Why is Hip Hop So Self-Destructive?

Though discourse about drug abuse, suicide, and violence is admittedly integral to contemporary rap culture, in the wake of rapper Lil Peep’s death, fans have begun to wonder, “at what cost?”.

A lyric from the late Lil Peep’s “Beamerboy” is extremely telling of what the hip-hop community wants, or expects, from him:

“But they don’t wanna hear that, they want that real sh*t, they want that drug talk, that ‘I can’t feel’ sh*t”.

It’s true; talk of Xanax, Adderall, Lean, and a myriad of other prescription drugs is so commonplace, it would be considered extraordinary for a rapper not to mention “drinking lean” or “popping xannies” in at least a few of his songs. Even devout Christian and philanthropist, Chance the Rapper, wrote a song titled “Same Drugs”, reminiscing about a girl from his childhood. Though it’s strange to use the analogy of drug use to incur childhood nostalgia, it just goes to show that without drugs, hip-hop simply cannot exist.

And though hip hop’s obsession with drugs dates back to the 90s, the era of Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, and Dr. Dre, it’s only recently that drugs began to be actualized by artists to be dangerous and self-destructive–and yet, to most, it’s still as appealing as ever, if not even more than before. This is the paradox that hip-hop culture has found itself in, a sort of cognitive dissonance where being depressed, addicted to “xannies”, and being suicidal is cool. The definition of “cool” by hip-hop standards has gone from

“like Scarface, sniffin’ cocaine, holdin’ an M16, see with the pen I’m extreme”

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Image source: Record Mad


of Nas’ 1994 album “Illmatic”, to

“I’m in pain, wanna put ten shots in my brain, I’ve been tripped by some things I can’t change, suicidal, same time I maintain,”,

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Image source: Genius


of XXXTentacion’s 2016 album “17”, all in the course of twenty-something years. The topics haven’t changed: we’re as obsessed with Lil Pump drinking lean in 2016 as we were obsessed with Nas shooting up cocaine in 1994. What’s changed is the artist and the listener’s attitude towards drugs. And what many don’t realize is that this was inevitable.

The audio-share website Soundcloud, essentially Youtube for songs, jump-started the careers of now-mainstream artists like XXX and Post Malone, and a quick visit to the hip-hop category of the site will reveal an entire pool of hopefuls trying to make it in the industry. With easily accessible DAWs (digital audio workstations) like Logic and Live, with increasingly affordable MIDI Controllers and audio interfaces, and with the entire internet as one’s potential audience, being a musician has never been easier… and more difficult. With an oversaturated market, the chances of being signed to even a small label like 88Rising (Rich Chigga, Joji, Yaeji, Higher Brothers, etc.) are one in a million.

These artists aren’t rich: they don’t have any stories about cocaine or assault rifles to tell. They’re just a bunch of guys sitting in their basements, slaving away at their computers, checking their Soundcloud followers every hour. So when you don’t have any interesting stories about gang fights or nightclubs, what do you turn to? That’s right–rapping about things you don’t have: money, friends, what have you.

This is the reality of contemporary hip-hop, and as bleak as it may seem, it’s notable that cases in the likes of Lil Peep are rare, almost nonexistent. And though some may say that his rapping about his Xanax addiction or his depression was a sign of mental illness that his fans ignored, that’s definitely a stretch. Not all artists that come from the Soundcloud Rap genre are depressed, nor are they addicted to prescription drugs. Just like there were fake rappers in the days of Nas that did not, in fact, have M16s and cocaine, there are rappers now that aren’t the depressed, self-harming, drug-abusing facades they put up on their Soundcloud bio.

– Charles Park (’20)

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