Depression & drugs: The dark side of rap

By Charlie Bourne

Drugs and Addiction are issues that have taken hold of modern rap. Charlie Bourne spoke to Joanna Corsie to understand how the two can be a danger to young musicians.

lil peep pic
Lil Peep 

Often inciting a brash lifestyle of partying and carelessness, the modern rapper’s relaxed approach to drugs has been increasing prominently over recent years, but after the tragedy of Lil Peep, has the Rap game started to realise ‘lean culture’ has gone too far?

In a nutshell, lean culture is a US trend where rappers often gloat on their songs about taking an obscene amount of Xanax, Molly (MDMA) or lean (Purple Drank) – a drink consisting of soda, sweets and codeine – too get ridiculously high.

At first this was not seen as a dangerous problem. No one batted an eyelid, until the death of Lil Peep.

On 15th November 2017, the American rapper was en route to perform at a show in Tucson, Arizona. Unfortunately, while on the tour bus an accidental overdose of Xanax and fentanyl (an opioid used as pain medication) took his life.

The shocking news was quick to transcend around the world, as a video recorded by a friend on the tour bus captured Peep, appearing to be asleep just hours before his death. The reality was Peep’s dead body was just broadcasted to the world.

Lil Peep, who was just 21 when he passed, definitely optimised the lean culture trend, his carelessness towards life itself constantly shocked those concerned.

His attitude towards tattoos portrayed this, in an interview with GQ, Peep explains how one night he woke up with “Get Cake Die Young” branded across his forehead before going on to say “I had no idea I’d even got it, I was so f***ed up.”

The rapper made no attempt to hide his feelings when recording music, known for being part of a post-emo revival style of hip-hop he often rapped about his depression and drug addiction on his tracks such as “Better off (Dying).”

Although the rapper was aware of his addiction and depression, nothing was done to prevent his death.

To find out more on these two important problems regarding mental health lead to the death of Peep, Joanna Corsie, a counsellor at the Sir John Moore Foundation in Swadlincote, who provides therapy to aid clients with mental health problems, helped to explain.

Joanna Corsie interview
Joanna Corsie

While discussing drug addiction in young adults, Joanna explained how peer groups can often lead individuals to get hooked on drugs, saying: “The impression that I get is that, it can be a problem within a peer group, if one friend took it and recommended it to others, they may also try it and then become addicted.

“I’ve had other clients that would take drugs and that was a part of their friendship lifestyle if you like, to such a point where it became a problem for one of them. Where it got to the point where they began to revaluate their lives – surely there is more to life than this?

“Being a part of a peer group that starts something and makes it feel acceptable can lead somebody to have a real problem.”

Was this the problem with Lil Peep? From the viral video recorded on the tour bus, we know drugs were socially accepted within his clique.

To them, and like many other rappers popular today, Xanax was no longer a dangerous drug but a pastime.

When putting a link to connect addiction to depression, there isn’t a definitive answer.

Does Joanna feel there is a direct link to drug addiction and depression, she said: “That’s a difficult one for me to answer, I suppose for some people, the depression and what is behind the depression may trigger addiction to alcohol or drugs.

“Workaholics for example, they work to distract themselves from uncomfortable feelings that they’re having when at home. Any addict will tell you for a long time that they didn’t care, whatever the consequences even if they were detrimental to their health.

“Any addiction is a distraction from what they are feeling.”

The lyrics from Yung Bans track ‘Lonely’ spring to mind, repeating the phrase “I got all kinda drugs for when I get lonely” to form a catchy hook, Yung Bans reflects that addiction often is a distraction to mask whatever a person may be feeling.

From his toxicology report, Peep had nearly ten different drugs in his system when he died, ranging from Xanax to cannabis.

With both a range of medicinal and recreational drugs, Peep may have been using a variety of drugs to self-medicate and mask his problems in his personal life.

A situation that can create a false sense of protection from the negative issues that troubled him.

Through her therapy, Joanna deals with clients that face similar issues. She believes being open to discussion by addressing past issues, is a positive step forward for anyone seeking to get better.

“What I personally believe is that you have to sometimes look at what is behind the problem. It’s all well and good addressing how you deal with it now but if there is still stuff that is unresolved from back in the past then it’s good to be able to bring that out into the open, to unpick it and find some resolve or peace with that problem, because then I believe the outcome, which obviously we hope is positive, will be more stable.” She added.

Joanna had a message to anyone that may be suffering in silence.

She said: “Try to be real and honest, because depression usually comes about through holding on to thoughts and feelings and repressing them. From as young as possible, try to be as real as possible with how you feel and what your thoughts are.

In terms of lean culture, the turn of 2018 saw many rappers that previously took Xanax and lean to now reject the trend entirely.

Rappers Lil Pump, with the hit single ‘Gucci Gang’ that features lyrics such as “Me and my grandma take meds,” along with Smokepurpp, took to social media to announce on New Years Day that they were both quitting Xanax as sort of New Years’ resolution.

Furthermore, Famous Dex announced back in November that he was “done with lean” after being rushed to hospital.

Moreover, a movement on social media with the hashtag #KickDaCupChallenge is aiming to inspire others to stop drinking lean.

With the recent times suggesting their may be an internal uprising within the Rap game against hard drugs, the genre may be beginning to clean up it’s act before anyone else suffers the same fate as Lil Peep.

For more information regarding mental health visit the website or contact to get in touch with Joanna.

Thoughts of some other rappers:

Vic Mensa said in a lengthy interview with Billboard: “To be honest on one hand I almost don’t even feel that I have the right to chastise anybody because I’ve f***ing done it. I’ve rapped about Xanax. I regret it. I don’t rap about it anymore, but I have some lines about taking Xanax.

vic mensa photo
Vic Mensa

“I just think that we’re in such a dangerous place now because it’s been normalised and the drug abuse has been reduced to a marketing tactic.

“it’s horribly irresponsible because you got kids that idolize these people and will do anything they do. They’re being misled but their f***ing heroes and getting addicted to Xans or Percocets and dying from them. So it’s pretty f***ed.” (per”

One of the biggest rappers of today’s generation, 21 Savage, posted hs thoughts on the issue of drugs in rap to his twitter page.

“They say we make drug user music like making drug selling music is better, what’s the difference? What about the fact that rap is the number one genre of music right now, none of y’all acknowledge that?

He Added: “Artists been snorting cocaine and smoking crack since the 70s and 80s did y’all forget that?

“Our music is a reflection of what is going on in our community and all we doing is using our talent to escape that community.”



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