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Exploring Connections : Drugs & Hip Hop

By Kiana Knight

Hip-hop culture has been associated with drugs since its origin in the ‘70s. Whether it was mentioned in the music or used by the artist, they have always had a strong connection with hip-hop culture. However, the question that still remains is why?

Hip-hop designates the Bronx as its birthplace. As the culture expanded from its uptown home, one aspect that remained the same was the presence of drugs in inner cities. Many of hip hop’s most distinguished artists come from troubled neighborhoods. These artists use their music as a vice to tell their stories. NWA, a rap group from Compton, California, is known for their hardcore lyrics depicting violence, drugs and hatred for police. Although their explicit lyrics caused controversy, the group was simply rapping about their experiences.

Artists like Jay-Z and Notorious BIG, both from Brooklyn, sometimes rap about having to selling drugs as a way to make a living in an environment where resources are limited. Many artists with troubled pasts don’t want to ‘forget where they came from’ before the fame. This also gives listeners a deeper understanding of their music. Other artists often cave into a lifestyle of drug abuse to cope with their stress.

Eminem, a Detroit based rapper, struggled with drug abuse as his career progressed. In his documentary How To Make Money Selling Drugs Eminem talks about being addicted to prescribed pills such as Vicodin, Xanax and Valium. He spoke about how the pills made him feel mellow and numb to pain.

After being rushed to the hospital and realizing his organs were failing him, Eminem decided to get clean. His rehab journey triggered a different approach to his music when he came out with “Drugs Are Bad”, a playful song explaining the hazards of drugs. Like Eminem, many artists use their music as a platform to speak on drug abuse or try to deter others from engaging in drugs and violence altogether. Hip hop legends, Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel, made a song called “White Lines,” warning people about the dangers of cocaine and drug smuggling.

Jay-Z also often mentions his past and uses it as a way to steer people away from drug trafficking. In his song “H.O.V.A” Jay-Z makes references to his past experiences selling drugs and explains that he isn’t endorsing such behavior. Today’s current state of drugs in hip hop has taken an unexpected turn. Artists are making millions rapping about drugs so much that it often turns into their persona. Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg, for example, are typically known by the younger generations as the rappers who smoke marijuana.

Lil Wayne and Future are artists commonly known for their drug abuse of prescription drugs such as codeine and promethazine, or ‘lean,’ and xanax. Southern hip hop legends DJ Screw and Pimp C both died of lean overdoses after speaking about it in their music. The use of these drugs have almost become a celebrated activity in the culture.

There are a few reasons why drugs have always had a longstanding spot in hip hop. They all, however, seem to go back to artistic expression. Whether the artists see drugs in their environment, take drugs, or distribute drugs, it’s all in the music. This gives the listener an inside look at their reality.

Category: Arts | Entertainment