Abstract: Suicidal Ideation Among Generation Z Rap Artists: A Content Analysis of Lyrics with Clinical Recommendations (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

405P Suicidal Ideation Among Generation Z Rap Artists: A Content Analysis of Lyrics with Clinical Recommendations

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Cortney VanHook, MSW, MPH, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Suicidal ideation is an increasingly common phenomenon within the rap music genre. Stereotypical characterizations of rap music focus on violent, materialistic, misogynistic, and substance use lyrics. An honest accounting of the genre will reflect that rappers have always voiced their mental health struggles. However, the increasing prevalence and depth of suicidal content in today’s rap music is a noticeable trend with significance for society. The expression of suicidal ideation in a popular music genre could reflect changes in the mental health of consumers that listen to this new trend of rap music dubbed ‘sad’ or ‘emo’ rap. In particular, the emergence of suicidal content in rap music may reflect changes in the psychological profile of youth and young adults, particularly African Americans in both age categories. The purpose of this study is to provide context to the phenomenon of suicidal ideation within the rap music genre and analyze the impact such music might have on youth development.

Methods: A content analysis was conducted of rap music in the years 2018-19. A list ranking the top 100 rap artists in the year 2019 was used. A search engine was used to identify songs mentioning ‘suicide’ and ‘suicidal’ among the sample in the identified time frame. Manifest themes related to suicide was collected in addition to coding references to risk factors associated with suicidal behavior: depression, anxiety, trauma, adverse events, and substance use. Artist demographics and meta-data on song/artist popularity was collected as well. Data was recorded in an excel spreadsheet.

Findings: Ninety-one percent of artists were male. Seventy percent of artists were African American, 13% were of mixed-race, 11% were white, and 7% were of Hispanic ethnicity. Thirty percent of artists recorded at least one song with suicidal content during two-year period. Suicidal lyrics were often accompanied by lyrics referencing mental distress (60%) or substance use (47%). A tenth of songs referencing suicide also identified a method of suicide. Suicidal content was verbalized in a variety of ways (i.e., varying levels of insight and suicide prevention messaging). There were no significant age differences between the sample (30 years of age) and subsample of artists with suicidal lyrics (29 years of age).

Conclusion and Implications: This study provides a nuanced perspective on current rap music by identifying suicidal ideation as a prevalent theme. While the research into the relationship between suicidal behavior and rock/heavy metal music is plentiful, there is comparatively little focus on the relationship between suicidal lyrics in rap music and suicidal behavior among rap consumers. Parents of youth who listen to rap music are encouraged to review playlists and purchases for suicidal content. Clinicians who interact with youth at-risk of suicidal behavior are encouraged to assess music interests and use such information as a clinical tool. Adults are encouraged to dialogue with youth about their music choices, explore their reaction to suicidal content, and monitor behavior if risk is high.