Hip-hop at its best is rebel music. It was born in an era where the dreams of Black America ever becoming fully integrated into the American Dream were fading away. So there was always a hint of subversion for American Ideals. The same way Rock N Roll was considered perverse in the 50’s, hip-hop was considered obscene in the 80’s.
One of those subversive ideas has become the popularizing of a blaxploitation era myth: The hero drug dealer. In real life most sensible people rightly recognize the drug dealer as a scourge on our community. Perpetuating violence, preying on children, exploiting the vices of the most vulnerable among us, these are things which we look upon disdainfully. But you would never know it from the music we listen to. And when I say we I am including myself in this one. As I write this I’m heavy into my iTunes playlist. There must have been a thousand kilos of cocaine moved and hundreds of murders already today in my little slice of the hip-hop world.
But I can deal with drug dealer anthems. Because I know that it’s not easy to emulate. If I have everything going for me I’m not going to throw it away to go try to live out Pusha T’s verses. I can admire that music and just say to myself “that’s not my life though”. No my beef isn’t with drug dealer rap it’s with drug user rap. I know it’s hypocritical of me to single out rappers who celebrate their substance abuse when said substance abuse has inspired classic albums like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and classic songs like “Sippin on Some Sizzurp”. And I know it’s not the responsibility of the artists, the labels, or the mass media conglomerates that deliver our music to us to promote healthy living. I just think this moment in time is a turning point in hip-hop that might cause it to become more like rock n roll and I mean that in a bad way.
How many rock stars have gone out in a blaze of drug addiction and/or suicide? Enough to fill up several seasons of E! True Hollywood Story and VH1’s Behind The Music. There are already drug tragedies in hip-hop. Ol’ Dirty Bastard comes to mind. And the rehabilitation of DMX is an ongoing struggle. I’m not trying to equate “Molly” with heroin and crack mind you. It’s just that for years the gangja activists have been telling us that weed is not a gateway drug. But for mainstream hip-hop and its fans it has proven to be just that.
Today we are just as likely to hear about lean as we are weed. Weed has become almost pedestrian. There are suburban soccer moms who smoke weed in their caravans after they drop the kids off at their swimming lessons. It has become basically legal in two states and unofficially legal in so many others. It’s not shocking or counter cultural at all. Face it, weed is boring. But musicians and artists (not just hip-hop artists) are always looking for an edge. Lean or Purp or whatever you want to call it, a mixture of cough syrup and other barbiturates has become a staple among the new generation of rap. It’s not quite as harmless as weed. At least with weed the argument went “It comes from the earth its natural”. You can’t make that claim with lean. They also say too much weed never hurt anybody and nobody ever got locked up based on their weed addiction. The same thing can’t be said for lean. Ask Pimp C and DJ Screw about the death part. Ask Beanie Sigel about the getting locked up part.
Today Molly is the popular drug in rap lyrics. It’s nothing new though. It’s basically ecstasy. And it’s hilarious that our nostalgia is for the early 2000’s suddenly E pills and the Harlem shake are popular again. But while the Harlem shake is merely annoying, the rebranding of MDMA as Molly is potentially dangerous.
We can have an adult conversation about drugs. Sure I use “drugs” every day. Caffeine is a drug. Alcohol is a drug. Just like anything else it’s all in moderation. Cocaine started out as medicine. Ditto for Heroin. In the 60’s the dangers of LSD were exaggerated. In the 1930’s the exaggerated anti marijuana hype produced a cult classic film Reefer Madness. And there are plenty of people who go to a party take a pill that makes them feel funny and wake up the next day and go to work or class like nothing happened.
But hip-hop doesn’t do moderation. Have you listened to rap lately? There’s nothing casual about its drug use. When our rappers decide something is cool they ALL decide it’s cool and they advocate for it loudly and repeatedly. Rappers are some of the best marketers and promoters in the world. And we as fans actually listen to it. I’m not saying we’re all sheep, but until a few weeks ago I didn’t know what a Bugatti was now I know I want to wake up in one.
Hip-hop is still a youth culture despite the fact that all our favorite emcees are 30 plus. Emcees are selling a lifestyle that may be at odds with the personal values of many of their fans. We already accepted that the drug dealer is just a character most emcees play. But the drug user is an extension of the opulent lifestyle of a successful artist. Sex Drugs and Rock N Roll has truly become Sex Drugs and Hip-Hop. Drug use is much easier to emulate than drug dealing and we’re all plugged in listening and watching. Future, Drake, Gucci Mane, Rick Ross and others have expressed preferences for females who “pop molly”. That’s all well and good until one of your daughters, sisters or wives makes their way on to the tour bus.
Strangely maybe it’s a sign of maturation for hip-hop that any of our most popular artists is a candidate for celebrity rehab. To date Joe Budden has been the only emcee with any kind of an audience that has spoken out against the Molly trend. But that was only after experiencing it for himself. Indeed in regards to drug use as a negative Joe Budden and his Shady Records Boss Eminem have been two of the only popular emcees today that have detailed struggles with addiction in their music throughout their careers. The cautionary drug tale is all but dead in hip-hop. Perhaps drugs will have to do to an up and coming emcee what bullets did to Biggie before people speak more seriously about over indulging in these vices. Until then we’re in danger of entering the “Hair Band” era of rap.
E. Knight lives in Philadelphia. Check out his blog boxingwithgod.com.