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Their Death, Our Entertainment: Drug Culture In Hip-Hop

I recently attended a rap show at a secretive ‘warehouse’ type venue, where the windows were covered with sheets and tarp and the lighting was barely existent; it was a nostalgic throwback to the dark, dank basement shows I started out playing in my teen years. The headliner was an Atlanta-born artist who goes by Slug Christ; a tiny, mustachioed, mullet-rocking kid who raps stream-of-consciousness lyrics over minimal, bassy trap beats. But the gravitational pull attracting the Awful Records rapper’s cult following is not just his sound; it’s also his drug-addled lifestyle.

slug-christ cigs

Slug Christ arrived to the ‘venue’ late, after his scheduled start time, looking dazed, confused and high as fuck. The crowd of roughly 150 didn’t care, ready to chant every mumbled lyric coming from the diminutive performer’s mouth. The atmosphere resembled that of an underground punk show, full of kids who looked like they heard their first rap record last week and had no idea what a Rakim is; and that’s ok. There’s no problem with hip-hop expanding and gaining new fans, whether they know the architects of the culture or not; they support the music and go to the shows. But what does raise some concern is the encouragement of drug use beyond a social, ‘partying’ sense.

SLug Christ genocide

The appeal is obvious; a rebellious, devil-may-care attitude has long been one of the most marketable images in music since the days of Johnny Cash, to the Sex Pistols, to N.W.A.. Slug Christ and his Awful Records affiliates have been working with the same deliberately effortless aesthetic that the Ramones did in the later ’70s and early ’80s, just updated for the modern hip-hop era…and with more drugs.

Towards the end of his set, after performing fan favorites like “HokayHokayHokay” and “Better Leave It“, the effect of the six Xanax bars Slug allegedly took (some report it was heroin) before hitting the stage became very prevalent. He dropped the microphone and leaned forward, staring vacantly before stumbling towards the DJ, mumbling even more incoherently than he does in his songs. The crowd cheered it on enthusiastically.

At first I suspected it was an exaggerated act; a stimulated stupor to rile up the crowd. However, when he awkwardly took a seat in the middle of the stage and didn’t get up, prompting the venue to turn the lights on and usher people out, it became evident that Slug Christ was genuinely fucked up. But the show was over; his ‘dedicated’ fan base got their fill of entertainment for the night, and were on their way home to get some rest while the man whose songs they were just jamming to stumbled around aimlessly with his eyes rolled back into his head.

The glorification of drug use is also nothing new in music, but oftentimes the songs written about drug addiction are not where the glorification comes from; it’s the fans’ misinterpretation of the lyrics as promoting using rather than condemning it and warning of its effects. In the song “Herron”, Slug raps “I won’t let my friends hit no motherfuckin’ herron”, but he is very explicit about his own heroin use, also mentioning consuming lean, cocaine and Xanax on the track. I’m far from a walking D.A.R.E. commercial myself, but at what point do fans become legitimately concerned about their favorite artists’ well being, rather than literally cheering on the downward spiral happening before their eyes?

Future recently confessed in an interview that he was not actually the drug addict he portrays in his music; this sent a lot of fans into an uproar, accusing him of being ‘fake’ for not living his lyrics. This reaction, while somewhat understandable, is also troubling, as rather than being relieved that Nayvadius Wilburn is not actually a hardcore drug user, fans are pissed that he’s not. From Trinidad James to Juicy J to early Eminem, rappers discussing drugs in their music is not a revolutionary concept; but Future’s confession of not being the addict people thought he was exposes addiction as a marketing tool.

future-drinking-lean

The difference between a Future and a Slug Christ, other than a couple million dollars, is that the latter’s drug use is not a gimmick, even if does make for a marketable image. The team surrounding these real-life addicts may care about the artists’ well being, but not enough to push them to go to rehab and stop using, as long as they keep garnering cheers and encouragement from their following. The romanticization of the “27 Club”, a group of legendary artists who all died at age 27 due to drug use, and the general concept of dying young and leaving a good looking corpse, has fueled the fire rapidly burning inside of this wave of drugged out ‘bad boy’ rappers.

club-27-ppcorn

I understand the appeal of an artist having an edge to them, as an anti-establishment, social norm-defying rebellious streak attracts youthful fans; again, it’s not reinventing the wheel. But personally, I don’t want the artists I enjoy listening to dead any time soon, so I’d rather them openly portray the image of a heavy drug user then to actually be one, in danger of sudden death on any given night. If the small throng of Slug Christ fans really enjoyed his music, don’t you think rather than cheering on his drug-influenced collapse, they would protest his impending overdose so that he can keep creating?

But it is not the fan’s responsibility to save an artist’s life; they’re just there to enjoy and support their work (and sometimes, habits). So then, where does the responsibility lie when rappers die from substance abuse? Pimp C, one half of the legendary Texas duo UGK, overdosed on codeine in 2007. A$AP Yams passed away last year from drug-related causes. DMX is rumored to have nearly died from an overdose recently and has been battling drug-related demons for years. Drug problems can make for heartstring-tugging stories with compelling content, but what can create good art all too often leads to tragic endings in reality.

RIP PIMP C

In the end, as human beings we make our own choices, whether they’re influenced by others or not. We decide what to put in our bodies, and how much of it we ingest. Creatives are no different, and perhaps fans should just be thankful that enjoyable art came out of addiction rather than just internalized suffering. But to watch a room full of kids go from bouncing and rapping along with one of their idols, to laughing at and cheering for that same fallen idol’s drug problem, was a huge reality check. As long as the entertainment is provided, most consumers don’t care what it costs the entertainer; even if it’s eventually their life.

 

 

article by Mike Voss


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