Music and drugs have long since had a close and interlinked relationship. From early drinking songs harking back to viking times, to hippies prancing around a field with faces full of hair and heads full of acid, drugs have always played a vital role in the development and influence of music. It may be unclear whether the drugs came first and caused the music, or if the drugs just made the music better to listen to, but their prevalence in music survives till today.
Each genre and subculture has its drug of choice, for the Hippie’s it was Cannabis and LSD, for the Mods it was Amphetamine’s, and for the ravers it was MDMA, the trap scene is no different. Ever since the creation of the genre both listeners and the artists themselves use drugs ranging from weed and cocaine, to prescription pills and codeine. Obviously those that do take these substances have their personal reasons for doing so, but the similarities in usage among the community begs the question as to why these certain substances are used, and what their involvement is in the composition of the music.
The recent death of emo trap artist Lil Peep has caused many to ask ‘how far is too far’, in relation to the use of narcotics in music. The rapper, famous for his use of substances in his personal life as well as his music, was found dead in his tour bus on the 15th of November this year after a suspected overdose from the prescription pill Xanax. The drug played a huge role in his music, and was referenced in many of his songs, in ‘Praying to the sky’, he says: “I hear voices in my head, they tellin’ me to call it quits. I found some Xanax in my bed, I took that shit, went back to sleep”.
Trap originated as a Atlantan slang reference to the place used for drug deals, often referred to as a trap house. Notable for having very little furniture and home comforts save for a place to sit and a place to sniff, snort, or roll various questionable substances off or on. The term was soon integrated into southern hip hop, with artists such as Outkast, Ghetto Mafia, and Cool Breeze referencing the term and the lifestyle in their music.
The widespread growth of Hip Hop during the 90s and 00s meant the term was vastly used and was soon attributed to the rising genre of Hip Hop that described and often glorified the drug dealing lifestyle in their music. An individual often noted as one of the forebears of trap was T.I.. Who in an interview in December 2012 stated “before I came in the game, it was Lil Jon, Outkast, Goodie Mob, okay so you had crunk music and you had Organized Noise. There was no such thing as trap music, I created that, I created that. I coined the term.” Whilst T.I.’s claim over the genre may sound somewhat dubious, his influence in the sound of trap laid the foundations for the signature sound that has become synonymous with the genre ever since. Expanding on the sound of artists like T.I., producer Lex Luger created the signature sound of Trap that most artists still use today, his use of heavy 808 drum machine sounds and synthesisers became the background to some of the most popular tracks in Trap.
Hip Hop’s long standing relationship with narcotics is something of a controversial one, with many concerned about the glorification of the use and abuse of these substances in the lyrics having an adverse affect on the impressionable children listening to the music. However in recent years the number of references has increased dramatically compared to at the birth of Hip Hop. A study performed at the University of California noted that during the last two decades positive portrayals of drugs, and references, have had a sixfold increase from 11 percent to 69 percent. Not only are artists talking about drugs more nowadays, but they also appear to be taking more. Through the rise of social media platforms artists can let the world know what they’re taking, and how much they’re taking. Minutes before his death Lili Peep shared a video to his Instagram followers of him dropping six of what appears to be Xanax pills into his mouth. A prominent feature of trap music videos are joints hanging out of rappers mouths, whilst THC laden clouds of smoke hang around them like a bad smell, or a nice smell, depending on your preference.
Drug influence in the lyrical side of Trap is obvious and plain to see, however it exists in the music too. The long slurred words and mumbling commonly heard from artists most likely originated from the rappers drinking lean, a drink also referred to as sizzurp, concocted from a mixture of codeine, sprite, and a boiled candy. Due to codeine being an opiate derived from opium, from which heroin is derived from, it has the effect of turning the user into a well educated chimp, albeit a very relaxed and well educated chimp. Whilst this mumble style of rapping most likely evolved as a result of the use of lean, or as a result of becoming brain dead from the use of lean, it has now become style in itself, with people copying it purely because they like the sound. Musically the melodies and rhythms of Trap followed the sound of artists vocals, incorporating almost rolling or droning synth sounds, often with a very heavy bassline. The drum beats are the only feature that remains untouched by the drug filled haze of trap artists, the 808 style retains the same legendary status in Trap as it does in Hip Hop.
The illicit nature of drug use and dealing means that anyone connected to it is often viewed as a criminal. In this day and age of Hollywood crime films, the glorification of crime gives these criminals an often hero like quality, the Trap scene is one that plays on this greatly, the artists that talk about their dealing with narcotics become protagonists to their huge cohorts of fans who believe that they can do no wrong. This may be largely damaging to culture, especially to young fans that will often attempt to mimic their idols, however one could argue that rebellious idols are always going to be admired, and if it isn’t these artists it could be something much worse.
There is an over abundance of drug culture in Trap, without which Trap would not be able to exist in the form that it does today.
Words by Jamie Raybould
Edited by George Kennedy