Despite our 40-year “war on drugs” and people like Nancy Reagan imploring us to “Just Say No,” we are a society swimming in drugs – coffee, antidepressants, painkillers, energy drinks, alcohol and sleeping pills, not to mention illegal drugs. Despite our elected officials calling for a “drug free society,” the vast majority of people use drugs on a daily basis.
Musicians are some of the most open and honest people when it comes to drug use in society. While there is still stigma and fear for most of us when it comes to talking about personal drug use, musicians share their experiences, both good and bad through their songs.
There are an endless number of songs that address drug use. Some celebrate good times, others educate about the harms that can come from addiction, while others describe prohibition-related violence. Below are some of my favorites.
I’ve Got Five On It (Luniz)
“I’ve Got Five On It” is a song that celebrates friends getting together and having good times smoking weed. The title references people throwing in five bucks each to buy a bag a weed. This Bay Area classic is an anthem that brings good memories and smiles to people’s faces.
Love is Gonna Get You (KRS 1)
“Love is Gonna Get You” by KRS 1 insightfully describes the financial situations that get people into selling drugs and the terrible consequences that can happen to folks once they do. The song describes a family that is poor and struggling for food and clothes who sees that the drug trade can bring much-needed money and prestige. The story ends in tragedy as people are shot and killed in drug prohibition-related violence.
Mother’s Little Helper (Rolling Stones)
Back in the 50’s and 60’s millions of people took Valium to cope with the stress and tedium of everyday life. The Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” is an insightful song about housewives using prescription pills that conveys society’s ambivalence about drug dependence.
Going Through Changes (Eminem)
Eminem’s “Going Through Changes” shows the dark side of addiction. You feel his depression and hopelessness and watch him going deeper and deeper until he ends up overdosing and in the hospital. He survives and then expresses his determination to clean up and get off of drugs.
10 Crack Commandments (Biggie Smalls)
Notorious BIG often sang about his experiences selling drugs in Brooklyn. He shares the rules of the drug dealing game in “10 Crack Commandments” – some nuggets of wisdom include “don’t get high on your own supply” and “never let them know how much dough you hold.”
Legalize It! (Peter Tosh)
Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” is one of the most famous songs calling for an end to marijuana prohibition. 35 years after Tosh asked us to “Legalize It, Not Criticize it”, Washington and Colorado made history by voting to tax and regulate marijuana.
Peruvian Coke (Immortal Technique)
In “Peruvian Coke,” Immortal Technique summarizes the drug trade and the harms of prohibition from the coca fields in Peru to the streets of Harlem. He does an incredible job covering the whole journey, from the plants growing in Latin America to people being incarcerated in New York.
The Role of Musicians in Breaking the Taboo.
Musicians and artists play a crucial role in breaking the taboo when it comes to talking about personal drug use and the drug trade. They can capture the experience of using drugs and also provide insightful analysis on larger societal issues like mass incarceration and prohibition related violence in a quick and entertaining way. Let’s hope that more musicians continue to use their platform to entertain, educate and inspire major shifts in the way society deals with drugs and the people who make, use and sell them. Because the war on drugs is really a war on all of us. And the war on drugs is not going to end itself.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.