Podcast as Therapy Session? How ‘Joe Budden’ Is Helping Destigmatize Mental Health

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Friendships, like any other relationship, are complicated. They take work and effort. They’re awkward to talk about. They can mean the world at any given moment — and come crashing down without warning.

A recent episode of “The Joe Budden Podcast” showed just how complex a friendship can get when business is involved. Last week’s “Shaking the Tree,” as episode 435 was titled, featured the four podcast principals, host Joe Budden and cohorts Rory, Mal and Parks, participating in something many grown men find extremely difficult: an honest conversation about their relationships with each other.

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While not entirely new territory for Budden’s unscripted pod, discussions of mental health aren’t normalized in the Black community, so for a series whose audience is made up primarily of hip-hop enthusiasts, it was refreshing.

From a personal point of view, it was inspiring. In listening to four men (two of color) reveal how their actions affected one another, the episode — a hip-hop version of Metallica’s “Some Kind of Monster,” where the public airing of grievances was first destigmatized in the music world — felt like a therapy session.

In the 90-plus minutes spent recounting a previous longer discussion held privately by the four, the episode addressed rising tension on the six-year-old show as well as the noticeable month-long absence of Rory and Mal. To recap: a communication break between Rory and Joe escalated to a disconnect between Mal and Joe due to what Mal described as a lack of mutual respect. At the root of the conflict: how lines get blurred when you do business with your friends.

For the record, I don’t think public figures have an obligation to explain the trials and tribulations that happen behind the scenes. And as Rory said in the episode, they waited to handle their issues privately before choosing to address it publicly because people, they surmise, are drawn to drama. Still, it’s important to recognize how challenging it is to be open about feelings amongst male friends. And that even if the JBP boys’ conflict isn’t fully resolved, which it doesn’t feel like it is, talking is a big part of healing.

Joe Budden has been a polarizing figure throughout his career, which began as a rapper in the early aughts and extended to a stint as a cast member on “Love and Hip-Hop,” but he’s always been transparent, and even vocal on the pod, about the importance of maintaining good mental health, especially amongst Black men.

That honesty was one of the reasons I took a step towards therapy myself.

It took me a long time to get there. As a Black man raised in an emotionally stifled household, talking about my feelings never felt normal. And like many self-motivated skeptics, I never thought I needed a professional to tell me things about myself that I couldn’t figure out on my own. Also, living in a hyper-masculine environment made therapy seem outlandish to me.

It wasn’t until I took that first step a few months ago and tried one session that I saw the benefit in it. Rather than unloading your emotions on friends with the expectation that they’ll have the answers you seek, you have the benefit of context — understanding feelings as they relate to past experiences — and of comfort to speak openly.

Why is it so hard for male friends to talk about our feelings? Because it makes us vulnerable. That’s why the conversation on “Joe Budden” was meaningful, because it demonstrated what that discussion amongst men can look like. Being Black already comes with this unspoken expectation of bravado, which is only amplified in a braggadocios sport like hip-hop. “The Joe Budden Podcast” broke that mold.

All of this led me to be more comfortable telling my guy friends that I value them, or when something about our relationship is bothering me. If you’re feeling a way about a friendship, address it. Make that call, reach out first, and put your pride aside for the sake of something you care about. You’re not weak. You’re human.

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