The death of Lil Peep: how the US prescription drug epidemic is changing hip-hop

This week, the US drugs crisis may have claimed another victim with the suspected overdose of the New York rapper. The genre has always been open about recreational drugs – but how did constant references to depression and prescription painkillers move into the mainstream?

“Pop a Perky just to start up / Pop two cups of purple just to warm up …” Quavo’s lyrics swim through the slow, narcotised production of Slippery, a track by rap trio Migos that has become one of the genre’s biggest hits of the year with nearly 150m views on YouTube. For the uninitiated, “Perky” is Percocet, a painkiller made up of paracetamol and the opioid oxycodone; “purple” is a drink made from codeine-based cough syrup. Quavo’s drug use is as improvisatory as it is blithe, and is just one example in a rap scene where substance abuse has become normalised.

Related: Rapper Lil Peep dies aged 21 of suspected overdose

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