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Lil Wayne, Addiction & the Dangers of Drugs in Hip-Hop

Co-written by James Tait & Lauren Ziegler

Much has been made of Lil Wayne and his recent health scare, admitted to hospital after suffering two seizures in the space of a few hours on Monday aboard his private jet, only being released yesterday. Though the rapper has a history of similar occurrences and has previously stated that he suffers from epilepsy, many were quick to try and point the finger for his seizures on his notoriously hard use of the drug concoction ‘lean’ without taking into account the other drugs Weezy has been known to abuse.

A more level head over at r/hiphopheads was quick to point out that excessive consumption of cough syrup and other opiates alone has rarely been linked to seizures and that it’s actually more likely to be abuse of Xanax, another drug Weezy has frequently rapped about, or benzodiazepines like Klonopin. The OP points out the dangers of ceasing regular use of these drugs abruptly or by binging on them and not taking any for a day or two as well as their highly addictive nature.

Whatever the cause of Lil Wayne’s seizures, the popularity of benzodiazepines, opiates and other pharmaceutical drugs in hip-hop culture is alarming, if only because of the fear of these artists falling victim to their side effects.

Among other reasons, Xanax is prescribed for people suffering from very real and very debilitating anxiety disorders. It’s not supposed to be a recreational drug, much like codeine and other prescription medications are supposed to be used for non-destructive purposes. Not to say that none of these rappers using Xanax don’t suffer similar conditions, the awareness and acceptance of mental health issues having never been more prevalent in hip-hop. Whether they suffer from conditions warranting its use or not though, drinking heavily on Xanax, as the OP and many other users on r/hiphopheads pointed out, is walking a dangerous line.

The argument for better choices made by our hip-hop artists is less purely out of concern for them as individuals, as people we don’t know personally but whose art affects us on a level deep enough that we feel we do. Too many of our favourite artists have succumbed to early death at the hands of drug abuse across decades, it would be an utter tragedy to see this present wave of abuse ruin or even claim the lives of any more.

In a recent interview on The Breakfast Club, Vic Mensa pointed out that the context of how drugs are glorified in hip-hop has shifted and worsened over the past few years. “We’re coming up in an era where everything is celebrated. I remember when it used to be, ‘oh, you do drugs? Don’t do them.'” It used to be about, “Sell crack, don’t smoke it!” replied Charlemagne. “People don’t realise there’s an opioid epidemic. Prince just overdosed on an opioid, and that’s the same family of drug [as xanax]” (Note: for the record Xanax isn’t actually an opiate, it’s a benzodiazepine, but the point of his argument is perfectly valid.)

Whereas rap has traditionally celebrated drug dealers and the hustle of the dealer lifestyle (not including weed, of which heavy use has been obviously been associated with hip-hop since day one), many have nowadays shifted to championing heavy drug use. The fact that there’s particularly been an increasing focus on prescription medication as well as lean, and the fact that many who talk about it are heavy users themselves, is troubling in many ways.

It is no secret that drugs have been synonymous with hip-hop and the wider world of music for decades, but the alarming aspect here is that many artists are going further than rapping about smoking weed everyday or dabbling in coke or MDMA or what have you. Other social issues, such as misogyny and the active degradation of women are still prevalent in hip-hop, but there are less and less rappers focusing on this in a way that blurs the boundaries between fiction and rap. Drug use on the other hand, has taken a turn for the worse in many cases. More than ever, rappers are rapping – and tweeting, and ‘gramming, and generally just talking about their own drug use and addictions.

Lean in particular is an incredibly dangerous concoction, mostly because of how easy it is to access, and how easy it is to build up a tolerance and addiction (given that codeine is an opiate, in the same family as morphine and heroin, it has a notoriously fast tolerance and dependancy rate). Even more dangerous is the way that its use is so casually celebrated. Three 6 Mafia (Sippin on some Sizzurp), Future (Dirty Sprite), Chief Keef (Go To Jail), Soulja Boy (Molly With That Lean), A$AP Rocky (Purple Swag), Young Thug (2 Cups Stuffed) and Peewee Longway (Servin’ Lean) are just some of the rappers who’ve written entire songs celebrating lean/purple drank/sizzurp in a way that not only glorifies the drug, but normalises it, which is frankly far worse.

A rap fan who hears about their favourite rappers getting high on something as easily accessible as lean may well be more encouraged to try it, than, say, a rap fan who listens to lyrics about violence and guns and drug dealing and decides to go out and start shooting people. Rap fans simply do not all go out and buy guns and become drug dealers simply because their favourite rappers speak about it in song. Drugs are different, and drug use is far easier to fall into. Weed, for instance, is glorified by hip-hop and it is a core aspect of the entire culture, including fans, and it would not be far-fetched to suggest other drugs follow. (I’m well aware that this statement is generalising, and that it’s clearly not true in all or even most cases, but it does hold enough merit that it absolutely needs to be addressed today – especially after an incident like what’s just happened to Lil Wayne.

It’s worrying that not only are hip-hop artists openly using all kinds of drugs, but can occasionally border on advocating for use, and in turn, addiction, through song. The very real effects of this – from Lil Wayne’s seizures, to the many overdoses and addictions that have led to mental health complications, physical illness and in some cases, fatal tragedy, can be felt in a very tangible way.

If indeed it’s true that his seizures have been caused by a combination of Xanax and lean – and it’s been reported that he downed three bottles of the latter in the leadup to the incident – we can only hope that Weezy listens to his own body and understands the damage he’s doing to himself and his fans.

Drug addiction isn’t something that should be celebrated, and it certainly isn’t something that should be swept under the rug or considered normal or okay. Life-threatening incidents like this can and do lead to tragedy. Instead, let’s use it as a lesson, and let’s pray that Lil Wayne does too before it’s too late. We’ve had enough deaths in music this year. We don’t need another one.

In the meantime, let’s take the moment to honour the living legend while we still can. Considering everyone we’ve already lost this year, it’s moments like these that make us appreciate those who are still among us.

Image: MTV