The recent death of Juice WRLD has prompted a wider discussion of drug addiction within the hip hop community. The rapper passed away at the young age of 21 after suffering a Percocet-induced seizure, and was only the latest in a series of drug overdose deaths that have affected young rappers in recent years.
Speaking at the fifth annual MLK Now event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 20), J. Cole gave his opinion on drug use in hip hop.
“A lot of these rappers have unfortunately caught themselves being addicted to Percocets and lean,” he said. “That’s something that they’re going through and that’s something that’s hard to get out of.”
Cole argued that it’s unethical for record labels to profit off of rappers creating songs about drug addiction, while not offering them more help to overcome their addictions. Furthermore, he spoke about the consequences of drug-normalizing lyrics beyond the rap community.
“But you a rapper. You can get [Percocet and lean]. You can always get it,” he explained. “I’m now starting to see the results of people back home that can’t get it. They was on it, they was doing it… and then once they got addicted, it’s not easy to get it everywhere.”
Cole delved further into the subject, saying that when people can’t obtain Percocet and lean, they may turn to more available drugs, like heroin.
“Nobody’s out here rapping about heroin. That’s not cool yet,” he continued. “But the real consequence of us normalizing Percs and lean—it’s not a judgement—it’s just a reality. The real life consequence, I see it.”
Elsewhere during the panel, Cole also spoke about young rappers being taken advantage of through record label deals.
“It’s so exploitive, we end up exploiting ourselves,” he said of the music industry as a whole. “That’s how deep it is, which I feel conflicted about ‘cause one way I’m thinking—this young man is changing his life, he’s changing his family’s life… and on the other side I see the real results in the streets and back home. The stuff we have normalized.”
Cole was joined by moderator Ryan Coogler and fellow panelists Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Marshawn Lynch, Naturi Naughton, Black Thought, Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Alicia Garza and more.
The Dr. King-honoring event was hosted by Blackout for Human Rights at the Riverside Church in Harlem, NY, where Dr. King gave his historic “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech in 1967.
See a clip from Cole’s panel below.