The Rehabilitation of Hip Hop Culture:  Can Hip Hop Recover?   Part 1

I’ll admit, when I first heard of, the therapist in me was captivated by the catchy name that implied (at least to me) that hip hop needed an intervention to help it recover. Like a person being restored to a former or better condition (before sickness, injury, or addiction), hip hop culture needs to return to promoting peace, unity, love, and having fun. The culture also needs to be recovered because if it isn’t saved or taken back from those using it to market products and influence behavior, it will be lost or it will die (like people have been claiming for years).

Problem identification is the first step to recovering from substance abuse, mental illness, and incarceration, and examples of this type of admission are, “I’m getting high too much” or “I’m always getting locked up.” Acknowledging that a behavior needs to be changed can be difficult, which is why some people remain in denial and make statements like, “I use drugs, but it’s not like I’m homeless or stealing to get them” or “I only got locked up because someone snitched on me.” Once an admission is made, an intervention to change the behavior is needed (e.g. treatment, religion, or 12 Step Meetings), and once the behavior is changed, an attitudinal and lifestyle adjustment is needed to maintain the change.

Can hip hop recover? Yes it can, and for an example of the culture’s innate ability to transform, one can look at the culture’s founder. Afrika Bambaataa is a recovering gang member, as years before he created hip hop culture and founded the Zulu Nation, he was a warlord of the Black Spades, the largest street gang in the South Bronx. Using the leadership skills he honed recruiting gang members, Bambaataa recruited people into the hip hop culture and the Zulu Nation, and he helped many gang members transform into peaceful, positive, and productive members of the community.

But how can hip hop recover? Hip hop culture certainly can’t go to a treatment facility, but if members of the hip hop culture changed, a reversion of the culture could allow it to become an agent of change that transforms today’s youth into peaceful, positive, and productive members of society.

Problem identification is the first step to hip hop culture recovering, and this will be easy for members of the culture. There’s no denying that hip hop culture has been commandeered by corporations who’ve used it in ways that weren’t intended. Years ago, hip hop was a culture that allowed youths to protest being from broken families that lived in poor, dangerous, and hopeless environments, but today, it’s a corporatized culture that conveys messages to youths that destroy family values and influence behavior like mindless consumerism, violence, and hate (of self and others) that create and maintain environments that are poor, dangerous, and hopeless.

Undermining the corporations’ influence over the hip hop culture is the next step for the culture to recover, and this can be done with an intervention that increases the awareness and unity among the culture’s members. When members of the hip hop culture realize that the corporations are only concerned with their profits (and not them), they’ll unify and collectively resist the toxic and genocidal messages they’ve been receiving. This will start the recovery process where hip hop culture is restored to its former state, and it is rescued from its corporate captors. However, in order to continue the recovery process, members of the hip hop culture have to change the divisiveness and “infighting” that kept them fragmented and vulnerable to infiltration to begin with. Developing more supportive and cooperative attitudes and behaviors is necessary for the culture to maintain the unity needed to withstand future threats from “vultures outside of the culture.”  

The following are “The 12 Steps for Hip Hop Recovery,” and they are a set of concepts that can address what ails hip hop culture. These concepts were influenced by the Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous Programs because of their success with treating addiction and other dysfunctional and self-destructive behaviors. The concepts can help members of the hip hop culture develop personally, and they can provide members with a code of conduct that will help maintain unity within the culture.

The 12 Steps for Hip Hop Recovery

1)  We admitted that hip hop isn’t being used the way it was intended and that we are partly responsible for this

2)  We came to believe that our ability to educate and empower youths and adults around the world depends on our unity, and that unity depends on members of the hip hop culture respecting each other, despite differences and personal preferences

3)  We stopped blaming others for hip hop’s condition and committed ourselves to working together to recover the culture from those who currently control it

4)  We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves (as members) and assessed what we needed to change so we could return to promoting peace, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding

5)  We admitted that we lacked unity in our culture because we were selfish, competitive, critical of each other and intolerant and disrespectful toward each other


6)  We will avoid division in the hip hop culture by not categorizing styles of hip hop or having its artists compete

7)  We will not engage in discussions about hip hop when members of the culture are excluded, especially those who’ve experienced incarceration, addiction, and mental illness.

8)  We will avoid “rap battles” and other behavior that portrays aggressive and harmful behavior. We are to be at peace with self and others at all times, and we should strive to lead righteous lives

9)  We will refrain from settling our differences with each other publicly, and under no circumstances do we settle them by fighting (physically, verbally, and through print)

10)  We will socialize younger members of the culture so they’ll know and respect the culture’s history

11)  We strive to co-exist with any culture, but we’ll guard against the temptation to assimilate to cultures that could co-opt us

12)  Having undergone this transformation, we committed ourselves to spreading our message of love, peace and unity amongst all races through our ways and actions.

This segment is Part 1 of a series, and future segments are forthcoming. In the next segment, “Step 1” will be explored.

This article was influenced by concepts from the Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous Programs. The article was also influenced by concepts from The Laws of the Universal Zulu Nation and The Infinity Lessons of Universal Zulu Nation

Ronald Crawford is a mental health professional and author of Who’s the Best Rapper? Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas that uses an analysis of rap lyrics to teach social skills. Connect with him on facebook or at [email protected] Books are available at