Many rappers who grew up around drugs have positively portrayed substance use in their music. However, in recent years, some young rap artists have detailed the consequences of addiction and mental illness in an effort to spread awareness and eliminate stigma related to substance use disorders.
In February 2016, rapper Macklemore released “The Unruly Mess I’ve Made,” a record in which addiction is a recurring topic. A few months later, he met with President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the realities of this disease.
“You have certain artists portraying these trends and don’t really have that lifestyle and then it gives off the wrong thing.”
“There is research suggesting that a correlation exists between mentions of alcohol and drug use and teen substance use.”
But just how common are references to drugs and alcohol in rap music?
A 2008 study conducted by the University of California, Berkley found that drug references in rap music increased drastically from 1979 to 1997. Researchers examined drug mentions in 341 rap songs during that time.Among the 38 most popular rap songs from 1979 to 1984, about 11 percent contained drug mentions. Nineteen percent of songs in the late 1980s that were included in the study made references to substance abuse. By 1993, about 69 percent of lyrics mentioned drug use.
In 2017, Beeson and a team of researchers at Northwestern University conducted an analysis of the Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts from 2007 to 2016 to determine the frequency of alcohol-related terms in popular music.
His team found that about 33.7 percent of rap songs on the Billboard charts contained at least one reference to alcohol. The rappers with the most alcohol mentions in their Billboard Hot 100 music during that time period were Flo Rida, Drake and Lil Wayne.
Beeson said alcohol mentions are not necessarily an endorsement of drinking. While some rap artists examined in the analysis promoted alcohol use, others stressed the dangers of heavy drinking.
“The music does not cause teens to drink, but it can influence them to do so,” said Beeson. “There is research suggesting that a correlation exists between mentions of alcohol and drug use and teen substance use.”Rap music may have affected adolescent substance use in Texas. Denise Herd, author of the University of Pittsburgh study, told The Washington Post that references to prescription cough medicine misuse in southern rap music may have influenced teens in Houston to abuse codeine-laced cough syrup. To combat the influence of rap music on teen drug use, Herd recommended that parents monitor their children’s music. She said learning slang terms — such as “angel dust,” code for PCP — could help parents better detect their children’s substance use.
“You look out in the puddles on the curbs — crack vials are littered in the side of the curbs. You could smell it in the hallways, that putrid smell; I can’t explain it, but it’s still in my mind when I think about it.”
“A lot of times, music is a way to communicate the existence of a culture. And [rap artists] often use their music to communicate and cope with the reality of that culture and the community they grew up in.”
Since the ’90s, countless rappers have portrayed smoking cannabis as recreational activity with therapeutic benefits. One of the first rap artists to celebrate marijuana use was Cypress Hill, whose 1991 debut album included “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk” and “Light Another.”
Around this time, rap songs praising marijuana use began to experience commercial success. Then other rappers, including Dr. Dre, started positively portraying smoking cannabis in their music and during interviews.
Since the beginning of his career, Snoop Dogg has made references to getting high in a collection of songs. One of his most successful tracks, “Gin and Juice,” includes lyrics about smoking “indo,” a slang term for marijuana.
He has been a vocal supporter of the legalization of marijuana and has spoken candidly about his affinity for the drug. In 2015, he launched Leafs by Snoop, a line of marijuana strains. The following year, he began producing a show for MTV about two snake people who run a marijuana-delivery business.However, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and other rappers who have glamorized marijuana use often fail to mention its consequences. Short-term side effects of cannabis use include memory loss, hallucinations and psychosis. Long-term use of the drug has been linked to temporary paranoia, suicidal thoughts and worsening of symptoms of schizophrenia. Despite its health risks, marijuana continues to be championed by rappers today.
“When people with a social platform are willing to go public about their issues, it gives the rest of society permission to also talk about their struggles within their smaller social circles.”
References to codeine, a drug repeatedly cited in music over the last decade, may also influence fans. In recent years, a trend within the rap community has involved mixing codeine-based cough syrup with soda or candy to produce a drug cocktail called “sizzurp,” also known as “purple drank,” or “lean.”
Listeners often associate Lil Wayne with this codeine-based mixture. The artist raps about it in his music and openly drinks the concoction during media appearances.In “We Takin’ Over,” he declares his love of drinking Sprite that has an “Easter-pink” hue, a color produced by mixing prescription codeine with soda. He reveres the mixture in “Me and My Drank” and exposes the highs and lows of codeine use in “I Feel Like Dying.” Dr. Chris Johnson, an emergency room physician, said that codeine-based cough medicine can be as dangerous as other opioids and that misusing these medications can result in serious physical and psychological problems. “It’s a controlled drug,” Johnson told DrugRehab.com. “You can’t buy codeine over the counter.” Codeine misuse can cause shallow breathing, lightheadedness, hallucinations or confusion, low cortisol levels and seizures. Mixing codeine with prescription cough syrup can result in nervous system or respiratory depression. In 2008, Lil Wayne talked to MTV about his dependence to lean, stating that loved ones have pleaded with him to stop using the drug but that cutting cold turkey is not easy. Abstaining from the drink, the New Orleans-based rapper said, makes his stomach feel “like death.”
“I couldn’t believe that anybody could be naturally happy without being on something. So I would say to anybody: ‘It does get better.'”
One of those artists is Chance the Rapper. In his song “Finish Line/Drown,” he explained how his addiction to Xanax led to memory problems and lost opportunities in his career. In an interview with GQ magazine, he spoke more extensively about his addiction to the antianxiety medication.
Xanax the new Heroin. Don’t let em fool u— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) March 2, 2015
As he explained, in 2014, when he began experiencing success in his career, Chance moved to North Hollywood and was high on Xanax every day. His addiction resulted in broken relationships and a lack of productivity. Six months later, he moved back to Chicago, his hometown, and stopped using drugs.Before his death from a suspected overdose in 2017, Lil Peep talked about his depression in an interview with Pitchfork. The rapper and YouTube star said that he moved to California to distance himself from the people and places that led to his mental illness. But he continued to battle depressive thoughts, including suicidal ideations.
“Some days I’ll be very down and out, but you won’t be able to tell, really, because I don’t express that side of myself on social media. That’s the side of myself that I express through music.”
People of all backgrounds can experience mental illness. But African-Americans are 20 percent more likely than the general population to endure a severe mental health disorder, such as major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it.”
Published on: November 27, 2017
Last updated on: December 6, 2019
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