(The Root) — Hip-hop has had a steady love affair with drugs. Way before studio kingpins like Rick Ross told tall tales of drug dealing, rappers routinely rhymed about their recreational use of marijuana. In fact, contemporary artists such as Wiz Khalifa and the reconstituted Snoop Lion have built careers out of professing their love for cannabis. But as American drug culture moves beyond weed to prescription pills, cough syrup and synthetic powders, the references to illicit substances in hip-hop music are changing, too. The Root takes a look at rap's newest addictions.
"Somethin' bout Mary, she gone off that Molly/Now the whole party is meltin' like Dali" —Kanye West on "Mercy"
"MDMA got you feelin' like a champion/The city never sleeps but it'll slip you an Ambien" —Jay-Z on "Empire State of Mind"
If song titles and references are any indication, then no new recreational drug is as popular as "Molly" is right now. In the past few weeks, rap blogs have been inundated with songs with names like "Molly," "Mary Jane & Molly" and "Molly Ringwald." The drug doesn't take its name from the actress, though; it's actually derived from "molecular."
"MDMA is a combination of an amphetamine and another hallucinogenic type drug," explained Dr. Gregory Bunt, medical director and vice president of health services at Daytop Village, a drug-rehabilitation agency in New York. "People can get a euphoria that's considered psychedelic. but it's a euphoria that's boosted by the stimulant effect by the amphetamine part of the molecule."
Molly is the second coming of the once-popular "club drug" Ecstasy. The active ingredient in both is MDMA. Whereas Ecstasy was often mixed or "cut" with different substances to yield more product, Molly is valued for its purity. Once associated with raves, glow sticks and electronic music, MDMA has made its way from the mega-clubs and warehouse parties into the mainstream.
It comes in the form of an off-white powder, often contained in capsules, or as yellow-ish crystals. The drug causes the brain to release good-feeling chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, leaving the user in a temporary state of euphoria. There's a price to pay with all the brain-chemistry tinkering that users do: Recent studies find that abuse of MDMA can cause permanent brain damage.
"Two white cups and I got that drank/Might be purple, might be pink/Dependin' on how you mix that sh—" —Drake on DJ Khaled's "I'm on One" featuring Rick Ross and Lil Wayne
"Smokin' out, pourin' up, keepin' lean in my cup" —Pimp C on Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin," featuring UGK
"Purple drink, I still sip, purple weed blunt still lit" —ASAP Rocky on "Purple Swag"
"I got the wet promethazine, thick orange and yellow tuss/Hydroco-done, on the hands-free phone" —Pimp C on Three 6 Mafia's "Sippin' On Some Syrup"
Call it "lean," "drank" or "purple," there's no denying the pervasiveness of the recreational use of cough syrup in today's hip-hop culture. Drinking syrup to induce a sedated euphoric high was popularized in the music of Texan acts including UGK, Big Moe and most notably DJ Screw and His Screwed Up Click. The drug is a combination of a cough suppressant and codeine, a very addictive pain reliever.
"Codeine is an opiate, and while it's not that potent an opiate relative to the Oxycontin or the very powerful hydrocodone pills, it still is an opiate. And when it's consumed in high quantities, as it often can be with cough syrup, it can lead to an opiate-induced euphoria," Bunt says. "The individual starts abusing the opiate and then becomes addicted, and then of course it becomes very difficult to kick that habit, to withdraw from the opiate once they're addicted."
Earlier this year, buzzing rapper Schoolboy Q recounted a near-death experience with "lean" on New York's Hot 97 radio station. The drug caused him, an asthmatic, to get drowsy to the point where he nodded off and stopped breathing. The experience led him to quit the drug cold turkey, but during the interview he complained of the intense withdrawal symptoms.
Abuse of cough syrup and breathing problems can be a lethal combination because it depresses one's breathing. In fact, UGK's Pimp C died from respiratory complications linked to a pre-existing sleep apnea and aggravated by his use of the codeine-laced concoction.
"Enough Oxycontin to send a f—kin' ox to rehab" —Eminem on "Underground"
"Satan in your soul, let it take control/Oxycontin fiends keep the foil low/Let the pill burn inhale, exhale it slow/Let your heart explode drop ya to the floor" —Schoolboy Q on "Oxy Music"
Reports of the widespread abuse of prescription painkillers or opiates are becoming more common than those of the abuse of illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin. In 2011 deaths from prescription opiates exceeded deaths from all illegal drugs. One of the most commonly abused painkillers is oxycodone. "Opiates are powerful analgesic painkillers, so they're prescribed for the treatment of pain, often acute pain, and in some cases chronic pain," Bunt says. "If they're abused, they can lead to a feeling of euphoria, of pleasure, and it is that effect of the drug that drives many individuals to seek the drug and to become addicted to it."
According to Bunt, the recent rash of pharmacy robberies can be linked to the severe withdrawal associated with drugs of this type: "During the acute opiate withdrawal phase, that is when individuals have intense cravings for the drug. That is why often individuals in severe opiate withdrawal might be tempted to become violent or engage in crime to get the drug."
"I slipped myself some pink Xannies/And danced around the house in all-over print panties" —Tyler, the Creator, on "Yonkers"
"I can mingle with the stars and throw a party on Mars/I am a prisoner, locked up behind Xanax bars" —Lil Wayne on "I Feel Like Dying"
"Xanax is often abused in combination with other drugs, so it's poly-substance abuse, " Bunt explained. "It's a benzodiazepine, in the same family as Valium. It's a muscle relaxant. It's a hypnotic. It helps people sleep, and it's an anti-anxiety medication when properly prescribed, but there is a significant abuse potential when taken in doses higher than prescribed."
Often recreational users enjoy the drug's calming effect and use it in tandem with alcohol, but this can cause severe liver damage. The withdrawal symptoms are just as bad: "Withdrawal syndrome is accompanied by anxiety — often acute anxiety on the level of anxiety attacks," Bunt continued. "They can have autonomic hyperactivity where their heart rate increases, their blood pressure increases, they sweat and they also can go into seizure if the withdrawal is severe — even fatal seizures if the withdrawal is very severe."
"Eatin' on a Adderall/Wash it down with alcohol/Writin' holy mackerel /Actual/All factual" —Danny Brown on "Adderall Admiral"
"Gnarly, radical, on the block I'm magical/See me at your college campus baggie full of Adderalls/Call me if you need a fix, call me if you need a boost" —Kreayshawn on "Gucci Gucci"
If MDMA is a party drug, then Adderall is a "study drug," often abused by students who want better focus and the ability to stay awake longer. "Adderall and Concerta are stimulants prescribed for attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity. The severity of these diseases can lead to a lot of problems in school and functioning in school, so these stimulants are prescribed and can be very therapeutic," Bunt said.
But when these drugs are misused as a study aid or for a recreational high, things can get dangerous. "The problem is, these stimulants are very frequently abused and they cause a stimulating euphoria, and they are in the same class as amphetamines. And they have properties very similar to amphetamines, making them a stimulant with a high abuse potential. That's why they're controlled."
Timmhotep Aku is a freelance journalist and cultural critic living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Follow him on Twitter.