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Recovery Through Music: Kensho Kuma's 'Serenity Prayer' Unveils the Power of Sobriety in Hip-Hop

Updated: Mar 9

Sober Hip Hop Artist holding brim of his hat
Photo: Kensho Kuma

In the vibrant landscape of hip-hop, where the rhythm of beats intertwines with deeply personal narratives, emerges the compelling story of Kensho Kuma, a steadfast voice blending the raw energy of hip-hop with the transformative journey of sobriety. We discover more about the soul-stirring narrative behind "Serenity Prayer", an animated music video by Kensho Kuma that stands as a powerful testament to recovery and resilience. As we explore the genesis and impact of this poignant anthem, we invite you on a journey to discover how Kensho Kuma's personal battle with addiction and subsequent path to sobriety has infused his music with hope, offering a beacon of light to those traversing similar paths.

"Hip-hop's culture and business have long normalized substance and alcohol abuse, and it's taken its toll. Serenity Prayer came from a place of necessity; hip-hop needed this message." - Kensho Kuma

Q: Can you tell us about your journey into hip-hop music and how it intersected with your journey to sobriety?

Kensho: In middle school, Dr. Dre's Chronic (1992) and Snoop's Doggystyle (1993) were my introductions to hip-hop. It was cool, but the idea of becoming an MC hadn't crossed my mind. Then came the Wu-Tang solo projects in the mid-nineties, like Raekwon's Only Built for Cuban Linx and GZA's Liquid Swords. That's when I got hooked. Their blend of martial arts samples, crime interludes, and unique slang—it was all so new to me, and I loved it. I mean, I was a high school sophomore in Berkeley, California, and I had no idea what a Five Percenter was. But their projects seemed like a smorgasbord of dope things; from the martial arts samples to the organized crime interludes, the countless rap aliases to the customized Wallabees, and the slang I had never heard to the B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth). I only understood a small fraction of what they were doing, but I already knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. This passion for hip-hop, especially writing rhymes, became my lifeline. It's been there for me, saving me more times than I can count, both before and after I chose sobriety.

Q: Your latest release, "Serenity Prayer," is a powerful animated music video about recovery. What inspired you to create this song and accompanying visual story?

Kensho: Hip-hop's culture and business have long normalized substance and alcohol abuse, and it's taken its toll. Losing three close friends to substance misuse during the pandemic was a wake-up call. We've lost too many legends and young talents. Serenity Prayer came from a place of necessity; hip-hop needed this message. Amidst the culture of 'popping bottles' and 'smoking weed,' there had to be a voice for recovery, coming from a true hip-hop standpoint.

"The key for an alcoholic addict like me is redirecting our obsessive nature towards something positive, like music. It's been my therapy, keeping me grounded through tough times." - Kensho Kuma

Q: You mentioned the importance of creative outlets in recovery. How has music specifically served as a tool for healing and growth in your journey?

Kensho: When the alcoholic addict's obsessive tendencies are able to be transferred to a creative outlet, it can have a therapeutic effect. The outlet doesn't have to be anything music-related; it can be authoring a novel, dancing ballet, or even building miniature houses using toothpicks. It just has to be some craft that the person can become actively engaged in. There have been countless times in my sobriety where nothing in the external world was going right; the obsession with writing rhymes and recording songs got me through the worst periods of my life. Furthermore, if you obsessively work on any craft, you become better at it, and it will result in improved self-esteem. Finally, obsessively practicing a craft will enable you to have a deeper relationship with yourself; you will feel more comfortable in your own skin.

Q: In your correspondence, you highlighted the significance of seeking clinical support for individuals with a dual diagnosis. Could you share more about your perspective on this and why it's essential for those navigating both substance use and mental health challenges?

Kensho: I want to preface my response by stating that Alcoholic Anonymous saved my life and should be the initial stop for anyone suffering from alcohol abuse. However, we cannot solely depend on AA or any peer support group to address pre-existing mental health diagnoses. For many years, I relied on the program and my sponsor, who was not a licensed clinian, to fulfill my mental health needs; this eventually proved to be a grave mistake. The program was never designed to handle symptoms of bipolar, emotional disturbances, ADHD, or any other condition listed in the DSM. Folks with dual diagnoses should seek a licensed clinician for their mental health disorders while attending AA for their addiction. The fellowship ought to encourage individuals with dual diagnoses to reach out to professionals for their mental health needs on a larger scale. We do a disservice to newcomers with a dual diagnosis by making them believe that all necessary treatment can be found within the rooms. That's simply not the case.

Q: "Serenity Prayer" touches on themes of struggle, resilience, and hope. What message do you hope listeners take away from this song and its visual representation?

Kensho: I want listeners to understand that recovery is possible. It's about taking one day at a time. If someone with my background can make it, so can you. Recovery is within reach for everyone.

Q: How do you envision your music contributing to the broader conversation around sobriety and mental health awareness?

Kensho: Although I have been sober for a while, not all of my content revolves around sobriety or recovery. If songs like 'Serenity Prayer' can serve as an example of Hip Hop addressing addiction and mental health, I would be incredibly proud. My aim is for the bipolar addict Hip Hop kid to feel seen and not alone. Hip Hop has normalized alcohol and substance misuse for too long; 'Serenity Prayer' aims to highlight the other side of the equation—the horrors of addiction and the journey to recovery. Many artists in recovery, who have achieved national or international fame, rarely mention sobriety. It’s almost a taboo in Rap to discuss recovery, though I give credit to artists like Eminem for their transparency. I wish more MCs would openly talk about their journey to recovery in their music.

Q: Can you share any upcoming projects or initiatives you're working on that continue to explore these themes or expand your artistic endeavors?

Kensho: I'm finalizing my fifth project, "Ikigai" (生きがい). It's a collaboration with my producer team from California and Japan. Keep an eye on my website for updates and free mix albums, which I believe deserve as much respect as any studio album.

Q: Finally, what advice would you offer to individuals who may be struggling with addiction or mental health challenges and are seeking a path to recovery?

Kensho: Please, start with an AA meeting. Talk to people, and find a sponsor who inspires you. For those with dual diagnoses, seek the necessary clinical help. And remember, take it one day, one hour, one minute at a time.

A man walking with graffiti background
Kensho Kuma Album Cover

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For more information on sobriety, mental health, and their intersection with music:

"While not every piece I create is about sobriety, songs like Serenity Prayer are vital. They show another side of hip-hop, one that acknowledges the reality of addiction and the hope of recovery." - Kensho Kuma

Kensho Kuma's odyssey from his initial encounter with hip-hop legends to the creation of "Serenity Prayer" highlights the indelible mark of sobriety on his artistry. His narrative is not just a personal victory over addiction but also a significant contribution to the dialogue surrounding sobriety and mental health awareness within the hip-hop community. 

"Serenity Prayer" is more than a song; it is a message of hope and endurance for anyone caught in the throes of addiction, offering lyrical solace and a reminder that the journey to recovery is never solitary. As we amplify Kensho Kuma's voice and others like it in the music industry, we pave the way for greater understanding, empathy, and healing. Through the universal language of hip-hop, Kensho Kuma shares a resonant message of challenge, change, and the unwavering strength found in facing each day anew.


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