Drugs were used as a vehicle to get out the trap, but now, more so than ever, artists are having their lives cut short by an increasingly dangerous culture of abusing prescription pills and sipping on codeine.

There’s something very Black Mirror-esque about rappers broadcasting their pain online which it’s simultaneously viewed by fans at a safe distance. Social media has provided a window through which we can peek into the lives of artists that were once only accessible through lyrics and imagination.

The dope-slinging lyrics of some 90s rappers aren’t quite as jarring or vivid as videos of inebriated artists poppin’ pills or sipping lean online. Both are harsh and sad realities, but there appeared light at the end at the tunnel for those dealing, exemplified by Jay-Z and Jeezy.

Whereas the pain-ridden social posts of many of emo-rap’s contingency are merely a cry for help. One such striking example was Lil Peep’s final Instagram post – a side profile of Peep with what appeared to be xanax on his tongue.


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Some of these posts reflect hip hop’s changing attitude towards mental health. Previously the genre and culture was not receptive to any dialogue surrounding emotional well being. llustrated by Tech N9ne who said “I’m usually my own therapist“.

Now artists are sharing more. Rappers are more likely to speak openly about their emotional well being on tracks and on social media, resulting in others feeling comfortable doing so too. It’s a positive development, but simultaneously the new patterns surrounding drug consumption and social media’s negative effects are creating dire consequences.

Drugs and music have gone hand in hand way before the birth of rap. Look at the LSD-induced haze of the 60’s psychedelic revolution, electronic music’s ecstasy-fueled marathon sessions, the hedonistic embrace of booze in just about any music venue.

Historically speaking there’s been no shortage of tragic losses in music through overdoses and battles with addiction. Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix’s are all members of the infamous 27 club. However, until recently hip hop didn’t experience the same epidemic. 

The now established pattern of young artists losing their lives to xanax, fentanyl and lean-induced seizures is a relatively recent development. Losing Juice WRLD aged 21 just last week confirms what many already knew – rap has a hugely toxic relationship with drugs.

Before this new wave of narcotics there were three main substances associated with hip hop:

1. Crack cocaine – Biggie Smalls and 50 Cent both infamously dealt drugs, among many others, in their early teens.

2. Weed – Weed has always gone hand in hand with hop hop and works partly to fuel creativity.

3. Alcohol – Brands like Hennessy became a staple of hip hop’s ‘flex culture’, used to project a lavish lifestyle.

For many hip hop artists, dealing meant a making living. Freddie Gibbs has talked numerous times about getting out of the game as soon as he could cash in on his music. The goal was always to escape the relentless environment that was a prison for so many.

Although the likes of Ghostface Killah would wax lyrical about cocaine-fuelled parties, the motto was ‘Don’t get high on your own supply.’ Until recently it was widely accepted that rap’s relationship with substances mainly existed in the three forms mentioned above – crack cocaine, weed and alcohol.

That was until lean emerged, the codeine based drink tailed off the back of the rise of Houston’s rap scene. Lil Wayne’s lackadaisical flow and hypnotic sound were encouraged by the nervous system suppressing qualities of ‘dirty sprite’.

And more recently we’ve even seen references to xanax reach the mainstream, with Drake nodding to the anti-anxiety medication on ‘Sicko Mode’. It’s no longer a phenomenon solely associated with ‘Soundcloud Rappers’. Lean and xannys have permeated our collective consciousness through shout outs on major artist’s tracks. Meanwhile young up-and-comers are losing their lives to lean, benzos and opioids.

Hip hop has long been a genre reflecting artist’s realities and unfortunately it’s become common for people to deal with their pain by taking increasingly ruthless narcotics.

We’re seeing artists not even make it to their mid twenties. And while these drugs are killing musicians like Mac Miller and Lil Peep in a weird turn of events rappers are also profiting from their destructive habits.

It used to be that selling drugs was an attempt to make money, get by and maybe even escape a lifestyle. We’d listen to songs about gang life and drug use that would require a certain level of imagination. That level of detachment is no longer present.

So how have we got to this point?

How are so many young men and women involved in hip hop falling victim to lean, xans and other anxiety-relieving drugs?

In an interview with Vulture, Juice Wrld said that Future’s music and lifestyle had influenced him to start drinking lean. Future had later responded in an interview with Rolling Stone.

He said, ‘When he told me that, I was like ‘Oh shit. What the fuck have I done?” 

‘It really bothered me. It bothered me a lot. More than that I thought it would bother me when he told me that… How many other sixth-graders did I influence to drink lean?’

Highlighted by Future’s comments, there’s a degree of dissonance for teens viewing artists on social media. There’s little to distinguish between what is reality and what is simply being promoted as their brand. To what extent are people living the lives they show online?

Glorifying drugs while simultaneously sharing your pain on platforms that blur the lines of reality creates a dangerous dynamic – one that exists because of the unregulated confines and increasingly muddied reality of social media, the growing opioid epidemic left unresolved by the US government and a music culture that only learned to express its feelings when it became too late.

The disturbing trend of opioid and benzo-filled lyrics has replaced much of the aspirational tales of the streets. I’m not attempting to pose a solution and hip hop’s hustling culture still exists, but it’s important to recognise that we are coming to a cross roads of sorts.

Rap has always been an art form that reflects the realities of it’s creators. However, it’s no longer just recognising economic and social inequalities. The genre now acts as a platform for artists’ heartbreaking relationship with drugs.

Dealing drugs was and still is an unfortunate, but at times necessary, way for artists to escape their environment. However, now substances are being used more than ever as a temporary escape that tragically brings permanent consequences.

If any of the topics mentioned above relate to you or you feel like you’ve got an unhealthy relationship with any of the substances mentioned in this article then contact the Drug & Alcohol helpline on 1800 459 459 or email helpline@hse.ie.

 

Words: Dylan Murphy 
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