When Grandmaster Flash wrote "The Message" and The Notorious B.I.G. turned out "Juicy," it was not just a way to share a glimpse of everyday life in New York's toughest neighborhoods, but also escape it.
"It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under" Grandmaster Flash raps, urging himself on amidst the urban turmoil of 1980s' South Bronx.
Across town in Brooklyn, Biggie would later boast: "Now I'm in the limelight 'cause I rhyme tight."
Expression through music has always been an effective method of self-therapy.
But according to a new Cambridge University study, the act of listening to hip hop in particular could be a bonafide psychological help for people suffering from depression or mental illnesses. In an article just published in the medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry psychiatry researchers Akeem Sule and Becky Inster studied how "hip hop can be implemented as a unique tool for refinement of psychotherapies and psychoeducation [...] and to help with public health education and anti-stigma campaigns."
Grandmaster Flash's "The Message", The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy" but also J Flexx's "Lady Heroin" are three tracks the researchers particularly recommend.
As major depressive disorders spread throughout the world and mental health support is decreasing, they found that "bridging such techniques with hip hop music can cultivate a new culture of understanding, based on a context-enhanced partnership of mutual respect and trust." But most importantly, it is about making these techniques "culturally accessible to those who most need them."
The two researchers put forward the rich and visual narrative-style that is commonly used in hip hop, which emerged in the South Bronx in the early 1970s. And because the genre generally stems from areas ravaged by socio-economic deprevation, patients suffering from depression may feel concerned by the lyrics, which are often linked to crime, drugs and poverty.
“Hip hop artists use their skills and talents not only to describe the world they see, but also as a means of breaking free. There’s often a message of hope in amongst the lyrics, describing the place where they want to be — the cars they want to own, the models they want to date," the researchers explain.
To continue breaking barriers between the hip hop and medical communities, Akeem Sule and Becky Inster co-founded Hip Hop Psych, a venture aiming to further raise awareness on mental health issues through music, with outreach work in prisons, schools, and youth hostels.
In addition to the three tracks recommended by the Cambridge study, we at Worldcrunch suggest this global hip hop playlist — with artists from the U.S. to Russia, China, Italy, France and beyond — to help brighten your day: