Music: Therapy for the Modern Era

Mental health and depression, in particular, been seen as a stigma throughout much of history. Many people have viewed those who suffer from these issues as weak. However, this is quite the opposite. These people are some of the strongest, as many of them still persevere and strive through these issues. Often time, music is used to express this sentiment to the masses; this very idea led to the creation of the “emo” genre of rock. This genre reached its peak around the early to mid 2000s with the rise of bands such as My Chemical Romance and Brand New. Although bands such as these are not nearly as popular as they once were, there are still semblances of it found in a surprising place: Modern Hip-Hop.


The 2000s

Rock musicians have always made strives to be open to their audiences about mental health. This led to the gradual rise of the emo genre around the late 90s to early 2000s. The genre of Emo Rock was popularized by the success of many bands such as My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Taking Back Sunday. Songs like “Welcome to the Black Parade” and “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” became anthems for a genre that not many people had been exposed to before. Their success paved the way for discussions of mental health and tragic events in people’s lives to take place in everyday conversations, and for less of a stigma to be held towards these topics. Along with this, the genre also helped people through some of the woes that come with life. One of the most prominent bands in the emo scene, Brand New, often discussed themes of dying, and the fear that comes with it, something that many people tend to think about. Other bands, such as The Used and Panic! At the Disco, often talk about the difficulties that come with relationships, which is something that many people, especially those around our age, can relate to. Another iconic groups by the name of Motion City Soundtrack often talks about how they feel separated from society, and struggle to find a place in it. Many songs from these bands are often considered some of the more iconic and popular of the decade. This is not just because they are great songs, but also because many people were able to relate to the themes found in the lyrics. Instead of just being songs people listen to, they’re also ones to which people can relate. This is why many people looked to the Emo genre for comfort, as they felt a personal attachment to it.


Emo in Early Hip-Hop

Hip-Hop and Rap have always been known for their descriptions of hard lives in impoverished areas. Many artists prior to the 21st century have typically discussed themes of urban violence, drug use, as well as the tough exterior needed to survive in this type of lifestyle. However, something else that comes with it is the loss of loved ones through violent means. Along with this, it is difficult to survive in a world where you are constantly in fear. Ideas of emotional distress, suicide, and death of loved ones have been found in the music of artists such as Ghostface Killah, the Notorious B.I.G, Eminem, Tupac, and other iconic pioneers of the genre. Many of these artists suffered through their own issues, whether it be the paranoia of fame, the rough life in which they were raised, or their own battle against depression. Even some of the tougher names in the genre were willing to open up about their own personal demons. Each cemented a legacy that can be felt in modern hip-hop. They set the stepping stones for mental health to be talked about in hip-hop, a genre that typically did not discuss these topics.


Emo and Mainstream Success in Rap

Despite the success of the individual artists, their songs about mental health never really caught on. However, we saw a large influx of more artists that are honest about mental health arising in the mainstream. With the popularity of songs such as “Day N Nite” by the legendary Kid Cudi, and the success of artists such as Kanye West and Mac Miller propelled mental health into the forefront of discussions. Kid Cudi is an artist that has been very open about his struggles against depression throughout the entirety of his career, and because of this, listeners have been able to relate their own struggles to those of Cudi. The song previously mentioned, Day N Nite, was one of the first major hip-hop songs about these sort of struggles to gain prominence in the mainstream. Here, Cudi discusses the loss of his uncle, and how he never made amends with him before he passed. It is something that haunted Cudi, and in the song he talks about how it made him depressed, and how he coped with it through drug use. With Kanye West recently telling the public he has been  diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, he has opened up the dialogue about mental health, greatly. It made it alright for people in the public’s eye to see a visionary, such as Kanye, deal with such a disorder. It also served as an impactful moment that helped open up the hip-hop world’s eyes. It also showed them that people in the genre they love so dearly also struggle with not only depression, but bipolar disorders as well. In fact, he compares the disorder to a “superpower.” Even before this, his 808s & Heartbreaks album also made it much more common for artists to discuss the impacts of breakups and the loss of loved ones. Then, artists such as the late Mac Miller merged all of these together. His last album, Swimming, before his passing, discusses themes of heartbreak, drug use, and his struggles to get a grip of self-worth, and the gradual process of finding that self-worth. Each of these artists, and many more, struggle with demons similar to those of previous generations. The difference is, these artists have been pushed further into the mainstream than the Emo rock bands that arose around the same time. These artist’s presence in modern culture can even be seen today, as they continue to influence the modern generation and many are here to discuss their mental situations.


Soundcloud Hip-Hop

Just as artists such as Biggie and Ghostface Killah paved the way for many acts that came out during the mid-2000s, those such as Kanye and Cudi set a course for the influx of rappers from the SoundCloud platform. SoundCloud is a streaming platform that allows for artists to produce music and put it onto a public forum, which has led to many success stories. Some notable names are XXXTENTACION, Lil Uzi Vert, and Lil Peep. Often times, some of these artists are heralded for opening up to their audiences about their mental state. The most prevalent of these was XXXTENTACION, also simply known as X. X is often considered a very polarizing figure inside of hip-hop. He developed a cult-like fanbase, despite many of the controversies that surrounded him. Many of his dedicated fans boil their loyalty down to his dedication to his fans, and the depressing tones and topics he discusses in his music. Now, the song that really started his career in the mainstream, “Look at Me!,” was anything but depressing. But, when you look deeper into his discography, you begin to see songs that are more emotional such as “Jocelyn Flores.” The song discusses a friend of his that committed suicide. Along with this, X opens up about how he felt alone during the time of her suicide, and even contemplated killing himself.


All these artist share similar trends. They talk about loss and the pain that comes with it. They talk about the daily struggles they face due to mental disorders such as depression. They talk about these issues to a much younger generation, and exposed them to a much larger audience than ever before.