SoundCloud Rap and the Opioid Epidemic: In Defense of a Genre

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

On 3 October 2018 Michael Jones, a relatively obscure rapper within the SoundCloud rap movement known as New Jerzey Devil, was arrested after a joint investigation involving the New York Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Authorities alleged that Jones was responsible for the drug overdose death of Diana Haikova, a 29-year old resident of New York, after providing her with heroin and fentanyl. According to DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt, “This investigation led us into the underbelly of emo rap and its glorification of opioid use.” 

Of course, the argument that hip hop has glorified the use of illicit substances is hardly new. The genre’s depictions of alcohol and narcotics have long attracted the attention of scholars interested in correlations between media exposure and drug practices. The results of a couple of the more contemporary studies are indicative of the general trend in academic investigations that have almost universally found hip hop particularly deleterious. “Positive portrayals of drug use have increased over time, and drug references increased overall,” Denise Herd, a professor of behavioral sciences, noted when summarizing a 2008 study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, that analyzed popular rap songs between 1979 and 1997, a conclusion that led ABCNEWS to simply declare that “rap music is glamorizing drug use.” Similarly, a 2018 study published in The Journal of Studies on Alcohol determined that “listening to rap music was significantly and positively associated with alcohol use, problematic alcohol use, illicit drug use, and aggressive behaviors.” Although this is just a sampling of the numerous studies that have appeared over the past three decades examining the individual and societal effects resulting from exposure to hip hop, their conclusions reflect an entrenched consensus that the genre possesses an extraordinary capacity to encourage antisocial and destructive behaviors, particularly alcohol and drug addiction. 

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Points Roundtable, “Becoming a Marihuana User”: Cookie Woolner

Editor’s Note: This week, we welcome Cookie Woolner to the roundtable on Howard Becker’s Becoming a Marihuana UserWoolner recently completed her Ph.D. in history and women’s studies at the University of Michigan and is currently serving as a postdoctoral fellow in African American Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. You can follow her work on her personal website and twitter

Cookie-WoolnerMarijuana, Race, and Music Cultures from Jazz to Hip Hop

Howie Becker’s pioneering study, Becoming a Marihuana User, emerged from the mid-century Chicago jazz scene. The relationship it chronicled between drug use and music subculture is a long one, which has been more dangerous for some than for others. In our current moment, many of the young black men whose lives have been taken too soon by the police are often demonized as weed-smoking, hip hop-loving thugs – that is to say, they brought their deaths upon themselves. The association of marijuana use with African American music and culture may be a stereotype, but it has real effects.

Ironically, when one digs into the history of marijuana and its connection to the jazz world in the early 20th century, it appears white men were primarily responsible for introducing black musicians and Harlemites to weed (or in the parlance of their day, gage, tea, muggles or reefer, among many other names). Italian-American Leon Roppolo, the clarinetist for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, was said to have introduced marijuana to the Chicago jazz scene, in particular to Jewish saxophonist Mezz Mezzrow, who later became weed dealer to Louis Armstrong and much of Harlem. “Mezz” became another nickname for pot, according to the saxophonist, who also considered himself an “honorary Negro.”

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