What Kendrick Lamar’s New Album Gets Right about Mental Health

If you are wondering what on earth a post about Kendrick Lamar is doing on a blog about mindfulness for lawyers, you probably haven’t listened to it yet. Even if rap isn’t a part of your musical mainstay, you should be familiar with Kendrick Lamar’s work. Lamar took the musical world by storm in the last decade, racking up Grammys, a Pulitzer, a Super Bowl appearance, and huge commercial success. In recent years, however, Lamar has been quiet and the public may not have understood why until the release of his latest album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

In the opening track, Lamar shares that he has been “going through something” for the last “1855 days.” As you listen on, you see that he’s talking about a mental health journey that he took while managing the pressures of living as a world musical superstar and family breadwinner. Now, I imagine, you probably understand what this has to do with your life as a lawyer. If, like me, you’ve experienced mental health challenges and faced inner demons while trying to maintain appearances for the public, do your job, and manage your family, you’ll hear a lot in Mr. Morale to which you can relate. 

So, what is it that makes me enthusiastic about this album? First, I am thrilled that someone in Lamar’s position is using his voice to tell the truth about his experience. Awareness of mental health is better than it once was, but stigma and fear about mental health issues remain. As lawyers, we also may feel pressure to hide our experiences for fear of hurting how others perceive us. Lamar has been honest in the past about his life, but Mr. Morale includes descriptions of his personal failings and childhood trauma. It takes courage to face those things, let alone share them publicly, but by doing so Lamar helps his fans feel a little less shame about their own struggles. 

Second, it’s also significant that Lamar doesn’t pretend that he faced his demons alone. The voice of his partner, Whitney, is sprinkled throughout Mr. Morale. She instructs Lamar to tell his listeners “the truth” in the opening songs of the album and celebrates with him and their children at the conclusion for ending a “generational curse.” References to therapy, mentors, and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, are replete on the album as well. Why is this important? It’s important because it’s real. For many of us, shame can be a part of mental health challenges. This can make it harder for us to seek out the help we need. Lamar’s honest description of the help he received to heal from his past shows how even the most powerful people need and deserve help sometimes. 

Finally, Lamar tells his story not just as a personal one but as a human one. I’ve talked before about how self-compassion is critical for healing, including the essential element of “common humanity”. The story that Lamar tells on Mr. Morale is deeply personal and unique to him, but in telling it he links it with a broader community. Lamar uses musical elements throughout the album that call to black musical artists throughout the decades and all the way back to the era of jazz. He also speaks directly of the broader trauma that institutional racism in the United States has caused. In doing so, Lamar honors his own experience but does so in a way that honors, inspires, and gives voice to others who have shared it.

Like any pop musician, Lamar does not shy away from provocation in Mr. Morale. There is some justifiable and well-reasoned criticism of the album based on some of his comments and lyrical choices, including his claims about “cancel culture.” Still, though, Mr. Morale tells a story about mental health that the public needs to hear and demonstrates how personal accountability is part of the healing process. It shows us that extreme fame, wealth, and talent aren’t necessarily an aegis against past trauma or the influence of race and class.

If you listen to the entire album, you’ll see the full story take shape, and understand what it can feel like when you do the inner work needed to move forward in life. At the end, you will not just have a soundtrack to supplement the movie of your own journey, but some ideas that any powerful person in the public eye can use to face their own demons to live a better, happier life.

Have you listened to Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers? Leave us a comment to let us know what you thought.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Riopy Crafts Music for Meditation and the Spirit

I have already written that I prefer to meditate in silence, so it had not really occurred to me to ever seek out music to support my meditation practice. Indeed, before hearing Riopy, I would have assumed that music would impede meditation, since it could churn up emotions or thoughts and make it harder for the mind to focus. But when I heard Riopy for the first time and learned about his story, I instantly understood how music and meditation could work very well together.

I had never heard of French pianist and composer, Riopy, until last year. As a chronically uncool person, I am always the last person to hear about any new kind of music. So, I rely on friends or the media I consume to tip me off about new things I might enjoy. Since I have already discussed my love of Peloton multiple times on the blog, it won’t surprise you that it’s what led me to Riopy too. Last year, I took Peloton’s Riopy slow flow class one night when I wanted some nice evening yoga. I was just looking to move a little after sitting at a desk all day, but I ended up being moved in a totally unexpected way.

As the class went on, the instructor, Aditi Shah, explained that Riopy had a past history with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Though music had offered him solace over the years, he found a peace in meditation that helped him heal and keep creating. This helped him realize that he didn’t need mind-altering substances or unhappiness to fuel his craft. When he tried meditation, he found his muse in stillness and peace and began creating music for meditation.  His music, which is primarily piano instrumentals, sounds like it. Indeed, several of Riopy’s pieces are called “meditations” including his most well-known (and my favorite) piece, “Meditation No. 22”, which is made to support a 22-minute meditation session. 

Now, you may think that piano music crafted by a man with a history of depression and fondness of meditation might be morose, heavy, or even dark. But it’s not. Though Riopy’s works do not shy away from the heavy or dark, they are light, delicate, and intimate. Overall, the tone of the pieces is playful and sounds like a flow state and the beauty that derives from it. Some, like “Caught in Infinity” from Breathe, can capture joy and sorrow in the same piece and not just in certain movements but, at times, in the same moment. While the pieces don’t tell stories the same way popular songs might, they seem to tell stories about past states of mind. Listening to them, each note seems to represent a moment in meditation and you can almost envision the very meditation from which the melody was born.

I have little musical talent and even less training and knowledge, but Riopy’s music reminded me in the strangest way of my own life. I don’t hear music when I meditate, but I can see how somebody trained in music might. When I sit, all the words in my mind get a chance to spread out. Like kids in a bouncy house, they jump around and play and come up with all kinds of combinations and notions that I would never be able to appreciate if I were doing something else. This is why I loved Riopy right away: because his music reminded me of how meditation helps me write. His music sounds like my mind taking a breath, letting itself dance, and sweeping words and ideas into their proper places in the process, without the well-meaning but unhelpful meddling of my ego. 

Since I like the space that silence gives my meditation, I usually don’t listen to Riopy when I meditate, but I frequently listen to his music when I work or write or do yoga. The calming tone of the music aids relaxation and the absence of words means it doesn’t distract or clash with other mental processing. His music is available on most major outlets, like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon. He has a new album out currently, Bliss, as well as a collection of many others. You can also find an extended, hour-long, version of his “Meditation 22” on the Calm app.

You may not meditate at all or need music to support your meditation practice. You also may not be drawn to Riopy’s music for the peculiar reason that I have come to love it. But, if you want some beautiful music to bring calm and peace into your life or help you appreciate the value of fleeting, delicate moments, check Riopy’s music out.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.