Hip Hop and Spoken Word Therapy

Hip Hop and Spoken Word Therapy (HHWST) creates a culturally relevant space, both inside and outside of schools, for youth to use the lyric writing process as a means for self-expression and emotional development. I currently run inner city lyric writing workshops in which I teach the art of lyricism. Making note of the fact that vivid and meaningful music often stems from personal experience, students are encouraged to thoughtfully reflect on how they feel about a given experience. This is done for the purpose of converting those thoughts and feelings into music. Being an MC myself, I take time to help my students fine tune their lyrics to insure that they accurately reflect their thoughts and feelings. On the surface we work to become better MCs, but in reality our goal is to become more self-aware.


Below you can find a description of a song titled “What I Please” co-written by Jeff, a high school senior, and myself. This track is an example of HHSWT in practice.

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After meeting with Jeff, and listening to his verse, I was given a glimpse of his mental state. When looking at the following quotes, I identified two different parts of Jeff’s current worldview. The first verse is by Jeff (some of which is listed on the left), followed by my verse (The Counselors Response). On the right side of each rappers lyrics are conceptualizations. In short, I identified an issue and used my verse as an attempt to restructure that issue.

Lyrics                                                           Conceptualization

1) “Imma live it up, doin what I want, tryna maintain the
attitude of under 21 cause, you’re only as old as you feel
and I’m tryna be a kid for a few more years. So I feel great.
I rap, skate, and work hard as long as I’m in bed by 8.
Don’t let your youth pass, try to make it last cause,
life ain’t right when you grow up fast.”2) “Not a care in the world, doin’ what I please.
No bills, no fees, my life is a breeze.
Imma seize every moment, cause everything ends,
being careful and weary with every minute that I spend”.
In one way this writing demonstrates Jeff is happy, carefree, and thoroughly enjoys his life. But at the same time we can see some negative thoughts. It is clear that Jeff thinks once he passes the age of 21, life will no longer be enjoyable. The idea of bills and responsibility signify a lack of freedom, or inability to do what he pleases. This strong negative feeling about the future would be a cognitive distortion. I am in a unique position, given my age and involvements in hip hop as a profession, to restructure that thought. With the intent of providing him evidence that life can still be enjoyable, and one can still “do what they please” after the age of 21, I wrote a verse about my life… 
Counselor’s Response:

“23 it’s a balancing act, yeah I wore that cap and gown so where’s my salary at? I’ve been around but I’m back, catch me lounging in my slacks, taking flack for the fact I swear there’s beauty in rap. ‘Holy crap he’s a grad and he’s published at that. Poking holes in his dreams but he’s grappling back…’”and“Not a care in the world, doin what I please. GOT bills, GOTfees, my life is a breeze. Imma seize every moment, cause everything ends, being careful and weary with every minute that I spend”.
ConceptualizationI chose to validate his concerns by acknowledging that life past 21 requires balancing, and is hard work. But it was necessary that I explained how I was able to craft a career path based on my interests, allowing myself to still “pay bills” and enjoy life. 

My hope is that this song gave you a glimpse of the work I am doing. If you would like to investigate the opportunity of running workshops at your place of work, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me:


The electronic publication of Hip hop and spoken word therapy with urban youth can be found here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08893675.2012.736182


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