How Hip-Hop Helped Me Quit Weed & Get Sober

I’ve seen industry friends—artists, journalists, creatives—never reach their full potential because of their addictions to Xanax, Percocet, and yes, even weed.
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The first time I smoked weed, it was already the beginning of the end. My brain rang like a lottery machine and said, “You like this. Why not do it all the time?” From that point forward, I smoked weed every day. I was sixteen.

I grew up in a small town on the east side of Cleveland. Kid Cudi graduated from our high school, but Gucci Mane was our God. We lived in paltry imitation of our favorite trap rappers; constantly smoking blunts, selling weed, and “robbing” other weed dealers—“robbing” meaning snatching a sack out of another dealer’s hand and making a mad dash for it. Eventually, we graduated to harder drugs.

Middle America was in the arm of the opioid epidemic, and we passed around Percocets like candy. I remember one party with my best friends where we dumped all the pills we had into a glass bowl—Vicodin, Oxycontin, Adderall, Xanax—and indulged until someone emerged from a bedroom and declared one of our friends had overdosed on lean.

Rap music soundtracked our drug usage. I don’t blame the culture at all—as Erykah Badu sang, hip-hop is truly “the healer,” and we were thrill-seeking kids devoted to our self-destruction. But when Kid Cudi, Gucci Mane, and Lil Wayne all seemed to smoke weed and do other drugs regularly, yet were the picture of talent, work ethic, and success, being an addict not only seemed okay, but cool.

My friends and I would gather around a MacBook and watch 2009’s The Carter documentary, which chronicled Lil Wayne as he recorded Tha Carter III. Wayne, then at the top of the world, smoked blunts like cigarettes and drank lean like orange juice. Therefore—according to our teenage minds—as long as you worked hard, you could do as many drugs as you wanted.

Years passed. I went to college in New York. My friends went to rehab or jail. Some became heroin addicts. Gucci Mane went to prison, and Lil Wayne almost lost his life and career. After seeing what happened to my friends, I swore off opioids but continued to smoke weed. Anywhere from three to seven blunts a day—to the face—by myself.

Weed is medicinal for so many people so it’s hard to acknowledge it can be a problem. But the effect marijuana had on my life was that of severe and powerful addiction. It crippled my productivity, evaporated my ambition, stunted my spiritual growth, gnawed at my mental health, and actively made me avoidant and selfish. Eventually, my bullshit alienated my then-girlfriend, and she broke up with me.

My breakup coincided with Future’s breakup with Ciara. That winter, he released Monster. I identified with him. The highlight of my day was coming home, rolling up a few blunts, and playing songs like “Hardly” and “Codeine Crazy” as my room filled with smoke. Numbness spread from my fingers to my neck like the viscous skin of Venom. Choked with grief, I could only move the blunt to and from my lips like a robotic arm.

I kept smoking weed. I smoked weed until I ran out of money and had to move back home to Cleveland. I smoked weed until my once-abundant job opportunities disappeared. I smoked weed until I lost the ability to write itself. My brain felt like a jigsaw puzzle that I couldn’t put back together. I was broke, unemployed, and depressed. But I kept smoking weed.

There’s a Korean proverb that I like: “Every person has to give up something to be great.” I knew, even when I was 16, that marijuana would hold me back. But it was impossible to imagine a life without weed. My brain had developed under its influence. How else could I go out to eat? Watch movies? Have sex? Hang out? Endure life? Besides, all the music I liked celebrated excessive weed smoking. No one was open about quitting weed or even having a problem with it.

In late 2016, Gucci Mane was released from prison. He then embarked on one of the most remarkable second acts in musical history, defined mostly by his sobriety—not just from lean, but from weed as well.

Around the same time, I began noticing something in hip-hop. Future didn’t do as many drugs as he claimed. A$AP Rocky admitted he “stops the smoking when it’s time to focus.” And every superstar with longevity—Kanye, JAY-Z, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole—abstained from regular weed and drug usage, even if they had made songs about “getting high.”

The more I studied the game, the more I realized that an epic lie had been bagged, weighed, sold to me—and I inhaled happily. 50 Cent’s “High All The Time” was, at best, a metaphor—the man never did drugs. André 3000 quit weed in his early 20s to “get the signal clear as day.” Joey Bada$$ stopped smoking because he “couldn’t afford anything slowing [him] down.” If I wanted even a fraction of their success, it became clear that sobriety—the ability to think and act right—was essential.

I got sober in September 2017. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In the time after I quit weed, I compulsively did coke, different psychedelics, and drank daily, before relapsing on weed and sobering up again. I got my first real job, nourished a savings account, made amends (as best I could) to my ex-girlfriend and friends, and healed my brain enough to begin writing again.

I can’t make amends to everyone, and I know I’ll always pay the price for my past. But I try my best to live right nowadays. Beyond sobriety, I’ve focused on spiritual recovery—understanding why there’s a hole inside of me, and the good things (like creativity and helping others) and bad things that fill it (like hoeing, drug use, and manipulation of others).

There are way more rap songs celebrating drugs than sobriety—such is the nature of what sells—but I’ve found a few songs to soundtrack my growth. “Same Drugs” by Chance the Rapper can still make me cry. The purpose-driven raps of Main Source, Tobe Nwigwe, and Raz Simone all help a lot. And yes, I will admit that I like “Not Afraid” by Eminem. I even made a song of my own about weed addiction.

Life isn’t perfect after sobriety. As I rapped in the video above, there are days where there’s “nothing I want to do more than smoke a blunt.” I’ll wake up and think about what I’ve wasted—the opportunities I’ve forfeited, the people I’ve lost, the time I’ll never get back. And I’ll fantasize about relapsing into weed and other drugs. But I can’t, or else I’ll lose everything all over again. Even though it’s hard to feel or see it sometimes, I know life is better now.

These days, when I watch The Carter documentary, I understand why Wayne’s team tried to prevent its release. It portrays the beginning of the end. Wayne was a drug addict who was successful despite his addictions. Wayne is an indisputable GOAT, but with his demons came bad business, creative degradation, and physical wear. Gucci Mane, now the picture of sobriety, has only gotten better with age.

Weed addiction is real, and it’s time we start talking about it. I’ve seen industry friends—artists, journalists, creatives—never reach their full potential because of their addictions to Xanax, Percocet, and yes, even weed. Some people, when they learn of my sobriety, confide to me that they’re scared and worried about their spiraling weed usage. I tell them that they’re not alone.

I did the wrong things for so long. I watched as the desire to get high destroyed the lives of my friends and threatened to destroy mine. Nothing ever ends—you don’t “beat” addiction. It’s always there: In the rearview mirror, waiting at the door, doing push-ups in the parking lot. You can banish it for a time, forestall its advance. And one day it just might win the war. But I can at least say that I tried. In the end, I did.

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