Ian Levy is a High School counselor, hip-hop artist, and doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. In 2009 he began writing and recording hip hop with the sole purpose of exploring his emotions. Growing up with a trombonist and an opera singer for parents, Ian's early life was saturated by music. Classically trained as a trumpet player with a strong background in jazz, Ian soon started to see the music he was making as an extension of himself. After spending significant time working towards an undergraduate degree in music performance, he decided to redirect his attention to psychology. In 2013 Ian graduated from Columbia with an M.A. and Ed.M in Psychological Counseling. Later that year Ian released his debut EP, MOSAIC, and began working as a full time counselor. In September of 2014 Ian began his EdD in Health Education at TC, focusing on using Hip Hop Therapy as a framework to reform mental health programs within schools.

Music has been Ian's personal tool for self-discovery and as a result he intends to use his work, as an artist, educator, and counselor to help today’s youth become more critically aware of their own emotional lives through both musical and lyrical expression. During his Masters program Ian began making real progress towards that goal. In December of 2012, Ian's first theoretical research paper titled Hip Hop and Spoken Word Therapy was published in the Journal of Poetry Therapy. This article is followed by a co-authored piece in 2014 titled Hip Hop Emotional Exploration in Men. Post-publication Ian began running hip-hop workshops teaching the art of lyricism as a therapeutic process. Through this art form Ian created safe spaces for young people to learn to speak descriptively about their feelings. Ian has been able to present his work at a number of academic conferences around the US, and intends to continue to speak publically about his work. Currently working as a full time high school counselor in the South Bronx, Ian has constructed full studio in his office. In that space he meets with students on a weekly basis in individual and/or group settings to write and record music based on their personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings. With no lack of passion or diligence, Ian has dedicated his life to pursuing music as a means of conscious reflection for both himself and others.

TEDx Teachers College: Hip Hop and Spoken Word Therapy


Thelonious is an example of how Ian has used the lyric writing process as a platform for self-exploration and emotional development. Ian wrote this song as a means to explore thoughts and feelings surrounding a specific life experience. This song was created on a day off from work when Ian found himself feeling particularly lonely and isolated as a result of persistent dedication to both academic and musical endeavors. Coming from a lifestyle where friends and family were always put first, Ian openly admits that he struggles with the fact that he does not devote as much energy to those areas currently. The distance he feels between himself and his friend groups is very real, and something that is hard for him to sit with. Ian concludes that regardless of those guilt-based feelings, he must continue chasing his goals. He hopes, and essentially pleads, that people understand.

CYPHER stands for Counseling Youth by Promoting Healthy Emotional Reflection. It is a workshop which teaches the art of lyric writing as a means to self-expression and emotional development. Pulling from the basic constructs of Hip-hop and Spoken Word Therapy, I believe that once youth are provided with this unique tool to analyze their experiences they will begin to speak more descriptively to their emotional experiences and come to a deeper understanding of who they are, and how they feel.

CYPHER successfully exists as an afterschool program in Harlem and the Bronx. It has also made appearances at select schools in Long Island, as well as the Youth Prevention Summit at Commack HS.

Currently CYPHER is a yearlong program at New Visions Charter High School for the Advanced Math and Sciences II. Working as a high school counselor Ian leads a hip hop group twice a week after school through the lyric writing, recording, and performing process. Each day students discuss differing life experiences, and work to convert those to songs. Ian’s students are in the midst of creating a full length mixtape which will be performed at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year. Ian’s students will be featured at Teachers College, Columbia University for the 7th annual Health Disparities Conference on March 6th-7th. Some of these songs are available below: