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omegrown baseball stars and former teammates Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite have seen their award winning careers sullied in recent weeks with news of them using performance-enhancing drugs. At their height Clemens and Pettite, who were friends since college, were the top two pitchers in baseball. Now, with their names linked to steroids, their pristine reputations are all but dead. Similarly, late Houston Hip Hop stars DJ Screw, Big Moe and Pimp C of UGK have had their iconic rap statuses marred posthumously with speculation that their recreational use of prescription-strength cough syrup, known in the streets as “lean,” was instrumental in their untimely passings. Lean, also referred to as “barre,” “Texas Tea,” “sizzurp,” “purple punch,” and “drank,” among countless other names, has gained a dangerous reputation due to its frequent mention in America’s current prescription drug epidemic. The two main ingredients, codeine and promethazine, are intended to cure cough, diarrhea, motion sickness and hay fever. But when mixed, they can result in a list of side effects that rivals those rattled off by the fast voice at the end of pharmaceutical commercials. “It’s different from other drugs because you have a cocktail substance,” says Dr. Ronald Peters, Assistant Professor of Behavior Science at the University of Texas School of Public Health. “Codeine is an opiate, promethazine is an antihistamine, that makes you drowsy. Plus, it has 7 percent alcohol. Mixing them all together, you’re getting a 3-in-1 deal.” That trifecta gives users a hallucinating effect that is known to slow down one’s motor skills, make them sluggish, nod repeatedly and in keeping with the nickname, lean. The concoction has been credited as the inspiration behind the innovative turntablism of DJ Screw whose infamous blends and grey tapes featured slowed down songs to complement the dragging effects of the drug. Even though Screw released a handful of nationally distributed albums in the mid to late-90s, the Southside Houston-born genre of music still held on to its underground roots via hundreds of hand-passed blend tapes. When Screw passed on November 16, 2000 (a Houston Chronicle article that same month reported his death came from “undetermined causes”) it sent shockwaves throughout the local Hip Hop community. Plenty of rumors circulated around his death, but nothing concrete. Add that to the fact that he and the music he created was still considered regional, and national press didn’t take to the story. “It fucked niggas up heavy when Screw died,” says Houston rapper and member of Slim Thug’s Boss Hogg Outlaw crew, Killa Kyleon. “It’s still a mystery. We didn’t get no toxicology reports back then. All we heard was that he had codeine in his system.” When Houston Hip Hop crossed over into the mainstream in 2005, much to the credit of artists such as Lil’ Flip, Bun B, Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Paul Wall, Screw’s name and mythical status finally began to draw the interest of national media outlets. Much akin to how the late Mac Dre’s presence permeated through the Bay Area’s 2006 Hyphy and Thizz movement, Screw’s legacy lived on through H-town artists shouting him out on records and name dropping him in interviews. Also, like Dre’s relation to Thizz (i.e. ecstasy pills), drug connections were discovered and exploited. Even though songs dating back beyond 2000’s Three Six Mafia and UGK hit “Sippin On Some Syrup” chronicled the psychadelic effects of the drug, media and law enforcement latched onto the newfound popularity that Houston brought to lean and its culture in 2005. With numerous news reports on America’s abusive addiction to over-the-counter prescription medicines also popping up around that time, syrup and its connection to Hip Hop music made it an ideal target. Earlier this year MSNBC.com reported that a 2006 survey, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, revealed that 3.1 million people between the ages 12 to 25 had used prescription drugs and cough syrup to get high. It seems as if prior to Houston’s rise to stardom, reports on cough syrup and prescription medicine abuse never mentioned connections to rap music. Since then, countless articles like MSNBC’s have made it a priority to state that the drug “gained famed in Southern rap circles.” “They try to get us with so much negativity,” sighs rapper and Boss Hogg Outlaws member Chris Ward. “They try to make it look like we’re just down here tripping. It seems like nothing is a problem until white kids get affected. Nobody is putting a gun to their head, but when they get to it, it’s a problem and everybody wants to blame it on rap.” Dr. Peters agrees. “A lot of media sources have tried to demonize Hip Hop

artists by blaming them for these particular problems with codeine and promethezine,” he says. “The bottom line is if it weren’t for the Hip Hop nation mentioning it in their songs, many researchers like myself would not have an idea of what’s going on in underserved populations. The medical field should be happy to have someone diffuse that information so we can provide prevention resources to kids who may not know the enormous impact that this particular drug has on their local communities.” With the deaths of Screw, Moe and Pimp reportedly being linked to syrup one has to wonder what direct impact they would have on the scene itself. Would syrup use decrease? Would the music eventually fade away as a result? “Nah man,” laughs platinum-selling Houston native Paul Wall. “First thing we said when Moe died, was we gonna toast some taste for him. Same thing for Pimp C. But there are probably some people that slowed down on it, myself included. I slow down on it when I’m in work mode.” Many of Paul’s peers share similar sentiments when queried about lean. “I drink when I feel it, but I chill sometimes,” says Chris Ward. “Some people get addicted, like cigarettes. But you still can’t knock the people who want to do it all the time. There’s a lot of working people who wanna hit a blunt everyday after work, that say, ‘I can’t wait ‘til I get home to hit this blunt.’ Some people be like ‘I need to get a cup.’ It relaxes you.” Lean, just like weed, gives users the munchies. Being that most syrup sippers drink at night, they have a tendency to eat late and then go to sleep. That’s a blueprint for weight gain. Medically, the ingredients in lean, especially the opiates in codeine, are prescribed to relieve pain and diarrhea. People usually take 1-2 teaspoons of syrup for coughs and other illnesses. Lean drinkers easily ingest 8-10 ounces until they get the hallucinogenic experience. That over-consumption usually leads to kidney failure, constipation, decreased gastric emptying, hard stools and disinterest in sex. “It slows your bile down from working,” reveals Dr. Mike Leath, M.D. of Houston’s Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center. “[In that case], X-rays show massive amounts of stool or colon content that has yet to be expelled. The biles stop functioning and you can have a rectal vault full of stool and see their colon big and dilated.” In layman’s terms, you can’t shit and whatever doesn’t come out, stays inside you. “I stopped sipping because my stomach started knotting up,” admits Bun B of UGK, who backed off the barre in early 2007. “I’m not saying I was constipated, but that shit causes constipation. Especially if you’re not eating the right

Paul Wall, along with Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J, proudly displays a prescription codeine bottle on the set of Frayser Boy’s video for “I Got Dat Drank,” an ode to the drug, in May 2005

“Some Texans have oil and horse ranches, we have drank. It’s just a part of Texas culture.” - Paul Wall OZONE MAG // 57

Ozone Mag #65 - Mar 2008  

Ozone Mag #65 - Mar 2008

Ozone Mag #65 - Mar 2008  

Ozone Mag #65 - Mar 2008

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