Why He's Interesting: On top of writing music for Converse and securing a master’s degree in music business from New York University, the rapper and producer launched Peel Dem Layers Back, a mental health initiative that raises awareness through health partnerships, hip-hop and the arts.
The song that changed Archie Green’s life grew from despair. Even the intro feels melancholy: a single piano plinks a lonely refrain, while his first words — “peel dem layers back” — are spoken like an exhale he’s waited too long for.
This is “Layers,” the rap track Green wrote in 2015 about his battle with clinical depression. In April 2016, he premiered the song on Vice as part of an article on how hip-hop artists dealt with mental health issues. Green knew his candor was a risk in both the black and hip-hop communities, where talking about depression is sometimes seen as weakness. But within two weeks, “Layers” had been streamed 25,000 times on SoundCloud.
“That in itself was a sign to me that this is something serious,” says the Chagrin Falls native.
So in 2016, Peel Dem Layers Back was born. Green’s mental health initiative uses hip-hop to destigmatize mental illness and provide a “coping mechanism toolkit,” with a special focus on those in the black community. Through events that incorporate hip-hop performance, discussion groups and panels with pastors, artists and health professionals, Green has carved out an unlikely haven for those grappling with mental illness, meeting them where they are, be it the Happy Dog or a college campus. Today, the initiative is a bridge between the underserved and mental health specialists who don’t know how to reach them.
“There are professionals who don’t know how to talk to this specific group because they don’t know their language,” says Green. “If you’re a doctor spitting statistics at me, I don’t know what that means, nor do I care. I want to talk to somebody who looks like me and knows what I’m experiencing firsthand.”
It’s a cause that’s especially crucial in Cleveland, Green believes, citing a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 2 in every 10 Cleveland Metropolitan School District students say they’ve attempted suicide. Hip-hop is a ready conduit for reaching struggling youth.
“Hip-hop has always been one of the biggest genres in the world,” says Green. “It just made sense to use hip-hop as the medium for the conversation.”
Rapping since age 13, Green has produced beats for Converse and opened for Wiz Khalifa. In 2013, he graduated from New York University with a master’s in music business. His momentum hit a snag after moving home later that year, when he had his license suspended after getting a DUI.
The incident set off one of his darkest periods, and Green sometimes considered suicide. A fraternity brother eventually convinced him to see a therapist, something no one had suggested before. Slowly, Green reclaimed his life through therapy, a process he called “peeling back the layers” to unpack the turmoil underneath.
“[Therapy] made me better. It changed my life, but it also saved my life. Being an artist, the first thing that I wanted to do was channel that into my art and talk about the process of being depressed, going into therapy, getting better and then promoting that [resource].”
He’s also started a series of workshops with Quote Unquote podcaster JD Caminero that teach music industry basics. One day, he hopes to start an “edu-tainment” festival with hip-hop performances and mental health seminars.
“Before, I had been asked in other interviews how I felt about being ‘the mental health rapper’ and at that time, I thought, I have more to offer than just mental health raps,” says Green. “But now its like, If that’s what saves somebody’s life, call me the mental health rapper. I don’t care.”
Interesting Fact: Green was first inspired to rap when he saw the “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” music video by Jay-Z.