“Oh, this the part where mental stability meets talent.” – Kendrick Lamar
Since rappers first started rocking mics, they’ve rhymed about the challenges they face due to systemic oppression and socio-political inequalities, overcoming those obstacles through grit, tenacity, and mental fortitude. Rap is poetry, after all—naturally expressive and deeply emotional at its core.
However, artists have historically been more inclined to dissect the outside world than to analyze how these traumatic, life-altering events have impacted their own mental health. For some, to dive too deep into your own emotional wellbeing runs the risk of being considered “soft.”
Going to therapy, specifically, is a topic that many artists have shied away from in their music—until recently. One of the most visible examples of a superstar rapper addressing therapy on an album was Jay-Z on 4:44, where he faced his infidelity, familial trauma, and ego head-on. “My therapist said I relapsed,” Hov raps on “Smile,” a song about his mother discovering her sexuality. Now, nearly five years later, two of rap’s biggest stars have openly rapped about the benefits of going to therapy (Drake in his verse on Jack Harlow’s “Churchill Downs” and Kendrick throughout his new album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers) during Mental Health Awareness Month. This represents a big step forward when it comes to breaking down the stigmas surrounding mental health.
The thematic structure of Kendrick’s Mr. Morale is centered around therapy sessions where he unpacks pivotal moments in his life that impacted who he is today. It takes bravery to rap about these revelations, especially issues like his unhealthy addiction to sex, “daddy issues,” and how his mother being abused affected his own outlook on the world. Mr. Morale isn’t overwhelmingly esoteric like some of Kendrick’s previous work, giving him a chance to lay his issues out in plain terms and reveal how therapy helped him get here.
A week prior, on Jack Harlow’s new song “Churchill Downs,” Drake opens his guest verse by rapping, “Cold hearts and heated floors/ No parental guidance, I just see divorce/ Therapy session, I’m in the waiting room reading Forbes/ Abandonment issues I’m getting treated for.” Since the beginning of his career, Drake has been more transparent and vulnerable than many of his rap peers (so much so that he was labeled “soft” early in his career), but this verse marks a significant moment where he directly addresses the help he’s received from therapy to resolve deeper familial issues.