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All Eyes on Mental Health & Hip Hop


By Akeem Sule and Becky Inkster, Co-Founders of HIP HOP PSYCH, Cambridge, U.K.

Hip-hop and mental health have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Since the genre’s conception in the early 1970s, hip-hop artists have delivered loud-and-clear messages of personal struggles and strengths, as clearly captured in the recent film Straight Outta Compton. Hip-hop culture embraces self-expression and recognizes the daily trials and tribulations that many people face – the pressures that challenge their state of mind.

The distant worlds of hip-hop and psychiatry collided in 2012 when we launched an innovative social venture called HIP HOP PSYCH. We are both affiliated with Wolfson College and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Dr. Akeem Sule is a consultant psychiatrist with Cumbria Partnership Trust/South Essex Partnership Trust, and Dr. Becky Inkster is a neuroscientist affiliated with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. Equally important though, we are passionate hip-hop fans!

Through HIP HOP PSYCH, we link hip-hop music and culture with mental health to cultivate awareness, empower others and remove stigma surrounding mental health and hip-hop. We apply the five elements of hip-hop culture, especially focusing on the fifth element: knowledge.

This has been a momentous year for HIP HOP PSYCH. We published an innovative article in The Lancet Psychiatry entitled “Kendrick Lamar, street poet of mental health” that went viral across the world – gaining more than 1.4 million Facebook shares in less than 72 hours. We also received the Senior Public Communications Prize awarded by the British Association of Psychopharmacology. To top it all off, our FIRST EVER TRIP TO NORTH AMERICA will be held in October to the beautiful city of Toronto!


We’re excited to team up with CAMH for HIP HOP PSYCH: Demystifying mental illness through hip hop beats and lyrics, on Saturday, October 17, starting at 8 pm, at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

Here’s a sneak peek of what it’s like to attend a HIP HOP PSYCH event: Our events offer something for everyone. Absolutely everyone. It’s for those who love hip-hop. It’s for those who hate hip-hop. It’s for those who have experienced mental health problems. It’s for those who want to learn more and help those who suffer.

The best way to describe our events is to let the people who’ve attended – from inside prison walls to prestigious lecture halls, from universities to dance clubs – speak for themselves:

“All prisoners that attended could relate to the music material. They feel that the knowledge and understanding of this event has helped to develop their own coping skills.” (HMP Bedford Prison, UK, In-Reach Team, 2015).

“We enjoyed the intellectually stimulating cross-disciplinary approach of the speakers.” (Cambridge Psychiatry Society, UK, President, 2012).

“The co-founders adapt the format of an event to suit a particular audience. They also incorporate an off-the-cuff delivery with a feeling of spontaneity that makes it all the more refreshing. I truly enjoyed working with both of them for this event.” (Oxford University African Caribbean Society, UK, Liaison Officer, 2014).

We can’t give away all our secrets about our Toronto event, but here’s a glimpse into what you’ll experience:

  • Ballroom doors open, and you’ll be greeted by a DJ on the wheels of steel – deejay t-jr (@deejaytjr) – showing her serious scratching skills, while also pumping out some sounds of the underground and club bangers alike. The lighting is dim and every effort is made to bring an authentic hip-hop vibe. BIGGIE in a ballroom!?!  All good, baby, baby.
  • Express yourself with our open-minded dress code: wear your bright Nike trainers, smart suit jacket, baggy jeans, baggy t-shirt, or Timberland boots! Akeem likes to wear a t-shirt of his ultimate icon, Tupac Shakur, and Becky tends to sport her Air Jordans and “I love haters” t-shirt.
  • We’ll be greeting you as you come in, asking various questions like “Who’s better: Nas or Tupac?” or “What do you think about chromatin looping?” or “What brought you to the event tonight?”
  • We’ll open with a playful exposition of hip-hop culture. Then, we’ll set off to explore hip-hop songs and lyrics for references to mental illnesses (addiction, borderline personality disorder, depression), environmental triggers (peer influence, urbanicity) and neurobiological factors (genetics, brain patterns).
  • You will be continuously encouraged to speak out during the show. Each event is different, even when we cover the same songs – people’s views are integrated into the mix, and debates and discussions unfold. We present knowledge in a free-flowing way, depending on what the crowd wants to learn about. We inject humour to keep things light at times.

We’re thrilled that JUNO Award winner Lillian Allen will also perform at this event. Lillian Allen is a creative writing professor at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) University in Toronto, and one of the originators of dub poetry. She is considered a godmother of rap, hip-hop, dub and spoken word.

At the end of the night, you will walk away realizing that some of the hip-hop songs and artists you love (or hate!) actually contain deep and powerful messages about mental health. The knowledge gained is empowering and will hopefully inspire you to share what you’ve learned and relate what you’ve learned to your own situation and wellbeing.

We hope to see you there!

HIP HOP PSYCH: Demystifying mental illness through hip hop beats and lyrics is happening on Saturday, October 17, starting at 8 pm, at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Admission is free.

Register on Eventbrite 


One Comment Post a comment
  1. Jay #

    I’m a musician whose faced some considerable mental health issues in my life. However I believe that the biggest illness I experienced has helped me gain insight and appreciate hip hop more than ever. In 2011, myself n some friends got turned on to a further extent whilst there was something of a rebirth on the uk underground scene with the high focus label. We then began battle rapping about those we knew n sometimes with each other. I have have a handful of raps too and would like to get involved in any way that I can. Regards,


    October 19, 2015

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