Ep. 42: What does hip-hop have to do with mental health and well-being? With child and adolescent clinical psychologist Dr. Eliott Gann


May 12, 2020

Hip hop culture’s core values of social justice, peace, respect, and community make the world’s most popular musical genre a relevant and effective therapeutic tool for the marginalized and at-risk population. Hip Hop beat making and culture is successfully utilized across the globe as a mental health, educational, social justice and cross-cultural intervention.


Dr. Elliot Gann is a licensed child and adolescent clinical psychologist; he is a long-time beat maker and Executive Director of Today’s Future Sound (TFS). Dr. Gann has been working with TFS in Bay Area schools and community settings, and across the globe, using hip hop beat making and culture as a mental health, educational, social justice and cross-cultural intervention. He has worked with more than 75,000 youth on six continents in the past six years through TFS, and is currently developing the Therapeutic Beat Making (TBM) Model.


  • Mainstream hip hop and rap tend to have a reputation of lyrics glorifying violence, substance abuse, gender discrimination, materialism, and high-risk behavior in general. But hip hop culture, at its core, is built on values that include social justice, peace, respect, and community.

  • Why it is a great therapeutic tool:
    • All cultures have a form of it.
    • Accessibility: At its simplest, you can make a beat with your mouth – beatboxing – and create or recite lyrics about anything without singing.
    • It’s a style most young people feel comfortable with and it provides a way to build relationships. Lyrical content provides opportunity for self reflection, learning, and growth; and opens discussion on topics that are otherwise hard to talk about.
    • Calming: Repetitive and predictable rhythms can down-regulate the nervous system by providing a sense of safety, consistency, and dependability for those with little of these in their everyday lives.
  • History of hip hop
  • Elements of hip hop
  • Culturally relevant, therapeutic application of Common-Core-aligned STEM/STEAM curriculum
  • TFS partners with schools, juvenile centers, mental health facilities, and veteran’s groups.
  • TFS’s curriculum provides a context for world geography, digital literacy, community service, multimedia job pathways, cultural diplomacy, cross-cultural collaboration, and entrepreneurship.
  • Photos of TFS in action:


Pay special attention to the beats/background music of songs with rapping or singing and notice each instrument, each drum sound and element. Then go to https://learningmusic.ableton.com and follow instructions there to make your own beats, program drums, etc.



Dr. Gann shares the song, “To the Sky,” a collaborative song he co-wrote/composed with a student five  years ago.

This student, Asha Jefferies, is now a well-known artist in Australia (Asha Jefferies on Spotify). The song is featured on Gann’s compilation album, Philthy Australia. 

Closing Words

What a great song and great story! You can listen to more songs by Asha Jefferies and Elliot Gann (aka Phillipdrummond) on Spotify.  One thing we love to talk about on Enhance Life with Music is how music affects our everyday lives AND, as you know, I love hearing from listeners. I got a big smile recently when listener Peggy pointed out to me one of the ways music can affect our everyday lives in a really annoying way. Peggy wrote: “Why is ‘hold’ music (and I use that term loosely) so so so bad & annoying? So you give up holding? I’ve been on hold with my credit card company for 25 mins (supposedly 15 min wait) & I feel like I’ll never get this awful noise out of my head!” I hear you, Peggy! My answer is probably because companies don’t want to pay what it would cost for decent music. Our guest in Ep. 18 [Is Background Music Influencing My Purchasing (or my Thanksgiving Guests)?! with Songtradr’s Jody McKinley] talked a bit about properly sourcing background music so that musicians are paid for their work (funny thing about musicians – they want to be paid!). If any of you have more insight into this, let me know!  Speaking of music affecting our everyday lives, I realized after the fact that music affected me as a parent this past weekend. Our church recently organized a mask-sewing effort for a local hospital. I signed up along with my 18-yr-old daughter… the project turned out to be much more complicated than I expected! Side benefit: I got to listen to my daughter’s Spotify playlists for 6.5 hours over the weekend and it was really a fun way to get to know her more and discover some new music that I also like! I got to hear a song I had heard about: Six Feet Apart by Alec Benjamin (written for quarantine).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNsz5vIn2GgI posted pics on Instagram and Facebook of our mask sewing project and completed product. Not posted: these pictures of how we REALLY felt after completing our 50 masks!

Let me know how music has affected YOUR everyday  life recently – comment below, connect on social media (I’m on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), or send me an email (mindy@mpetersonmusic.com). Thank you for joining me today. Stay safe, stay healthy, and until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

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