Emerging Scholars Fellowship

Emerging Scholars Fellowship: Mental Health Within R&B and Hip-Hop Music

Janelle is a researcher in the 2016 class of the Emerging Scholars Fellowship. Read blog updates from Janelle and her fellow scholars here.

Recent media conversations surrounding mental health have increased after R&B singer Kehlani publically (and bravely) shared her struggles following a recent suicide attempt. Trouble ensued after Kehlani uploaded a photo of herself in a hospital bed shortly after being admitted. Since then many people, both celebrities and fans alike, have criticized and horrifically taunted Kehlani, claiming that the attempt to end her life was fabricated and was only done in efforts to gain attention.

kehlani
Kehlani

First, we must recognize that invalidating a survivor’s lived experience is both despicable and cruel. There is no place for it. Moreover, we as a culture must remember that the famous people we place on pedestals are just that— people— who are prone to experience the same kinds of hurt and pain that you and I encounter every day. Sometimes, life just happens. And in those moments it does not matter who you are, where you are from, or how many followers you have, because life can and will eventually hurt.

It’s during these times that it becomes absolutely critical for us to consider, mull over, and extend grace (not judgment) to others— because behind the smiles and seemingly perfect Instagram pictures, you never know what someone is really going through.

From there it also becomes important for us to remember that Kehlani is not the first R&B or Hip-Hop artist to discuss their personal struggles through music.

In 2015 August Alsina released “Song Cry,” where he openly shared some of his fears, frustrations, and hurts. He went further to pen:

For all them nights I thought of suicide, contemplating
I can’t hold back these tears
Let me cry
They say a man ain’t supposed to cry

You can view the rest of the song here.

Over twenty years ago we saw a similar pattern among rappers like Notorious B.I.G. and DMX who shared their experiences with suicidal ideation and stress in “Suicidal Thoughts” and “Slippin”,  while A Tribe Called Quest shared their views on the matter in “Stressed Out”.

big_tribe_dmx
From left to right: Notorious B.I.G., A Tribe Called Quest, and DMX (Images retrieved from MTV.com and Vibe.com)

In this we are reminded that although anyone can experience difficulty, no one should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed for needing help in working to navigate the various mental health struggles they may face. If you or someone you know does need help, please be sure to review the resources listed below. Also, never underestimate the power and strength of sharing your own story, as your willingness to be vulnerable could be influential in helping save someone else’s life.


If you are someone that you know is struggling and needs help please be sure to pass along the information listed below.

If you prefer information via telephone:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Alliance on Mental Health Hotline: 1-800-950-6264

If you prefer information via text message:

Crisis Text Line (http://www.crisistextline.org/how-it-works/)

Phone #: 741-741

If you prefer information via the web: