November 14, 2000. DJ Screw is found dead in the bathroom of his home studio on the 8100 block of Commerce Park Drive. His death is ruled an accidental overdose of codeine. He was 29.
December 4, 2007. Pimp C is found dead in his room at the Los Angeles Mondrian Hotel. His death is ruled an accidental result of codeine and promethazine coupled with sleep apnea. He was 33.
January 18, 2015. A$AP Yams is found dead in his Brooklyn apartment. His death is ruled an accidental overdose caused by opiates and benzodiazepine, better known as codeine and Xanax. He was 26.
The loss of these three men was brought on by prescription drug abuse. Upon the news of Yams’ death, those close to the architect of the A$AP Mob, born Steven Rodriguez, argued otherwise, just like those close to DJ Screw insisted his death wasn’t an overdose until the autopsy confirmed it. In hip-hop today, there is an unspoken acceptance of drug abuse that has been creeping in since the ‘90s, when the shadow of crack made other, perceptibly softer drugs like codeine and ecstasy more acceptable. In many ways we have Eminem to thank for the widespread popularity of rappers promoting drugs today. He turned an abuse problem into a cornerstone of his lawless image, until that problem nearly killed him as he lay on his own bathroom floor.
Now, with the release of Future’s new DS2 album, we’re seeing an unprecedented move to market and promote prescription drug use in the service of album sales. Take, for starters, the bizarre fact that Epic Records has decided to release a sequel to Future’s cult classic Dirty Sprite mixtape as his third official major label album. Something – or someone – must have told the people at Epic that it was the right time for a Future album, and judging by this promo image, it looks like the label was strong-armed into releasing it two months ahead of schedule. Following Honest, which was disappointing not only in terms of sales but in terms of sound as well, Future didn’t hold back from criticizing his label: “I was disappointed with the overall way [Honest] was handled. You see [with] Monster, everything was simultaneously done, so everything was a trickle down effect. Branding and marketing got a lot to do with albums also, so if your album is marketed and branded right…just getting that attention, people look at it and take a different listen to it.” Clearly something had to change between the marketing of Honest, which sold a paltry 53,000 copies in its first week, and the marketing of DS2.
There is, then, the question of why and how to release a new Future album. The why is obvious: after three incredible mixtapes, Future is as popular as ever, and he’s making some of the best music of his career. But the how is always trickier than the why, and it seems Epic took the following route: promote Future’s addiction to lean via the album packaging and marketing strategy, and use said addiction to drum up buzz for his album. Hence why the front of the album looks like codeine mixing with Sprite, why the back of the album features a milliliter measurement and a warning that it “may cause drowsiness or dizziness,” and why there was a “pharmacy-themed pop-up” store in NYC that sold Styrofoam cups branded with Epic and Freebandz logos. The corporate cool attached to drug use is bigger now than ever before. Even Lil’ Wayne’s dedication to the double cup wasn’t promoted as heavily as Future’s.
(Notice, by the way, how Nas and Future are handled by the same management. It would have made sense for Future lyrics to be on a Sprite can, but the fact that he usually references the soft drink in tandem with codeine probably wouldn’t look great for a billion-dollar company. Then again, DS2’s release just happens to coincide with Sprite’s rap-infused Obey Your Verse campaign, and surely they’re content hearing Future rap about buying all the sodas at the gas station. They can profit off his music without putting their official stamp on him.)
This isn’t to say Future shouldn’t rap about drugs. Art has no rules, no boundaries, no politics to adhere to. Future can rap about whatever he wants in any tone he chooses. It just so happens that Future’s music is frightfully honest about his drug use, and Epic picked up on that marketable angle in order to justify the rushed release of DS2.
Epic seems to have its head in the clouds. In the Like I Never Left documentary, Future reveals that he told L.A Reid it wasn’t time for another single – it was time for an album. To anyone who’s been paying attention to Future’s spectacular run since October 2014, this seems obvious, but Epic Records must not be aware of Future’s current popularity. At their “listening party” for DS2 at SOB’s last week, they only played “F*ck Up Some Commas,” “Real Sisters,” “Trap Niggas,” and “Blow A Bag” – as if to introduce fans to songs they already know and love. The cognitive disconnect was jarring.
Most shocking of all, however, is the use of A$AP Yams to further promote DS2. The public intersection between Yams and Future started when Yams tweeted “BODEINE BRAZY,” making it his final post to the social network before he passed away from an accidental overdose on the very drug the song is named after. On “Slave Master,” a song from DS2, Future says, “Long live ASAP Yams, I’m on that codeine right now.” Take that however you wish.
But it comes across as weird when Future and Metro Boomin’ posted the following picture on Instagram and Twitter:
Here’s a man who died from a drug addiction being used to promote an album named after the very drug that helped kill him. Are we willing to let this fly from the powers that be without calling upon them to be responsible for the lifestyles they promote?
In a 2008 interview with Fox in Houston shortly after Pimp C’s death, Bun B had this to say about sipping syrup: “We all know that in Houston, Texas, we have a problem now with the cough syrup epidemic, and while it wasn’t solely the cause of [Pimp C’s] death, we have to be very real about the consequences to some of these things. Pimp C did have a prescription for it, but you have to be very careful when you get prescriptions for certain things because sometimes you can tend to go a little too far…. They have very strong addictive qualities, pills and syrups and whatnot, so to anyone out there thinking about sippin’ syrup or currently abusing syrup, [you] may want to take very a good look at yourself, a long look at yourself.” He continued, “I think it’s gonna start affecting the personal lives of a lot of artists.”
We say R.I.P. Pimp C and R.I.P. DJ Screw, but we don’t stand up and resist the things that killed them. Drug use is a symptom of a much bigger problem. People who use prescription drugs are in pain, and without addressing that pain we choose to ignore causes and instead focus on the results. Hip-hop won’t solve that pain, and maybe nothing will. But to allow major corporations to shill the use of a fatal opiate is to aid in the death of those who died from it.