Photo: REVOLT
  /  05.13.2022

In recent years, hip hop artists have become more open about their struggles with mental health. From “backpack” rappers like Kid Cudi, to “emo” rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTENTACION and Juice WRLD, it has become mainstream for artists to discuss trauma and struggles with depression openly on social media and in their records.

In 2017, millennial rapper Logic dropped a song about suicide ideation, “1-800-273-8255,” which doubles as the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The release, which was performed live at the 2017 MTV VMAs, has been linked to fewer suicides. Moreover, G Herbo released his 2021 album titled PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, openly sharing his feelings about growing up around gun violence.

While rappers are more vulnerable today, this trend is not exclusive to millennials and Gen Z, as 90s songs like Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” DMX’s “Slippin’” and Tupac’s “Changes” also explored the effects of life in the “hood.” Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, REVOLT spoke with Shanelle Clay, M.A. LPC NCC, for 7 mental health tips to help artists stay sane in the music industry.

1. Thanks to social media, we live in a microwave society where instant gratification is the bottom line. With this, “out of sight, out of mind” is a genuine concern for artists. Perhaps this is why many feel the need to overshare and constantly “show up.” How can an artist manage their public image while taking a break?

I can understand the need for artists to be visible due to their notoriety being dependent on being seen. However, everything should be done in moderation. Some of the most famous artists, such as Beyoncé, curate their pages with selectiveness, providing enough to keep people interested but being intentional with what they choose to share. Artists should know that taking a social media break is not abandoning their artistry or fans but rather cultivating solitude. Artists can have their assistants post to their pages while taking a break or schedule posts using tools or applications to ensure they don’t have to open the app to remain visible.

2. When a manager, publicist and record label control an artist’s every move, how can they learn to speak up for themselves to get the help, rest and peace they need? How does an artist advocate for themselves effectively?

Artists have to remember that their welfare is just as important as their artistry, if not more. That is why I encourage advocacy in evaluating what is in your contract around expectations regarding work. It is important to identify your views on mental health and autonomy before signing to a label or identifying a person to represent you. You must communicate and anticipate the long-term effects of not having peace and solace and the impact that may have on you financially. Most record labels want to keep their artists who bring them notoriety and revenue, so leverage that to advocate for your best interests.

3. Being an artist means wearing multiple hats and living with a jam-packed schedule of interviews, appearances, styling and other invasive responsibilities. How can talent make time for moments that are just “fun” for them without feeling pressured to monetize them? Why are hobbies important?

Managing many roles and creating an effective work-life balance is important for all people including artists. Establishing time to engage with the people who knew you before the fame, and doing things that you simply enjoy are super important because it allows for an artist to still remain human in a world that makes them superhuman. When an artist dedicates their entire lives to entertaining the world, they can neglect time servicing themselves. It is imperative to remember that the experience of peace cannot be monetized.

4. From your professional experience, why is it important for an artist to hire a social media manager or delegate someone else to maintain their online presence?

Social media managers serve as gatekeepers for artists when maintaining an online presence is necessary. These gatekeepers essentially act as stress managers and assist with minimizing cyberbullying and other negative impacts on their mental health. For all the good, social media now makes artists who were once unavailable unless we purchased tickets to concerts, accessible with a click and 280 characters. A social media manager can assist in making sure their exposure, whether positive or negative, is limited.

5. It’s no secret that artists are handed everything they could ever want to perform, including things that are not good for them. Also, we hear so often of artists hospitalized for exhaustion. Why is it important for talent to know when to say “no”? What would you say to those who are afraid to say “no” for fear they’ll lose their spot?

I completely agree that sometimes the culture of celebrity comes along with access to new vices that may not be great for the artist. It is times like this when “no” has to serve as a complete sentence. Often times, people feel the need to explain their “no,” but you must remember that you can decline just as quickly as you accept any offer. It is good practice to understand what drives your fear in saying “no.” Are you worried that “no” means you aren’t a team player? Do you think that “no” will make you replaceable? “No” doesn’t have to be harsh, but it is a boundary. Clinically and interpersonally, boundaries are for you, not for others.

6. How important is it for an artist to be selective with who they keep in their space? How can they navigate maintaining relationships they had before the fame/money and the new people who come around after? What is discernment and how do you apply it?

Whether a celebrity or an everyday citizen, everyone needs to constantly evaluate the company they keep and the relationships that they maintain. For artists, this can be especially difficult so discernment plays a huge part. Identifying the behaviors of those around you before you were famous is the first step. If you didn’t trust this person with your secrets before, they may not be a great person to engage with at a close level now. If you couldn’t trust your family or friend with finances before, this may not be the time to experiment. Discernment is the nudge to evaluate if care and courtesy are contingent.

7. Why is it important for an artist to have the right professionals around and how do they select the right business coach, therapist or life coach?

It is important to have people around you who present opposition. In entertainment, there are many people who will tell you “yes” even if they don’t believe in your vision, so it’s hard to find people you can trust and who want nothing from you in return. As a therapist, my clients’ wellbeing is most important. We are non-bias sounding boards and don’t stand to reap anything because we have to maintain confidentiality. It is great to check in with someone about the stress often associated with being an artist based on the many roles they serve. Therapists, business coaches and life coaches can support to have a more well-balanced version of you, which subsequently makes you a more balanced person and artist.

Shanelle Clay is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Washington DC, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. She is a doctoral candidate studying counseling education and supervision and works as the clinical director for Onyx Therapy Group, which is a Black-owned and operated private practice in DC, Md. and Pa. Her research topics include racial stress, clinical supervision for Black women and trauma interventions.  

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