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.