Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and currently holds a position at the University of Liverpool.
“Sipping on some sizzurp, sip, sipping on some, sip / Sipping on some sizzurp, sip, sipping on some, sip”
With bass rattling and drums stuttering, what was this magical elixir that Memphis rapper Project Pat so thrillingly (and alliteratively) extolled? “Sippin’ on my Syrup”—released in early 2000 by Pat’s brother’s group Three Six Mafia and UGK—was an anthem that introduced the titular intoxicant to wider public consciousness.
Known by a variety of names including “Syrup,” “sizzurp,” “purple drank,” “Texas tea,” or “lean,” the drink was a potent cocktail of cough syrup (containing codeine and promethazine), a sugary carbonated beverage (typically Sprite), and hard candy such as Jolly Ranchers to add further flavor. Users report a woozy euphoria that is both relaxing and trippy and that feels”almost like you’re floating away from your body.”
By the time of “Sippin’ on my Syrup’s” recording, lean had become closely associated with major southern cities—or, more precisely, with the popular “dirty south” rap and hip-hop sound that produced Outkast, Big Tymers, Goodie Mob, Ludacris, 2Chainz, and, more recently, Travis Scott, Migos, and Megan Thee Stallion, to name just a few. Lance Scott Walker’s authoritative Houston Rap Tapes suggests that blues musicians had been adding cough syrup to their wine or beer as early as the 1960s, and, by the nineties, it was the intoxicant of choice for those in the rap game.