From Eminem to Kendrick Lamar, Rappers Who Embraced Sobriety
How can you tell if a rapper is high?
Don’t worry they’ll tell you.
Rappers looking for some chemical enhancement to their lives is nothing new, but right now it’s definitely more flow than ebb. Between A$AP Rocky writing songs about "LSD" to The Weeknd fulfilling more prescriptions than a CVS to rappers legally making money off weed, drug rap is at an all-time high (pun intended, get used to it).
In fact, the real challenge might be naming the artists who don't get high, and in doing so we'll see a different side of hip-hop, a side that's always been there but doesn't get nearly as much attention.
You might think that the man behind the Minion’s theme would need a bag of Snoop Dogg’s finest in order to capture the essence of those little yellow creatures in song form - it’s a scientific fact that fans of the Minions are 7-year-old kids and 22-year-old stoners - but believe it or not Pharrell does not smoke weed. It’s not because he’s focused on being a gazillionaire or spending his money on headgear that looks like it’s hiding a bong, but because way back when he had a bad experience with pot brownies that turned him off for life. Not surprisingly, Nardwuar got the scoop.
It's hilarious that Usher’s "U Don’t Have To Call" falls into this story. His recollection is probably not how things actually went down, but I love the image of Pharrell working with Usher, discovering the music of a young T.I., and then hours later passing out in a bathroom. Pharrell's brain is clearly otherworldy enough on its own to travel to other worlds without any help.
Even back in his chasing Sherane days, Kendrick wasn't really getting high (blame the shenanigans). There’s a hilarious video of a drunk K. Dot in Vegas from way back when and there’s the astonishingly powerful “u,” which depicts the unfun side of getting intoxicated, but for the most part Kendrick is a sober artist. A GQ profile on Lamar went out of the way to discuss his sobriety, and in an interview with HardKnockTV he talks about how, despite the fact that ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul blaze more trees than a Calabasas fire, he just never got into it.
The influence of drugs on great art is a topic that's been debated well beyond hip-hop, but while drugs don’t account for Eminem’s unparalleled technical skill, in the early days of his career a lot of his edge stemmed from drug use. It took several near death experiences for Em to finally hit rock bottom, which ultimately helped him to clean up. I don't think even Eminem fans truly grasp how serious his drug problem was:
"People tried to tell me that I had a problem. I would say 'Get that fucking person outta here. I can't believe they said that shit to me. I'm not out there shooting heroin. I'm not fucking out there putting coke up my nose. I'm not smoking crack,'" he recalls. At the height of his addiction, he was taking up to 20 pills a day: "Xanax, Valium, tomato, tomatoe, it's same thing ... Fuck it, take it." Eventually, a nearly-fatal overdose landed Eminem in the ER. "Had I got to the hospital about two hours later, I would have died. My organs were shutting down. My liver, kidneys, everything," he says. "They didn't think I was gonna make it. My bottom was gonna be death." -- Thefix.com
In that same piece, Em is quoted as saying, “I had to regain motor skills, I had to regain talking skills.” His drug use affected him so severely that he had to relearn how to talk and how to rap. Relearn he did, but as much as we all might want a new, incredible Eminem album, I try to mostly just stay thankful that he's still alive.
Royce da 5'9"
Eminem's Bad Meets Evil cohort, Royce Da 5’9”, is currently killing the rap game dead sober. One of the biggest storylines on Royce's remarkably personal Layers album is his newfound sobriety. While many artists will seek out drugs to give them an edge, sober Royce sounds sharper than ever. It’s also interesting to hear how his sobriety has helped not just his technical ability but his creativity and inspiration.
Whatever he is doing, or not doing, I hope Royce continues on his current path; it’s records like "Wait" that prove music can be just as potent as any strain or whatever is inside of a Styrofoam cup.
Do you remember how you felt when you found out Santa wasn’t real? Get ready for this one. 50 Cent, the man who is going to sip on Bacardi like it’s your birthday, the man who is "High All The Time," literally never sips on Bacardi and is never high at all. In an interview with prestigious hip-hop journalist Piers Morgan, 50 admitted that he never drinks or smokes, later elaborating in a piece on Today:
I don’t drink and I don’t use drugs, and I didn’t back then, either. I put that joint on the first record because I saw artists consistently selling 500,000 with that content.
Remarkably, EFFEN Vodka partnered with a sober 50 several years ago in a paid endorsement deal, which finds the rapper pimping their product on social media.
It's one thing to play up drug use as part of the creation of a musical persona (see The Weeknd), but it's another to completely fake it for the sake of selling records and signing sponsorship deals. I always believed 50 to be an authentic artist, especially at the beginning of his career, but apparently his desire to sell records and brand loyalty trumps everything. After all, the motto was get rich or die trying, not get rich but always be completely honest.
This would probably still bother me if Fiddy was still musically relevant, but I know for a fact that the 8th grade version of me is definitely salty right now.
Whoever said weed isn't a social drug was lying. You could cut the number of my friends in half if you remove those who I've never bonded with over bud. For artists, especially up-and-coming independents, smoking grass has always been a way to bond with fans on tour. I once smoked with Chiddy Bang in college and it was one of the best days of my life; I'll always love Chiddy Bang because of it. As a fan, there's something cool about saying, "I smoked him up!" but as a sober artist it must be exhausting to be constantly inundated with drug offers from creepy fans who you've never met before.
Have you ever been the designated driver at a party or hung out in a room full of stoners while completely sober? It sucks. I'd have to imagine that's what it's like all the time for sober artists. Whether it's in the studio, at the club, or backstage at a show, artists are constantly surrounded by drugs and people high off their own supply, and to remain sober, especially for recovering addicts, in that kind of environment must be really fucking hard.
While drugs and music can be close bedfellows, we'd all much rather have our favorite artists alive and healthy than partying like a rockstar and headed toward an early grave. It's important to take a step back and remember that not everyone needs to be high to be dope.
Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth. His favorite album is College Dropout but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @ItsLucas_G.