Reckoning With Rap’s Relationship To Drugs In The Wake Of Lil Peep’s Death

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Contrary to popular belief, rap’s relationship with drug abuse is nothing new.

Despite the lamentations of some fans in the wake of the death of emo rapper Lil Peep two days ago, hip-hop histories and biographies are rife with tales of profuse pill popping, lean sipping, and cocaine overdoses.

From Russell Simmons to Old Dirty Bastard, rap impresarios and performers have always dabbled in the harder forms of pleasure, and many have paid the price — yesterday marked 17 years since the death of Houston legend DJ Screw from an overdose of lean.

Rap lyrics have always praised the use of drugs like molly, ecstasy, and cough syrup. Three 6 Mafia, who later won an Oscar for the song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the Hustle & Flow soundtrack, released “Sippin’ On Some Syrup,” a straight-up ode to hard drugs, the same year as DJ Screw’s overdose (albeit much earlier in the calendar).

So the fans loudly bemoaning “hip-hop’s drug problem” have either been asleep for the past three decades or haven’t wanted to acknowledge what’s been there all along. Yes, rappers who emphasize this aspect, like Lil Peep, Lil Pump, or Lil Xan have risen to the top of mainstream rap consciousness lately, but the only thing that really seems to have changed is rap’s preferred perception alterer has shifted from THC to opiates.

However, there is a new trend in rap with regards to drugs, and it’s not exactly what those fans may have expected. While there are some rappers who’ve tapped into a vein of adolescent discontent and depression and seemingly popularized the use of drugs as a way to self-medicate, there are just as many, possibly even more, who have gone in the opposite direction and their platforms are huge in comparison.

Many of rap’s newer stars have become more and more vocal about sobriety and straight-edge lifestyles, not only foregoing drug references in their music but also staunchly eschewing and even verbally opposing the use of hard drugs for themselves and their fans.