The truth behind hip-hop’s infamous “Lean”
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The truth behind hip-hop's infamous "Lean"

For many years the South has been dominating hip-hop’s culture, and not only has its sound become the defacto sonic of rap, but its customs have also become mainstream. Concerning the South, the two main regional drivers musically have been Houston and Atlanta.

From acts such as the Geto Boys and UGK to P$C and Trillville, the South has always had talent. However, it is only in the last decade that the Southern lifestyle has permeated Northeast and Midwestern cities such as New York, Detroit and Milwaukee.

One element of Southern hip-hop culture that has run rampant and caused some problems is the ‘Lean & Pills’ lifestyle. Many people are aware of the purple, euphoria-inducing cocktail. However, few know its history and consequences. Lean, often referred to as “drank” or “juice”, has been a popular drug in the South for decades and was created in Houston. The concoction comprised codeine syrup mixed with a soft drink and sweeteners and was first made in the Third Ward of South Houston in the ’70s.

The drink became popular throughout the city, and as young African-Americans began to rap about their lives on records, the phrase “sippin’ syrup” spread like wildfire. Many people didn’t know what it meant. However, with songs such as the 1996 Screw track ‘Sippin Codeine,’ the practice of drinking lean spread to other states as it gained popularity across southern hip-hop circles.

However, the regular consumption of lean really didn’t go nationwide until Atlanta began to dominate and dictate hip-hop culture in the 2010s. However, the drink’s mass marketing has created problems of its own. In 2013, Lil’ Wayne was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital following a reaction to the recreational narcotic drink. Furthermore, in 2015 Harlem rapper A$AP Yams died following what doctors described as an acute mixed-drug intoxication involving benzodiazepines.

The Houston cocktail has morphed from what it once was into an experimental drink that rappers are now adding to. ‘Ginseng Strip’ rapper Yung Lean was hospitalized at Mount Sinai Medical Center after drinking lean, which also happened to include Xanax. MCs have also been known to lace the drink with Ecstasy. With lyrics from artists such as Lil Yachty declaring, “I sip dirty Sprite just to get me through the night”, the drink has amassed quite a fanbase. It has even been coined by some as “Liquid Heroin.”

However, when an artist such as Future, who made the song ‘Mask Off’ admitted he had never taken Ecstasy, it begs the question of how many rappers are really drinking lean and to what extent they are. With the US facing an opioid crisis, its continued popularity could see some serious consequences for rap.