Rap culture’s prescription drug glorification harmful to listeners

January 24, 2018 — by Jayne Zhou and Connie Liang

People might not realize the affect that an artists' words have on listeners, but when artists advocate for things such as prescription drugs, it sends listeners a message that they are okay to abuse.

On the night of Nov. 15, hundreds of thousands of shocked fans logged onto social media only to be flooded with a wave of horror. Popular rapper Lil Peep had died.

Instagram flooded with posts captioned “R.I.P Lil Peep” as a tribute to the deceased rapper, whose demise came at the hands of a lethal cocktail of drugs including fentanyl, Xanax, marijuana, cocaine, Tramadol, hydrocodone, generic Dilaudid, oxycodone and oxymorphone, the majority of them being prescription drugs.

Despite the clear negative effects of pharmaceutical drug abuse, ABC News reported in 2017 a sixfold increase in drug use in the last two decades. This trend in turn created a dramatic increase in positive portrayals of drug abuse in media — especially in hip-hop.

Popular, influential hip-hop artists continue to promote their own pattern of abuse to their fans through their song lyrics and actions.  

In recent years, pop culture has introduced a new wave of hip hop artists such as Future, Migos, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage and Lil Xan, several of whom regularly rap about drug culture in their tracks. This glorification has had a huge effect on these artists’ primary audience: teenagers and young adults.

A 2006 study conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation of more than 1,200 students ages 15-25 found that there was a significant correlation between students who reported listening to hip-hop and rap music and aggressive behavior and substance use.

Another survey found that 38.2 percent of drug overdoses were by abuse of prescription drugs. The recent influx of prescription drug references is a worrying trend because, unlike traditional illegal drugs, many abusable medicinal drugs are relatively easily to obtain.

Today, obtaining drugs can be as easy as having a friend lend you a bottle of their prescription drugs. Drugs are easily accessible to students who seek them.

Listening to music often offers teenagers an escape from the stress of daily life, but when using drugs become normalized to the point where hearing about usage in songs isn’t a shocking revelation, who isn’t to say a teenager in want of a relaxing break won’t decide to follow in their artist’s footsteps?

The result of influential rappers talking about popping this pill or sippin’ that lean is the validation of drug usage to a platform of easily manipulated and vulnerable listeners.

While some of these artists deny that they promote drug abuse, their songs clearly promote getting high. For example, Lil Xan claims the aim of his music is to influence listeners to stay sober as he was once addicted to Xanax. His most popular song “Betrayed” details how his reliance on the drug ultimately backfired and “betrayed” a normal and healthy lifestyle.

Although this particular song is a cautionary tale that may sway listeners from making the same mistakes, the culture Lil Xan claims to embody contradicts with the majority of his other songs.

In his song “Slingshot,” he goes on to say, “I don't pop f—— xans, I might pop a norco.” While Lil Xan does say he knows better than to abuse Xanax, he immediately continues to conjure up another viable option for a similar high. The worst part of it is, not only is he encouraging another drug, but it’s a prescription drug.

Substituting one drug for another doesn’t minimize the overarching theme listeners take from Xan’s music, which is that drugs are OK and that even if you don’t take Xanax there is always another option.

Certainly, not every rapper should automatically be labelled as a prescription drug addict. Artists like Lil Yachty stay sober, because they recognize the danger of drugs and want to promote staying sober.

Often, listeners actually misinterpret the artists’ lyrics. Another artist who condemns drug and alcohol abuse is Kendrick Lamar. In one of his most famous songs, “Swimming Pools (Drank),” he rhymes about finding the inner strength to resist pressure to "get a swimming pool full of liquor, then you dive in it."  

Although he is trying to spread a message of sobriety against alcohol abuse, many listeners misinterpret his lyrics as encouragement to start drinking. This misinterpretation is only indicative of a larger problem: Listeners have become so accustomed to substance abuse due to the sheer prevalence in the culture that they automatically perceive all songs to condone drugs and drinking.

Certainly, not every teen who listens to rap music abuses or is tempted to abuse drugs. Many listen to rap music and have no trouble going about their daily lives without experiencing the temptation of illicit substance abuse.

However, even if the teen knows better than to try it, the fact that drug abuse is still accepted and widely prevalent on the music platform is assurance and validation to the entire base of fans that drugs are OK.

This casual encouragement of substances that ought to be shunned needs to stop, and instead of talking about using this drug and that, more artists should take the lead in creating a culture in which drugs are shunned and cautioned against.

Lil Peep’s tragic passing should serve as a wake-up call. Heartbreak and tales of tragedy are and always will be inherent if the pervasive, drug-infested rap culture of today doesn’t change.

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