Opinion: Are Drugs Killing the Hip-Hop Culture?

Column by Spencer Carlton 

Drugs: As much as they are a menace to society and the very fabric of life itself they have also undoubtedly become a cornerstone of popular culture, especially within the realm of the music industry and the lyrics of some of your favorite rap and hip-hop songs. However, many rappers who before glorified the mixing of Promethazine, the consumption of Xanax and the abuse of other narcotics and prescription drugs like cocaine and Percocet in their lyrics for years, have now begun to speak out against the use of drugs.

Troves of rappers, producers and various other individuals involved in the world of hip-hop and rap have begun to take an anti-drug stance for 2018. With the recent deaths of rising young rap stars such as Lil Peep, who died at the age of 21 due to a suspected Fentanyl overdose in November of 2017, many within the industry have taken to social media to express their concern over the drug problem within the world of rap music. So what does this mean for the genre as a whole? Will the popularity of certain artists music such as Migos and 21 Savage begin to plummet? Or will this “strike” on drugs by members of the industry not create the reverberations they desire?

Rap has undoubtedly skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. Thanks in part to groups such as the prodigious Migos who have reached superstar status after the release of their first studio album Culture in January of 2017 and their follow up album Culture II almost exactly a year later. Adding to their fame, The members of Migos have also featured on songs with artists such as Gucci Mane, Lil Yachty, Cardi B and Travis Scott. In these songs and on their albums they glorify the use of a variety of drugs such as cocaine and codeine with lyrics such as “We havin’ the lean, the xanny’s, and perc’s / She havin’ the X pill (Lean!).”  

The rap industry can even turn little-known members of society such as 17-year-old Gazzy Garcia, better known as Lil Pump, into stars overnight. Pump, at such a young age, laces his lyrics with mentions of Xanax, Percocet, and marijuana. He even had a cake baked in the form of a green Xanax bar to celebrate getting 1 million followers on Instagram. Rap stars from every age and style have embraced a culture that idealizes the abuse of prescription drugs and narcotics because it’s “cool”. As much as I love artists such as Migos and Travis Scott I personally don’t think I’ve ever listened to a song of theirs where there isn’t some reference to a type of drug or an action related to taking or dealing them.

However, with the recent deaths of rappers Lil Peep and Fredo Santana, the older cousin of Chief Keef, many within the rap genre have begun to speak out and express their disgust for the constant idealization of the drug culture. Lil Xan recently announced that he would change his stage name to simply Diego as a way to distance himself from the drug culture that hip-hop breeds as he was once addicted to the prescription drug Xanax for over two years. Popular rapper Russ tweeted in September of 2017 that “doing xanax and lean cuz your favorite rapper makes it sound cool is all fun and games till your impressionable ass gets addicted. Stop.” DJ Mustard posted a video on his Instagram of him pouring lean, a drink comprised of prescription strength cough-syrup and mixed with a soda such as Sprite, into a sink where he confidently states “It’s over for me.” Even Lil Pump and his cousin Smokepurpp came out and said that they would attempt to stop taking Xanax during 2018.

Others such as the immensely popular Lil Uzi Vert stated he would attempt to sober up and even RiFF RAFF who has openly snorted cocaine on camera in the past is attempting to kick the drug. They join a legion of rap stars such as Eminem, Logic and Tyler, the Creator who have all been drug-free for years despite being constantly surrounded by the culture.

The lambasting of this culture is not without its opponents, however. Atlanta based rapper 21 Savage, whose most recent project “Issa Album” is certified gold by the RIAA, has made his own fair share of statements concerning the hatred of what he describes as the “new generation” of rap stars. Savage spoke out through Twitter where he stated that drugs in music is nothing new and that it has been a part of the industry since the early 70s and 80s. Savage went on to state that his and others music similar to his own is simply “a reflection of what’s going on in our community and all we doing is using our talent to escape that community.” He takes further jabs at those who decry his music by stating that “if the message in the previous generation of rap was so good why did so many of our parents abandon us for crack?” Savage concluded by saying that this latest wave of hip-hop artists judgement upon the “drug selling and making music” is not helpful as it doesn’t advocate for real-world change, a statement that rapper T.I. backed up and even praised.   

We have yet to see what this will do to the rap culture and the industry as a whole in the long run, and there definitely appears to be two schools of thought forming. One idea claims that drugs are (rightly) bad and should not be used and even more so glorified in songs, and the other simply wants to share with the world the reality of their life, journey and facets of society that have made them who they are and who they strive to be. We also have yet to see if many of the rappers pledging to be drug free in 2018 will stick with their promise and push through the battle that is withdrawal and continue to produce music. 

Drugs have a powerful effect upon the rap genre, as the consumption and dealing of certain types can lead to entire sub-genres such as “SoundCloud rap”, named after the music streaming service that artists such as Yung Lean and $uicideboy$ upload their raw, lo-fi, mumbling flow music with lyrics often referencing depression and prescription painkillers. Whether people see themselves within the lyrics of these many rap stars or simply enjoy the beat and style of music, the rap genre is always going to have drugs and other such vices be a prevalent part of the lyrics. However, with the recent deaths, the calls for action by the industries giants and the polarizing nature of their comments, this all will inevitably lead to a sub-genre and probably diss-tracks that pit the drug-free against the proponents of the culture. 

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