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The Beauty of Drug Music Without the Madness

"I’m reminded of consequences every time I take a drink."
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There was nothing left in my stomach but regret, an empty wasteland of regret, and yet the vomit kept flowing like an endless waterfall of poison.

The swirl of regurgitated chicken nuggets, vodka, and soul began to resemble Jesus or maybe it was André 3000 staring back at me. This wasn’t death but a close relative, a family friend. The humbling touch of a hangover from hell, adulthood’s Mr. Feeny teaching the consequences that come with cheap food and cheaper liquor without mercy.

I thought about Juicy J while my face rest against the toilet seat, how I watched him down an entire bottle of Bombay Gin without a chaser onstage and feeling sorry for the old liver that has to endure the lifestyle of a young rock star. How many trippy nights blurred into mornings of misery, heaving into hotel bathrooms trying to recover any recollection of the night prior? He has branded himself as the man that can do what you can’t, no matter how high he will smoke, no matter how ratchet he will fornicate, no matter how drunk he will still drink, but what about when the party ends and you have to endure the curse that comes with the pleasures?

Juicy J doesn’t rap about the aftermath of his Bombay consumption, he doesn’t speak of the mornings that follow his wild nights, there’s no fun in the consequences when the public wants to hear about the pleasures. It’s about selling a lifestyle, focusing on the good times without the bad times that assuredly follow. The fantasy is only good when you never live it out.

A few years ago, Luda released a song called “Drinking and Driving.” It’s poppy and celebratory, drunk driving as a part of the party. It neglects the paranoia and fear of steering this speeding machine, how a drunk driver could turn a Ford Focus into a monster truck. Where’s the panic of wondering if the car in your rearview is a police officer? Where’s the fight with drowsiness while your heartbeat bounces with the velocity of a jackhammer? Where’s the trauma that comes after you narrowly dodge a tree, or worse yet don't dodge that tree? That’s what’s real. A song about drunk driving is more appealing if it makes living on the edge an act of being alive instead of a potentially deadly decision. The older I get, the more I wonder why is it so easy to sell the concept of pleasure and overlook the very real pain that can come with some of the very actions that tend to be glorified? It’s more appealing to be carefree than cautious but once you start living the moments, living the lyrics, the music doesn’t reflect the reality.

All the turning up without acknowledging the unavoidable turn down makes it seem like these artists are indestructible, invincible. The highs aren’t balanced with lows, the rises come without the fall, it creates this enjoyable disillusion of a never-ending good time. 

Future creating the darkest music of his career is what makes it feel the most real. He has found a way to juxtapose his ecstasies with the suffering, articulating the hell that comes with the heaven of drugs, women, and fame. It’s this very reason that I’ve been gravitating toward his music, the music that doesn’t hide the consequences of his actions. One thing that I’ve always admired about Macklemore is his honesty about the darker side of drugs and addiction. One of his better records is "Otherside," when he speaks candidly on his destructive relationship with codeine. In his most recent record, "Kevin," he opens up about the death of someone close to him that died due to a prescription pill overdose.

Prescription pills have been swallowed for decades, but now I see them at parties instead of medicine cabinets, uppers downed with shots of Jack. Molly might be declining but Hydrocodone and Xanax, Oxycodone and Oxycontin, are all booming. It’s all about turning up and staying up, reaching euphoria and staying there. Then you read an Instagram post from Vince Staples about how Xanax took his little brother’s life. It stings, especially when you’ve done it and know those that do it. How much does a good time cost?

ScHoolboy Q doesn’t get enough credit for the song “Prescription/Oxymoron,” it’s a poignant musing on how falling in love with prescription pills sent him spiraling into a hole of blackness. He captures the bleakness of a world falling apart, he's trapped in a pit of despair so deep even his daughter’s voice isn’t able to reach him. It doesn’t sound fun, this isn’t drugs with hoes, he’s not above the clouds but kissing the pavement.

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A few months ago, our managing editor Nathan tweeted that he was tired of The Weeknd treating drug addiction like jewelry. I’m starting to understand his annoyance. It’s becoming impossible to tell if the madness behind the beauty is actual madness. Abel's music is based in a world of self-destruction but there’s never an explosion, we see a bomb ticking on the glass table next to lines of coke but there’s never any boom.

Even though I hate his version, Eminem was a fitting choice as a guest on the remix of “The Hills.” His fall wasn’t a beautiful nightmare, he hit rock bottom, relapsed and almost didn’t recover. Overdosing not just once but twice, canceling tours to go into rehab, gaining an immense amount of weight, becoming addicted to exercising just to battle his addiction to pills, not to mention how it affected his career and family. There’s a huge difference between portraying the image of being a tortured drug addict and being incapable of escaping the hell that is actual drug addiction.

The same could be said about Future. How long can he continue to perpetuate this idea of being a junkie or an addict before it starts to feel like branding? It’s incredible that we live in a time where something so powerful can be said without it being alarming. Then again, it’s not a problem until the pallbearers are carrying the casket of a man we thought could live forever.

Mac Miller has one of my favorite albums this year. It's also one of the few albums that deal with consequences. The theme of a good morning is perfect for an artist that would go to bed not expecting to wake up. The song “Perfect Circle/Godspeed” is two parts, one half he's said he doesn’t even remember recording. There’s a skit of his brother calling him wedged between the two, he leaves a voicemail, concerned like any brother. It shows how the fall affects everyone around you. He raps about overdosing and his friends having to tell his mom, it’s a thought that causes you to shudder. 

Can you imagine Bun B calling Pimp C’s wife? A$AP Rocky breaking the news to Yams' loved ones? Eyedea, ODB, DJ Screw, all victims to the most extreme consequence. Then you look at DMX, a man born in a fire he could harness for only so long before that darkness swallowed him again. He slipped and kept slipping, so far he's been unable to truly get back up. Vice City is a place no one leaves smiling.

There’s a lesson at the very end of Menace II Society that I reflect on often. During his monologue, Kain says, “I done too much to turn back and I done too much to go on. I guess in the end it all catches up with you. My grandpa asked me one time if I cared rather I lived or died, yeah I do, and now it’s too late.” You don’t expect Kain to die, he was escaping the hood, his ending would be a happy one, but that’s what makes the quote and his death so powerful. Notice that O-Dog survives but you can predict the direction his life is headed. His day would come. Living and dying by the sword. You simply can’t escape the consequences of your actions. It could be that one more pill, one more beef, one more drink, one more ride, that causes it all to end.

I’m reminded of consequences every time I visit Virginia and all the cousins I grew up with are locked away. All my cousins. That’s what happens when you deal drugs. They didn’t get to be Rick Ross or JAY-Z. There are more losers than winners in that game. It cuts deepest when you look into the eyes of your aunt and see the pain of raising her grandchildren because her own children are gone.

I’m reminded of the consequences every time I take a drink. I think back to when I was 17 years old and my father spoke to me about how alcoholism runs in our veins. He said that flirting with the bottle can be a fling or a marriage and that more than a few in our family have exchanged vows. I’ve been flirting hard this year, trying things, but always conscious of the edge and how easily I could fall over. I’m afraid of the fall. I'm also interested in what causes the drop. I’m not blessed by ignorance. I know pleasure; I know the consequences. 

I know these wings of wax won’t carry me to the sun.

By Yoh, aka Icarus31, aka @Yoh31



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