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This article originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 5, which you can read here.
We often criticise rap for its braggadocio and arrogance, and whilst in the grips of a pandemic that has destroyed many people’s livelihoods, hearing rappers constantly flex about their wealth has never felt more out-of-touch.
I mean, do we really care how many carats there are in Future’s new gold chain? Or how many women slid into Young Thug’s DMs last week?
The counter-argument, of course, is that Hip Hop has actually become more important during lockdown, with all the excess and hedonism offering a much-needed form of escapism.
Regardless of where you stand on this debate, I’m here to argue that rap can potentially help us boost our self-esteem.
I’m a big believer in the power of mantra, which has an important role in a lot of Hindu and Buddhist practices. This essentially involves repeating a phrase again and again over time, so that you start subconsciously incorporating it and manifesting it into your mentality.
In the West, we’ve transformed this idea of ‘mantra’ into ‘affirmations’, which are positive statements we repeat to ourselves, with the goal of cultivating a healthier mindset. You’ve probably seen some of these on social media, and they can include motivational mottos such as “I love myself for who I am” and “I am in charge of my own happiness”.
These kinds of affirmations are great, if you’re already into this sort of thing. But personally, whether you want to put it down to toxic masculine stereotypes or just a general inherent awkwardness, the thought of repeatedly saying “I love myself for who I am” out loud makes me feel a tad self-conscious.
Of course, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t feel any embarrassment about these kinds of things. I mean, why should we? But realistically, not everyone would be comfortable making quite vulnerable statements like this. Returning to the point about traditional social expectations that men should be macho and unemotional, you can imagine how a guy affirming “I am my own superhero” in front of his mates in the locker room might fear a bit of a ribbing.
"They can be more attractive to those of us that would otherwise feel embarrassed at the thought of using affirmations."
But can rap music - which is often blamed as being the very source of a lot of toxic masculinity - actually help people be more comfortable using mantras and affirmations? Well, as I said, I would be a little reluctant to try out one of the above affirmations. But I have no qualms about rapping “Reach for the stars, so if you fall you land on a cloud” to myself in the shower.
So what if we used rap lyrics as affirmations?
Rap songs are overflowing with self-confident quips and witty boasts, and there are a few reasons why these make great mantras. Firstly, they already have a level of ‘coolness’ attached to them from the sheer fact that they’re rap lyrics, which can make them more attractive to those of us that would otherwise feel embarrassed at the thought of using affirmations.
Secondly, rappers’ one-liners are often pretty light-hearted and amusing. So we can use them jokingly at first. If putting on a DJ Khaled voice and shouting ‘WE THE BEST’ at yourself in the mirror doesn’t give you a confidence boost, it will at the very least make you laugh (and at the very very least, it’ll make the family members that can hear you laugh…!).
At first, it encourages you to just take yourself a little less seriously and have a laugh. But even though you’re saying it to yourself jokingly, personally, I’ve found that over time it does get you into the habit of using more positive self-talk. Now, if I make a mistake or mentally put myself down for something, I have an arsenal of rap pick-me-ups that stop me from being too hard on myself.
I’ll still say them in a jokey way, but because I’ve treated them as affirmations and mantras, they’ve become mental habits. Where some negative self-talk would usually pop-up in my head, these rap-affirmations take their place.
Okay, I grant you that repeating Future’s deeply complex and well thought-out lyric, “F*** up some commas”, might not be very helpful. But with the right lyric, it can act in much the same way as any traditional affirmation.
You could go for something like Big Sean’s “I live the life I deserve - blessed” if you’re working on building gratitude; or JAY-Z’s “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” if you’re looking for something more motivational. Drake has an especially healthy repertoire of punny brags, such as “The only begging that I do is begging your pardon” and “I touched down in ’86, knew I was the man by the age of 6”, for example.
Just be wary of opting for Kanye’s “I Am A God” as your daily rap-affirmation. Sure, mantras are powerful in helping us become who we want to become, but I’m not sure they’re that powerful…
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