“Sipping on Some Sizzurp”: Lean, Southern Rap, and Cultures of Intoxication

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.

Three 6 Mafia, UGK (Underground Kingz), Project Pat, “Sippin On Some Syrup”

“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.”

Future, “Dirty Sprite”; Image courtesy of Discogs.

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.

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SoundCloud Rap and the Opioid Epidemic: In Defense of a Genre

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

On 3 October 2018 Michael Jones, a relatively obscure rapper within the SoundCloud rap movement known as New Jerzey Devil, was arrested after a joint investigation involving the New York Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Authorities alleged that Jones was responsible for the drug overdose death of Diana Haikova, a 29-year old resident of New York, after providing her with heroin and fentanyl. According to DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt, “This investigation led us into the underbelly of emo rap and its glorification of opioid use.” 

Of course, the argument that hip hop has glorified the use of illicit substances is hardly new. The genre’s depictions of alcohol and narcotics have long attracted the attention of scholars interested in correlations between media exposure and drug practices. The results of a couple of the more contemporary studies are indicative of the general trend in academic investigations that have almost universally found hip hop particularly deleterious. “Positive portrayals of drug use have increased over time, and drug references increased overall,” Denise Herd, a professor of behavioral sciences, noted when summarizing a 2008 study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, that analyzed popular rap songs between 1979 and 1997, a conclusion that led ABCNEWS to simply declare that “rap music is glamorizing drug use.” Similarly, a 2018 study published in The Journal of Studies on Alcohol determined that “listening to rap music was significantly and positively associated with alcohol use, problematic alcohol use, illicit drug use, and aggressive behaviors.” Although this is just a sampling of the numerous studies that have appeared over the past three decades examining the individual and societal effects resulting from exposure to hip hop, their conclusions reflect an entrenched consensus that the genre possesses an extraordinary capacity to encourage antisocial and destructive behaviors, particularly alcohol and drug addiction. 

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