It seems rappers
are losing it these days.
the past weeks and months, the news headlines have been flooded with
stories of Hip-Hop artists receiving treatment for mental illness or
impairment, including Gucci Mane, Charles Hamilton, and longtime troubled
the most part, this isn’t MC institutionalization Lindsay Lohan-style.
Critics say the cries for help are publicity stunts or convenient ways
to dodge jail time. In fact, Gucci Mane, two weeks off a psychiatric
evaluation, tattooed an ice cream cone on his face while promoting his
mixtape, 2 Time, with DJ Love Dinero.
say the recent meltdowns signal a bigger problem among scores of untreated
people, especially Black men. In rap, crazy sometimes equals cool; still,
experts agree that when mental illness goes unchecked, it can lead to
all sort of issues, including depression, paranoia, violence, and suicide.
psychiatric disorders are not diagnosed and treated, they can have a
significant impact on the individual, their family and friends, and
society,” Dr. Colleen A. Ewing, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with
F.A.C.E. Psychological Services, recently told AllHipHop.com. “Untreated
mental illnesses can also be a burden on society, causing loss of work
productivity, increased levels of homelessness, and interactions with
the criminal justice system,” Dr. Ewing added.
show that in the past five years, Gucci Mane has been arrested and jailed
five times in Georgia, for charges ranging from aggravated assault to
aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. In early January, his lawyer
told an Atlanta judge his client was mentally incompetent to speak for
himself during a probation violation hearing. The judge ordered Gucci
to a nearby psychiatric and drug dependency hospital to undergo evaluation.
Just last week, he was arrested again for pushing a woman out of a moving
car, an incident that originally happened in January.
but tragic rapper DMX has a well-known history of drug abuse and brushes
with the law. He has been incarcerated 13 times, including at least
once each year for the past decade, for infractions from drug to guns
to illegal pit bull possession. His December visit to an Arizona mental
health unit was ordered after his most recent arrest for violating probation
by drinking alcohol during a concert.
over the years have said DMX suffers from bipolar disorder, in addition
to his clear penchant for crack and liquor. His altered states of being
might be the gift and the curse that lend brilliance and tragedy to
his lyrics; a tortured soul often makes for the best material – think
the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Presently, Dr. Ewing said there are more
people experiencing mental health issues than ever – and many of them
are functioning and sometimes excelling in traditional society.
are many more households led by single parents, and there is less of
an extended family. As a result, many individuals do not have support
systems in place that normally would have enabled them to cope with
stress,” said Dr. Ewing. “They develop a maladaptive reaction to
the stress, such as depression or anxiety. To help them manage these
symptoms, many persons will turn to drugs and/or alcohol,“ she said.
not to mention the pushing and pulling that occurs with artists of various
levels of popularity from sex and drugs being contextual staples, to
the proverbial, fake ‘yes’ men and women who laugh at all of their
jokes and look upon them as if they were living reflections of human
perfection,” said Dr. James M. Ballard III. Dr. Ballard, a licensed
clinical psychologist practicing in Maryland, presents on topics related
to the mental health of performing artists, i.e., rappers, vocalists,
and musicians, etc. at music conferences, workshops, and seminars, and
works independently with artists and groups/bands.
with the help of people like Dr. Ballard or encouragement from others,
rappers seek help voluntarily. This past summer rapper Charles Hamilton
checked himself into New York Presbyterian Hospital, citing the need
for “peace of mind” as the reason for his stay. From inside the
hospital, he gave rambling but coherent press interviews comparing the
music industry to a psych ward.
Ewing noted, “The music industry is in itself an arena that constantly
exposes an individual to high levels of stress – these stressors can
include ongoing ‘beefs’ with other artists, constantly being in
the spotlight, your image and music constantly being scrutinized and
criticized, people holding unrealistic role model expectations of you,
and having to maintain a particular persona.”
a music artist has to continually produce new music and stay relevant
as the music industry changes. Many artists have to deal with these
stressors at young ages, when they have not developed adequate coping
skills, do not have strong support systems in place, etc,” said
time is no longer theirs; their issues are considered within the framework
of the bottom line,” said Dr. Ballard. “Artists may be tired, have
the flu, be anxious, be depressed, be hoarse, miss their families and/or
children, be experiencing trouble recalling their lyrics, be high or
drunk, doubt themselves as people, or be experiencing an assortment
of other issues, but regardless, the show must go on,” he added.
top it off, mental illness has a stigma, especially in the Black community
where historically, seeking help for mental or emotional problems is
seen as a sign of weakness. Dr. Yasser A. Payne, asst. professor of
Black American Studies at University of Delaware, is not quick to write
off rappers’ instability with the stigma. “’Mental illness’
is strong language – I would argue the mind is ‘challenged,’ and
the mind and spirit have adapted to traumatic events,” he told AllHipHop.
it’s difficult to capture to what extent Black youth and, in particular,
street life-oriented Black men are challenged with Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD), given that Black men have the highest turnover rate
in therapy – something like a 90% turnover rate,” he noted. Dr. Payne,
who has studied the complex lives of urban Black men, added that many
rappers, like other Black men growing up in the streets, can suffer
from the same PTSD effects as soldiers returning from a war-zone.
is vastly unstudied in the context of street life-oriented Black men,
and may be the way to understand mental health in this population,”
he said. “Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, a social work scholar is pretty popular
for coining the term ‘Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,’ which underscores
how exposure to violence and other forms of urban stressors have deeply
impacted the psyches, attitudes, and behaviors of Black youth.“
it’s from industry pressure, an undiagnosed problem, or growing up
fatherless in drug and crime-infested neighborhoods, something does
seem to be going wrong in the minds of rappers at a higher rate these
days. Awareness and therapy are keys to managing their issues. Ironically,
in the zany world of Hip-Hop, rapper meltdowns sometimes lead to critically
acclaimed, platinum-selling albums like Kanye’s Beautiful Dark
Mental illness is no laughing matter.
AllHipHop.com cares, and we offer the following
resources for more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness
(www.NAMI.org), the American Psychological Association
(www.APA.org), and local community mental health centers.