¶ … social problem of using and selling drugs is portrayed in music. I'm interested in studying this because music has at once been accused of glorifying drug culture and also as being one of the few means of allowing users to vent on the realities of drug culture. Clearly, the relationship between drugs and music is a complex one. This paper will seek to shed light on the motivations for artists to incorporate drug culture in their songs and what they presumably gain from it, and what society presumably gains from it as well.
The first song that this paper will examine when it comes to the treatment of drugs as subject matter for songs is in the work of 2 Pac in his famous song, "Changes." This song is so remarkable in that it addresses a tremendous amount of social injustice in that is still alive and well in the world today. The treatment of drugs is often intertwined with the issue of racism and the fact that African-Americans in the world today are put at a severe disadvantage socioeconomically. Consider the first line that 2 Pac uses in reference to drugs: "Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares / One less hungry mouth on the welfare / First ship 'em dope and let 'em deal the brothers / Give 'em guns step back watch 'em kill each other" (lyrics.com). One notable aspect of 2 Pac's mention of drugs is that he refers to crack, a drug which is often found in low income neighborhoods. At the time of the composition of the song, there 1992 was a severe crack epidemic in particular parts of America at the time. Tupac's reference to crack is also a reference to the economic disadvantage from which he comes and the manner in which he first mentions it in his song is extremely revelatory: his remark about giving crack to kids because it will mean there will be less hungry children living in families on welfare demonstrates the sense of despair in the black community -- a sense of despair and helplessness. Tupac's remark encapsulates the apathy which pervades a great deal of white society in regards to disadvantaged blacks and implies that this apathy begins to creep into black society as well. It's this implied apathy that Tupac mentions again in the lyrics: "Take the evil out the people they'll be acting right / 'Cause both black and white is smokin' crack tonight" (lyrics.com). In this sense, the reference to crack is used metaphorically, in that both white and black people are treating one another badly, and are in a sense, smoking crack. However, Tupac makes a final reference to crack in this song when he refers to the business of selling drugs which is generally used as an underground economy to support low-income African-Americans. This is loosely referenced in the lines "the penitentiary's packed and its filled with blacks" which easily refers to America's "war on drugs" and how many experts have accused this particular "war" as being nothing more than a new manifestation of racism and just a more indirect means of finding a way to lock up black people. The underground economy of drugs is indeed mentioned in this song in that it a young man mentions in the song, "I made a G. today" to which Tupac replies, "But you made it in a sleazy way / Sellin' crack to the kid " to which the young man replies, "I gotta get paid" and Tupac answers, "Well hey, well that's the way it is" (lyrics.com). These sentiments encapsulate the crisis that was at war with the black community as a whole: the underground economy of drugs was one which caused members of the black community to even turn on one another, selling crack to their own children.
The band Spoon is a more contemporary band which at once glamorizes drug culture in the song "The Way We Get By" yet at the same time exposes the realities of drug addiction. The song opens with the lines: "We get high...
These lyrics clearly demonstrate the realities of drug addiction: the petty thievery necessary to keep that addiction alive. Drug culture is not glamorous in that the lyrics describe the tendency to get high in cars and wake up among strangers. However, the chorus, which simply proclaims, "And that's the way we get by/Way we get by" over and over again seems to cheer at this lifestyle, celebrating it and making it seem more important and special than it is. This is a song which proclaims that sharing a bag of pot is "the way to my heart." Again, this demonstrates an unflinching look at drug culture, in that real feelings are replaced by a substance.
50 Cent is one rapper who famously raps about selling drugs as a means for launching his career and getting out of the projects. Numerous songs mention selling drugs, though one particular song, "Corner Bodega" is devoted explicitly to describing this endeavor. As one lyric proclaims "You can go and cop coke from the corner Bodega/Hit the highway and take it to a town near you/And get that money man, get that money man" (genius.com). Essentially, 50 Cent uses this song to describe the details of selling drugs and how he moves another "brick" (or a kilo of drugs) to Pennsylvania, and how he drives a coupe with Virginia license plates. 50 Cent even talks about how it's not even safe to sell drugs in the projects anymore, as Giuliani set task forces riding around the projects on Mountain Bikes. This song offers an intriguing look at the drug culture in the 1990s as it discusses the logistics of selling drugs, again given the current political climate of "the war on drugs" and how dealers had to move their product to the surrounding states. This song demonstrates how the underground economy of drugs was for many a sole source of income: once the New York police began cracking down hard on this underground economy, then it became necessary for the dealers to adjust and just sell their product elsewhere.
One of the most devastating songs about the consequences of drug culture, is the song "The A Team" by Ed Sheeran. The song tells the story about a crack-addicted prostitute. It's a very melancholy song, and it essentially documents a day in the life of a prostitute living on the streets who struggles to survive. The song opens by describing this poor woman: "White lips, pale face/Breathing in snowflakes/Burnt lungs, sour taste/Light's gone, day's end/Struggling to pay rent/Long nights, strange men" (azlyrics.com). These lyrics describe how the girl is underfed, living outside, her lungs burnt from smoking the crack pipe, and how she works as a prostitute entertaining strange men. The chorus reflects how the woman is in the "class a" team and how she's been this way since she was 18. Referring to this girl as part of the "class a team," is another way of referring to her as a class a drug user. This song mostly addresses this social issue as a means of mourning the lives that it takes and the people it destroys.
Finally, the song "Semi-Charmed Life" by the band Third-Eye Blind is a song which references crystal meth repeatedly. This is a song which embraces drug culture with open arms, making references to taking bumps and cutting lines throughout the song. This song celebrates the use of crystal meth and apparently cheers for all the elements of the drug. The song refers to "I was taking sips of it through my nose…Doing crystal meth, will lift you up until you break/It won't stop, I won't come down I keep stock with the tick-tock rhythm, I bump for the drop/And then I bumped up, I took the hit that I was given/Then I bumped again, then I bumped again" (azlyrics.com). Clearly, this song just glorifies the use of crystal meth and the repeated "enjoyment" of it. The song doesn't really pay any attention to the social issues and severe consequences of drug use: rather it just celebrates the use and enjoyment of them.
One of the sources that I found which discusses this issue and explores it is the article, "Drugs and Youth Cultures: Is Australia Experiencing the 'Normalization' of Adolescent Drug Use?" By Cameron Duff (2003). Duff tried to elucidate the issue of the drug epidemic among adolescents, by looking at this phenomenon as it manifested in the United Kingdom and then comparing it to how it manifested in Australia, examining the hypothesis that drug use over time became more accepted among young people. It was this acceptance, that Duff argues, which caused it to reach a certain level of normalization. Duff scrutinizes a range of research findings, ultimately determining that the consumption…
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