Hip-hop needs to acknowledge drug-addiction culture after Lil Peep’s death
Hip-hop has a drug problem.
That’s one of those statements that might make the casual rap listener — or the average soccer mom — scoff and say, “Yeah, we know that already.”
But after the death of rising emo-rapper Lil Peep on Nov. 15 from what appears to have been an overdose, I think it’s time rappers begin to acknowledge the drug problem in their genre, and start actually doing something about it.
Lil Peep, who was 21 when he passed, was born Gustav Åhr, and he was quickly becoming one of the most important voices in a subgenre of hip-hop that’s found massive appeal on websites like SoundCloud.
Peep blended emo and hip-hop into something that hasn’t quite been heard before. His music is spacey, catchy and ethereal.
He released his debut commercial project “Come Over When You’re Sober, Part 1” in August of this year. And while I wouldn’t say that record is brilliant by any means — you won’t be seeing it on my Top 10 list at the end of this year — I have to agree with rapper Post Malone when he said Peep’s music was “going to change the culture.”
Peep was onto something new, but all too early, his voice was snuffed out when he died in the back of his tour bus in Tuscon, Ariz. It will likely take weeks for a toxicology report to be released, but medical examiners have said it appeared to have been substance-related.
It’s hardly a surprise that, in the current culture of hip-hop, one of these young voices would be silenced.
Numerous songs on Peep’s debut project lyrically depict the artist as, if not a full-blown drug addict, at least the kind of person who relies on drugs to solve his problems.
(It’s worth noting here, if only parenthetically, that I studied English and journalism in college and not medicine, and am in no way qualified to make judgments as to an artist’s status as an addict. I can only comment on what comes across in the lyrics, and Peep’s lyrics display a pattern of reliance on drugs.)
On “U Said,” Peep sings in the chorus about trying to escape the pain of being left alone, presumably by a former lover, and says, “I’m gettin’ high all week without you / popping pills, thinking about you.”
In the second half of the song, Peep chants, “Sometimes life gets f***ed up / That’s why we get f***ed up. / I can still feel your touch / I still do those same drugs.”
You can go through more of his lyrics, but the pattern is there. And it’s part of an overall trend in hip-hop right now.
Of course, drugs have always been a part of hip-hop culture, or at least they have since the rise of gangsta rap in the late ‘80s.
But back then, the relationship with drugs was businesslike. Rappers rhymed about selling drugs, with many artists expressing a sentiment of hoping to be able to “find an exit out the business,” like the Geto Boys said in their 1991 track “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”
And it’s impossible to think about anything other than pot when Snoop Dogg gets mentioned.
But at some point, rappers stopped treating drugs like a lifeline to making money (which, admittedly, comes with its own host of problems), and instead began to rap more about taking drugs.
The problem is, they aren’t talking about Colt 45s and joints anymore. Now, the rappers’ drugs of choice are things like Percocet, Xanax and lean — the street name for a mix of codeine-based cough syrup and a lemon-lime soda like Sprite.
These drugs have serious potential to cause addiction. Both Percocet and codeine, along with drugs like heroin, are opioids, a group of drugs either made from or synthetically produced to resemble the effects of opium. Opioids when used as directed are meant to be acute painkillers, but they can be seriously addictive, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and the nation is currently in the grips of an opioid addiction crisis.
Xanax, on the other hand, is a member of the benzodiazepine family, and it’s designed to help with anxiety. But Fox News reported back in 2014 that it can also be addictive, and it can make the effects of other drugs deadly if taken in combination.
But still, some of today’s most popular rappers carelessly mention these potentially dangerous drugs as if they’re nothing. The Migos, Post Malone, Young Thug, 21 Savage, Future and plenty of others just casually mention popping perkies, xans and downing lean. They talk about it like addiction is normal, almost bragging about it.
Hip-hop is my favorite genre, and I love the work of a lot of these guys. But I can’t shake the feeling that the genre’s seeming normalization of addiction can’t be healthy.
And sure, some more underground artists discuss drug use in a more honest way. The late Lil Peep, the $uicideBoy$, Ghostemane, Bones and others talk about turning to drugs as a way of coping with crippling depression and anxiety. It’s still unhealthy, but it’s understandable.
But the most popular artists in hip-hop don’t give reasons for their drug use. For Future, the Migos and others, it’s just part of their ethos. Staying high is what they do.
This sends a horrible message to listeners. It says that, to be cool like them, you have to do what they do. And while this article may undoubtedly sound like a corny “just say no” piece, it’s simply shortsighted to not think that the voices in what recently became the most popular genre in the country aren’t influencing listeners. Someone needs to speak up against the pill-popping culture in hip-hop.
And it seems that some artists are. Rappers like XXXTentacion, Wiki and Lil Uzi Vert have all taken to social media after Peep’s death, condemning the use of Xanax — the drug rumored to have killed him — with Uzi even seemingly tweeting through withdrawal symptoms after deciding to ditch the drug.
More rappers need to come out against drug addiction — and soon, because I’m uncomfortable with having to cite XXXTentacion as a moral voice on anything in the wake of the truly grisly abuse accusations leveled against him.
More rappers need to acknowledge a shift in the genre that has begun to normalize addiction.
This needs to happen before another promising young voice like Lil Peep’s is silenced — or before too many mother’s like Åhr’s have to bury their children.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan.