Recreational drug use has always, to some extent, controlled the narrative of hip hop music. Hip hop of the 1980s reflected the gravity of the ongoing crack epidemic. Music of the 1990s, fueled by artists like Snoop Dogg, adhered to a ubiquitous admiration for recreational marijuana, whereas 2000s hip hop felt, at points, like a barefaced campaign for codeine abuse, a phenomenon Lil Wayne arguably spearheaded. This is probably half the reason your parents never wanted you listening to it — perhaps rightfully so.
This decade, rappers seem to have embraced a laundry list of other narcotics, some new, some not, many of which are heavily regulated prescription medications like Xanax, Percocet and Adderall. Others are Schedule I and II drugs.
Many of you probably remember rapper Trinidad James’ 2012 song “All Gold Everything” for its unforgettable hook: “Popped a molly, I’m sweatin’, woo.” Otherwise known as ecstasy or MDMA, molly is psychoactive drug that generations of young people have used recreationally since the 1970s.
It is also a drug responsible for the deaths of hundreds of college-aged people, most notably at the Electric Zoo Festival in 2013, when two victims, one 23 and the other 20, collapsed after their body temperatures skyrocketed.
Four years later, Future raised the stakes with his single “Mask Off.” Its all-too-familiar chorus of “Percocet, molly, Percocet” can really only be taken as an endorsement of mixing two drugs which, by themselves, already have a high potential for lethal overdose. Beyond that, the terror in the song’s popularity rests in its lack of artistry.
There is no wordplay or creativity in the hook. “Percocet, molly, Percocet” has no rhyme, no wordplay and even no real meaning, yet “Mask Off” is now certified Double-Platinum.
Kanye West also seemingly jumped on board in his most recent release, The Life of Pablo. In “No More Parties in LA,” he raps, “If I knew y’all had made plans I wouldn’t have popped the xans.” A powerful benzodiazepine, Xanax is another prescription pill that has seen a massive uprise in usage, particularly among college-aged students.
In the same album, however, Kanye reveals that he has been seeing different psychiatrists in dealing with his mental health. And so, by that token, this line has a more personal and significant message when understood in context.
However, there is a line between a rapper revealing personal struggles with taking drugs like Xanax and rappers boasting about it. In “56 Nights,” Future says, “I just took 56 bars all in one month n***a and I’m still drankin’,” a line that transcends the dangers of advocating drug use in general.
Instead it can only be understood as the rapper boasting about the extent and severity of his addiction, if he is being honest. And in decidedly Future-esque fashion, he talks about mixing the Xanax with alcohol, a combination that is known to cause seizures and death.
As listeners and instruments of the mainstream, we need to ask ourselves, at what point does the main drive of the lyrics become entirely about drugs?
In June, Future performed “Mask Off” on ABC’s Emmy Award-winning talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live. This is alarming. If we take Kimmel’s show as one of many bastions of the modern mainstream, Future’s performance indicates a conscious effort on its part to ignore the song’s inexplicable content.
There is always a line, somewhere, between what we deem acceptable and what is nauseating in the message it sends. There is a line between smoking weed and abusing prescription pills. There is a line between making music revolving around an artist’s honest account of his drug use and making music that glorifies addiction and lethal combinations of those drugs.
In “Just What I Am,” Kid Cudi demonstrates the paradigm of a nuanced, important attitude towards drugs. “I diagnose my damn self,” he says, “these pills ain’t workin’ fam.” Cudi is open about his use of prescription pills to manage his mental health struggles. Moreover he expresses a certain skepticism towards clinical treatment in wanting to diagnose himself.
Much like rock, hip hop represents a distinct counterculture, and so it makes sense that we are seeing a newfound engagement to self medication. This is a conversation worth having and a reality worth grappling with. For our own sake, the realities that artists such as Future have normalized cannot be seen as normal.
Sammy Bhatia is a junior Writing Seminars major from Cranbury, N.J.