An interview we did with Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading expert in trauma research and treatment. He discusses how and why highly rhythmic activities, and specifically hip hop, can be extremely effective tools in addressing trauma and its impact on one’s functioning and well being.
Rhythmic Mind interview with legendary battle rapper, freestyle wizard, and all around extremely dope MC RemyD, He touches on some really powerful dynamics, such as how Hip Hop gave him an authentic voice, to be used in place of a voice/language forced on him through oppression. He goes on to share an incredibly personal and touching story about how Hip Hop literally saved his life.
An interview we did with the legendary Bay Area rapper and entrepreneur Mistah FAB, at his clothing store Dope Era in Downtown Oakland. He discusses how Hip-Hop/rap has been therapeutic and healing for him, and reflects in depth on how the journey of growth in his life has shaped and is reflected in his music. He unpacks the impact of trauma on his community, and how he has tried to address these issues through his music. He shares some of his philosophies and practices around the process of personal growth and development, breaks down how they have contributed to his well being, and explores how Hip-Hop can be a powerful tool in this process.
Interview we did with Amend, a graffiti artist from the world renowned TDK crew out of Oakland, CA. We asked him how hip hop, and graffiti specifically, have been healing and therapeutic throughout the course of his life. He explores how while growing up graffiti provided a positive/creative alternative to the gang culture that was pervasive in his neighborhood. He goes on the breakdown the way in which it gave him a powerful and revolutionary form of self expression which served as a resistance against the oppressive onslaught of corporate marketing. Additionally, he speaks to how graffiti has been, and continues to be an emotional refuge from the many stresses of world, providing him with a sense of clarity and inner peace.
Rhythmic Mind interview with Tajai of Souls of Mischief/Hieroglyphics, discussing how hip hop has been a therapeutic force in his life, on many levels. He unpacks how, in the face of the political, social and economic oppression his community faced while growing up in East Oakland, hip hop/rap provided a crucial and much needed source of positive reinforcement. He touches on how hip hop has been a path to self fulfillment, a means of sharpening focus, and a powerful tool for stress relief.
Interview we did with Frak, Bay Area MC/Battle Rapper/Educator, discussing the myriad ways hip hop has provided therapeutic experiences through different facets of his life.
The youth in this particular instance came to the group with challenges of anxiety and a sense of isolation. He expressed a pervasive feeling of disconnection and estrangement, from himself and others, and shared that he often felt outside of himself, watching his own life pass by. By and large, he didn’t engage the world with much confidence, and tended to be fairly socially withdrawn.
Through the course of the group, he created an original piece of Hip-Hop music, producing the beat and writing the lyrics. While already a prolific and talented beat maker, this was his first time writing and recording lyrics for a song. His proficiency and talent as a beat maker/producer allowed him to step into a leadership role within the group, assisting the other members with creating their own beats. This started to help build a sense of confidence and capacity, as he was able connect with his peers in a positive, value affirming manner.
This growing sense of confidence and positive self-concept was then further catalyzed and fully actualized through the process of writing and recording his own song. The conceptual framework the group provided was around how the participants deal with and overcome challenge. In this context of challenge and resilience, we asked the participants to consider what they want their futures to be and how they see themselves actualizing this future; and to then use this as the musical and lyrical inspiration for their songs. This youth chose to focus on his passion and talent for music as both his future vision and the means of getting there.
Through the process of conceptualizing, writing and recording this song, he underwent a significant transformation. He began to be more dynamically socially engaged with his peers at school. His physical posture changed, and he carried himself with an air of confidence and clarity. He seemed to become more fully embodied within himself, which generated a strength to his presence. These changes were noted by school staff, some of whom approached us directly to comment on them. One teacher proclaimed that “he seems like a different kid!”, reporting that he now participates much more readily and openly in class.
He went on to graduate that year, and soon after secured employment, which he has maintained since. He is also currently deeply engaged in a career in music, regularly creating and performing with a strong community of local artists. He has in many ways actualized the positive vision/goal he set forth for himself in his song. Through the focused and intentional creation of Hip-Hop music, he was able to take some control of and begin to shape his personal narrative. This empowering process fostered an increased sense of purpose, fulfillment, connection and aliveness, and served to significantly improve his mental and emotional well being.
Rhythmic Mind interview with Zumbi from Zion I discussing the ways in which hip hop is therapeutic/healing for him. He breaks down how rapping is his “personal pyscho-therapy”, and directly contributes to his sense of well being.
Resilience through Hip-Hop…
This case study is centered around the exercise of freestyling (improvised, unpremeditated rapping). The activity of free styling is a regular occurrence over the course of our programs, and is an essential aspect of the therapeutic impact.
The youth in this case study was freestyling about topics common to the type of rap music he and his peers enjoyed. Being from a low-income and marginalized community where economic challenges abound, the rap music much of the group tended to listen to, and thus imitate, often glorified drug dealing and other criminal activity. Acknowledging this dynamic, we validated the skillfulness of his expression, and then encouraged him to challenge himself and try to rap about less common topics, such as some of his immediate/positive goals. As facilitators of this exercise, we were also active participants. In this regard, we were able to quickly model some examples of what freestyling about alternative topics might look like, normalizing and de-stigmatizing this type of content. Accepting this challenge, he then began to freestyle about his immediate goal of graduating high school. This shift in focus and content was immediately met with an overwhelming positive affirmation from us as well as his peers in the group.
The clinical decision to not condemn his initial choice of topic, but rather to validate his self-expression by giving unconditional positive regard, served to create a safe and nonjudgmental container. This, combined with the familiar and peer accepted medium of hip-hop, allowed him to explore the totality of his identity in a raw and authentic manner; speaking to both the negative influences of his environment, as well as his personal goals and aspirations. Outside of the therapeutic container of the group, rapping about these negative influences was a regular occurrence for this youth, and one that generated affirmation and approval from his peers. However, within this therapeutic container, he was able to expand the focus of his creative expression to include positive goals, and to do so through rap/freestyling, a manner in which he was still able to garner the important and much needed peer validation.
Additionally, funneling the intention of his goal through hip-hop, a lens which was more authentic and holistic for him than talk therapy, allowed his positive intention to become more fully integrated into his psyche. Being that the activity of rapping/freestyling was already deeply interwoven into the fabric of his everyday life and experiences, utilizing this form of expression to engage with his goal served to weave the intention deeper into said fabric.
Furthermore, the fact that freestyling is a highly rhythmic activity was also a significant factor in his therapeutic experience. Studies have shown that rhythm is one of the most universally effective means of regulating trauma’s impact on the brain and nervous system. Trauma limits access to executive brain functioning, as well as other critical capacities. This youth had experienced considerable trauma over the course of his life and as a result presented with limited capacities and challenges engaging his internal resources. Due to this lack of access to his internal resources he was often in a dysregulated state, and had difficulty focusing and completing tasks, which led to ongoing academic challenges. As is common with traumatized individuals, challenges are often perceived by the nervous system as a threat and can trigger fight or flight responses and reinforce cycles of dysregulation. While achieving the goal of graduation is a challenge for many students, in the context of this youth’s traumatic dysregulation, this goal was viewed as a threat, further heightening his stress response. This increased fight or flight stress response then further limited his capacity to reach this goal, creating an expanding feedback back loop of overwhelm and dysregulation when faced with this challenge, manifesting as an avoidant relationship with the goal. However, the regulating dynamic of rhythm has the power to interrupt and diffuse this feedback loop, allowing a shift in the nature of one’s relationship to the challenge. The process of this youth engaging and expressing his goal through this regulating dynamic substantially reduced his threat response, and as such facilitated a change in his perception of the challenge to one in which the goal became significantly less overwhelming and more attainable.
All of this served to create an experience which had a profound, integrated and lasting impact; shifting how the goal was held, improving his relationship to the goal, and increasing his ability to obtain said goal. Shortly after this experience, this youth made a dramatic turn around in his academic functioning and achieved his goal of graduation.