"In the past, rap music has been criticised for its obsession with the high life, with the wearing of the most expensive clothes, the driving of the fanciest of cars and the watching of the most absurdly oversized home-entertainment systems. But what if we were to tell you that such flights of fancy can actually have a positive, socially beneficial effect? That is the theory being put forward this week by Cambridge University’s Department of Psychology, who offer the viewpoint that upwardly mobile rap can actually benefit those experiencing mental health issues.
The study, which was published in The Lancet this week, is the brainchild of consultant psychiatrist Dr Akeem Sule and clinical neuroscientist Dr Becky Inkster. It posits the theory that a great deal of rap music, with its rags-to-riches narrative trajectories, displays “positive visual imagery”, a psychotherapeutic technique common among sports stars, in which one envisages the place where one would like to be, so as to facilitate one’s progression to a better mental place. Their chief example is Notorious BIG’s Juicy, in which he talks candidly about the deprived life he has known, and the new life with its chauffeur-driven limousines and 50-inch TV screens that is tantalisingly within his grasp. Far from being a celebration of flash and financial excess, Sule and Inkster believe that this is therapy and catharsis in action, “a means of breaking free [and] a message of hope …”
The pair talk of being overwhelmed by the response from people who want to know more about the project, which featured at the University’s recent Festival Of Ideas, and hope to see it being applied in prisons, schools, hostels and other places where depression and low self-esteem are a constant concern.
The therapeutic effects of rap and its use as a positive tool for education and personal development are well documented, as indeed they are for most forms of artistic expression and their beneficial effect on those who experience depression – I myself started battle rapping at the age of 38 and the pure catharsis I found through my performances was overwhelming and life-changing. But Sule and Inkster are offering a slightly different angle, that, in a nutshell, imagining a heavily blinged-out version of yourself taking your pet panther for a walk is an important step towards actually becoming that person (panther optional).
That you might never get there is not the point – for someone experiencing the sometimes brutal mental pummelling of depression, to even see yourself as “winning” is a victory in itself. So what other tracks might help?
For the full article and some song analysis click here