Courtesy Photo: Haley Scott
G Herbo Talks 'PTSD' And The Importance Of Mental Health: "People Need To Treat Mental Health More Seriously"
On the title track to his newest album, PTSD, Chicago rapper G Herbo enlists his hometown's hip-hop heroes, Chance The Rapper and the late Juice WRLD. (Philadelphia's Lil Uzi Vert is the track's lone guest not hailing from the Windy City.)
On paper, "PTSD" creates the impression of a heavy-hitting anthem: four of the genre's biggest artists coming together like the rap game's The Avengers. Instead, the song offers an intimate look into the minds and vulnerabilities behind hip-hop's new generation.
G Herbo raps about the friends he's lost to Chicago's extreme gun violence. Chance talks about how he and his mother avoided talking about the social issues plaguing his community. Lil Uzi sing-raps about the paranoia-induced "war zone laying inside my head."
Juice WLRD's emotionally charged chorus encapsulates the song's overarching theme: "I got a war zone on inside of my head / I made it on my own, they said I'd be in jail or dead / I've seen my brothers fall over and over again / Don't stand too close to me, I got PTSD."
As the album's poignant centerpiece, the track embodies G Herbo's mission to de-stigmatize mental health and demystify the commonly misunderstood mental disorder, clinically known as post-traumatic stress disorder, across PTSD.
Originally released in February, PTSD is inspired by G Herbo's personal experience with the mental health condition—he was clinically diagnosed with PTSD in 2019—and the therapy treatment he sought to address it. Following a gun-related arrest in 2018, he agreed to enter therapy based on the suggestion of his lawyer. He'd never attended therapy before and, admittedly, he didn't know much about the practice, a likely result of the many barriers preventing people of color from accessing mental healthcare.
"I didn't really think [therapy] was something that I needed or something that was for me, because where I come from, the things that we go through and the things that we experience, we sort of normalize," G Herbo tells GRAMMY.com. "So we don't think that we're crazy. We don't think that we're suffering from mental illness because we're paranoid for our life, because everyone around us is paranoid for their life. So we don't feel like the oddball, and I think that needs to change."
Across PTSD, G Herbo tackles heavy, real-life issues through a personal lens. "Gangstas Cry" dissects toxic masculinity, "Lawyer Fees" chronicles the gun violence that infested his childhood and community, and "Feelings" documents his relationship problems with the mother of his child.
Despite, or maybe because of, its self-reflective intimacy, the album is resonating with G Herbo fans around the world: PTSD became a Top 10 Billboard hit, while the title track has gone gold in the U.S. (In May, G Herbo released the deluxe version of PTSD, which features 14 new tracks.)
"I never really gave it much thought about [the album] being too heavy for people, because I felt like people may look at my situation and my life like I don't do these things, like I don't have problems, like I don't endure pain or stress. I just wanted the world to know that we all are the same," G Herbo says of PTSD, which he calls his "most complete" project to date.
Five months after the album's release, G Herbo continues to use PTSD and his platform to effect the change he wants to see in the world. In May, alongside the Alliance For Safety And Justice, he donated 20,000 protective masks to Chicago's Cook County Jail, which was identified as the "largest-known source of coronavirus infections" in the U.S. in April. For National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July, he launched Swervin' Through Stress, an initiative providing therapeutic and mental health resources, including a free therapy-intensive program, to Black young adults.
"I think people need to treat mental health more seriously," G Herbo reflects. "You just have to take these things seriously so more and more people can be aware and more people that could bring change actually want to bring change. That's what PTSD is [about]."
GRAMMY.com spoke with G Herbo about the personal journey behind PTSD, the importance of mental health and the coping mechanisms he's adopting to survive our current volatile world.
Your latest album, PTSD, is inspired by your experience with therapy. Was that your first time going to therapy?
Yeah. In the process of recording the album, I was going to therapy ... I'd never tried therapy until that period of time of my life.
Your decision to enter therapy came from your lawyer's recommendation after you were arrested in 2018. Looking back at it now, do you think you would have ended up in therapy eventually by your own choice?
I don't think so … But I can't really say that, because as you grow, you experience life more. You never know what your mind may open up to you, but I'm so glad that I did go to therapy. I'm glad that I did take that leap of faith to just go talk to somebody about my situation and just my thoughts, and get 'em to a person with an unbiased opinion.
[The decision to go to therapy] did come from a recommendation from my lawyer because ... as I grew as a man and an artist and having so much going on in my life and so much to lose ... when I got into that situation with the arrest in 2018, I felt like, "What did I do?" Or, "What led me up to this point? What could I be doing wrong? What miscalculated steps did I take, if I thought I was doing all of these things right, to get myself to the next level?"
You could see in life, I'm not in harm's way. I'm not putting myself in danger, but yet I was carrying a gun [that day] because I have post-traumatic stress disorder, because [when] I leave the house every day, I'm paranoid. I'm thinking that my life can be taken from me at any moment, at the drop of a dime, by somebody just making a careless decision or somebody just with nothing to lose, like I once was at a time in my life.
I opened up to my lawyer and told her how I feel and why I carry a gun and why I need to have a guard around me 24/7. She told me to go to therapy, and I felt like it was one step closer to me trying to help myself. So I wanted to speak about it to the world.
You hadn't gone to therapy previously, but you obviously knew what it was before you started your treatment. What was your opinion on or understanding of therapy before you started going?
I honestly didn't know too much about therapy, but that is the point. You're talking to a professional who's supposed to listen to your problems and give you insight on life in a way where you could try to help yourself. I didn't really think that it was something that I needed or something that was for me, because where I come from, the things that we go through and the things that we experience, we sort of normalize.
It's normal, it's everyday life. So we don't think that we're crazy. We don't think that we're suffering from mental illness because we're paranoid for our life, because everyone around us is paranoid for their life. So we don't feel like the oddball, and I think that needs to change.
You then took that whole experience and channeled it into what became PTSD. How did you go about creating an album out of such a personal experience?
I feel like it was only right for me to touch on [the topic] in a way where it could resonate with the entire world, not just my neighborhood. I began rapping and I was talking about the things that I experienced on that four-to-eight-block radius. I'm not really talking about things that the world can relate to; I was talking about things that only my neighborhood could relate to ... It did go head-on directly with PTSD. It is PTSD: losing friends and people dying, and you being close to death and being afraid for your life.
Therapy is not going to solve your problems, but it will help you think about life in a better way to just move towards where you want to be and just get through the toughest situations. That's why therapy is important to me …
Where we come from, we're not able to vent, we're not able to grieve because so many people around us are grieving and going through the same thing. Who can you vent to? Who can you grieve to?
When you went in to write PTSD at the beginning stage, did you already know you were going to theme it around your mental health and your own experience with PTSD? Or did the idea come to you later when you started working on the project?
The idea came naturally. I just wanted to talk about something that was near and dear to me, talk about my life and everything I've been through from a grown man's perspective. My music, if you go back to even my old catalog ... my first albums, Ballin Like I'm Kobe  and Welcome To Fazoland —all of these projects, I'm speaking on these same subjects, just from a 16-, 17-year-old perspective.
It was always in a way to help people get through it, to help people better understand me and understand themselves and know that life isn't a coincidence. You're going through these things for a reason. They may be tough, but it's always a way to get through it. It's always a way to find inspiration and motivation in these negative things to change your situation, to turn your situation around. I think it came naturally. I didn't have intentions of creating PTSD the way I did. I think that's what's so special about it.
The album covers a lot of heavy issues. "Gangstas Cry" tackles toxic masculinity, for example. Were you ever concerned that your fans would not accept the album and what it was trying to dissect?
No, not at all. Because for one, no matter how tough your situation is, there's always somebody that's going through something 10 times as hard. So I'm not afraid to open up. I'm not afraid to be vulnerable in my music. I think that's what the fans connected to the most, because we all cry. Every man in the world has cried before. Whether you want to do it in private, whether you feel it's masculine, [unmasculine] or not, you still have shed tears for something in your life.
So I'm just saying it's OK to do that. I'm just saying it's a right to let it out; you have to do that sometimes. I'm not a crier, but I do cry. I have cried on many occasions for many things. And I'm completely, 100 percent secure in my masculinity. I know that I'm a man, I'm aggressive. I know that there's nothing wrong with crying. I just wanted to give a piece of me to the world that I thought that they would appreciate.
So no, I never really gave it much thought about [the album] being too heavy for people, because I felt like people may look at my situation and my life like I don't do these things, like I don't have problems, like I don't endure pain or stress. I just wanted the world to know that we all are the same.
You dropped PTSD back in February. The world has basically changed since then. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. Protestors have taken to the streets demanding racial justice. A lot of Black citizens have been killed by police in that three-month window. How are you coping with everything now? What are you doing to keep your own mental health in balance?
Now, I feel I'm just trying to pour resources into myself, into my people, and just share resources to make things better. I've been speaking on these exact same things since I was 17 years old. I've always experienced racial injustice, police brutality and police injustice. I have friends who were killed by police when I was in eighth grade ... I'm no stranger to these things.
Now, I think with me just having my platform and me being who I am, I'm able to talk about it in a way where I can bring change to the situation in any way possible. I feel during these times, that's what I'm trying to do the most, just try to be strong for myself and my family through these tough times … [I] try to use my platform to speak on it, where people understand that, "Hey, it's no coincidence we're going through these things; we've been going through these [things]."
To bring change, you have to change. We have to pour resources into each other and start to move one step closer towards making sure that these things never happen again, because they shouldn't.
You mentioned the normalization of traumatic experiences in your neighborhood. I come from a similar cultural background as you, so I'm highly aware of the stigmas around mental health within ethnic minority communities. As a Latino man, I've heard people in my own community make jokes against therapy. What do you think needs to change in order for minority groups to get over that stigma and embrace resources like mental health and therapy?
I wouldn't say therapy is for absolutely everybody. So many different things can be therapeutic for a person. I feel just us being resourceful to one another, where people can understand that you can treat yourself in a way where you can ... do certain things where people who go to therapy can be resourceful. Certain things may work for certain people. So I feel that's important to just touch on these subjects … whether it's through therapy, whether it's through just talking to a friend, talking to your children or whatever the case may be. We just need to take one step closer towards telling each other.
This month marks National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. What would you want people of color and communities of color to learn about mental health?
That mental health is a state. That mental health is real. That anxiety is real. I think people need to treat mental health more seriously ... There's so much pressure right now where a lot of people don't know how to deal with it. I think that the people who do and the people who are in a better mind state, in a better position to survive mentally, physically, economically, financially, [who are] able to help others get through these situations ... I'm not saying you're going to be able to change the world with a blink of a finger. It's not an overnight process. You just have to take these things seriously so more and more people can be aware and more people that could bring change actually want to bring change. That's what PTSD is [about].
Do you feel PTSD accomplished what you wanted it to accomplish?
Yeah, I do. I don't have any regrets about the album, no ill thoughts about anything that it should have did that it didn't do. I felt like I was able to get my story out to the world, and they heard it and they appreciated it. Personally, I felt like it was a complete body of work. The album was my most complete, thought-out, well-put-together project that I've ever done; I know that from experience. I've never put this much time, this much effort—blood, sweat, tears—into my craft the way that I did with PTSD. I feel like the response it's getting is a direct result from that.
Do you think you'll continue to explore heavy issues and personal traumas, like you did on PTSD, in your future music?
Yeah, I do, because I feel there's always that one fan that you may have to speak to. But I think the more I experience life, it's not going to be the same. But people still experience trauma. We still experience pain. We still suffer, regardless of what level you're on. So I think me just being who I am, I'll always be able to speak on that. I'll always have a platform for people to listen because they want me to speak on it; they appreciate it. It helps them the same way it's helpful to me.
My music is therapeutic to me ... The things that I say are hand-in-hand with my life. It's 100 percent real, it's natural, it's organic. So it helps me the same way that it helps my fans. The response that I get from my fans I feel is only going to drive me to go harder with my craft, with my music and with the message that I'm trying to put out.