Hip Hop is perhaps the most powerful and far-reaching modern music phenomenon known to man and womankind. Its multifaceted and complex nature allows its reach to surpass boundaries of race, culture and socio-economic context but how can we, as artists and creators, harness its powers to activate and enhance the wellbeing of the participants we meet during our everyday practice within the UK? Read this month’s blog from Kiz Manley.


I’m Kiz. Some might call me the UK’s First Hip Hop Therapist. Some call me a Trauma-Informed Hip Hop Practitioner. You could say I’m a Hip Hop fan who wants to stop people being treated unfairly when experiencing mental illness due to their marginalisation by society. For example, African-Caribbean men experience the poorest mental health provision in the UK today. If you are young, black and male, you are seven times more likely to be imprisoned or sectioned whilst experiencing mental health service provision. Meanwhile, your white counterparts will be offered ‘softer’ interventions.


Finding it impossible to express my own feelings at the loss of my beloved sister, Promila, in a car accident in 2000, I battled with grief repression over a period of seven years. I used to listen to music to help me get through the dark times. The fruit of this was that I discovered the expressive arts therapies. I wanted to share what I’d learnt about creative recovery and trained to facilitate groups myself through an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes (CWTP) at Metanoia Institute. CWTP is a relatively new discipline that combines literary theory with counselling and expressive arts practice. Whilst studying, I found out about Hip Hop Therapy in the USA. My mind was blown.


Turns out, it’s an engagement tool devised in the States by a social worker named Dr. Edgar H. Tyson. Hip Hop culture is made up of four central tenets: Lyricism (rapping), Turntablism (DJing), Beatboxing and Breaking (Break Dancing). It is not location-specific and, like Kung Fu, its popularity is global. By its very [post-modern] nature, it is easily assimilated into cultures from as far apart as America to Azerbaijan or Palestine to Poland. It allows the expression of multiple truths and many voices speak these truths.


When I started studying poetry therapy on the course, I immediately wondered how things would pan out if I switched the poems for Hip Hop lyrics so when I was asked to devise and deliver a therapeutic writing workshop as part of an assessment, this is exactly what I did. The results were fantastic.


After the session, participants told me about their pre-workshop anxieties. They were worried they would not be able to respond to or feel distanced by the workshop content because as participants, they were not Hip Hop’s ‘target audience’. But, what they didn’t know was that Hip Hop is an all-inclusive and all-encompassing way of life, an attitude and not just a genre of music. It’s a way of speaking, dressing and being.


Hip Hop Therapy can be defined as: “an innovative synergy of rap music, bibliotherapy, and music therapy”. (Dr. Edgar J Tyson). My own definition would add ‘poetry therapy’. So, what is it about Hip Hop that can be therapeutic? In pondering this, I made a list:

  1. isoprinciples (tuning into participants’ emotional landscape through art)
  2. post-modernism (speaking and/or being aware of many truths and perspectives)
  3. doppelgangers (having an alter ego speak a different truths)
  4. social constructivism (creating a reality as a group through reflection in the arts)
  5. narrative therapy (telling the story, no matter how painful and seeing a beacon of hope somewhere and/or embellishing it with another truth)
  6. autobiography (reflecting on experience)
  7. mental health (lots of Hip Hop lyrics discuss mental illness)


Hip Hop can be utilised to bring people together in a therapeutic group so that healing may take place. It expresses universal struggle and universal humanity and its poetry offers fertile pickings for therapeutic activity whether in an academic MSc seminar room or out in the proverbial ‘ghetto’. It is also a route inwards to an outsider population of people, especially men and young people, who today, sadly, are choosing to end their own lives rather than speak up.


If you want to find out how this works in practice, listen to our blog: ‘Glowitheflow’. You can have a go at some writing yourself. In fact, we just launched Season 2 of by interviewing 12 UK MCs to find out their writing tricks, so listen here.


I’m currently planning Hip Hop HEALS first online Academy, in partnership with Birmingham Centre for Arts Therapies. We received funding from The Baring Founding to widen access to the arts and health profession for Minority Ethnic (ME) people. We offer a work experience phase, a package of supervision and a free DBS for trainees, depending on their support needs. If you fit the funder’s requirements, we could offer you a place so get in touch with me here: hiphophealsuk@gmail.com.

You can book here.