No More Odes to Drug Abuse
Is It Still Okay to Sing Along to Drug Abuse on Wax?
Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27 after a public battle with addiction; her most famous hit? “Rehab”, on which she pokes fun at her record label’s attempt to help her sober up. No one is laughing now. The question is, will the British soul singer’s death be a wake-up call to other artists who revel in their substance abuse on wax? Will label staff and devoted fans who support these musicians now demand they get help?
While Winehouse’s tune about her issues with booze and drugs was a novelty for soul music, hip-hop and drugs have gone hand in hand for many years. Rappers name check their favorite recreational substance just as casually as they do a type of cognac or champagne. While most of us catch (and may even agree with) references to weed, mentions of cocaine, Ecstasy or codeine-based beverages may be lost on others. However, it seems like rappers are getting more comfortable than ever in referencing their enjoyment of the stronger stuff.
A prescription cough syrup, codeine-promethazine, is mixed with Sprite and used to make “lean” or “drank.” The mixture became popular among Texas hip-hop heads in the 1990s, but may have originated decades earlier. DJ Screw famously created “Screw music,” slowing down popular songs, which allowed listeners to simulate the feeling of being high off drank (and made for a more intense listening experience when one was actually high). He also died of a codeine overdose in 2000. When UGK rapper Pimp C died in 2007, the combination of his use of cough syrup with sleep apnea was to blame.
Lil Wayne’s issues with codeine haven’t exactly been a secret. He dismissed the notion that he would also succumb to the drug just because another rapper had, but his prison stint reportedly sobered him up. So the fact that his protégé Drake is now talking about “that drink” more than ever (and posting pictures of it on his blog) is a bit troubling. If Wayne did, in fact, beat back an addiction to codeine, it certainly can’t be good for him to have friends drinking it in his presence.
It isn’t good for Drake’s legion of teenybopper fans either. The Canadian rapper (who Mark Lamont Hill once called “a one man boy band”) isn’t playing to a crowd of savvy adults who can disregard his drug-addled odes to syrup. He has many impressionable kids watching.
A 2004 study conducted by the University of Texas found that over eight percent of local high school students had gotten high using codeine. How might that number change nationally after a popular face is placed on the drug?
On DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One,” Drake spits: “Two Styrofoam cups and I got that drink/it could be purple and it could be pink,” referring to the color variation that occurs when Jolly Ranchers are added to the cough syrup/soda mixture. I’m not Tipper Gore clutching her pearls about a reference to weed; this is a potentially deadly and addictive drug cocktail that can be made with ingredients purchased at Walgreens.
I mean, really. It’s made with CANDY AND SODA.
With Drake moaning on “Marvin’s Room” that he’s having “a hard time adjusting to fame” and now constantly holding the signature white Styrofoam cup that Wayne used to carry at all times, perhaps he’s just attempting to paint himself as a deep, brooding figure who’s more complex than he really is. Or maybe he’s actually battling some demons as we dance to the narration. Either way, should we be comfortable just rapping along to odes to drugs that have killed people?
Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Gil Scott Heron and countless other musicians were ravaged by addiction. The big difference is that in the past, most of these folks weren’t so cavalier about celebrating their drug use. Heron used his music to talk about the pain of being an addict, but never delighted in it on wax. Also, the existence of contemporary media allows us to communicate messages to artists in ways we never could. Can we tell Drake that the “drank” stuff ain’t cool? And that even those of us who find him to be overrated want him to stay alive, healthy and to not entice our kids to drink cough syrup? In the light of Winehouse’s death, it’s time to stop laughing at the idea of ‘rehab’ and instead, pay attention when we see someone who may need it.