If the hip hop industry had questioned its relationship around dangerous drug use sooner, Lil Peep might still be alive. Maybe ASAP Yams would be too. Or even Ol’ Dirty Bastard, one of the founding members of the Wu Tang Clan. Lil Wayne may not be having life threatening seizures due to a “super busy schedule”. No, because the cocktails of promethazine and codeine cough syrup Wayne is often spotted drinking on stage obviously have nothing to do with it.
Drug use and hip hop have always been close companions. However, beyond the surface it’s an incredibly toxic relationship. You have acts from the early 90s like Cyprus Hill, who dedicated entire albums to how amazing weed is (I mean they have songs titled I Wanna Get High and Hits from the Bong for crying out loud). Then you have the late 90s and early 2000s with the hustler-rapper crowd such as Raekwon and Jay Z, who loved their cocaine. Which eventually brings us to now, the mid to late 2000s. For the last few years opioids (such as oxycodone, a highly addictive pain killer) and benzodiazepines (a class of strong anti-anxiety drugs that have shown to be also highly addictive) have taken the rap game for a wild ride.
When browsing online for hip hop related media, you don’t have to look very far to find countless curated playlists and music videos which either explicitly show, or mention drug use. Whether its Post Malone claiming he feels like a rockstar when he pops pills, Future and his mind-numbing mantra of “Percocet, molly, Percocet”, or Migos “smokin’ on cookie (weed) in the hotbox” while he is “cookin’ up coke in the crockpot”. It’s everywhere in hip hop.
The issue is mental health and addiction rather than drugs. You can’t deny that artists speak from what they know. Lil Peep sure as hell didn’t shy away from his detailing his struggles. He was blatantly honest in his lyrics about his depression and the mental turmoil he was going through. The same goes for many of his contemporaries. What is running parallel to the excessive mentioning of such drugs, is an opioid addiction crisis. Predominately in America, growing statistics indicate that opioid and benzodiazepine related deaths have skyrocketed in the last few years. It seems individuals struggling with issues like depression have been left out to dry by the doctors who initially tried to help them with prescriptions. Unsafely managing medications like Xanax, for example, stopping the prescriptions altogether after indicated dependency, just leads people to find deadly alternatives on the street. It also doesn’t help when their favourite artists offhandedly pop deadly narcotics. When Lil Peep sings, “Everybody know I numb it with the drugs” (referring to his depression) it almost sounds like an instruction. You might argue to some extent it’s all a persona, a gag, something for easy views and money. That still doesn’t change what effect it might have on people.
With the turn of the new year, it does seem that influencers in the genre are carving the way for change. Hip Hop media mogul friend and promoter of Lil Peep, Adam Grandmaison (known better as adam22 online) tweeting on Jan 1 2018 “Fuck Xanax we knitting this year”. In addition to this, he also tweeted photos of “anti-xan” (Xanax) memes. Sure, initially it seems like a change in attitudes are occurring, but I can’t take this guy all that seriously. He sells branded ashtrays and lighters as merchandise for crying out loud! He still continues to support and promote artists like Lil Pump, a incredibly popular seventeen-year old who raps about “his bitch who loves to do cocaine”. Come on, man. I just don’t get it. Perhaps it’s hip hop not wanting to admit it has a problem with drug use? Maybe it’s artists not wanting to admit they might like the image of a lean sipping, Xanax popping rapper and what it brings to them. Or perhaps it might even be the stigma around mental health, and an unwillingness to confront the underlying issue? I can’t say.
Hip Hop is one of my favourite genres. I have to admit as much as I love indulging in clever lyricism and intriguing instrumentals, I also love dancing like an idiot to dumb lyrics being spat over repetitive, rattling trap beats. Like all music, it has its purpose. So, should artists never talk about drugs? Of course not. Hip hop has a reputation for honesty, for ‘keeping it real’. So why are there so few mainstream songs about the damage drug use does to this scene? Artists should and in some ways, need to continue to speak from their experiences. That is, if they still want to be true to themselves, their audience and the genre they work in.
Sophie Minissale | @sophieminissale