It’s unavoidable: We—music industry professionals, artists, fans, and consumers—need to talk about prescription drug abuse within rap. In a recent Billboard interview, Vic Mensa stepped up to the plate with harsh words directed not only at the contemporary rap community, but the market-driven drug manufacturers who profit from the glorification of recreational use of their product. He told the magazine:
“[At] what point and time do we start holding the manufacturers of Xanax accountable? The prescribers of Xanax and Percocet, at what point and time do the people that literally make these products in labs and mass produce them — when are these people criminals?
The United States, as a whole, is in the midst of a massive opioid crisis. There is little movement from the government to address these issues and the entertainment industry isn’t doing much better. Mensa’s comments arrive after the tragic passing of rapper Lil Peep, 21, who is suspected to have died of a drug overdose reportedly in connection with Xanax laced with fentanyl. While the rap community continues to mourn the death of Lil Peep, it’s impossible not to watch other rappers continue to extol the same drug use with concern.
Future, on his hit song “Mask Off,” repeats the phrase “Molly, Percocet, Molly, Percocet, Molly, Percocet.” Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Llif3” not only features the hook, “Push me to the edge / All my friends are dead,” but includes a refrain of “Xanny out the pain now.” In the same Billboard interview, Mensa points out that celebratory drug use in rap culture is no new trend—he references Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” and its lyrics, “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge / I’m trying not to lose my head,” words that echo Lil Uzi Vert’s 2017 hit. Just this week the hit-making producer Timbaland admitted to a painkiller addiction so severe, he nearly overdosed. Just because this horrible trend has existed for generations of rappers, doesn’t mean it should continue.
On “Betrayed,” the biggest hit by Columbia Records’ up-and-coming rapper Lil Xan, he sings “Xans don’t make you / Xans gon’ take you / Xans gon’ fake you / Xans gon’ betray you,” lines that warn of the dangers of Xanax abuse. But his name is still Lil Xan, and it’s a mixed message if there ever was one.
In an era where major labels are providing teenage artists with celebratory cakes in the shape of a Xanax bars, the music community still isn’t ready to criticize its fatal addictions and we’re worse off because of it. Let’s do better.