What are the adverse effects of the lean-driven rap culture that's become so predominant? We take a quick look.
Rap culture has been linked with drugs for the better part of its lifespan. Rising alongside the crack epidemic in the 80s, the music was synonymous with the inner-city struggles, and at the time that meant crack cocaine. As the 90s hit, there were more drug-dealing raps that hit the mainstream from the likes of Raekwon, Notorious B.I.G., and Jay Z. The latter of whom has made dozens of headlines for going from dealing crack to hustling legitimately in the worlds of hip hop, fashion, nightlife, sports, and more.
However, not everyone in hip-hop hustled their way out of the drug scene. DJ Screw came up in the Houston hip hop scene, pioneering the chopped ‘n’ screwed of mixing before passing away in the year 2000 from an overdose of lean. The foundation that Screw helped lay became very influential in the 2015 rap game, where slow beats and lean-sipping make up a large portion of mainstream rap music. A$AP Rocky, Drake, Young Thug, Future…the list of artists that were influenced by that scene goes on and on.
“Gold grill shining, don't ask me how I got 'em / Styrofoam cups with jolly ranchers at the bottom,” A$AP Rocky boasted on “Kissin’ Pink.”
“We got the purple rain for the pain,” Drake said on “Scholarships” from What A Time To Be Alive.
“I want that lean, I need that lean / Promethazine, and that Codeine / That's Easter pink, that's Easter pink / If I don't got none I don't have no dreams,” Young Thug said on “Stoner 2 Times.”
And Future? Forget about it; the lean references are too many to name. It’s the namesake of his albums and one of the main topics that he makes music about.
While these artists, and many others, make lean seem cool, and even casual like marijuana, the dangers of codeine can be pretty intense, especially after repeated abuse. DJ Screw and Pimp C, both from the same Houston scene, are the two highest-profile artists to overdose off lean. A$AP Yams’ last tweet before he died was “Bodeine Brazy,” a play on words of the Future track “Codeine Crazy.” Even though rap music hasn’t traditionally been a blueprint for young people to follow, we can’t overlook how hip hop's impact on the youth of America has become more and more pronounced. When they hear of Future or Drake, or even Justin Bieber, glamorizing the purple drink, it’s undoubtedly influencing them to try a prescription drug that has damaged the lives of many-- whether they act on that influence is another question.
Lean kills; everybody knows that. We hate to put a damper on everybody’s Future playlist, but the dangers of the drug need to be known. In rap music, it’s mentioned alongside riches and strip club fun, but the reality of the situation is serious. Not to say it’ll kill you if you try it once or twice, but repeated use, across the boards, brings terrible effects to your health. Effects of abuse can include major depression, kidney and liver damage, seizures, muscle pains, and coma. Worse yet, if you become dependent on the substance and attempt to withdraw, the side effects include serious stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, suicidal and homicidal thoughts. As with all drugs, if you plain on experimenting it is best to do so with knowledge at your disposal. Also, and we hate to go all D.A.R.E. on you guys, but don’t feel pressured to try it just because it sounds cool in your favorite song.
Despite the glorification of lean across the mainstream, there are a handful of artists who have publicly taken a stand against the purple drink. Gucci Mane’s Twitter account published a series of tweets in 2013 that included the words, “I’ve been drinking lean for 10plus years & I must admit it has destroyed me. I wanna be the first rapper to admit I’m addicted to lean & that shit ain’t no joke,” amidst apologizing to his family, friends, fans, and hip hop industry.
Lil Wayne, who was a huge proprietor of the drug for a long time, told Katie Couric, “I can’t (drink syrup anymore)… I was doing too much and the doctor kinda told me, ‘We can’t tell you what to do, but I suggest that your mom tell you to stop.’ She did (tell me to stop).” It’s a sharp contrast from the rapper who recorded “Me and My Drank,” a damn-near love ballad about purple drink.
The list goes on. Lil Boosie had some strong words to say about the substance last year with TMZ, he was quoted as saying he “nearly died three or four times from drinking lean” and also that the substance has “fucked up a lot of rappers and the culture of hip hop.” Chief Keef told Billboard, “My last two mixtapes were mistakes. I was on promethazine, all drugged out. I was tweaking. I don't sip the lean no more though." Danny Browntold Tim Westwood that he stopped sippin’ syrup simply because he was getting too fat.
It would only make sense that rap music would take a stance against promethazine, but the industry is torn. ScHoolboy Q pretty much defended lean while telling Hot 97 he cut back usage, but still sips it occasionally. He even said that he had it on him at the time of the interview as he teetered back and forth saying, “I don’t want to sit here and talk about it like in a good way ‘cause it’s not, but it is.” It’s a confusing message, particularly to young and impressionable fans that he may have.
The worst part of lean’s presence in hip hop is that it’s actually an active ingredient in making great music. Future is one of the leaders of the industry right now, and it isn’t because his music sucks. The Weeknd, who lays down a thinly veiled drug reference on his super-smash single “Can’t Feel My Face,” is in the same boat. Drugs and music have always gone hand in hand, even decades before hip hop existed. Hell, when Elvis Presley past away, promethazine was a part of the complication that lead to his death. It isn’t exclusively a rap problem, at all, but it is super-prevalent in the culture. The important thing is to educate yourself on the dangers of the drug while bumpin’ “Codeine Crazy” in the whip. The music may be great, but don’t overlook the message it’s sending completely.