In an age where activists are adopting more creative out-of-the-box approaches to increase access to important information and raise awareness of the realities of mental health, an unlikely story has surfaced of a world-famous MC using his music in the most practical and powerful of ways. When Maryland rapper Robert Bryce Hall, better known as Logic, released his track ‘1800-273-8255’ featuring Khalid & Alessia Carra back in 2017 many of us naively thought upon first glance that the wicked wordsmith was simply touting the world’s longest postcode. However, in reality, the story of ‘1800-273-8255’ extends beyond the MO of traditional hip-hop songs and instead raised questions about the contemporary power of music and the maestros that make it.
Across the US, if you dialled ‘1800-273-8255’ at any hour of any day you would quickly be connected to the unsung heroes of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, an indispensable service comparable to the Samaritans here in the UK. With suicide scoring as the fourth highest killer of adolescents under 25 across the US throughout the last decade and the effects of it branching into almost every families everyday lives, new methods of raising awareness to the service of the NSPH became essential. Particularly amongst the often hard to reach and harder to help demographic of young men who statistically were four times as likely to commit suicide at the time.
Despite never having a Billboard top ten single in his career by this point in 2017, ‘1800-273-8255’ debuted at number 3 on the charts, catalysing an effective movement that grew with every stream and single purchase. One that allowed us all to participate in an easily accessible manner. Logic’s pioneering approach to boldly title a track after the NSPH phone number not only removed a helpful handful of stigma towards asking for help in the eyes of young men, but also telegraphed to everyone listening the exact number they might need on their darkest day.
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However, the question remains, did the singles wide circulation and chart stature translate into real people asking for very real-world help? Well, according to John Draper, the former Director of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, on the day ‘1800-273-8255’ dropped the NSPH had “the second-highest call volume in the history of the service”. However, the real power in the track’s message is that, unlike many other cultural phenomena that caused increased actions with the NSPH such as the release of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why of the aftermath of celebrity suicides, “1-800-273-8255” is leading to and facilitating direct calls about suicide prevention rather than suicide itself. Mr Draper explained in a later statement that “what’s important is that Logic is generating calls with a song about getting help and finding hope. It’s not focusing on tragedy or suicide. He’s starting conversations about suicide prevention, as opposed to suicide.”
The Logic effect is by no means an isolated incident confined to the date of the song’s release. Shortly after its debut, Logic performed “1-800-273-8255” at the 2017 MTV Music Video Awards which according to reports released by the NSPH indicated a 50% increase in usage of the hotline number in the immediate aftermath of the show. Additionally, in the days following Logic performance of the track at the 2018 Grammys, almost a whole year after the song’s release, reported rates of suicide in kids aged between 10-19 fell by 5.5 per cent. When asked about the accreditation of the track as a proven preventer of suicide in several explicit situations, Logic replied “We did it from a really warm place in our hearts to try to help people. And the fact that it did, that blows my mind.”
The impact of the track represents the modern efficiency and effectiveness of direct activism, receiving critical information in consumption-friendly ways from sources that the affected communities already trust. Logic used his skillset and avenue of expertise creatively to affect real-world change, creating a song that benefits the listener in ways they aren’t aware of until they need it. It really shouldn’t be up to rappers to create effective messaging for suicide prevention, in an ideal world governments would have ingrained the numbers for suicide prevention systems into our psyche from an early age but, like in so many other areas, their shortcomings are being constantly rectified by the ingenuity and creative brilliance of artists and activist across the world.
So, can song titles save lives? Absolutely. Many have in less literal ways but Logic’s approach to direct activism has unearthed a new method of mass education that is worth revisiting when we consider how we inspire action, access education and prevent tragedy.