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All the Drug References In Hip-Hop, Visualized

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Project Know has made mesmerizing data graphs of mentions of sticky icky, purp, yayo, etc.

This right here is the best data journalism I've ever seen, and I'm only being slightly facetious. Project Know, an addiction treatment and recovery assistance website, analyzed the lyrics of thousands of rap songs from 1988 to 2013. They found very interesting patterns in how trends change, in both drug preferences and slang terms used. Some of their findings are surprising.

By far the most common thing to call weed is "weed." This Slate column about the etymology of "weed" doesn't mention hip-hop in its rise to prevalence, but I think there must be some correlation. Weed was infrequently mentioned in the late '80s, and then rose in the '90s, and then declined in popularity in the mid-'00s, but has mentions are again on the rise. Interestingly, the rise and fall of weed references corresponds to mentions of cocaine. 

Coke references in rap peaked in 2004, the same year that marijuana references were at their lowest. In fact, between 1996 and 2009, cocaine was the most commonly rapped about drug (perhaps not coincidentally, it also the drug about which the best hip-hop drug classics are about). Project Know noticed a correlation between the decline of cocaine and the rise of molly. 

2009 was when mentions of the form of MDMA known as molly started picking up, and it's exploded since then. Project Know helpfully points out that while "molly" is understood to mean pure MDMA, it's often anything but

Cristal was very popular in the '90s, but its frequency in rap has fallen off a cliff since Jay-Z declared it racist. There are almost no references to Patrón tequila, which has existed since 1989, before 2003, but it's now one of the most commonly referenced liquors. Attempts to locate the first mention of Patrón in rap has thus far been inconclusive. Hennessy has always been the most popular alcoholic beverage amongst rappers.

Pharmaceutical drug use in rap somewhat corresponds to pharmaceutical drug use in the larger culture. The biggest growth has been in mentions of Adderall.

The chart tracking codeine-promethazine syrup (or sizzurp, if you will) is the one that probably most reflective of larger hip-hop trends. The explosion of mentions of lean is due to the ascent of Southern rap, especially from Houston. It declined slightly, and then has grown thanks to syrup aficionados like A$AP Rocky and especially Lil Wayne.  

Below are the totals, which seem slightly suspect. Lil B is the druggiest rapper in the world? I think not. He's just the most prolific, which skews him higher. The methodology of this study is imperfect, but it's still an interesting investigation into what drugs people are taking. 

Lil Wayne image via Getty.

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