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Can Hip-Hop Separate Itself From The Drug Culture It Helped Build?

Hip-hop and drugs have always had a close connection, however its one that has evolved over time, but now that uncapped drug use of easy to get pills is claiming the lives of its biggest stars and tens of thousands of young addicts is it now possible to change its tone?

Hip-hop was born out of gang culture, and many of it’s biggest rhymes featured stories from the streets, glamorizing the use of narcotics such as cocaine and marijuana. In the beginning with the likes of Tupac and Biggie they idolized their role in making money running the drug trade, while the stars of today have glamorized the use. We’re not talking about weed now though, rather the likes of pain and anti-anxiety drugs such as Opiates and Benzodiazepines including but not limited to Vicodin, Xanax, Oxycodone, Percocet and Valium.

These drugs are often mixed with alcohol and other substances such as lean which is also known as purple drank, sizzurp, barre, and Texas tea, among other names. It is a concoction of codeine filled cough syrup, soda, hard candy, and, in some cases, alcohol. Originating in Houston, Texas, it’s typically served in a white Styrofoam cup.

The released of Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin’ on Some Sizzurp” in February of 2000 brought the relatively unknown “purple drank” to popularity in American society. Since its introduction into mainstream Hip Hop, the drink has become a prevalent topic discussed by rappers in their songs. However the substance has been known to be highly addictive and a direct contributor to the death of rappers such as DJ Screw and Big Moe. Most notably it is rumored that a form of sizzurp caused Lil Wayne to suffer multiple seizures in March 2013.

“There is research suggesting that a correlation exists between mentions of alcohol and drug use and teen substance use.”

ERIC BEESON, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

The hip-hop and rap game has more recently suffered the loss of stars such as Juice WRLD, Lil Peep, Mac Miller and the lesser known Hella Sketchy. Each of these were concluded to be at the hands of illegally bought prescription medicines. These stars were not shy of their use either, in fact many of them and pop icon Justin Bieber heavily promoted them or mentioned it in their widely streamed songs in a positive light. Juice WRLD’s lyrics often made references to drugs, such as “Hurt Me,” which featured the lyrics “Turned a whole different person, drive my whip/ Crash my whip off the drugs I’m swervin’/ Sticks and stones may break my bones/ But the drugs won’t hurt me, won’t hurt me.”


PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 24: Lil Peep attends the Balmain Menswear Spring/Summer 2018 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on June 24, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot /Getty Images)

However many of them also addressed their struggles and in recent years some of the rap games youngest artists have shared the consequences of addiction in an effort to spread awareness and eliminate stigma related to substance use disorders. In the wake of Mac Miller’s death Lil Xan, who takes his name after Xanax checked himself into rehab in 2018 and announced that after he got out he would continue music under his birth name DIEGO.

This wasn’t an overnight transition in the wake of close friend Lil Peep’s tragic passing he started realized he was in a position to make a change. While his lyrics on early songs such as ‘Slingshot’ referenced use “I like lean, I like drugs / I like beans, I got plugs.” he later became part of a movement he calls anti-xanax, and lyrics on his song ‘Betrayed’ pushed a contrasting message “Xans don’t make you, Xans gon’ take you, Xans gon’ fake you, Xans gon’ betray you”.

Now, Lil Pump announced that during his set at Rolling Loud he’d removed his song ‘Drug Addicts’ in which he raps “Take a lot of drugs, don’t think twice/I do this every day and all night.” While this was out of respect for Juice, given he was also set to headline the festival it does show an acknowledgement that some of the scenes biggest stars don’t want to give it anymore spotlight.

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