• Amber ANN LMSW, MPH,CHES, LMSW

"Smile" for Black Mental Health


At midnight on Friday, June 30, 2017, Jay-Z released his 13th studio album, 4:44. There has been an abundance of publicity, articles and think pieces surrounding the album. Some believe the album to be a response to Beyonce's iconic "Lemonade" as some of the lyrics confirm and offer an apology for infidelity. The album shows us a more personal, vulnerable Jay-Z and explores many psychological, political and racial themes. This is a stark difference from Jay-Z's past projects that flaunt a more cocky, successful, ladies man and explore Jay-Z's past as the quintessential "American Gangster."

While the new release provides several topics relevant to the Minority Mental Health Month discussion, for the purposes of this post, I would like to focus on a lyric from the beautifully multifaceted track "Smile".

Overall the track has a reflective tone in which Jay-Z shares his pearls of wisdom of sorts. These pearls include commenting on the duality that individuals that identify as homosexual face by disclosing his mother's struggle with this duality and sharing his own rags to riches journey from living in the projects to being "up in the hundreds of millions."

While recounting the duality of some of his unscrupolous hustles, Jay-Z says "my therapist says I relapsed, I said perhaps I Freudian slipped in European whips" Does Jay-Z see therapist? What does he mean when he says relapsed? Has he returned to unscrupulous pursuits of wealth? Regardless of what Jay-Z's true message is here, the fact the he makes mention of seeing a therapist is important to me.

Jay-Z is regarded as one of the most successfully moguls of our time. He is married to the "perfect" woman and typically presents with a magnetic swagger. For a man like this to admit that he sees a therapist is powerful. This admission normalizes seeking mental healthcare. If Jay-Z can see a therapist, anyone can see a therapist. Although I wish it did not take a seemingly "perfect" man to admit that he sees a therapist to de-stigmatize mental health, I can not deny the potential power of it.

Although I am focusing on the admission of seeing a therapist, I do not want to minmize the impact of Jay-Z's poetic ode to the pain inflicted by living "in the closet" or "in the shadows" as a result of homophobia in our nation. I plan to explore mental health in the LGBTQ community this month as well.

Smile is not the only track that speaks to the power of opening up. In 4:44's opening track, "Kill Jay-Z", Jay-Z raps "Cry Jay-Z, we know the pain is real but you can't heal what you don't reveal". This lyric is another example of Jay-Z's vulnerability and emotional awareness on the album. Another powerful message for black mental health.

What do you think? Does Jay-Z's 4:44 have the power to de-stigmatize black mental health? Do you think that Jay-Z really sees a therapist or was he just rhyming? Do you think that "Smile" can begin to unpack homophobia in the both the nation and in black communities? Share your thoughts!

Image Credit: Hype Beast


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