortable. Telefone does a good job of detailing the struggle of the transition from adolescence to adulthood. In “Diddy Bop,” she explores her childhood, the mistakes she’s made and the joyous events that came from those moments. There is a lot to say about how lack of confidence can affect you, and the different ways black pain can take a mental toll. “Forever” focuses on the concept of self-belief and using positive thought to eradicate evil in the world. A little optimism, no matter how small, can lead to the betterment of ourselves.
Isaiah Rashad — The Sun’s Tirade (2016)
In the aftermath of Isaiah Rashad’s release, he revealed that the reasons for the long delay came from his own struggles with depression and drugs: “I could feel my clout going away and I like my clout. I could feel my little power of words going away.” The record explores themes of self-discovery, overcoming your demons and the process of being “in transition.” “Wat’s Wrong” speaks on Rashad’s struggle with addiction and the suffocating effects of depression. Kendrick Lamar’s guest verse also encourages Rashad to seek help and positivity. In “Park,” Rashad speaks about overcoming all obstacles to improve within his career. Hip-hop is fueled by hypermasculinity, so to have an album and artist speak so openly about his mental health and telling others that it’s OK not to be OK is a big deal.
SZA — CTRL (2017)
The theme around SZA’s major label debut is control. Who has control. Who gains it. And how we sometimes lose it. The album itself is a diary entry, with topics like low self-esteem, desire, and jealousy at the forefront (“Garden (Say It Like Dat)” and “Prom.”) In “20 Something” she admits that her life is a mess, which rings true for many in their 20’s. It’s honest and vulnerable, which is what you need when you’re looking for an album that speaks your truth. There are also moments, like in the track “Supermodel,” when SZA rejects any insecurities regarding her body, but instead embraces her imperfections demonstrating her own journey of self-care.
St. Beauty — Running to the Sun (2018)
The combination of the music and lyrics makes this sound like a dream. The duo has defined their sound as the “Confetti” genre. It’s about being in awe and the different feelings that arise from seeing confetti. “Stone Mountain” is about feeling insecure and inadequate. The song also talks about doubting yourself, but still finding the strength to move forward and coming out victorious.
Chloe x Halle — The Kids Are Alright (2018)
The Beyoncé-approved duo uses this album to speak on growing into young women and overcoming the obstacles that come our way. The song “Hi Lo” is about empowerment, how we shouldn’t seek validation from anyone else except from ourselves. The title track speaks to the newest generation of young adults coming into their own, as well those who judge them. Any type of transition from adolescence to adulthood can be exhausting and strange. In an interview leading up to the release of the album, Chloe spoke about maturing into a young woman: “We’ll make mistakes and we’ll have obstacles but we’ll overcome them.”.
Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer (2018)
Dirty Computer is set in a world where many are oppressed and discouraged from living their true self. Monáe creates characters who are willing to go against authority to stick to her own authenticity. In an interview with Power 106, Monáe talks about how “being vulnerable and free can be challenging.” In “I Like That,” Monáe proclaims confidence in herself and the art she produces. If we want to really care for ourselves, we need to be able to reclaim our own definitions of our identities.
Mac Miller — Swimming (2018)
Mac Miller’s fifth studio album was released just a month before his death. The swimming metaphor carries on throughout the record. Instead of letting his demons drown him in his struggles, he is choosing to swim instead (“Perfecto.”) In his song “Self-Care,” he talks about caring for himself, letting go of past transgressions and the optimism of knowing he will overcome any obstacles. Mac also talks about moving towards healing and better days on the soulful “Wings.” In an interview following Swimming’s release, he talked about accepting love from those the closest to him as a remedy to dealing with his own recent issues in the tabloids: “When you actually go out into the world and you get a lot of love from people you realize how little that shit actually matters.”