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The Link between Drugs and Music

Free Informative Essays Music has always been a way to express one’s social voice. Changes in society have caused changes in music genres because many vital issues of each generation find their expression in song lyrics and melodies. As the events happening in the world and people’s attitudes toward them influence music, the greatest change happened in the 1960s, going far beyond the sphere of civil rights. The use of illicit drugs, characteristic of the 60s, resulted in people facing a real drug boom. Before this time, only the beat generation had used drugs. However, at the beginning of a new decade, drugs became a part of popular culture, with some of them, especially marijuana and LSD, becoming a symbol of a change of consciousness, which was supposed to enlighten the youth (Jenkins, 2006).

Although the scope of the music sphere makes it very hard to single out certain trends in using specific drugs, such tendencies do exist. Thus, for example, the use of marijuana is far more likely to feature positively or at least neutrally in song lyrics. Cannabis makes people feel relaxed and suggests taking life easy. Besides, musicians admire its recreational advantage. In fact, many songs have a political background and were recorded to support marijuana legalization: “Birds eat it, ants love it / Fowls eat it, goats love to play with it / So you’ve got to legalize it.” It even became a part of religion, with its consumption explained by spiritual reasons and not by the simple wish to get high. In contrast to light drugs, heroin and cocaine usually have negative connotations. The harder substance the artist uses, the darker lyrical content a song has: “Down in a hole, and I don’t know if I can be saved / See my heart, I decorate it like a grave.”

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Drug use was gradually becoming more and more popular. Thus, LSD, which “brought psychedelic consciousness into the mainstream of Western culture” (DeRogatis, 2003) gained widespread recognition and was not illegal until the end of the 60s. Marijuana became a symbol of rebellion against authority. Though heroin remained the most feared drug, it was still popular among older people. By 1977, about a quarter of Americans used marijuana. The surveys of high school seniors showed that 12 percent had used substances such as LSD, amphetamines, or even cocaine. Over a third had used marijuana in the previous month (Jenkins, 2006). Therefore, drug consumption turned into a normalized act among teenagers. That is not a surprise, especially if one were to take into consideration the growing popularity of drugs in the media aimed at teens and young adults (Jenkins, 2006). Musicians on both sides of the Atlantic were under the influence of drugs, with addiction being their inspiration and their source of imagination. Well-publicized rock stars’ drug addictions helped familiarize drug use. It is hard to think of the names such as The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, or The Doors without remembering drugs.

The idea that drugs improve the creative process has been a part of the American culture for a number of generations. Drug problems visibly affected the way of creating music, with many songs written about the experience of being ‘high.’ This tendency is observed in all genres: from rock to hip-hop. A wide array of different drugs, including prescription pills, heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and crystal meth, is represented in music. Throughout the history of music, many bands have supported the legalization of drugs. On the other hand, there are many warnings placed in the lyrics of different genres. Singers often say that hard drug use leads to overdoses and deaths. However, some of the songs may pass their messages in less obvious ways or even leave their attitude toward it unclear.

Due to numerous deaths caused by drug addiction, anti-drug messages began to appear in popular music. One of the songs with such a message is “The Pusher,” which became popular when a rock band Steppenwolf released the song, originally written by Hoyt Axton, on their 1968 album. The pusher described in the song is a heartless criminal, a drug dealer who is only after money. It is one of the first songs dealing with the tough realities of drug use. Thus, the author of the song contrasted the “Dealer” and the “Pusher.” The former sells “love grass” and “sweet dreams,” while the latter “is a Monster” who “don’t care if you live or if you die.” The final verse adds a touch of anger to the song. Started with a simple guitar riff, it ends with a pounding beat that induces the image of pain and urgency. The lyrics “Well, now if I were the president of this land / You know, I’d declare total war on The Pusherman” turned out to be rather prophetic. In 1971, President Nixon did declare a “war on drugs”. However, though the author is against heavy drugs, marijuana and pills are still welcomed: “You know I’ve smoked a lot of grass / O’ Lord, I’ve popped a lot of pills.” This clear distinction between hard and recreational drugs is followed by most genres of music.

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“Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll” is the creed of all rock performers. They follow this motto sharing their experience in song lyrics. At the time of Rock’s Golden Age in the 1960s and early 1970s, this genre of music played an important role in American culture. Its slightly aggressive melodies and lyrics mirrored the tension caused by the Vietnam War. The verbal content of rock songs turned toward rebellion, social protests, and drugs. In the 60s, psychedelic rock, as a subgenre of pop and rock music, first appeared. The absence of verbal language or the presence of words with no sense was usual for this kind of music influenced by LSD and other psychedelic drugs. “The collision between rock and LSD ushered in the genre of psychedelic rock” (DeRogatis, 2003). The ability to mimic the kinds of experiences that people have while using illicit drugs made psychedelic music quite popular. This genre “tries to transport the listener someplace that exists only between the headphones, while never neglecting the drive, melody, and immediacy essential to all great rock’n’roll” (DeRogatis, 2003).

Grunge, another subgenre of rock music, appeared in the 90s. Many grunge musicians suffered from heroin addiction. Thus, Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) started to use this drug after his band had become popular. In 1993, he overdosed on heroin and was sent to the rehabilitation center, which, however, he left without completing the program. Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Another example is Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) who “had developed into a hardcore drug user.” He was much more interested in his addiction than in music. His life took a turn for the worse in 1996 when his fiance died from drugs. He began to relieve his pain with further drug abuse. In his last interview, he said, “I did crack and heroin for years. I never wanted to end my life this way. I know I have no chance. It’s too late.” Staley became a victim of heroin and cocaine overdose in 2002. This might be the reason why this genre of music is so depressive and dark. The lyrics of grunge songs are gloomy, with the singers often telling the listeners about the anguish and loneliness: “Loneliness is not a phase / Field of pain is where I graze / Serenity is far away / saw my reflection and cried.” Notably, critics claimed that these musical interpretations of drug experiences left a message, which encouraged people to use drugs. However, in most cases, this “message” was simply taken out of context.

At the end of the 60s, large numbers of young people began to use heroin, creating a new wave of drug addiction. There were many reasons why heroin trade developed. Firstly, it was a source of income for unemployed young men as heroin traders needed many people to organize drug dealing. “They employed lookouts who would signal when police were nearby, steerers (or “touts”) who informed customers of where to purchase, someone who took a customer’s money, another who handed over the drugs, and a runner who periodically replenished supplies and picked up cash” (Schneider, 2008). The growth of air travel changed the means and the speed of heroin smuggling, with even the airline staff supplementing their income by hiding packages aboard and leaving them for the ground personnel. Cargo containers were quite popular as well. Shippers hid the drugs inside the containers with goods, whose parts were removed and replaced with parcels of heroin of similar weight (Schneider, 2008). Besides, the widespread corruption among police officers was one of the main factors in the increased use of heroin. As all markets require regulation, drug markets also developed their own informal systems (Schneider, 2008).

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The total dispraises of drug addiction is the main issue in “King Heroin,” a song by James Brown, Manny Rosen, David Matthews, and Charles Bobbit. Written from the point of view of the drug (Heroin), it explains the effect drug addiction has on people: from the schoolboys forgetting their books to someone committing murder. “Some think my adventure is a joy and a thriller / But I’ll put a gun in your hand and make you a killer.” It “can make a good man forsake his wife” and send “a greedy man to prison for the rest of his life.” These narrative lyrics describing the drug itself gave the listeners a list of the negative consequences of drug abuse, including murder, imprisonment, and self-distraction: “For the white horse of heroin / Will ride you to Hell!” In the song, heroin claimed itself to be “nothin’ but waste” that leads to numerous problems. As Brown used to take drugs himself, he was well aware of the consequences of drug addiction. The narrative style of the song is supplemented by a slow melancholy beat, which is common for R&B. The music is minimized to create a simple meditative vamp so people can pay more attention to Brown’s lyrical message. Brown himself termed the single to be the “most important statement of my career.” As a result, many people believed in the ability of this song to fight heroin.

There are not as many songs about methamphetamine as there are about cocaine or heroin. Originally used by bikers and truckers to stay awake on long journeys, the drug managed to become a part of popular culture. It became popular because it was cheap, easy to make, and widely available. Due to meth creating a feeling of energy and creativity, it inspired many performers in a wide variety of music genres.

“Semi-Charmed Life” is a popular song by an alternative rock band Third Eye Blind. If one paid attention to the lyrics, it would become clear that the song is about the singer’s addiction to crystal meth. Though the melody is quite cheerful, the lyrics are dark and serious: “Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break.” Thus, the song reveals the wish for new experiences and the dissatisfaction that leads to the “break.” Stephan Jenkins, the author of the song, said: “The music that I wrote for it is not intended to be bright and shiny for bright and shiny’s sake. It’s intended to be what the seductiveness of speed is like, represented in music” (1997). This phrase reflects the essence of drug addiction. People seem to have bright and shiny lives full of interesting adventures and experience; however, in reality, they are on the path of self-destruction. The message of the song is to warn people about the consequences of this addiction: drugs change people’s perception of reality and can mess up their lives. Besides, people should not always believe what they hear, so they have to be vigilant and observant. The genre of the song is not pure alternative rock. It contains some elements of hip-hop, such as the narrative style of singing and the rhythmic beat.

Marijuana is a drug that is universally used all over the world by all ages and races. Also known as cannabis, it has been able to bridge gaps between cultures, beliefs, languages, and especially music genres. Musicians have often stated that weed was the key to the process of music creation. “Because marijuana does not cause a physiological addiction (although it can create a psychological one), it is seen as a relatively innocuous means of achieving that transcendent state. It is a drug that maintains a romantic air” (Perry, 2004).

Marijuana is most common among reggae performers who believe that this drug brings no harm, thus standing for its legalization. It is important to acknowledge that the movement for the legalization of marijuana is not aimed at spreading the drug’s use only, but was part of the spiritual life of the Rastafarian culture. The movement was not simply a childish call to get high; it was a demand for religious freedom. As Rastafarians have strong ties with reggae, their religion has made its way into the lyrics of most reggae songs. Many Jamaican musicians believe that ganja is an important factor in the slow tempi, thick textures, and bass-heavy production of reggae music (Veal, 2007). Because of its monotonous melodies, the perception of time is distorted. Lowery Sims stated that “No other music sounds more like the way it feels to be stoned” (2005). Reggae music can be called “meditative” in addition to “ganja” because it can “be experienced and interpreted in more varied terms than the narrow ganja stereotype” (Veal, 2007). In this respect, marijuana is viewed as a tool for broadening consciousness. Although the stereotype that reggae is “ganja music” has persisted outside of Jamaica for many years, this genre seems to share many similar features with certain types of psychedelic rock music as well. Despite the fact that the use of echo and spacy sound are common, the rock did not have the influence reggae enjoyed.

“Legalize It” by Peter Tosh could be called an anthem for marijuana. In this song, Tosh tries to make political statements that are followed by the usual rhythms of Jamaican music. Though the author talks about serious social issues, he does it with a sense of humor. This simplicity contributed to the song’s popularity. Every verse is a brief argument for legalization. The first verse negates the belief that only junkies use marijuana: “Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it / Judges smoke it, even the lawyer too.” Musicians keep proving the commonness of drug use repeatedly. The second argument is the description of its medical applications, which are rather surprising: “Good for tuberculosis / Even umara composites.” Though this drug would not help with tuberculosis, the main idea of the song is the defense of “medical marijuana.” The constant repetition of the lethargic phrase “Legalize it” makes the listeners feel relaxed and calm. In addition, although the song is a reggae record, the influence of American rock and blues is evident here. This song is an example of the widespread support for marijuana legalization. Thus, David Tosh became the voice of the voiceless expressing the wishes of the majority, not only his own desire.

“One Good Spliff” by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers was released in 1999. The song starts with light acoustic guitar and keyboard sounds. The familiar reggae motive creates a languorous atmosphere. Marley sings about the great feeling of being “high”. Suddenly, the song breaks into hip-hop with an unexpected rap part in the middle. By the end of the song, Marley comes back to the previous languorousness. Shifting from one genre to another is rather popular among performers. It shows that all the genres coexist with each other; thus, the boundary between them is blurred. In this song, marijuana is claimed to help in coping with everyday pressure: “Sometimes I feel the pressure / But I know that I’ll be fine / Just as long as you got me / Something for my mind / Now let me get a rizla / Little bit a herb / Light an old match / Let me settle my nerves.”

Rap “had roots in black popular music as far back as you were willing to stretch them” (Spunt, 2014). Rappers used to work with DJs, talking over musical backgrounds. This method was borrowed from Jamaican “toasting” (catchy rhyming over a beat), which itself originated in Africa. Most early rappers were African-Americans; however, this genre has a Latin side as well. Both African-Americans and Latinos lived in the same neighborhoods and had been “partying together for many years” (Spunt, 2014). Hip-hop culture shares a close connection with drugs. At first, weed did not play a major role in the development of rap music. However, since hip-hop comes from the streets where ganja is usually found, it was inevitable for rappers to turn to this theme. Therefore, they proclaimed their love for the drug in their songs. “Hip hop lyricists often refer to “the cipher”, a conceptual space in which heightened consciousness exists” (Perry, 2004).

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One of the hits in support of marijuana is “Because I Got High” by Afroman. It was the first catchy song about weed released in the 2000s. Though the author states that he has messed up his “entire life” “because [he] got high,” in the end, he adds one line that changes the meaning of the song completely: “I’m singing this whole thing wrong because I’m high.” However, the inability to succeed in life remains the main issue of this song. The simple R&B beat is usual for the songs with such content. The author admitted that it took two minutes and eleven seconds to write this song. In 2014, Afroman released a remix, explaining the benefits of marijuana and the reasons why it should be legalized. The connection with “Legalize it” by Peter Tosh is clear, as, in the remix, Afroman states the medical advantages of marijuana as well: “Glaucoma getting better and I know why / Because I got high.” This remix has a political background as it was timed to coincide with the votes on legalizing marijuana in several U.S. states. Although the original song claims that weed makes people unproductive, in his remix, Afroman promotes this drug. He says that in such a way the government can cope with a crime: “No more criminal traps if it’s legalized / I don’t have to buy from gang bangers shooting craps if it’s legalized.”16

“High All the Time” by 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) is a song about marijuana use. Despite the lyrics of this song, 50 Cent admits to not smoking marijuana: “I don’t drink and I don’t use drugs, and I didn’t back then, either. I put that joint on the first record because I saw artists consistently selling 500,000 with that content” (2013). However, the album with this song became his gold album. Evidently, the audience expected songs with such content because they were high themselves. However, 50 Cent does not sing from personal experience; for him, marijuana is simply one more thing from the long list of things associated with being a gangsta: “Finna crush my enemies like I crush the hashish.”

Mentions of drugs other than weed seemed to be less accepted until the 2000s. The first reference to cocaine came in the record “White Lines” by Melle Mell, who had been the lead rapper and main songwriter for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five until their breakup. While the deep bassline and the party vibe might distract a casual listener, the lyrics are definitely about hard drug use. The song starts as an ironic celebration of cocaine. It also contains the dispraise of the anti-coke message “Don’t do it”, because it was more of a commercial method than a real anti-drug statement. The lyrics sound more like an advertisement for cocaine, claimed to be “Vision dreams of passion.” Similar to “King Heroin” by James Brown, the first part of this song is from the drug’s point of view: “My white lines go a long way / Either up your nose or through your vein / With nothin to gain except killin’ your brain.”19 According to Melle Mell, during the recording, “everybody was high and coked out” (1989).

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Cocaine sets a much different tone in rap, which is usually gloomy and dark. Musicians usually do not speak of it in a positive light. Cocaine used to be an expensive drug; however, in 1992, its price dropped from $50,000 (1980) to $12,000 a kilo (George, 2005). It happened because of “freebasing”, the creation of a smokable version of this drug. An increase in the growth of coca leaves in Peru and Columbia drove down the price of cocaine. Soon, references to crack littered the American media. Based on the street reports, hip-hop was blamed for the development of drug culture. The reason why hip-hop is more vulnerable to these accusations is not simply racism, although it is a contributing factor. Perry said, “Critics often charge that hip hop glamorizes violence and other criminal activity” (2004). Besides, many people state that the hip-hop style of life caused a widespread crack addiction. However, Nelson George asserts that the crack-era was not concocted by rappers, but rather reflects the mentality of American youth of every color and class who have hard lives in and out of big cities (Perry, 2004). Many hip-hop songs romanticize violence or crime; however, they almost never glorify using crack. The clear contrast between the songs about marijuana and cocaine is visible. While rap about smoking is light and relaxing, songs about crack create dark visuals of reality.

“We Are Burning” by Sean Paul is an example of dancehall music, a genre of Jamaican popular music that appeared in the late 1970s. Originally, this song was about marijuana use, followed by “Legalize it.” It gives good reasons for the legalization of marijuana. The author tells the listeners about the benefits of smoking. The message of the song is to leave hard drugs (cocaine) alone. The radio-friendly version was released with the title followed by “Realize It,” which changed the drug-related lyrics to women. The author changed the lyrics “Some got gold and oil and diamonds all we got is Mary J” into “More than gold and oil and diamonds – girls, we need them every day.” Besides, marijuana was substituted with Hennessy. The irony is in the fact that people consider hard drink more “radio-friendly” than marijuana. Thus, dancehall is the most modern genre of music, which, recorded in a digital format, took Caribbean music to a new level.

Prescription pills have always been the most common narcotic substance, as they have been legal. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) “reported ‘non-medical’ use of prescription pain relievers to be the second most common form of illicit drug use in the USA after marijuana” (Maxwell, 2011). Many people used them to relax and forget about their everyday routines. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids, and central nervous system depressants (Valium, Klonopin) are widely used. These pills manage pain quite effectively and might induce euphoric feelings, slowing down the heart, and helping a person feel calm and relaxed. The surveys show that the use of prescription pills is lower among teenagers and much higher among young adults. The level of drug use significantly increases among people aged 55 and older. Besides, patients, who have opioid prescriptions from five or more clinicians, are more likely women (31% in 2007). Notably, the prescription drug problem is concentrated in small cities and non-metropolitan areas (Maxwell, 2011). This fact finds expression in the culture, especially in music.

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One of the songs about prescription drugs is “Mother’s Little Helper,” which is a well-known single by The Rolling Stones. It is a story about a housewife who abuses a prescription to “get her through the day” and handle the pressures of her everyday roles. The Stones’ 1966 hit is a paean to Valium. The yellow pills are claimed to be a “little helper” as they are the only thing that prevents the “mother” from getting mad. This song is quite different as compared to the others written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It sounds slightly “Oriental-ish” (Richards, 2002), mainly because of the slide on a 12-string guitar. This sound reminds one of placidity and peace, the feelings that might occur after taking the pills. It has a folky atmosphere not only because of its sound but also due to the way it tackles social issues. “Mother’s Little Helper” is about drug dependence among ordinary people proving drug consumption common to the majority’s everyday life. Mick Jagger said, “Some people are so narrow-minded they won’t admit to themselves that this really does happen to other people beside pop stars” (1966). This song is, thus, an argument against the standards, which were prevailing in the society. The point of “Mother’s Little Helper” is to accuse adults of hypocrisy, as they criticize the young generation for taking drugs, while they, in fact, do it themselves.

In conclusion, although each kind of drug seems to correspond to a certain genre of music, substances might cross from one genre to another in the same way as one type of music can combine with another one. It still remains unclear whether music influences drug-taking or, on the contrary, people using drugs create a certain type of music. Many people will state that the crossing of music from one genre to another has a historical background. However, the fact that the public is aware of musicians’ drug addiction, does not mean that their music is a paean to drugs or a message to fans encouraging drug use. It is possible that music genres simply identify the scene that surrounds them, with the popular drugs of each generation influencing the shape that music takes. Music has always been a way to express one’s social voice. Changes in society have caused changes in music genres because many vital issues of each generation find their expression in song lyrics and melodies. As the events happening in the world and people’s attitudes toward them influence music, the greatest change happened in the 1960s, going far beyond the sphere of civil rights. The use of illicit drugs, characteristic of the 60s, resulted in people facing a real drug boom. Before this time, only the beat generation had used drugs. However, at the beginning of a new decade, drugs became a part of popular culture, with some of them, especially marijuana and LSD, becoming a symbol of a change of consciousness, which was supposed to enlighten the youth (Jenkins, 2006).

Although the scope of the music sphere makes it very hard to single out certain trends in using specific drugs, such tendencies do exist. Thus, for example, the use of marijuana is far more likely to feature positively or at least neutrally in song lyrics. Cannabis makes people feel relaxed and suggests taking life easy. Besides, musicians admire their recreational advantage. In fact, many songs have a political background and were recorded to support marijuana legalization: “Birds eat it, ants love it / Fowls eat it, goats love to play with it / So you’ve got to legalize it.” It even became a part of religion, with its consumption explained by spiritual reasons and not by the simple wish to get high. In contrast to light drugs, heroin and cocaine usually have negative connotations. The harder substance the artist uses, the darker lyrical content a song has: “Down in a hole, and I don’t know if I can be saved / See my heart, I decorate it like a grave.”

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Drug use was gradually becoming more and more popular. Thus, LSD, which “brought psychedelic consciousness into the mainstream of Western culture” (DeRogatis, 2003) gained widespread recognition and was not illegal until the end of the 60s. Marijuana became a symbol of rebellion against authority. Though heroin remained the most feared drug, it was still popular among older people. By 1977, about a quarter of Americans used marijuana. The surveys of high school seniors showed that 12 percent had used substances such as LSD, amphetamines, or even cocaine. Over a third had used marijuana in the previous month (Jenkins, 2006). Therefore, drug consumption turned into a normalized act among teenagers. That is not a surprise, especially if one were to take into consideration the growing popularity of drugs in the media aimed at teens and young adults (Jenkins, 2006). Musicians on both sides of the Atlantic were under the influence of drugs, with addiction being their inspiration and their source of imagination. Well-publicized rock stars’ drug addictions helped familiarize drug use. It is hard to think of the names such as The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, or The Doors without remembering drugs.

The idea that drugs improve the creative process has been a part of the American culture for a number of generations. Drug problems visibly affected the way of creating music, with many songs written about the experience of being ‘high.’ This tendency is observed in all genres: from rock to hip-hop. A wide array of different drugs, including prescription pills, heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and crystal meth, is represented in music. Throughout the history of music, many bands have supported the legalization of drugs. On the other hand, there are many warnings placed in the lyrics of different genres. Singers often say that hard drug use leads to overdoses and deaths. However, some of the songs may pass their messages in less obvious ways or even leave their attitude toward it unclear.

Due to numerous deaths caused by drug addiction, anti-drug messages began to appear in popular music. One of the songs with such a message is “The Pusher,” which became popular when a rock band Steppenwolf released the song, originally written by Hoyt Axton, on their 1968 album. The pusher described in the song is a heartless criminal, a drug dealer who is only after money. It is one of the first songs dealing with the tough realities of drug use. Thus, the author of the song contrasted the “Dealer” and the “Pusher.” The former sells “love grass” and “sweet dreams,” while the latter “is a Monster” who “don’t care if you live or if you die.” The final verse adds a touch of anger to the song. Started with a simple guitar riff, it ends with a pounding beat that induces the image of pain and urgency. The lyrics “Well, now if I were the president of this land / You know, I’d declare total war on The Pusherman” turned out to be rather prophetic. In 1971, President Nixon did declare a “war on drugs”. However, though the author is against heavy drugs, marijuana and pills are still welcomed: “You know I’ve smoked a lot of grass / O’ Lord, I’ve popped a lot of pills.” This clear distinction between hard and recreational drugs is followed by most genres of music.

“Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll” is the creed of all rock performers. They follow this motto sharing their experience in song lyrics. At the time of Rock’s Golden Age in the 1960s and early 1970s, this genre of music played an important role in American culture. Its slightly aggressive melodies and lyrics mirrored the tension caused by the Vietnam War. The verbal content of rock songs turned toward rebellion, social protests, and drugs. In the 60s, psychedelic rock, as a subgenre of pop and rock music, first appeared. The absence of verbal language or the presence of words with no sense was usual for this kind of music influenced by LSD and other psychedelic drugs. “The collision between rock and LSD ushered in the genre of psychedelic rock” (DeRogatis, 2003). The ability to mimic the kinds of experiences that people have while using illicit drugs made psychedelic music quite popular. This genre “tries to transport the listener someplace that exists only between the headphones, while never neglecting the drive, melody, and immediacy essential to all great rock’n’roll” (DeRogatis, 2003).

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Grunge, another subgenre of rock music, appeared in the 90s. Many grunge musicians suffered from heroin addiction. Thus, Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) started to use this drug after his band had become popular. In 1993, he overdosed on heroin and was sent to the rehabilitation center, which, however, he left without completing the program. Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Another example is Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) who “had developed into a hardcore drug user.” He was much more interested in his addiction than in music. His life took a turn for the worse in 1996 when his fiance died from drugs. He began to relieve his pain with further drug abuse. In his last interview, he said, “I did crack and heroin for years. I never wanted to end my life this way. I know I have no chance. It’s too late.” Staley became a victim of heroin and cocaine overdose in 2002. This might be the reason why this genre of music is so depressive and dark. The lyrics of grunge songs are gloomy, with the singers often telling the listeners about the anguish and loneliness: “Loneliness is not a phase / Field of pain is where I graze / Serenity is far away / saw my reflection and cried.” Notably, critics claimed that these musical interpretations of drug experiences left a message, which encouraged people to use drugs. However, in most cases, this “message” was simply taken out of context.

At the end of the 60s, large numbers of young people began to use heroin, creating a new wave of drug addiction. There were many reasons why heroin trade developed. Firstly, it was a source of income for unemployed young men as heroin traders needed many people to organize drug dealing. “They employed lookouts who would signal when police were nearby, steerers (or “touts”) who informed customers of where to purchase, someone who took a customer’s money, another who handed over the drugs, and a runner who periodically replenished supplies and picked up cash” (Schneider, 2008). The growth of air travel changed the means and the speed of heroin smuggling, with even the airline staff supplementing their income by hiding packages aboard and leaving them for the ground personnel. Cargo containers were quite popular as well. Shippers hid the drugs inside the containers with goods, whose parts were removed and replaced with parcels of heroin of similar weight (Schneider, 2008). Besides, the widespread corruption among police officers was one of the main factors in the increased use of heroin. As all markets require regulation, drug markets also developed their own informal systems (Schneider, 2008).

The total dispraises of drug addiction is the main issue in “King Heroin,” a song by James Brown, Manny Rosen, David Matthews, and Charles Bobbit. Written from the point of view of the drug (Heroin), it explains the effect drug addiction has on people: from the schoolboys forgetting their books to someone committing murder. “Some think my adventure is a joy and a thriller / But I’ll put a gun in your hand and make you a killer.” It “can make a good man forsake his wife” and send “a greedy man to prison for the rest of his life.” These narrative lyrics describing the drug itself gave the listeners a list of the negative consequences of drug abuse, including murder, imprisonment, and self-distraction: “For the white horse of heroin / Will ride you to Hell!” In the song, heroin claimed itself to be “nothin’ but waste” that leads to numerous problems. As Brown used to take drugs himself, he was well aware of the consequences of drug addiction. The narrative style of the song is supplemented by a slow melancholy beat, which is common for R&B. The music is minimized to create a simple meditative vamp so people can pay more attention to Brown’s lyrical message. Brown himself termed the single to be the “most important statement of my career.” As a result, many people believed in the ability of this song to fight heroin.

There are not as many songs about methamphetamine as there are about cocaine or heroin. Originally used by bikers and truckers to stay awake on long journeys, the drug managed to become a part of popular culture. It became popular because it was cheap, easy to make, and widely available. Due to meth creating a feeling of energy and creativity, it inspired many performers in a wide variety of music genres.

“Semi-Charmed Life” is a popular song by an alternative rock band Third Eye Blind. If one paid attention to the lyrics, it would become clear that the song is about the singer’s addiction to crystal meth. Though the melody is quite cheerful, the lyrics are dark and serious: “Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break.” Thus, the song reveals the wish for new experiences and the dissatisfaction that leads to the “break.” Stephan Jenkins, the author of the song, said: “The music that I wrote for it is not intended to be bright and shiny for bright and shiny’s sake. It’s intended to be what the seductiveness of speed is like, represented in music” (1997). This phrase reflects the essence of drug addiction. People seem to have bright and shiny lives full of interesting adventures and experience; however, in reality, they are on the path of self-destruction. The message of the song is to warn people about the consequences of this addiction: drugs change people’s perception of reality and can mess up their lives. Besides, people should not always believe what they hear, so they have to be vigilant and observant. The genre of the song is not pure alternative rock. It contains some elements of hip-hop, such as the narrative style of singing and the rhythmic beat.

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Marijuana is a drug that is universally used all over the world by all ages and races. Also known as cannabis, it has been able to bridge gaps between cultures, beliefs, languages, and especially music genres. Musicians have often stated that weed was the key to the process of music creation. “Because marijuana does not cause a physiological addiction (although it can create a psychological one), it is seen as a relatively innocuous means of achieving that transcendent state. It is a drug that maintains a romantic air” (Perry, 2004).

Marijuana is most common among reggae performers who believe that this drug brings no harm, thus standing for its legalization. It is important to acknowledge that the movement for the legalization of marijuana is not aimed at spreading the drug’s use only, but was part of the spiritual life of the Rastafarian culture. The movement was not simply a childish call to get high; it was a demand for religious freedom. As Rastafarians have strong ties with reggae, their religion has made its way into the lyrics of most reggae songs. Many Jamaican musicians believe that ganja is an important factor in the slow tempi, thick textures, and bass-heavy production of reggae music (Veal, 2007). Because of its monotonous melodies, the perception of time is distorted. Lowery Sims stated that “No other music sounds more like the way it feels to be stoned” (2005). Reggae music can be called “meditative” in addition to “ganja”, because it can “be experienced and interpreted in more varied terms than the narrow ganja stereotype” (Veal, 2007). In this respect, marijuana is viewed as a tool for broadening consciousness. Although the stereotype that reggae is “ganja music” has persisted outside of Jamaica for many years, this genre seems to share many similar features with certain types of psychedelic rock music as well. Despite the fact that the use of echo and spacy sound are common, the rock did not have the influence reggae enjoyed.

“Legalize It” by Peter Tosh could be called an anthem for marijuana. In this song, Tosh tries to make political statements that are followed by the usual rhythms of Jamaican music. Though the author talks about serious social issues, he does it with a sense of humor. This simplicity contributed to the song’s popularity. Every verse is a brief argument for legalization. The first verse negates the belief that only junkies use marijuana: “Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it / Judges smoke it, even the lawyer too.” Musicians keep proving the commonness of drug use repeatedly. The second argument is the description of its medical applications, which are rather surprising: “Good for tuberculosis / Even umara composites.” Though this drug would not help with tuberculosis, the main idea of the song is the defense of “medical marijuana.” The constant repetition of the lethargic phrase “Legalize it” makes the listeners feel relaxed and calm. In addition, although the song is a reggae record, the influence of American rock and blues is evident here. This song is an example of the widespread support for marijuana legalization. Thus, David Tosh became the voice of the voiceless expressing the wishes of the majority, not only his own desire.

“One Good Spliff” by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers was released in 1999. The song starts with light acoustic guitar and keyboard sounds. The familiar reggae motive creates a languorous atmosphere. Marley sings about the great feeling of being “high”. Suddenly, the song breaks into hip-hop with an unexpected rap part in the middle. By the end of the song, Marley comes back to the previous languorousness. Shifting from one genre to another is rather popular among performers. It shows that all the genres coexist with each other; thus, the boundary between them is blurred. In this song, marijuana is claimed to help in coping with everyday pressure: “Sometimes I feel the pressure / But I know that I’ll be fine / Just as long as you got me / Something for my mind / Now let me get a rizla / Little bit a herb / Light an old match / Let me settle my nerves.”

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Rap “had roots in black popular music as far back as you were willing to stretch them” (Spunt, 2014). Rappers used to work with DJs, talking over musical backgrounds. This method was borrowed from Jamaican “toasting” (catchy rhyming over a beat), which itself originated in Africa. Most early rappers were African-Americans; however, this genre has a Latin side as well. Both African-Americans and Latinos lived in the same neighborhoods and had been “partying together for many years” (Spunt, 2014). Hip-hop culture shares a close connection to drugs. At first, weed did not play a major role in the development of rap music. However, since hip-hop comes from the streets where ganja is usually found, it was inevitable for rappers to turn to this theme. Therefore, they proclaimed their love for the drug in their songs. “Hip hop lyricists often refer to “the cipher”, a conceptual space in which heightened consciousness exists” (Perry, 2004).

One of the hits in support of marijuana is “Because I Got High” by Afroman. It was the first catchy song about weed released in the 2000s. Though the author states that he has messed up his “entire life” “because [he] got high,” in the end, he adds one line that changes the meaning of the song completely: “I’m singing this whole thing wrong because I’m high.” However, the inability to succeed in life remains the main issue of this song. The simple R&B beat is usual for the songs with such content. The author admitted that it took two minutes and eleven seconds to write this song. In 2014, Afroman released a remix, explaining the benefits of marijuana and the reasons why it should be legalized. The connection with “Legalize it” by Peter Tosh is clear, as, in the remix, Afroman states the medical advantages of marijuana as well: “Glaucoma getting better and I know why / Because I got high.” This remix has a political background as it was timed to coincide with the votes on legalizing marijuana in several U.S. states. Although the original song claims that weed makes people unproductive, in his remix, Afroman promotes this drug. He says that in such a way the government can cope with a crime: “No more criminal traps if it’s legalized / I don’t have to buy from gang bangers shooting craps if it’s legalized.”16

“High All the Time” by 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) is a song about marijuana use. Despite the lyrics of this song, 50 Cent admits to not smoking marijuana: “I don’t drink and I don’t use drugs, and I didn’t back then, either. I put that joint on the first record because I saw artists consistently selling 500,000 with that content” (2013). However, the album with this song became his gold album. Evidently, the audience expected songs with such content because they were high themselves. However, 50 Cent does not sing from personal experience; for him, marijuana is simply one more thing from the long list of things associated with being a gangsta: “Finna crush my enemies like I crush the hashish.”

Mentions of drugs other than weed seemed to be less accepted until the 2000s. The first reference to cocaine came in the record “White Lines” by Melle Mell, who had been the lead rapper and main songwriter for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five until their breakup. While the deep bassline and the party vibe might distract a casual listener, the lyrics are definitely about hard drug use. The song starts as an ironic celebration of cocaine. It also contains the dispraise of the anti-coke message “Don’t do it”, because it was more of a commercial method than a real anti-drug statement. The lyrics sound more like an advertisement for cocaine, claimed to be “Vision dreams of passion.” Similar to “King Heroin” by James Brown, the first part of this song is from the drug’s point of view: “My white lines go a long way / Either up your nose or through your vein / With nothin to gain except killin’ your brain.”19 According to Melle Mell, during the recording, “everybody was high and coked out” (1989).

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Cocaine sets a much different tone in rap, which is usually gloomy and dark. Musicians usually do not speak of it in a positive light. Cocaine used to be an expensive drug; however, in 1992, its price dropped from $50,000 (1980) to $12,000 a kilo (George, 2005). It happened because of “freebasing”, the creation of a smokable version of this drug. An increase in the growth of coca leaves in Peru and Columbia drove down the price of cocaine. Soon, references to crack littered the American media. Based on the street reports, hip-hop was blamed for the development of drug culture. The reason why hip-hop is more vulnerable to these accusations is not simply racism, although it is a contributing factor. Perry said, “Critics often charge that hip hop glamorizes violence and other criminal activity” (2004). Besides, many people state that the hip-hop style of life caused a widespread crack addiction. However, Nelson George asserts that the crack-era was not concocted by rappers, but rather reflects the mentality of American youth of every color and class who have hard lives in and out of big cities (Perry, 2004). Many hip-hop songs romanticize violence or crime; however, they almost never glorify using crack. The clear contrast between the songs about marijuana and cocaine is visible. While rap about smoking is light and relaxing, songs about crack create dark visuals of reality.

“We Be Burning” by Sean Paul is an example of dancehall music, a genre of Jamaican popular music that appeared in the late 1970s. Originally, this song was about marijuana use, followed by “Legalize it.” It gives good reasons for the legalization of marijuana. The author tells the listeners about the benefits of smoking. The message of the song is to leave hard drugs (cocaine) alone. The radio-friendly version was released with the title followed by “Realize It,” which changed the drug-related lyrics to women. The author changed the lyrics “Some got gold and oil and diamonds all we got is Mary J” into “More than gold and oil and diamonds – girls, we need them every day.” Besides, marijuana was substituted with Hennessy. The irony is in the fact that people consider hard drink more “radio-friendly” than marijuana. Thus, dancehall is the most modern genre of music, which, recorded in a digital format, took Caribbean music to a new level.

Prescription pills have always been the most common narcotic substance, as they have been legal. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) “reported ‘non-medical’ use of prescription pain relievers to be the second most common form of illicit drug use in the USA after marijuana” (Maxwell, 2011). Many people used them to relax and forget about their everyday routines. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids, and central nervous system depressants (Valium, Klonopin) are widely used. These pills manage pain quite effectively and might induce euphoric feelings, slowing down the heart, and helping a person feel calm and relaxed. The surveys show that the use of prescription pills is lower among teenagers and much higher among young adults. The level of drug use significantly increases among people aged 55 and older. Besides, patients, who have opioid prescriptions from five or more clinicians, are more likely women (31% in 2007). Notably, the prescription drug problem is concentrated in small cities and non-metropolitan areas (Maxwell, 2011). This fact finds expression in the culture, especially in music.

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One of the songs about prescription drugs is “Mother’s Little Helper,” which is a well-known single by The Rolling Stones. It is a story about a housewife who abuses a prescription to “get her through the day” and handle the pressures of her everyday roles. The Stones’ 1966 hit is a paean to Valium. The yellow pills are claimed to be a “little helper” as they are the only thing that prevents the “mother” from getting mad. This song is quite different as compared to the others written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It sounds slightly “Oriental-ish” (Richards, 2002), mainly because of the slide on a 12-string guitar. This sound reminds one of placidity and peace, the feelings that might occur after taking the pills. It has a folky atmosphere not only because of its sound but also due to the way it tackles social issues. “Mother’s Little Helper” is about drug dependence among ordinary people proving drug consumption common to the majority’s everyday life. Mick Jagger said, “Some people are so narrow-minded they won’t admit to themselves that this really does happen to other people beside pop stars” (1966). This song is, thus, an argument against the standards, which were prevailing in the society. The point of “Mother’s Little Helper” is to accuse adults of hypocrisy, as they criticize the young generation for taking drugs, while they, in fact, do it themselves.

In conclusion, although each kind of drug seems to correspond to a certain genre of music, substances might cross from one genre to another in the same way as one type of music can combine with another one. It still remains unclear whether music influences drug-taking or, on the contrary, people using drugs create a certain type of music. Many people will state that the crossing of music from one genre to another has a historical background. However, the fact that the public is aware of musicians’ drug addiction, does not mean that their music is a paean to drugs or a message to fans encouraging drug use. It is possible that music genres simply identify the scene that surrounds them, with the popular drugs of each generation influencing the shape that music takes.

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