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.