Like a double-edged sword, the grittiness of hip-hop and the rappers' bravado is what makes it such a popular genre, but it's also what makes the following concern hard to bring up: the presumption that rappers use illegal substances for the gritty aesthetic rather than a call for guidance.
An introspective look into the lyrics of some of the most young male rappers have lyrics discussing their loneliness, struggles with mental health and substance abuse. As we dance along to the smooth melodies of these young men and reflect on their lyrics when do we stop to ask #AreTheBoysOkay?
These young male artists are known as “The Soundcloud Generation.” The Soundcloud Generation rapper, referenced in Vulture’s article, “The Gatekeepers of SoundCloud Rap,” is made up of young men in their late teens and early 20s who were discovered by record labels on the media platform Soundcloud, and have successfully made a name for themselves through controversial media attention and substance abuse related content. The premise is to create an illusion of the excitement of living on the edge.
This method of content branding is called “The Pump Plan.” As described in Vulture’s article, it is a fast-paced method of branding influenced by hip-hop star Lil Pump, who is known for his social media content showcasing his usage of the drug Xanax.
As described in the article:
“It’s a 10-step program that guarantees transforming a local rapper or minor celebrity into a meme and then a viral sensation using a set of proven marketing tricks. It includes tactics like: social-media influence campaigns, meme-ing the artist, Musical.ly placements, World Star promotions, and something called 'controversy projects,' which seems to mean planting feuds between artists and igniting drama to stoke controversy and online attention. They pitch it to new artists they’re looking to sign.”
These Soundcloud Generation rappers are not pioneers of substance abuse within hip-hop, but the first to create a genre out of it. There are responsible for not only putting out music rapidly, but as well as presenting daily online controversial content. In an industry where 15 minutes of fame is the norm, within their genre it is shrunken down to one-minute video posts.
This fast growing genre has made rappers of previous hip-hop eras feel displeased and even culpable for inspiring the new sub-genre. The rapper Future shared his guilt during an interview for Rolling Stone in which he said, “… Now it’s like, ‘Oh sh*t.’ How many other sixth-graders did I influence to drink lean?”
Similar concerns about the growth of drug culture references in music has grown widespread outside of the world of hip-hop. Most recently, sports journalist and host of Jemele Hill Is Unbothered, Jemele Hill, shared her concerns and tweeted:
At some point, there needs to be an industry discussion about the drug culture surrounding these young artists. I’m not talking about weed, but the use of opiates and other drugs that are costing them their lives. The industry is really failing these young people.
However, most of the concern is not an attack on the young artists, but critique of their management. Online critics have shared similar sentiments of their disapproval of labels giving massive amounts of money to young rappers signed to record deals without the resources to maintain it, such as therapy, rehabilitation, healthcare and financial literacy.
Understanding why these young men use these substances will help to create the change necessary in the longstanding issue of drug culture within music and our communities. Hip-Hop has been the leading genre for all things pop culture, but if society can adhere to cries for help, then I believe it can be the leading force to addressing the empty void within our youth. The youth are still our future and it is up to society to make sure we are leading them to the right path.