Earlier this week, charts revealed a number of rappers, including the group Wu Tang Clan, may have a wider vocabulary than Shakespeare did - and now researchers have taken this lyrical analysis a step further.The Drug Slang In Hip Hop project was created by Fractl and the data was taken from the Rap Genius site. Prevalence of a drug was based on how many songs referenced it in a year, divided by the songs released annually. Weed and cocaine were shown as having the highest number of references across the board since 1988. Morphine and oxy were the main pharmaceutical drugs mentioned in rap music prior to the mid-1990s. Mentions of codeine syrup and other pain killers including Adderall have surged since the mid-2000s. The rise and fall of alcohol brands is also highlighted in the charts, as are the worst offenders for drug-related lyrics
As part of the Drug Slang in Hip Hop project, researchers studied the prevalence of different drugs in rap lyrics to plot how the popularity of substances have changed since the late 1980s.
It found that weed and cocaine have consistently been prevalent in rap music, alcohol is on the decline and pharmaceutical drugs have seen a dramatic rise in recent years.
As part of the Drug Slang in Hip Hop project, researchers studied the prevalence of different drugs in rap lyrics to plot how the popularity of substances has changed. This graph tracks the historical references of weed in hip-hop music. It peaked in the early 1990s and has remained consistently high ever since. The researchers found weed is still the most commonly referenced drug in rap music today.
The charts also reveal how changes in political policy and society can directly influence rap lyrics.
The researchers began by gathering data from the Rap Genius site – the same one used in Matt Daniel’s vocabulary study.
In the context of the charts, prevalence of a drug was based on the total number of rap songs referencing that drug in a year, divided by the total number of songs released annually.
The researchers excluded certain substances and slang phrases to prevent the results from becoming skewed.
For example, heroin was left out because it is sometimes referred to as ‘boy’ - a common word used in other contexts.
The stacked area graphs highlight the prevalence of different phrases, and therefore drug references, by nature of their vertical height.
Historically, weed and cocaine have been the most prevalent drugs in rap lyrics, according to the research.
Weed equally came out on top as the most-mentioned substance in rap music today.
The analysis revealed weed began its reign in the early 1990s with a steep increase from previous years, and has remained consistently high ever since.
This was reflected in society. In 1977, 11 states decriminalised marijuana possession, but during the 1980s political policies about illicit drugs and the prosecution of non-violent drug offenses increased.
During the 1992 presidential election, Bill Clinton then voiced his opinion favouring treatment over incarceration.
Cocaine was already popular in rap music during the late 1980s, the date the researchers began their analysis, but its prevalence dipped in the early 1990s. By 2004, prevalence was the highest it had ever been but towards the end of the decade its popularity fell again in line with a rising popularity of pharmaceutical drugs. A drop in cocaine references were also mirrored with a drop in alcohol-related lyrics.
Pharmaceutical drugs were hardly mentioned in rap songs during the 1990s but over the past 20 years - and in particular since 2007 - their prevelance has soared. Morphine and oxy were the main pharmaceutical drugs mentioned in rap music prior to the mid-1990s. Since then, other prescription medications have become notorious for appearing in hip-hop songs including Adderall and Xanax.
Example lyrics that include drug references include Jay Z's, pictured left, 2009 song Empire State of Mind, in which he raps 'MDMA got you feeling like a champion.' While Snoop Lion, previously known as Snoop Dogg, pictured right, has consistently rapped about weed in songs including his 'The Weed Iz Mine' collaboration with Wiz Khalifa in 2011, and references to 'real sticky icky' in Still D.R.E with Dr Dre in 1999.
And between 1992 and 2006, official figures suggest the price of marijuana fell by 16 per cent while its potency shot up 53 per cent and this may have influenced the rise in related lyrics.
Cocaine was already popular in rap music during the late 1980s, the date the researchers began their analysis, but its prevalence dipped slightly in the early 1990s.
From 1996 to 2009, cocaine then became the drug of choice for rap lyrics, and only marijuana proved more popular before and after this time period.
The charts also reveal that the year 2000 marked the beginning of a steep rise in codeine syrup's inclusion in rap songs. The prescription-strength cough syrup is also known as purple drank. Despite a brief dip in the mention of the drug around 2008, recent lyrics have shown an increased use of the syrup mixed with alcohol, soda, juice, or, as in the case of 'sizzurp,' Jolly Ranchers. Its sale and use has reportedly led to an escalation in crime and pharmacy robberies, added the researchers.
According to the study, rapper Lil B, pictured left, made the most references to cocaine, MDMA, and codeine, including the I'm Heem lyric 'yeah dough fiend, drink mean, like codeine.' Eminem, pictured right, included the most references to the pharmaceutical drugs. For example, in I'm Having A Relapse track he raps 'pop a Xanax, relax'
Alcohol's prevelance in rap lyrics has been the most changeable, pictured. It's consistently been popular, but particular brands have fallen in and out of favour. Rappers still have a preference for Hennessy cognac, also known as Henny, and its popularity began in the mid 1990s. While the prevalence of Patron and Cristal, which peaked in the mid and late 2000s respectively, has begun to taper off. The charts reveal that alcohol in general is now declining in rap lyrics, seemingly being replaced by illicit drugs.
By 2004, prevalence of cocaine was the highest it had ever been, but towards the end of the decade its popularity fell again in line with a rising popularity in mentions of pharmaceutical drugs.
A drop in cocaine references were also mirrored with a drop in alcohol-related lyrics.
In addition, it seems that cocaine’s popularity started to fall around the time codeine syrup became more popular.
After experiencing a brief dip in the early 1990s, there was a significant shift in the prevalence of alcohol brand mentions in hip hop.
In particular, several different brands have increased in popularity over the past decade.
The research revealed rappers have long had a preference for Hennessy cognac, also known as Henny, and this popularity began in the mid 1990s.
While the prevalence of Patron and Cristal, which peaked in the mid and late 2000s respectively, has begun to taper off.
The charts reveal that alcohol in general is declining in rap lyrics, seemingly being replaced by illicit drugs.
MDMA was one of the least mentioned drugs overall in the rap music analysed, and ‘molly’, the drug’s powdered form, began featuring in lyrics from around 2009.
Morphine and oxy were the main pharmaceutical drugs mentioned in rap music prior to the mid-1990s. Since then, other prescription medications have become notorious for appearing in hip-hop songs.
‘Along with the steep rise in various pain killers, including Percs, Lortab, and hydrocodone since the mid-2000s, Adderall’s popularity has surged’, explained the researchers.
‘Rappers such as Danny Brown, lyricist of ‘Adderall Admiral,’ explain they take it to help them work, especially to counterbalance the often lazing effects of marijuana.’
The charts reveal that the year 2000 marked the beginning of a steep rise in codeine syrup’s inclusion in rap songs.
The prescription-strength cough syrup is also known as purple drank.
Despite a brief dip in the mention of the drug, lyrics have shown a more recent increase in the use of the syrup being mixed with alcohol, soda, juice, or, as in the case of ‘sizzurp,’ Jolly Ranchers.
Its sale and use has reportedly led to an escalation in crime and pharmacy robberies, added the researchers.
They concluded: ‘The number of rap songs that incorporate weed and cocaine into the lyrics is substantial, which may be more alarming than surprising.
‘When it comes to the rappers behind the drug-laden songs, there are two who appear more than once: Lil B and Lil Wayne.
The chart above on the left reveals the number of songs mentioning the different drugs, including weed, cocaine, pharmaceutical drugs, codeine and MDMA.
Earlier this week, New York-based data scientist Matt Daniels analysed the first 35,000 lyrics of 85 hip-hop and rap artists and compared the number of unique words to those used in the first 35,000 words of Shakespeare's plays and Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In top spot was Aesop Rock who used 7,392 unique words, highlighted, while DMX sat at the opposite end of the scale with 3,214 unique words.
By Victoria Woollaston
May 9, 2014
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Graphs show how hip-hop lyrics "plot the rise and fall of illegal substances"