Hip-hop and rap music have a long history of drug use. Drugs have been vilified, new slang has been created, artists have exorcised their demons, and entire generations have been influenced. Of course, there are plenty of other musical genres that discuss substance use – just look at country music and alcohol, or the many drug references in hair metal. Part of the association might well be racist or biased in nature. After all, hip-hop is traditionally an African-American thing, and many people who still believe that drug use is a moral failing or a pastime for the poor like to point fingers at minorities. In truth, many rappers recognize that drugs are a blight on their communities and communicate that through their songs.
A 2008 study by researchers at the University of California Berkeley found that references to illegal drug use in rap music had increased six-fold in the decades since 1979 when rap was first introduced to general audiences. Of the 38 most popular rap songs between the years 1979 and 1984, only four songs, or 11 percent of the total, contained references to drugs. In the early 1990s, the percentage of rap songs with drug references increased to 45 percent, and then rose again to 69 percent of the 125 most popular rap songs between 1994 and 1997.
The UC Berkeley studied pointed to songs like White Lines, by Grandmaster Flash. If the title isn’t enough of a clue, the lyrics include “My white lines go a long way, either up your nose or through your vein, with nothing to gain except killin’ your brain.” Interestingly, while you’d think that the researchers were trying to make a point about how there were too many drug references in rap, this song doesn’t glorify cocaine use at all, telling us “It’s hard as hell to fight it; don’t buy it!” Another song mentioned in their study was Night of the Living Baseheads, by Public Enemy, which says, “Shame on a brother when he dealing” and the rather straightforward “This stuff … is really bad.”
Some of those finger-pointing white men ignore the actual lyrics, however, and use this study to make racist generalizations about black youth. One article pointed out that a lot of rap seemed to be in code that only black kids could understand, so adults might not know if they were discussing drugs. It even went so far as to say that “Rap music is like CNN for black teens,” as though suggesting that we need to curb drug mentions in music because these youths can’t be bothered or aren’t intelligent enough to get news elsewhere.
Are there rap songs out there that glorify drug use? Absolutely. For the most part, however, it’s part of a commentary on life as a minority and not some sort of hidden message encouraging kids to get high.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.