• Deric Hollings

Hip Hop and REBT

Updated: Sep 21


For a number of people with whom I grew up, rap music was a phase through which they went and revisit only on occasion. That hasn’t been my experience with this hip hop element. I am what some commonly refer to as a hip hop head, originating from the old school.

Around the time I began learning how to read and write I was listening to Rapper’s Delight by The Sugar Hill Gang, Rapture by Blondie, The Message by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, and Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. Thus began the golden age of hip hop.

You may be asking yourself, “What does any of this have to do with mental health?”

Recently, I wrote a blog post describing my approach to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), in which I stated, “REBT uses the ABC Model to highlight the Epictetian notion, ‘It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

In a series of upcoming blog entries, I’d like to demonstrate REBT technique using various examples from rap songs. For more in-depth understanding about how I use REBT, I encourage you to read my Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) post.

To summarize its contents, when working with clients I listen closely for rigid and extreme narratives. These demands often manifest in the form of should, must, or ought (SMO) statements. Maladaptive cognitions (SMO narratives) are those with which I assist clients through active and persuasive challenge.

People often maintain that an action (A) leads to a consequence (C). Someone rapping about how he’s being disrespected (A) is said to lead to anger (C). However, REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection, we disturb ourselves with beliefs (B)—B-C connection.

In this case, the rapper hears of how someone dissed (disrespected) him in a song (A), he thinks, “This shouldn’t happen, and because it has, I look weak,” (B) and as a result of this unhelpful belief, he disturbs himself to an angry disposition (C). This is an A-B-C connection that could use disputation (D), leading to an effective (E) new belief (B).

Let’s set it up using an actual rap lyric and the ABC Model. Before we do, and this is important, when disputing lyrics from an REBT perspective, it is my intention to do so for the sake of education and entertainment—what Boogie Down Productions’ (BDP) KRS-One referred to as Edutainment (1990).

**This will apply to all hip hop and REBT examples in this series.**

There is no disrespect intended to the artists, writers, DJs, producers, music executives, or anyone else. For more information, see: DISCLAIMER. Now, in the words of KRS-One (“My Philosophy”), “Let us begin. What, where, why or when will all be explained, like instructions to a game.”

I’ll begin this introduction to my hip hop and REBT series with a simple example. In BDP’s song “My Philosophy,” from the 1988 album By All Means Necessary, KRS-One states, “How many MCs must get dissed before somebody says, ‘Don’t f*** with Kris [KRS-One]!’?”

Using my imagination, this is one approach I would use if I had a client reporting a similar maladaptive cognition (belief) with unhelpful consequences (emotions, behaviors, etc.).

A (Activating event) – Mr. Magic is said to have favored MC Shan over KRS-One. In retaliation to a perceived snub and track entitled “The Bridge” (1986), KRS-One apparently released a song called “The Bridge Is Over,” (1987) as part of hip hop infamy regarding diss tracks, and one of many in which KRS-One participated. This controversy has been dubbed “The Bridge Wars.

For the sake of an ABC Model example, this is where imagination plays a part. When practicing REBT, I find it useful for clients to highlight precisely what Action they find most relevant. Pretend KRS-One responds with, “MC Shan dissed my borough, the Bronx; by saying Queens was the home of hip hop.” (A)

With the (A) established, we move to (B).

B (Belief) – Following the perceived slight, KRS-One replied, “How many MCs must get dissed before somebody says, ‘Don’t f*** with Kris!’?” Not always are SMO statements direct, yet KRS-One offers a straightforward musterbatory example (use of the word “must”).

Albert Ellis, the creator of REBT, was said to have stated, “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” For KRS-One’s imaginary SMO statement in session, suppose he says, “MC Shan must not diss my area, and because he did, being from the borough, I look like a chump to the whole world!” (B)

With the (B) expressed, we move to (C), as there is a B-C connection.

C (Consequences) – Pretending aside, KRS-One actually said in an interview that he was “frustrated” (C) with the Mr. Magic and MC Shan situation. Generally, I find it helpful to assess the level of Consequences my clients find most significant.

Perhaps in my imagined session with KRS-One, the lyricist expresses that frustration (C) is also accompanied by a burning sensation in his stomach (C). He further expresses shortness with others (C), which begins to result in bickering with a partner (C).

With the (C) identified, before going to (D), I ask my client for a goal.

Goal – I encourage my clients to discuss a preferred, though pragmatic, outcome if they were able to again experience the (A). In this example, rather than experiencing frustration gastrointestinal issues, gruffness, and relational problems (C), KRS-One tells me he would rather simply shrug off the perceived slight with a degree of acceptance.

With a goal in mind, and (C) having been identified, we move to (D).

D (Disputation of belief) – While Disputing maladaptive cognitions (B) may occupy more time in my sessions than any other element of the ABC Model, I won’t go too far into detail about the finer points of Disputation herein. Still, I think it’s worth consideration of the following.

I use inference chains, empirical disputes, Socratic questioning, role reversal, role play, dialectic and didactic techniques, and other methods to Dispute unhelpful and unhealthy cognitions (D). Suppose for the sake of this example I challenged KRS-One by assessing from where the notion stems regarding others not dissin’ him.

It may be true that others in his borough, friends, or family members maintain that demanding respect is essential for survival. It may also be true that others have been physically assaulted or ever worse, because the rigid demand for respect was violated in different circumstances.

Truly, how many MCs must get dissed before people finally place aside their values, beliefs, moral codes, or principles—all for the sake of pleasing KRS-One? In what other settings does this apply?

How are people to know when they’ve violated the terms and conditions in KRS-One’s head? Was there a memo issued? A five borough emergency broadcast? Perhaps “My Philosophy” is precisely that—a monarchal-like demand upon others, by which they SMO comply.

If this is the case, how is it that in “My Philosophy” KRS-One declares, “Kings just rule and most are never understood”? Is it possible that tyrannical rule could lead to miscomprehension, and not appeasement of musterbatory demands? That’s a pretty sticky situation!

What narrative might better serve one’s interests, instead of demanding respect? Pretend that after a lengthy Disputation process, along the lines of what I’ve depicted here; KRS-One concludes that his maladaptive cognition hasn’t served him well.

With (D) complete, we move to (E).

E (Effective new belief) – Suppose KRS-One determines that while it may be desirable to have others concur with his wishes, the world simply doesn’t function in such a manner. MC Shan may’ve been confused by stating hip hop began in Queens, though rigidly demanding his principles match KRS-One’s isn’t conducive to the goal of shrugging off the perceived slight with a degree of acceptance.

In this fictitious example, KRS-One thusly concludes, “People have differing opinions and I’ll be just fine if MC Shan is mistaken about hip hop and my borough, because—as my nickname ‘Teacha’ implies, and as my song ‘My Philosophy’ outright states—‘Teachers teach and do the world good.’ I want to educate and uplift, not diss and tear down.” (E)

That’s essentially how I approach REBT using a hip hop example.

One of the reasons I appreciate REBT is that it may be used for many of the challenges people experience on a day-to-day basis. The ABC Model allows us to take ownership of our circumstances, empowers us to focus on change from within, and serves as a method to reduce the amount of suffering we may otherwise endure.

As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to serve clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

If my approach to REBT sounds like something in which you may be interested, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

Fair Use Image


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