Scientists and researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed the lyrics of the twenty five top-performing rap and hip-hop records in the United States in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018.
Results revealed the proportion of rap songs that referenced mental health more than doubled over the 2 decades, with chart-topping artists like Eminem and Lil Wayne alluding to depression, anxiety and suicide.
The music’s release coincides with a rise in suicide among Black teenagers, who make up a “significant portion of rap music’s large and growing audience”, according to the scientists.
Although it is unclear how this music may influence a listener’s mental health, the scientists’ team hope mainstream records referencing emotional struggles may help reduce the stigma around issues like depression.
Out of the total 125 songs analyzed, 35 (28%) referenced anxiety, while 28 (22%) alluded to depression. 8 (6%) of the songs referenced suicide, while 26 (21%) used a mental health metaphor, like “fighting my demons” or “pushed to the edge.”
None of the most popular songs in 1998 mentioned suicide, compared to more than one in 10 (12%) in 2018, the year rap outsold country as the best-selling genre of music in the United States.
Over the study’s 20 years, depression references in rap music increased from 16% to 32%, while mental health metaphors rose from 8% to 44%.
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