Mental Health in Hip-Hop: Lil Peep, Juice WRLD, Nipsey Hussle

Photo Source: The Guardian

Let’s talk about mental health in hip-hop. From Big Sean to the Notorious B.I.G., mental illness has had an effect on everyone. On the surface, lyrics about drugs and violence hide deeper problems, ones that have ended careers and even taken lives. As we remember Mac Miller two years after his early passing, it’s about time we examine the symptoms of mental health hidden within the bravado of hip-hop culture.

Mac Miller, Juice Wrld, Pop Smoke, Lil Peep, and Nipsey Hussle. These are just a few of the other superstar names taken too early by hip-hop’s mental health crisis. Some lives like Miller’s were lost to drugs while others like Pop Smoke’s were stolen by violence. Yet despite their deadly consequences, many artists find it difficult to escape the allure of drugs and violence when making a name for themselves. 

Hip-hop culture demands confidence, commercial success and constant creativity, and rapping about pills and guns can make you seem like you have all three. However, as the money, fame and pressure increase, mental health issues like addiction, depression, and burnout can manifest, becoming deadly traps for both rising and established stars. 

 

Mental Health in Hip-Hop: Mozzy
Mozzy, Sacramento rapper

A Battle Against Burnout

Almost every artist starts making music for fun. Whether it’s a hobby, side hustle, or creative outlet, many people enjoy experimenting writing lyrics and composing songs. Something happens, however, when that first professional payment hits the deposit: creativity becomes your commodity. Every idea is exploited, record labels have productivity requirements and fans constantly demand both quality and quantity. If you’re not careful, a hobby can easily transform into a hassle.

“I think it has a lot to do with being overworked because you’re consistently on the grind. You’re trying to stay relevant and present,” Sacramento rapper Mozzy said as he described burnout to DJBooth, “You’re trying to keep them checks rolling in.”

Even the best of the best get tired sometimes, so it’s important to find a balance between creativity and calm. For some superstars, however, creativity has always been a constant, so when burnout hits, it can be disorienting and dangerous.

Big Sean, a veteran of the rap game, is the most recent artist to discuss his own mental health struggles openly with the world. He released his fifth album, Detroit 2, in early September after a three-year hiatus from music. Shortly after it dropped, Big Sean opened up about the process on Twitter. 

Sean revealed he contemplated taking his own life on his break and claimed that music became a chore instead of a passion, leaving him confused and lost. His confidence disappeared, his numbers weren’t anything special, and he was suffering from creative burn-out. 

Mental Health in Hip-Hop: Logic
Logic, retired rapper

Maryland rapper Logic has also expressed similar feelings as the Sean-Don. The pressure of being productive and successful after his 2016 album, The Incredible True Story, placed him in a deep depression that threatened his soulful smile and nerdy niceness. After announcing his retirement earlier this year, Logic confessed that he constantly felt exhausted and like a fake throughout his career. When he was on tour, he would toss and turn — constantly thinking, writing, and trying to satisfy fans and record labels without ever getting a break for himself. But throughout his difficult career, he never once compromised his values.

I’d rather be perceived as corny or whatever the f–k case may be than peddling and actually being ‘authentic’ to the life I grew up in: selling drugs, cooking crack, shooting guns, being around motherf–kers — that’s not what I represented,” Logic told Billboard in July. 

Luckily for Logic and Big Sean, they sought help and found healthy habits. Logic channeled his energy and emotions into Everybody, an acclaimed album that features “1-800-273-8255,” a song that destigmatizes suicide and encourages asking for a helping hand. 

Looking for inspiration, Big Sean went home to find the friends and family who had helped him long before the Billboard charts. He rediscovered his hometown of Detroit, and shaped his album off of the love and support he shared with the Motor City. 

Big Sean’s Twitter explains that his journey to a better place is still a work-in-progress, but his story is hopeful and has a happy ending, which, unfortunately, is rare in the rap game. When burnout hits for most artists, they turn back to the things that seem to be synonymous with successful hip-hop stars: drugs and violence.

Mental Health in Hip-Hop: Juice WRLD
Juice Wrld, late rapper

Problems Don’t Disappear with Drugs

Reports said it was a mixture of cocaine, alcohol, and fentanyl that took Mac Miller’s final breath. In the case of emo-trap artist Lil Peep, it was fentanyl from prescription pills. For the 21-year-old Juice Wrld, it was codeine and oxycodone. If you listened to any of these artists, you would hear them rap and sing about their favorite substances quite routinely. But in between bars about benzos (a prescription depressant) and designer sneakers, the stars would reveal their deep pain and problems. 

Lil Peep spoke on suicide, self-medication and sorrow on his songs, while Juice Wrld was known for his heartbreaks, hurt feelings and vulnerability. These young stars had experienced deep traumas in their short lives, and, unfortunately, their stories are not uncommon. Many Black and impoverished youths suffer intense, traumatic experiences at the hands of a society which also does not aptly allow them to overcome these issues.

“It was big for me to recognize that drugs are a symptom of an underlying issue,” Chicago rapper Vic Mensa told the LA Times in 2018. “You see it in hip-hop; you see it in punk. These kids come from nothing. Young black men experience a lot of trauma. They’ve lost people, seen violence, been humiliated by society. So they turn to alcohol, molly, lean.”

Though both Peep’s and Juice’s struggles were hidden in plain sight, their hands tipped back to their old habits when the going got bad. Many argue that drugs have always been bragged about over hip-hop beats. However, early rappers focused on forties and blunts, and today’s stars have access to a dangerous array of prescription opiates. In just about every trap song from 2020, someone will mention either lean, Xanax, Percocets, or Oxycontin, ambitiously addictive substances with a history of overdose. 

Without moderation these prescription pills can quickly turn into party drugs or problem-escapers. Without proper therapy or medical attention, substance abuse becomes a serious and cyclical issue, causing relapses even when one thinks they’ve finally escaped the grip of a drug. The drug market can also have violent consequences, skirmishes over scales can lead to gunshots between good friends. Similar to drugs, violence leaves a tarnished legacy, and quickly becomes more dangerous and more difficult to escape with every encounter. 

The Vengeance of Violence

Nipsey Hussle was outside of his own establishment, Marathon Clothing, when he was met with gunshots and vengeance. The murder happened on a warm march day in South LA, but the results chilled the hearts of hip-hop heads everywhere. Many praised Hussle as a peacemaker, an entrepreneur, and an active community member. He consistently denounced gun and gang violence, funded numerous charities and created multiple organizations to help black youth. Unfortunately, as Nipsey employed his past experiences to elevate others, his own cautionary tale came to a fateful close. 

The Los Angeles Police Department arrested a suspect a few days after the incident, and the news broke that Eric Holder had personal motivations against the late rapper. Nipsey had a history with a subsection of the Crenshaw neighborhood Crips, the Rollin’ 60s, but used his voice and business ventures to combat the callousness of his past. However, Hussle also helped people understand why and how gangs and their violence appeal to so many youths in places below the poverty line. 

Mental Health in Hip-Hop: Nipsey Hussle
Nipsey Hussle, late rapper

“The allure of gangbanging and being in the gang is that you might’ve been broke, your mama might’ve been on drugs, you might have not had the material success, but the gang don’t judge you on that” Nipsey explained to Hot 97 in 2018. “The gang judge you on your heart…we gonna make you fight to show your heart though.”

In such a traumatic environment, a sense of belonging goes a long way. When marginalized youths lose their family, friends or stability, gangs fill the void. But alongside providing mentors and a sense of meaning, gangs teach a kind of survival mentality, an “us vs them” point of view. What results is a projection of one’s own personal poverty, pain, and passion onto the next neighborhood, a projection that can turn deadly. 

“You see yourself in them, y’all live on the same block, So when you mad at yourself and mad at your existence you’re equally mad at the person next-door…the closest ones to you” said Ebro Darden, the Hot 97 host as he interviewed Hussle. 

These kinds of backyard beefs extend from gang culture to hip-hop culture, with rappers often targeting old companions or crews. Before the big “East vs West” battles of the nineties, Tupac Sakur and the Notorious B.I.G. were actually close friends. One robbery at a recording studio and a few misunderstandings later, and the two coasts were in total war. However, as lyrical shots eventually turned into physical ones, the beef came to a tragic end after the deaths of the two headlining heavyweights on each side –Tupac and Biggie. 

“[Kendrick and I] saw what happened with Death Row, we saw what happened when gangbanging spills into music” said Hussle while discussing a conversation with Top Dawg Enterprises, “and when street politics make it into power positions, you get the perfect storm for destruction.” 

Ironically, futile feuds are both extremely destructive and lucrative. Many artists see their fame and fortune increase when they’re locked in a fight thanks to the heightened media attention and mass music production. Beef, in a way, can help artists escape burnout. All of a sudden, artists have a subject to spit about, and they tap into their survival mentality, the “either it’s you or it’s me” mindset. Though some of the best bars have come from back-and-forth diss tracks, whether Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” or Drake’s “Back to Back,” in the end it only harms hip-hop. If the tensions, tarnished legacies and tragic events throughout hip-hop history tell anything, it’s that violence only leads to more violence. 

 


The hardships that are so honored in hip-hop are not always the healthiest. The glorification of drugs, violence, and bravado often make it uncomfortable for rappers to reach out for help, leading to an endless cycle of struggles and slip-ups. Yet, there are ways to combat the mental health crisis in hip-hop. Logic and Big Sean beat burnout by expressing themselves honestly and hopefully. Rappers check into rehab and return renewed every year. Kendrick Lamar never let a neighborhood decide who could change his world. There are many factors that have created the hip-hop culture, but now it is time to change it from the inside. Many artists Make mental health a priority, and save lives before they rest in power. 

Those close to Mac Miller said he was extremely happy in the weeks leading to his death. He was working on new music, combating his drug abuse and was in the best shape of his life. Yet, he hid something under his gap-toothed grin. Those who are struggling often remain silent, and whatever was sitting on Mac’s mind on the night of September 6th tipped him towards his deadly old habits. Mental illness is never easy, obvious, or sustainable, but nobody is ever alone in their fight. Reach out to your friends and loved ones this September for Suicide Prevention Awareness month, and you might save someone with a simple phone call.