This weekend, the hip-hop scene, and the music community as a whole, lost a serious contributor and revolutionary when rapper Fredo Santana passed away at the age of 27. Santana, alongside his cousin Chief Keef
, was an influential Chicago rapper who helped shape and popularize the "drill" style of rap, an even darker and more aggressive spin off of trap.
While an autopsy is still pending to determine the exact cause of death, Santana's abuse of and addiction to lean was well known, and in October he acknowledged on Instagram that he was being treated for liver and kidney failure related to his lean usage.
Lean, commonly a combination of promethazine and codeine, has long been a staple drug and piece of imagery in rap and hip-hop and has been causing problems for an equally long amount of time. While codeine itself is difficult to overdose on, it is highly addicting, but it is promethazine that does the most damage, causing paradoxical effects including seizures and heart arrhythmias. In addition to Santana, rapper Pimp C died from complications related to lean usage in 2007, and Lil Wayne
has famously suffered numerous seizures related to his lean drinking.
Additionally, it was revealed not long after Santana's death that he nearly died three months prior from a combination of lean and Xanax usage, the latter of which has been in headlines lately for the number of rappers disavowing it after it played a prominent role in rapper Lil Peep
's overdose death back in November.
Drugs have long played a part in rap and hip-hop culture. I'm not the person to be able to diagnose the current situation as an epidemic, and to say that the rap scene is the most affected music scene would likely rely on false and racist stereotypes. But like any scene or subculture, the issues facing rap and hip-hop scenes are often reflective of issues facing our society as whole, and excessive drug use is no different. The U.S. is currently facing a public health crisis in the form of rampant opioid and prescription drug abuse that rivals the crack epidemic of the 80s.
While it is the responsibility of the government and public health officials to identify and treat the root causes of this crisis, we as everyday citizens, artists, and cultural consumers must be conscious of and accountable for how we perpetuate drug culture in our communities. Artists especially, with their enormous reach and influence, should be held accountable for what messages they're sending, and in that respect, the rap and hip-hop scenes have been notably bad as of late.
I'm not here to try and lay blame on others, or to criticize people for how they live their lives and what they choose to do with their bodies. After all, Santana spoke openly about his addiction and how his drug usage was a coping mechanism to deal with his PTSD and the trauma of the things he witnessed and experienced, and that is valid. Lil Peep also spoke openly about his struggles with depression and anxiety, and how he used drugs as a coping mechanism, and that is also valid.
However, what is not valid is a culture that not only turns a blind eye to those in need of help, but actively supports their addictions and pain by romanticizing and monetizing mental health issues. What bugs me in particular was how shocked everyone was when Lil Peep died when he had been sending obvious red flags and warning signs. Instead of reaching out and helping him, Peep was surrounded by "yes men" who supported whatever he did so long as it kept the money flowing and the music playing. And while Peep isn't at fault for his own drug use, he did help perpetuate a culture that idolized drug use through his frequent social media posts displaying him using drugs such as Xanax.
Rapper Russ, who has been vocal about his opposition to drug use as an image summed up my feelings well when he tweeted.
A larger issue related to the drug epidemic is toxic masculinity and how we address mental health in rap music culture and society at large. As Vic Mensa pointed out in a memorial post to Fredo Santana, Santana had been dealing with PTSD related to growing up around violence, and had never found a proper outlet for his issues.
Mensa hits the nail on the head when he says,
"we need to evaluate the conditions in our communities that raise young black men with more psychological issues than they can ever really unpack. we have to diagnose the system, not the symptoms."
While the rates of those suffering from mental health illnesses is nearly the same between white and black adults of all genders, black people in the U.S. receive treatment
at a nearly 50 percent lower rate, due to a variety of factors including lack of access to resources and stigmas related to mental health issues. Add on a music culture that emphasizes overt displays of masculinity and criticizes displays of weakness, and you increase the percentage of those who might feel reluctant to seek help.
How we address these issues is a whole conundrum unto itself, and a topic that would warrant its own lengthy article, but what is important right now is for us to recognize these problems when they exist in the arts and cultures that we consume. It might not be as flashy or fun as talking about new whips and crazy parties, but supporting artists that actually engage in these conversations in crucial. If we wish to stop seeing artists and ordinary people alike dying en masse from addiction and mental health issues then it is time that we hold our icons and our peers accountable for the culture we help perpetuate.