A-Trak: License to Pill (An Open Letter About Hip Hop’s Love For Drugs)

blame it on Shake May 20, 2013

During my daily-travels around the internet, I came across an open letter DJ A-Trak penned for HuffingtonPost that revolves around hip hop’s current obsession with drug usage. While he doesn’t partake himself, A-Trak has worked with artists who glorify their existence (Juicy J, Danny Brown, etc) and offers up a fantastic discussion-opening piece that I suggest everyone that visits the site digests.

I don’t know anything about drugs. Never tried them. Yet as I write this, I am trying to sign a group with a song called “Bath Salts” and an album titled “D.R.U.G.S.”. Danny Brown, my record label’s marquee artist, calls himself the Adderall Admiral, openly does interviews high on Molly and raps, “it’s a miracle I’m living.” I happen to think he is one of the most enthralling artists out. How do I reconcile my respect for Danny and the fact that so many of his wildly creative and entertaining songs revolve around drug usage?

I believe hip-hop has entered its psychedelic age. Turn on the radio: Molly, Xanax and cough syrup references are ubiquitous. One of the most acclaimed new mixtapes out is matter-of-factly titled Acid Rap. The spiritual guru of the era is the Juicy J, a Memphis veteran whose group Three 6 Mafia helped shape the sound of Southern rap. His hedonistic songs are anchored by irresistible hooks, hypnotic beats and jovial rallying cries. I have no idea what he’s rapping about, but the lullaby cadence of his music draws me in. Not everyone is as light-hearted as the Juiceman though. In the R&B outfit The Weeknd, singer Abel Tesfaye spins disturbing, dark tales of cocaine and abandon, but that’s a genuine breakthrough in a genre that rarely strayed away from the themes of romance. Tesfaye is daring not only in his subject matter but also in his choice of avant-garde production, thereby pushing R&B forward.

It takes more than a reference to MDMA to keep up with the times, though. Hearing Ludacris and Juelz Santana’s Molly raps du jour make me cough up the word “bandwagon” – no promethazine needed. Just think: if Rick Ross said no to drugs he’d still be slinging Reeboks. But for the most part, what I’m noticing is a level of abstraction that has helped rap reach a further orbit of expressionism. The genre hasn’t felt this free since the Daisy Age. It may have started with Lil Wayne’s 2008 masterpiece of stream-of-consciousness rap “A Milli,” although I would also credit Lil B’s “based” style for opening this generation’s minds. Is it all due to the unshackling and relaxing effect of drugs? Probably not. But one can’t deny that the current climate of trippy and experimental mainstream rap has coincided with the breaking down of geographic and sexual prejudices in a notoriously territorial and homophobic culture.

That said, the closer I get drawn into it, the more I tend to wonder whether I am just enjoying this music from a safe arm’s length as I silently endorse it? Is there any hypocrisy in the fact that I, clearly not an advocate of drug use, made a track with Juicy J and Danny called “Piss Test”? We don’t appreciate rap songs based on the moral value of their lyrics, but rather on their artistic merit. Danny and Juicy are part of a long tradition of great, unhinged rap. Yet for all the talk about syrup and Molly, it seems like we’re only being exposed to a partial, romanticized account. Rap went from glorifying selling hard drugs to glamorizing their effects. And beneath the surface there may be a profound lack of understanding of these substances.

What worries me is the unspoken aspect of the story; that is the real elephant in the room. Just recently, Lil Wayne almost died from multiple seizures, yet he vehemently denies that there was a relation to his codeine intake. When legendary Houston rapper Pimp C passed away, the cause of death remained hush. Closer to home, my good friend DJ AM died from a drug overdose four years ago at the height of his fame. There needs to be more open dialogue about this. It won’t stop us from enjoying the music. A handful of rappers have spoken out: Kendrick Lamar ends his “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” video with a coffin lowered into the ground and “Death To Molly” written above it, and Rhymefest calls the drug a “crack pill.” While that analogy may be oversimplified, I believe that any conversation on this matter is healthy. I even think the pill popping Trinidad James himself deserves a smart interview (you know, make him sweat a little). He probably has more insight than we think. My stance is: we can rap about it, but let’s also talk about it.

Now that the board has been opened, let us know what you think and leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

  • Mike

    what a fag

  • Dan

    I think anyone who wants to take a stance on drug-use of any nature can’t lay down an opinion until they’ve taken some drugs. That’s like making statements about a music genre you haven’t heard yet.

  • Jon

    He’s not judging anyone’s usage of drugs, he’s merely stating that it has negatively affected a lot of people’s lives. I have fucked with a lot of drugs. Although it has been dope as fuck, when you see people taking to it an extent in which endangers their lives, it’s scary. That’s why it should be talked about.

  • SforMusic

    some of the World’s Best songs are drug induced.My thing is you can enjoy a drug induced song without having to take them if u do decide to take drugs or let an artist influence you to take them then dats on you. It’s the artist job to deliver his art and message to the ppl. whatever happens beyond that can sometimes be on the audience more than the artist themselves.It is a matter of personal responsibility at the end of the day if u decide to pop a molly cos of Trinidad James or a Danny Brown den you are kind of a weak-minded person to even do so without thinking wat it can do to you

  • whateveriguess

    He is mostly talking about the drugs that are notorious for killing and ruining lives. AKA the whitney houstons and such. And really? Calling him a fag? Your mom must not have loved you as a kid.

  • JustSayin’

    This letter is written by the same dude who made “Heads Will Roll” for project X… just sayin’, that song alone made kids wanna do molly probably more than any song Juicy J or Danny Brown have put out.

  • Really? A fag?

    I don’t know you, but I can’t help but think you are a Trinidad James enthusiast. Molly-popping but buddies. Feel free to die on an overdose from your ignorance, please, I wont stop you.

    If you want to take every drug under the sun, then be my guest. Who am I to stop you from letting you do what you want with your life? At the same time, you have to make sure that what you do doesn’t negatively impact others. We can’t have 13 year-old kids mindlessly popping Mollies just because they saw it on TV. People need to be educated people about drugs, so they can make an informed decision if they choose indulge. How do you do that? Talk about it.

    I think that’s what A-Trak is saying and hes got a good point
    [Mike, you faggot Ha! Why bother, right? but its fun.]

  • Kev

    Knowledge is everything. I believe people who educate themselves about drugs & practice self control will prevent any problems that can come from abuse. I don’t think there is anything wrong with experimenting with drugs as long as it’s responsible, there is a difference between drug use & drug abuse.

  • Fat Matt

    Fortunate Ones – Did you Eat a Powdered Donut?

    A-Track is late.

  • Rick O Shea

    “Do the drugs, don’t let the drugs do you.”

  • msvssr

    @JustSayin’: A-Trak’s remix of Heads Will Roll wasn’t made FOR Project-X, it was only featured in the movie.
    and i think people definetly have an own responsibility but rap still kinda works like commercials, if rappers talk about something lots of other people will be as well…

  • rey

    drug education, ha! people are getting educated about these drugs by the songs that are made about them…. how good it is… the effects… and the bitches you get for having/taking them… for most people that’s as far as the education goes… the REAL question is why do people feel the need to take drugs in the first place? the way i see it you can take zoloft for depression or pop a molly… in either case you’re applying a short term solution with possible long term (or deadly) consequences.

    in reference to this letter, you can’t have it both ways. you can’t glorify something and damn it in the same breath. it’s either you’re all for getting high or you’re not. if you’re not why would promote it? that’s lame.