The Hip Hop Psych event at the Festival of Ideas was most definitely a contrast to the concerts usually performed in West Road Concert Hall. This vibrant event included a talk on The Portrayal of Mental Health in Hip Hop by Dr. Becky Inkster and Dr. Akeem Sule, followed by a presentation deconstructing the five elements of Hip Hop music from Dr. Griff Rollefson. Griff then wrapped up the event, leading a discussion with renowned hip-hop artist Juice Aleem who answered questions from the audience to further unpack some of these themes.
The evening got off to a great start with local artist Inja rapping as the audience arrived at the concert hall. As people sat down in their seats they enjoyed a pre-talk performance from breakdancers Generation Ill, whilst Turntablists DJ Chris Groove and DJ Sugia provided the beats, presenting some of the five elements of hip hip to set the scene.
The first half began with Becky and Akeem asking the audience some questions about mental health, favourite rap artists, and their own preconceptions of hip hop using hand held devices allowing the audience to engage with the speakers and feel part of the talk, right from the word go. They then displayed the results on the screen, which showed a real diversity of opinion and experiences in the audience. Some people clearly identified as real hip hop fans, whist others had little or no previous knowledge. Both Becky and Akeem most definitely looked the part, with Becky donning baggy shorts and an ‘I love hatters’ t-shirt (and her obligatory basketball) and Akeem wearing a striking 2PAC sweatshirt.
The talk continued with Akeem playing cult rap artist Eminem’s record Stan, dissecting the lyrics to help the audience look deeper into the meaning of the song and arguing for an interpretation of them as an expression of the individual’s mental state. This was followed by a song from a lesser know artist Kendrick Lamar, titled Swimming Pools. Becky spoke passionately about this song, the impact of both the lyrics and the meaning behind them. The lyrics both seemed to present a portrayal of alcohol addiction through the metaphor of drowning in a pool, but also lead on to show Kendrick’s conscience telling him he needs to get out of this destructive cycle.
Inja then took to the stage once more to provide a creative interlude and a little light relief. Inja dived into the audience, asking members of the public to shout out words to use in a freestyle rap which he then performed live on stage! The audience loved Inja’s dynamic approach and fantastic topical performance.
Kicking off the second half, Dr. Griff Rollefson, a lecturer at the Faculty of Music, began by discussing the five elements of Hip Hop. He subsequently analysed some of the work of Juice Aleem, looking at the musical layers and how they created different effects and evoked different emotional responses. This was followed by an interview with Juice Aleem, where Griff asked Aleem about the inspiration for his work. The evening ended with a time for questions from the audience, who clearly enjoyed the evening:
“A great presentation from Akeem & Becky, the free styling was amazing and great to be introduced to Juice.”
Audience member, age 36
“This event was awesome!!! The combination of psychiatrists, hip hop artists, music theorists was amazing and presented a multifaceted perceptive on hip hop psych.”
Audience member, age 31
“I found Dr. Akeem very knowledgeable, he also had a great stage presence which made the presentation enjoyable and easy to relate to. Inja was fun and entertaining.”
Audience member, age 26