Rap hits that epitomize hip-hop artists’ struggle with substance abuse and mental illness - Sovereign Health Group
Articles / Blog
10-30-17 Category: Substance Abuse

Only once the drugs are done, that I feel like dying… that I feel like dying.”

~ Lil Wayne

Artists often use creative expression to highlight the issues plaguing the society. American rap/hip-hop artists like Lil Wayne go a step further by talking about the vice-like grip of substance abuse, which is frequently flanked by depression and anxiety. In the song “I Feel Like Dying,” he unabashedly portrays his drug addiction as a means of escape while simultaneously describing the bleakness once he stops using drugs. In an earlier interview, he described his difficulty in giving up the addiction to lean, also called purple drank, a promethazine-codeine cough syrup concoction, comparing it to “death in your stomach.”

Wayne is not alone. Entire generations of hip-hop artists have interwoven addiction and mental illnesses into their lyrics. Over the years, hip-hop has evolved to reflect the changing landscape of drug addiction and alcohol abuse. In the 1980s, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five eulogized cocaine and warned against the dangers of addiction in “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It).” Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. glamorized alcohol, marijuana and cocaine in the mid-1990s, and Ja Rule and 50 Cent won fans by singing about Ecstasy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The cover of rapper 21 Savage’s “Issa Album” shows the artist holding a foam cup, symbolizing his addiction to purple drank.

In recent times, hip-hop’s focus has shifted to the opioid epidemic, including prescription drugs. While a brooding Future repeatedly sings “Percocets, molly, percocets” in his hit song “Mask Off,” a stony-eyed Lil Uzi Vert beseeches Xanax to relieve his pain in “XO Tour Llif3,” rapping “Xanny numb the pain yeah/Please, Xanny make it go away.”

In spite of all the songs talking about drugs and alcohol, there are some artists who make mental health issues into everyday talking points. Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” turned into a powerful anthem that encouraged people with suicidal thoughts to call suicide prevention helplines.

Young, African-American hip-hop artists and self-medication

Themes of concurrent drug abuse and self-harm in hip-hop are not coincidences – they have held sway in a genre dominated by African-American artists. Embedded deep within expletive-laden lyrics, lie personal stories of angst and uncomfortable truths. In “There’s a Lot Going On”, rapper Vic Mensa described his drug addiction, depression and suicidal thoughts, all of which started with prolonged prescription drug use. “Self-medication is the name of the game in the culture of young black men in hip-hop,” said Mensa. Joe Budden, a member of the hip-hop group Slaughterhouse, has also been candid about his struggles with drug addiction and mood disorders.

Some argue that there is a thin line separating the personal struggles of addiction and glorifying the use of highly restricted prescription drugs like Xanax, Percocet and Adderall. However, Future insists that drugs find their way into lyrics because “that’s the number one thing everybody likes to talk about.” Others also contend that hip-hop is not responsible for getting people hooked to prescription pills and other opioids; rather, song lyrics mirror current trends among American youth.

The stress of performing before thousands of die-hard fans compels many musicians to use non-prescribed prescription pills to help them keep up with rigorous tour schedules and deliver consistent performances. Indiscriminate use of prescription drugs acts as a gateway to unhealthy and addictive behavior. Musicians are constantly exposed to drugs and alcohol – substances which have a numbing effect on feelings. They may be a means of escape, but over time their repetitive use leads to addiction. Artists find their mental health in a downward spiral as soon as such substance use is discontinued.

According to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (OMH), African-Americans have a 20 percent higher likelihood of suffering from serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites. However, they have a much lower chance of seeking mental health services, especially males. Stress factors such as racism, discrimination, educational backwardness, poverty and unemployment increase the burden of depression among African-American males. In 2010, suicide was the third leading cause of death among African-American youth aged between 15-24 years.

Significance of traditional treatment

Beyond the stories of drug abuse and mental illnesses are examples of hip-hop artists who have shown resolve in seeking treatment and getting out of their “dark place.” Vic Mensa, OG Maco, Chance the Rapper and Gucci Mane are the artists who chose sobriety and brought back clarity into their lives. Some have even won accolades and critical acclaim for their music after recovery.

Mental health treatment is largely a culturally alien concept within the African-American community as therapy is typically associated with white people. Kendrick Lamar, who struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, considered music to be his therapy. African-Americans also rated spirituality as a critical part of their depression treatment. While music and spirituality may provide temporary refuge, they cannot replace traditional treatment methods for substance abuse and mental illnesses, especially when the disorders occur simultaneously.

Seeking help for dual diagnosis

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 8.2 million adults aged 18 years and above (3.4 percent of the age group) suffered from a mental illness and a substance use disorder (SUD), while 2.6 million adults (1.1 percent) had co-occurring serious mental illnesses and SUDs. Individuals battling comorbidity can benefit from dual diagnosis residential treatment through one-on-one and group psychotherapy or other time-tested therapeutic solutions.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction in addition to a mental ailment, call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our experts to know more about our state-of-the-art dual diagnosis treatment centers spread across California and other states of the U.S.

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