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“Lean”ing Towards Death: Codeine’s Negative Impact on Hip-Hop

Via tumblr

Via tumblr

I scrolled across my timeline on Twitter the other day and I found out that Lil Wayne just had a seizure on a private jet and was taken to the hospital. Thankfully, at the time of writing this article, he’s in stable condition, but this isn’t the first time the New Orleans rapper has had this problem. Back in 2013, Lil Wayne had suffered a seizure in Los Angeles. He reported, in that particular case, that he suffers from epilepsy, which he revealed in March of that year. But one has to wonder whether or not that was really the case. Lil Wayne is one of many rappers who partake in a drug called “lean”.

Lean is a drink that contains a mixture of cough syrup (usually promethazine/codeine), Sprite, and Jolly Ranchers. Lean is unique to many drugs taken by hip-hop stars (other than the fact that it made me use Urban Dictionary as a source), in that its main ingredient is an opioid, the same classification of drug as heroin. Opioids are some of the most addictive drugs that can be used and medical use is strictly kept at a prescription level. The reason why, other than being highly addictive if used improperly, is that codeine has the same lethal side effects as heroin. The reason why drugs like heroin are lethal is that is slows down respiratory function to the point where the user completely stops breathing; codeine has the same effect. So when you fill up an entire cup of it, mixed with soda and candy, the result is going to eventually turn the user into an addict, if not kill them.

What’s even worse is that lean has already claimed the lives of some of hip-hop’s biggest artists. One of the first to go was DJ Screw, who popularized making “chopped and screwed” remixes of songs. He was found dead in his studio in 2000 after overdosing on codeine, which at the time was most commonly called “syrup”. Rapper Big Moe, who rapped about the drug constantly, died in 2007 of a heart attack. He was buried in a purple casket. The most recent example of codeine abuse, that arguably got the most attention from the media, was the death of former UGK rapper, and Southern rap legend, Pimp C. On December 4, 2007, Pimp C was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel while on tour. The cause of his death was determined to be a mixture of codeine and sleep apnea, a sleep condition that makes it hard to breathe while sleeping. Codeine, as stated before, slows down a person’s breathing. This caused Pimp C to basically die in his sleep.

Big Moe's purple casket (via

Big Moe’s purple casket (via

This trend of rappers suffering, and even dying, from the effects of lean is going to continue if the rap community doesn’t address the problem. Lean has garnered even more mainstream fame with rappers like Future dedicating lyrics and mixtape titles to the drug. Future has been interviewed about his use of the drug before and has denied that he is an addict, but that can be left to speculation. The problem is that this drug is slowly killing the hip-hop community. Before you know it there’s going to be rappers dropping left and right cause they won’t know how much is enough. Here’s hoping Weezy gets well soon and learns his lesson about using the drug to near lethal levels, or else 2016 will lose another black star.

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Kaelan Doolan is a 20 year old Public Relations major who is currently attending Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a heavily involved member on his campus and currently serves as the legislative vice president of Xavier's Black Student Association. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the oldest intercollegiate black fraternity. His passion for writing allows him to think outside of the box and the ability to provide imaginative and creative input on almost anything. You can contact him through email at Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @Son_Of_Kemet


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