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London rapper Hyphen, who shines a spotlight on male mental health, tells of battle with depression

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 18/05/2019 Rebecca Speare-Cole
a man standing in front of a store © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

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A London rapper who shines a spotlight on men's mental health in his music today tells of his personal battle with "crushing" depression.

Hyphen, an upcoming rapper from Aldgate, told the Standard how he started to feel low when he began working in finance in his early 20s.

The 25-year-old, whose real name is Aadarsh Gautam, then began writing poetry and eventually music to express how he was feeling.

"I felt so unhappy and under so much pressure and what came of that was a lava-like explosion of expressing myself," he said.

Now he harnesses his personal experience with mental health problems to create lyrics which resonate with fans around the city.

The rapper's new single, "We're OK", released in June, will talk about men collectively fighting through depression.

Hyphen, a UCL graduate, began to write poems and lyrics during a low period when he was working in investment banking straight out of university.

He explained how he had forced himself to “meet expectations” and fit into a “certain bracket” whilst burying his feelings in an accepted corporate drinking culture.

“I was suddenly sitting in the back seat of my parents' car aged 21 crying my eyes out, and I felt completely consumed by this thing,” he said.

“I had done a lot of what was expected, and was a caveman at expressing how I was feeling. I didn’t realise how down I had become.”

The rapper said he started to write one evening on the train home from work.

a man standing in front of a store: Hyphen with Tommy Sandhu at BBC Asian Network radio station. (Adriana Saetta) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Hyphen with Tommy Sandhu at BBC Asian Network radio station. (Adriana Saetta)

"I was hungover on the train home and began writing in a book that I usually used for to-do lists,” he added, explaining that he had never written much.

"It was like tectonic plates with this crushing thing that I felt so unhappy and under so much pressure and what came of that was a lava-like explosion of expressing myself.”

After one of his poems was published in the Financial Times he moved on to start writing music.

He has since performed at venues including Ronnie Scott's and Notting Hill Arts Club, and is now supported by BBC Music Introducing.

But the artist has faced other challenges over the years, including a struggle with his personal identity after his parents moved to the UK from Bihar in India in the 80s.

He said he has often been grouped together with other Indians in Britain whose communities are very different to his own.

“Most Indians in the UK come from Punjab or Gujarat but it’s about a three or four hour flight from where we lived and India is very big and culturally diverse,” he said.

And the artist said he has faced a lot of criticism while performing, often being told at gigs that his clothes looked ridiculous and he did not “look like he should be there”.

A few years ago, Link Up TV, a platform for new artists posted a clip of Hyphen rapping freestyle and it had to be taken down immediately after a flood of negative comments and trolling.

Video: ‘I just had to go’: The faces of attempted suicide (Men's Health)

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“People were saying ‘who is this, this guy looks like a refugee,’” Hyphen said.

The rapper has dealt with these issues through his music. 

In March this year, Hyphen released the record, “Middle Finger” with JARJ, where he raps about the Link Up TV experience, and brought in six other artists from different backgrounds to feature on it.

“We thought it sounded like something that lots of people would work well on so we got lots of people from different communities and backgrounds. We were all hitting back people who had told us many times that we could not do it.”

Fans now come up to the young rapper at gigs to open up about how they are feeling, with one telling him: "I feel like you get it."

An Indian student at Warwick University has even reached out to Hyphen because he wanted to write his dissertation on his work.

Hyphen said his work is simply about expressing how he feels to make connections with people.

He said: "I’m saying things that may reach people who are experiencing something similar but I’m not trying to be a spokesperson or anything," he said.

"I’m just trying to write, say how I feel and connect with as many people as I can."

'We're OK' will be released on all major streaming platforms on June 9.

MSN UK are Empowering Happiness for mental health awareness month. Find out more about our campaign and the charities working to stop people falling into crisis here.

Gallery: 12 uplifting quotes to help ease anxiety (Country Living)


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