Looking into the anti-Xanax movement in hip-hop

Graphic by Jessi Wood


2017 was a formative year for hip-hop music to say the least.

Artists like Lil Pump, Russ and Lil Uzi Vert made impressions on the music charts in very big ways. It was a big step forward for the diverse crop of artists generally known as “Soundcloud rappers,” many of whom crossed over to the mainstream in a big way.

While many of these artists made progressive steps to leverage their work as independent musicians into big time contracts, a number of them also displayed admittedly regressive behaviour for a large portion of the year – particularly in reference to drug use.

As someone who appreciates the need to convey real-life experiences artistically, I understand that artists, especially those in the hip-hop community, have classically used their work as a means to draw attention to their own situations, and not necessarily as a platform to promote drug use.

But I digress. I would first like to draw attention to the lyrics of some of these “Soundcloud rappers.”

“I’m on the Xan, and my bitch on that coke,” is a line from Molly by Lil Pump.

“Xanny numb the pain yeah / Please, Xanny make it go away,” is a line from one of 2017’s biggest songs, XO Tour Llif3 by Lil Uzi Vert.

Lil Pump and Lil Uzi Vert were arguably two of the biggest acts in hip-hop to triumph in 2017. Their songs have energetic, youthful vibes, and, at ages 17 and 23 respectively, it’s safe to say that either or could be labeled “the voice of a generation.” Both artists also spent a good portion of the year advertising for big pharma.

But for artists like Lil Pump and Lil Uzi Vert – who were early champions of the “anti-Xanax” movement – to imply that Xanax is the problem, and not drug use more generally, is not helping anyone.

Enter Lil Peep, “emo-rap” trendsetter and openly known drug user.

When Lil Peep died mid-November, the already polarized community of hip-hop commentators and social figures latched onto him as a sort of martyr for the emerging “anti-Xan” movement. Though his death was a result of tampered Xanax specifically and not an overdose on the actual drug Alprazolam, artists like Lil Pump and Lil Uzi Vert seemed to jump at the opportunity to speak his name to the press and to their followers.

Shortly after Lil Peep’s death, a number of artists began to post with the tag “Fuck Xanax 2018,” particularly Lil Pump, who wrote, “2018 we going even more crazy love yall (btw I don’t take xanz no more fuck Xanax 2018).”

His response – which followed only months after he had a Xanax cake made to celebrate hitting one million followers – and the response from a number of influential artists in the hip-hop community, have seemingly missed the mark. Literally one week after tweeting “Fuck Xanax” multiple times, Lil Pump uploaded a video of himself playing “lean pong” – a fresh take on beer pong where the beer is replaced with codeine cough syrup.

I get that it’s fun for a lot of people to talk about these things, and I have found myself intrigued by the whole movement on both ends.

But as someone who is influenced by hip-hop music, its culture and many of the artists with stakes in this movement, I feel like the sentiment is basically lost. I would like to implore fans and followers of these artists to think for themselves.

Lil Peep claimed to have used Xanax to treat his anxiety. In reality, it was the presence of fentanyl in some bootleg Xanax pills that lead to his death. The danger of taking a drug that has been unknowingly laced with a powerful opiate is much higher than the danger that goes along with the use of Xanax and similar anti-anxiety medications.

This is also not to say that street drugs are comparable to pharmaceuticals; had Lil Peep been properly diagnosed and prescribed legitimate anti-anxiety medication from a doctor, this circumstance could have been avoided.

But for artists like Lil Pump and Lil Uzi Vert – who were early champions of the “anti-Xanax” movement – to imply that Xanax is the problem, and not drug use more generally, is not helping anyone.

Especially when people are starting to play “lean pong.”

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