“…drugs are a symptom of an underlying issue. You see it in hip-hop…. These kids come from nothing. Young black men experience a lot of trauma. They’ve lost people, seen violence, been humiliated by society. So they turn to alcohol, molly … lean.”-Vic Mensa
90s – Ten Crack Commandments
Drugs are not new to hip hop. In the 90s, hip hop was inundated with drug dealers turned rappers and their reality based rap, labeled “gangsta rap” to conservatives, that told their real stories slinging everything from weed, crack, and heroine, always strapped, and kicking in the door.The lyrics and beats were raw, with samples were from urban records that were played while their parents had card parties and drank Cisco and Olde E in the basement with blue lights.
Members of Wu Tang
… have all rapped about life as drug dealers. It’s a very common phenomenon. In the 90s on the urban streets of LA, the South, or New York, hip hop culture was taking over and the crack epidemic was live and in living color… so it’s no surprise the world’s collided. So common, Master P made a song with a recipe to “make crack like this” and Biggie gave us the Ten Crack Commandments, rules of the game. While UGK gave us the process of drug selling from connect, to seller, to addict in Pocket Full of Stones. Many of the first rap conglomerates were funded with the proceeds of drug sales. Rap was a way out of that life for most of these rappers. The music industry gave these dudes a legit way to make money and a legal opportunity to flex their stellar business skills.
“I used to move snowflakes by the O-Z/I guess even back then you can call me/CEO of the R-O-C.” -Jay-Z
2000- Sipping on Some Sizzurp
Old school guys talked of smoking weed by the pound, but “never [got] high on [their] own supply”, so stories of partaking of heavy drugs laced the lyrics until….
Lean … a concoction made of some combination of codeine cough syrup, candy, and pop (soda for the non Michigan folks)… also known as sizzurp, a popular Texas drug cocktail, gained popularity after Texas rappers Three6Mafia and UGK made the song Sipping on some Syrup in 2000. It was a concoction famous in Houston since the 60s, when it was made with Robitussin and fruit juice . We all know a little Tussin could cure everything from a cold to an ingrown toenail… or at least dull the pain. After it’s formula was changed, prescription codeine cough syrup was substituted and often taken in combination with other drugs and alcohol for a deadly combination. Popular Houston musician DJ Screw, famous for his chopped and screwed songs died of an overdose of lean in 2000.
Lean induced a mouthfeel (that’s what I have read cuz ain’t no way I’m drinking this gasoline) that slurred speech and slowed the motor coordination of the tongue. It’s also said to cause feelings of floating. Such was the music. You can hear the influence of the drugs on chopped and screwed songs … the slowed down and sort of disorganized and slurred beats. Listen to Still Tippin Chopped and Screwed by Mike Jones…
It spread in popularity in the South as young rappers from New Orleans, Florida, and Atlanta could be seen with a styrofoam cups they sipped from in videos, interviews, and concerts. The potent mix was said to cause everything from liver and respiratory failure to seizures and ultimately could cause death. Many professional rappers and athletes have admitted to being users and suffering health complications as a result.
“Yeah, I’m on that gas and yeah, I’m on that lean. We mix it all together and we call it gasolean“ -2Chainz
2007- I Feel Like Dying
In 2007, Lil Wayne was experiencing his opus. He was literally and figuratively flying high after releasing The Carter II , several popular mixtapes, and appearing on every hot feature and remix. He was also wildly popular, especially among young Black and White kids in the skater and emo culture.
Wayne’s I Feel Like Dying, leaked from his sessions making The Carter 3. This song was the oddly romantic love song to weed, lean, and Xanax that basically describes withdrawal as “dying”, as compared to feeling of being high. It ushered in emo-rap, rap about emotions, depression, suicide, and drug use that was usually set to hazy, melodic and slow rock, blues or punk samples. According to the Drug Slang in Hip Hop Project, 2007 was the year words like Xanax, Percocet, and Valium became apart of rap’s lyrics. But lean didn’t love Wayne.
Rappers became users and victims when UGK rapper Pimp C and DJ Screw protege, Big Moe both died of lean induced overdoses in 2007. In 2013, Lil Wayne was hospitalized several times, from drug induced seizures, brought on by complications from consuming lean. While gaining commercial success their personal lives were being robbed by drug use.
“I am a prisoner locked up behind Xanax bars.” -Lil Wayne
2017-present – Everyone Dies in their Nightmares
“Can’t get a wink ‘less I’m leaning off of syrup/Dreaming of my past like a nightmare so I wake up“
Last Sunday , 21 year old rapper, Jarad “Juice WRLD” Higgins, died in a suspected drug overdose after a seizure at Chicago’s Midway airport. Federal officials were searching his luggage for drugs and weapons at the time and found 41 “vacuum-sealed” bags of marijuana totaling 70 pounds and six bottles of prescription codeine cough syrup during the search. He’s one of many young rappers to die from drug overdose in the last few years, including Lil Peep, Mac Miller, and XXXTentacion.
“What’s the 27 club? We ain’t making it past 21.“- Juice WRLD
Many high profile celebrities died at the age of 27 including Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse, many by drug or alcohol related causes. But it’s not uncommon today to hear these young rappers dying at 21. Juice, Lil Peep, and XXXTentacion were all 21 years old at the time of their deaths. And while the latter was murdered in a robbery, all three were known in the rap game for their drug use and lyrics.
By 2017, 33% of hip hop on the Billboard charts mentioned drugs. Future’s Mask Off basically said fuck it, with its chorus “Percocets, Molly, Percocets” set to Tommy Butler’s “Prison Song’s” slow and bluesy melody, typical of emo-rap. The song outwardly spoke of blatant prescription drug use. It was “I Feel Like Dying” overdosing. And that’s just what was happening. Several rappers who had not only suffered from addiction but also depression, commonly co-dependent diseases, had lyrics laced with drug use.
Lil Uzi Vert
Mac Miller , died 2017 overdose
XXXTentacion , died 2018 robber
Lil Peep , died 2017 overdose
These rappers talked of recurrent thoughts of suicide, depression, anxiety, and mania like rappers in the past talked about cars and women. Yet this new crop of largely millennial generation rappers were diving deep into their mental health challenges and dulled their pain with the surely large supplies of prescription drugs available to them. Once known mainly as a problem in suburban and more affluent areas, the influence of rap into mainstream and pop culture brought into it those same reciprocal influences. So drugs commonly prescribed as physical pain killers were being used to dull the senses. Yet these drugs taken together and without close monitoring by a physician was far too commonly leading to overdose. From seller to user. From gangsta to victim. From women, cars, and guns to Molly and Percocets.
Young or Lil. Chiefin or getting wet. Lean in the cup or xanys in the pockets. Art imitates life. Just like the East Coast v West Coast shit caused us to lose two of the greatest in the culture, Molly & Percocets are gonna leave us with fewer young talents in the industry as well. And thats just…
“…Self-Destruction, you’re headed for self-destruction.”