Which is more common out of the following two situations:
Do some people take drugs to lift them out of a depressed or anxious state?
Or do drugs in fact often cause these depressed and anxious states?
This chicken-or-the-egg dilemma is the question that is perhaps more relevant now than ever. Despite the increasing amount of information detailing the damage drugs can do to the human body, hard drugs are still a central muse for modern music, particularly Hip Hop.
The Kid Cudi propelled movement into melodic Hip Hop and Emo-Rap was accompanied not only by a heightened sense of vulnerability coming across in songs, but also a strong theme of dependance on the likes of Marijuana, Cocaine, and now more commonly Lean and Xanax. There’s even a rapper now called Lil Xan. I mean, seriously?
Ever since Lil Peep’s well-publicised death from a Xanax-based overdose, many expected drug references to take a backseat in the music world. Yet this has clearly not been the case - with Drake probably being the only major recording artist in the current Hip Hop pantheon not to be looking through whichever online rhyme dictionary rappers use nowadays to find words like panax, hand-axe and Japan Wax.
But should we be worried? It is no secret that members of this younger generation idolise their music stars more intensely than ever, due to the accessibility and personality social media offers to fans. Thus, when they hear Post Malone telling them that he pops pills like a rockstar, many will be moved to try and mimic their role model. There is the argument that this is merely the fault of the listener, for as Malone himself has said, he is not actively telling people that ‘You should go and pop pills’, he is just documenting a lifestyle - that may or may not be autobiographical - and does not intend for it to be taken too seriously.
Future, who probably holds the record for most drug references in a single career, adopts a similar but interesting line of argument. He admits that he does not actually take that many drugs, and he raps about them so often because he knows a lot of people do live that kind of life. Equally, either in an uber-artistic move or simply a consumer-broadening tactic, he points out that you can have it either way with his music, it can be enjoyed by people who can empathise with what he is saying, or sober people can listen to his hazy croons and feel as though they are drugged-up, without having taken anything.
This is linked to the stance that most of this generation seem to adopt, the ‘slippery slope’ argument, that if we stop artists talking about drugs then we are censoring, and censoring is one step towards restricting art altogether and saying you can’t sing about the colour red because the current government dislikes it and would rather everyone sings about blue instead.
Personally, I understand this perspective, but I feel it is a biased one. Usually the people that begin asking the questions I have asked come from the starting-point of enjoying music that does reference an ubiquitous amount of drugs, but then they hear their conscience piping up and eventually drowning out the heavy baselines and twinkling hi-hats. I myself am a big fan of Future, Post Malone, Travis Scott and the Migos - all of whom frequently reference drug use. So I, of course, am inclined to follow the argument from censorship, or perhaps Post Malone’s point about poetic license and lyrics not being intended to be taken literally.
But either way, there is a part of me left dissatisfied - whether it is my conscience, or my audial desires. Should art be allowed to evade the restrictive clutches of morality? Or should such widely consumed and incredibly influential artforms, such as music, be censored?
It seems there is never going to be a solution that will both maintain artistic freedom whilst keeping a strict moral compass. Art places a huge responsibility on the listener, and despite what theatre critics, art curators and those pesky music bloggers (ugh, hate those guys…oh wait) will have you believe, the value of anything that falls under ‘the arts’ is completely subjective. This is the beauty of art, and it is why you can meet one person who is a diehard Metalhead, and another that abhors anything remotely Rocky but is utterly obsessed with K-Pop. There is no objective ‘good art’, there is just art that perhaps more people are fond of than others, but this doesn’t make less popular art any less good. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Okay…but how does this link to drugs exactly? Well it seems that drug references are just a part of Hip Hop, and it is the listener’s duty to enjoy this kind of art for what it is - art, and art doesn’t need to have some kind of hidden message all the time. Just because Future raps about pouring Lean 24/7, it doesn’t mean he thinks you should do the same. He might just be trying to convey a melancholic mood more vividly through a depicted dependence on drugs. The other key thing to remember, in my opinion, is that it is easy to think that because music generally takes a narrative, first-person format, it means it is always autobiographical. This is simply not the case, and numerous popular artists have their songs written for them, so it is obviously not about their own lives.
Art is designed to make you feel something, to move you in any kind of way. To adapt Charles R. Swindoll’s old adage, or maxim…
’Art is 10% the actual song, painting, poem, play, etc., and 90% how you react to it.’
What do you think? Do you agree?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
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Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?