Since its inception, hip-hop music has been littered with reference to the drug culture. From Dr. Dre’s ode to marijuana on The Chronic to southern rappers introducing purple drank into the vocabulary of most Americans, drugs have always been a part of the medium. Yet while many rappers have openly stated that their reference to drugs as much a part of the rap game fantasy as violence and other illegal activities, in recent years, far too many rappers have succumbed to the drug culture rather than keeping it a part of their art. While Juice WRLD is the latest rapper to die from a reported drug overdose, he is by far alone amongst his musical peers who have also died too young. The following list highlights how the hip-hop community, like all, is not immune to the deadly influences of the drug culture.
Robert Earl Davis Jr. (July 20, 1971 – November 16, 2000), more commonly known as DJ Screw, was a Houston-based DJ best known as the creator of the famous Screwed and Chopped DJ technique as well as playing a strong role in influencing the Houston hip-hop culture and sound. He was found dead inside of his Houston recording studio on November 16, 2000. The autopsy report revealed that his death was the result of a codeine overdose in addition to mixed drug intoxication. The drugs were thought to be a mixture for “purple drank,” a combination of codeine and promethazine, a common drug reference in southern hip-hop culture. Valium and PCP were also found in his blood during the autopsy. He was 29 years old.
‘Ol Dirty Bastard (November 15, 1968 – November 13, 2004) was born Russell Tyrone Jones and would become one of the greatest hip-hop legends of all times. He was a rapper and producer and was one of the founding members of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan, Following the group’s success, he embarked on a solo career in 1995 with his first solo album, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, which had the hit singles “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” He also appeared on Wu-Tang Clan’s 1997 album, Wu-Tang Forever, and was reportedly working on other projects before his 2004 death, which was attributed to a lethal mixture of cocaine and the prescription painkiller Tramadol.
Chad Lamont Butler (December 29, 1973 – December 4, 2007), better known by his stage name Pimp C, was an American rapper and record producer. He was best known for his work with Bun B as a founding member of the Underground Kingz (UGK). He also appeared on Jay-Z’s hit “Big Pimpin” in 2000 as well as “Sippin on Some Syrup” by Three Six Mafia. After serving a prison sentence, he returned to rapping and was reportedly working on a collaboration with Too Short when he was found unresponsive in his hotel room on December 4, 2007. His death was ruled as accidental with and was attributed to the effects of Butler’s heavy usage of “purple drank” in conjunction with his pre-existing condition of sleep apnea. He was 33 years old.
Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly (August 11, 1978 – May 1, 2013), was one of the founding members of the rap duo Kris Kross, whose 1992 chart-topping hit single “Jump” remains a cultural staple within the hip-hop and pop genres to this day. Along with his friend Chris Smith, the two were discovered in an Atlanta mall by producer Jermaine Dupri in 1990. “Jump” stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for eight weeks in 1992 and the duo’s album, Totally Krossed Out (1992), went multiplatinum. The two also started a short-lived trend of wearing clothes backward. While the group had two semi-successful studio albums, Kelly attended school to become a studio engineer and remained working in music until his death in 2013. While some suspected that he was suffering from cancer, he never confirmed it. He died of a drug in an overdose at his home in 2013. He was 34 years old.
Gustav Elijah Åhr (November 1, 1996 – November 15, 2017), aka Lil Peep, remains one of “emo raps” most influential figures. Discovered on SoundCloud, the Long Island-based rapper developed a cult following before experiencing mainstream success with his debut album Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1, which peaked at number 38 on the Billboard 200 in 2017. His song “Falling Down”, a collaboration with XXXTentacion (also deceased), peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2018. In addition to vocalizing his affinity for recreational drugs, he also shared with fans that he suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. His death was ruled an accidental overdose of fentanyl and Xanax.
Born Malcolm James McCormick, Mac Miller (January 19, 1992 – September 7, 2018), was a Pittsburgh-based rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer. He broke into the hip-hop scene with his mixtapes K.I.D.S. (2010) and Best Day Ever (2011), both under Pittsburgh-based independent label Rostrum Records before signing with Warner Bros. Records in 2014. He released three studio albums under the label (GO:OD AM, The Divine Feminine, and Swimming). Following his death, Swimming was posthumously nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in 2018. He was briefly engaged to Ariana Grande and had reportedly struggled with substance abuse. He was found dead in his home on September 7, 2018. The coroner’s report cited his cause of death as an accidental drug overdose due to “mixed drug toxicity” of fentanyl, cocaine, and alcohol.
In some cases, the influence of drugs is not so easily clear-cut. Kenneth Doniell Moore, better known as Big Moe, was a Houston-based rapper and one of the founding members of the “Original Screwed Up Click,” He was well-known for his chopped and screwed style of music as well as his ability to blend the genre with his rapping and singing, a style that he characterized as “rap singing.” While he often rapped about “the purple drank,” friends say that he was not as addicted as his art might lead people to believe, citing Leave Drank Alone, a solemn, R&B song that many said was his “goodbye to syrup” on his 2003 album Moe Life. His friends described him as generally happy and not likely to succumb to drugs. A former high school football star, he died on October 14, 2007, at 33 years old, following a heart attack one week earlier that had left him in a coma. Following his death, the city of Houston proclaimed June 27th as “Moe Day” in recognition of his influence on the Houston music community.