January 25

The Drug Problem in Hip-Hop

The opioid crisis is on everyone’s tongue lately. We’re talking about the drug problem in America all the time now, but will that ever be enough to stop it? I think that the hip-hop industry has incredible power to reverse the trend in addiction to opiates and shows promising signs right now, but the culture of drugs is strongly rooted in history and will be hard to uproot.

In the fall of 2017, “emo rapper” Lil Peep was found dead from a supposed overdose on fentanyl and Xanax, and later it was revealed that he had several other drugs in his system as well. He had only just begun his career and was 21 years old. People were shocked mainly for the reason that he had just entered the rap scene. This problem has existed in every music industry, but the reason that I am talking about hip-hop is because the artists weave their stories of drug and alcohol abuse into their music so much that these stories tend to characterize the genre.Other genres contain references too, but they remain disguised by cryptic lyrics usually. The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” is about the feeling one gets when they do cocaine, which is a numb face. It dates back into the 1980s, as this Genius article shows, with marijuana quickly becoming the most popular drug mentioned in music. Things got worse, however, when cocaine took this title. Artists like Jay-Z rapped about their experiences doing cocaine and gained immense popularity. Finally, lean rose to prominence in the early 2000s and has remained very popular since, despite the death of DJ Screw in 2000. “Lean” refers to a mixture of cough syrup, which contains the drug codeine, and soda (usually Sprite). Recently, there has been a spike in mentions of prescription medications like Xanax and Percocet by high profile rappers Future and Post Malone, who greatly elevate the popularity of these terms even though not many other people are mentioning them.

Macklemore, of popular rap duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, was addicted to cough syrup at one point in his career, but he found sobriety and is extremely vocal about it in his songs. “Otherside” is about his journey to getting clean. His story is inspirational, but not without pitfalls. He later released the track “Starting Over” about his relapse and how it affected him in the public eye.

However, it seems like there’s hope for the upcoming generation of rappers, this article claims. Although there have been those that have taken a stand against drugs for years, they usually did not gain much popularity. Now, young rappers that refuse to take drugs are actually mainstream. These include Lil Yachty, Vince Staples, Kendrick Lamar, and Logic. Lil Yachty is self-proclaimed straight-edged, meaning he doesn’t do drugs or drink alcohol. Personally, this seems really encouraging for the future. I would love it if the music industry could unite against this great problem. Maybe if hip-hop artists could unite more universally, cases like Lil Peep’s would be more rare.

What I am wondering is, how can these artists change what audiences want to hear most? It seems like some artists put on the facade of drugs and crime just to fit in with what sells the most. If all sober artists could figure out to be as successful as Lil Yachty while still keeping their message clean, maybe they could figure out how to change the reputation of the industry, turning the opioid crisis into a cause that music helps, not hurts. Also in his song “Otherside”, Macklemore raps: “The fact of it is most people that rap like this talkin’ about some sh*t they haven’t lived/ Surprise, you know the drill/ Trapped in a box, declined record sales/ Follow the formula “Violence, Drugs, and Sex” sells/ So we try to sound like someone else”. He is saying that rappers conform to the style of the industry in their songs because their records won’t sell. This is the essence of why I am concerned. Why does the average music consumer seem to crave the “formula” that Macklemore talks about? Do they feel like it’s not true rap music if drugs and alcohol aren’t mentioned? All listeners are guilty of falling into the trap of supporting artists who promote drug use, but something needs to change.


January 17

Cultural Boycott of Israel: Right or Wrong?

For my first post on the issue of how politics play a role in the music world, I chose a recent story surrounding one of my favorite artists, Lorde. In her upcoming world tour, she was scheduled to play a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel on June 5th, 2018. Only six days after, the singer announced that she would cancel the show due to urging from a variety of sources, namely the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is a group of people that promote a boycott of all things Israel. They cite human rights violations against Palestinians by the Israeli government as a reason for their movement. Lorde, or Ella Yelich-O’Conner, is only twenty-one years old, but she is under intense public scrutiny due to the success of her first two albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. The fact that she chose to support the boycott is a major victory for the BDS movement because it drew the attention of a younger crowd that is worldwide. Shortly after cancelling, she issued a public statement, saying “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I have done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv, but I’m not proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.”

Initially, I was outraged at this action. I thought about thousands of young girls like me who admire her just as I do who would be denied the awesome experience that is live music. In my eyes, the fans that had certainly supported her music were not responsible for the policymaking in Israel that had caused the cultural boycott. Why should they be punished for the country they live in? As with any controversy, there are two very compelling arguments, and I needed to know the full story.

So, why a cultural boycott? How are they hoping to improve things by this method? The BDS movement says that by playing shows in Israel, artists help to legitimize Israel as a “normal country”. By cancelling their shows and pledging to support the movement, musicians draw attention to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The most vocal of these artists seems to be Roger Waters, a co-founder of Pink Floyd. Other prominent figures are U2, Snoop Dogg, and Lauryn Hill. On the other hand, several big names have played shows in Israel among the same calls to cancel: Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The BDS movement has an enormous presence on social media, so I think that this has caused young people like myself to believe that support for it is stronger than in reality. As a young artist, Lorde probably felt this pressure as well. I wish I could know if her decision was sincere, or if it was pushed on her by the people that surrounded her and contacted her online. In a situation like this, I feel as though even those with strong viewpoints can buckle. Ironically, Lorde’s first album, Pure Heroine (read my analysis of this album here!), seemed to focus a lot on how her life was changing in the public eye. One of my favorite lines is the last thing you hear on the album “Let ’em talk”. However, she said that she was talking to many people with different viewpoints about this decision, signaling to me that she felt lost in the opinions of others.

Now, I want my readers to consider the impact of this decision on the world. Is this a contamination to the music industry to make something as joyful as a concert taboo? Is the BDS movement correct in saying that playing music in Israel legitimizing the country, or is that just something that detractors use to gain more media attention? After writing this article, my viewpoint has changed, but now I feel sad for both fans and artists who would rather keep music out of the political spotlight. I think that any decision that she would have made would decrease her popularity, and other artists may take this as a lesson in the future to avoid the controversy by not scheduling a tour date in Israel to begin with. Overall, it looks like the BDS movement is gaining ground and this could help them to turn the tide.


Sources: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2018/03/20/595327341/is-country-musics-relationship-with-the-nra-shifting