When and Why Did Hip-Hop Become About Drug Use

ppcorn.com / xdannyxbrownx.com
ppcorn.com / xdannyxbrownx.com

“It go like: count that stack, pop that cap then down that Jack/All my n***as hit that zan, and all my ladies bounce that back.” This is part of the chorus to the Chance the Rapper track, “Favorite Song,” and it’s another example of a recent trend in hip-hop. Whether Schoolboy Q is talking about his harrowing pill addiction or YG is requesting a blunt laced with molly, it often feels harder than ever to find a rapper that doesn’t rap about partaking in hard/semi-hard drugs. Granted, rappers have been known to speak openly about drugs for at least two decades now with marijuana being a favorite past-time for hip-hoppers, but that’s a relatively mild substance compared to the uppers, prescription meds, and euphoric drugs that are emphasized in some of today’s lyrics.

It’s a controversial matter for sure, as these dancehall drugs have been proven deadly, such as during the New York’s 2013 Electric Zoo Festival when two young concert-goers overdosed and died, prompting city officials to cancel the final day of the event. On the other hand though, there is utmost credibility behind these lyrics as they undoubtedly touch on reality. Hip-hop has always been a genre that reflects current happenings in the world, and showcasing unadulterated ugliness is certainly admirable. It’s just a question on whether the cultural consensus will take such references as being cautionary, or as glorification.

Granted, recent rappers like Schoolboy Q aren’t the first to talk about such things. Eminem was vocal about his frequent pill popping during his pre-Recovery days, André 3000 says the sped-up sound on Outkast’s Stankonia was influenced by urban youths taking different kinds of drugs, and even The Beastie Boys name-dropped a whole plethora of illicit substances on 1989’s “Car Thief”. It’s just now mainstream rappers like Rick Ross and Trinidad James have been talking about it in hit singles, and there’s an ever-clear presence of the popularity of MDMA. Commonly referred to as molly, there’s no real singular answer for how this psychoactive drug became a fixture in rap singles, but the easiest source of blame would have to be directed towards the decadent Detroit emcee Danny Brown.

For the last few years, Danny Brown has been a headline grabber due to some outrageous incidents (getting blown while performing on stage!), and when he released his breakthrough album XXX back in 2011 the rapper almost instantly became a figurehead for drug-rap. Brown regularly talked of sniffing crushed pills and performing lurid sex-acts, but if not for his unique delivery then Brown would have been just another boastful rapper. Danny Brown displayed a singular quality in which his voice would change from song-to-song (perhaps involuntarily). Some tracks would see him rapping in a brash and vaguely punkish style that endorsed the spontaneity of living on the edge, while Brown adopted a more melancholic and patronizing approach to his voice for the tracks more demeaning towards substance-abuse. In a way, Danny Brown’s art is that he himself is symbolic of the effects of the drugs he talks about, and his music may alternatively represent both the euphoria of being chemically enhanced, as well as being under the dismal feeling of coming down

Furthering the Danny Brown angle, one must also consider that he was one of the first popular rappers to bring outside genres such as EDM and Contemporary House to his hip-hop aesthetic, which can also be considered a component in the blurring line between hip-hop and rave culture. Now more than ever, hip-hop is regarded as a universal form of party music, as it’s danceable, chant-able, and often fully supportive towards partying. Therefore, this proliferation of MDMA-centric lyrics is in a way a sign of hip-hop becoming more of a cross-over genre. Many purists will be opposed to this just on that principal alone(“it’s gentrification!”), which brings to question what rap detractors will say. Hip-hop already has the perceived image by many as being hedonistic and shallow music by the genre’s dissenters, so what will they say once they perceive these people are promoting drugs in their lyrics?

Well, as of right now I think that this drug-talk certainly has a place in contemporary rap, especially when handled with care. Rick Ross’ degrading date-rape lyrics aside, I more often find that rappers’ views on hard drugs are more provocative than celebratory. I am no saint, and will admit that I have used several of the aforementioned drugs for recreational purposes in the past. I am fully aware of the appeal of going out using certain party-enhancers, as well as the low points that come the morning after, but so do the likes of Chance the Rapper and Earl Sweatshirt.

One of the most fascinating things I found about 90s gangsta rap was that it made hip-hop appear edgy and masculine, but the best listeners would realize that a criminal lifestyle wasn’t condoned by it’s purveyors. They were merely reiterating (albeit exaggerating) the horrible conditions of the world around them, but doing it in a way that record-executives would find marketable. Even if hip-hop’s trajectory has gone from selling-drugs to using-drugs, it’s still the same cautionary air hovering above it. As these young rappers grow older, perhaps their views on this topic will become more mature too.