DMX has checked into a rehab to seek treatment for cocaine addiction. In addition to cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and other opioid shit that kills rappers, there is an innocuous looking but dangerous purple drink called lean, a mix of cough syrup and soft drink. Most of the millennial hip-hop fans probably heard about lean, but how many know that lean has played a role in the deaths of hip-hop legends like DJ Screw, Big Moe and Pimp C?
Lean is known by many names, a few of them being purple drank, dirty sprite, syrup, sizzurp, Texas tea and barre. It originated from the hip-hop subculture of Houston, Texas. Lance Scott Walker is the author of Houston Rap Tapes, a book that gives an in-depth view of Houston hip-hop history.
In the 1960s, as per Walker, blues musicians in southern Houston would mix cough syrup with beer or wine. In the 1990s this tradition of using cough syrup cocktails for relaxation was continued and improvised by the young southern Houston rappers. Slowly, lean spread to neighboring states and became an American hip-hop fad that is still filling up the double cups.
Lil Wayne, Future, 2Chainz, Young Thug, Danny Brown are few of the many rappers who have confessed their love for lean through lyrics. Even young rappers who passed away early, such as Mac Miller and Fredo Santana, were known to be sizzurp sippers.
Dr. George Fallieras of Good Samaritan Hospital told the LA Times in 2013 that lean addiction is as intense as heroin addiction. A short video by Vice.com in December 2018 explored the lean rap scene in Florida. As recently as October 2019, searching for #leandrink or #sizzurp on Instagram will pop up few interesting videos of lean mixing videos.
Prescription strength cough syrups that contain promethazine and codeine are mostly used. An alternative is over-the-counter cough syrups that contain dextromethorphan. Citrus soft drinks serve as the base. A hard candy is added to sweeten the mix and suppress the taste of the cough syrup, and ice cubes top it off.
Lean is known to cause euphoria, motor-skill impairment, and drowsiness. While codeine is a respiratory depressant, promethazine is a central nervous system depressant that can intensify the euphoric feeling of codeine. Consumption of codeine in large quantities in combination with alcohol and other drugs increases the chance of respiratory depression. For people who suffer from sleep apnea, this could be fatal.
The lean sipping codeine club alumni have put out many songs that have survived the test of time. This article discusses ten codeine club rappers who have played a role in popularization of the sizzurp.
1. DJ Screw
DJ Screw, born Robert Earl Davies Jr, might be considered the founding father of the lean sipping codeine club. In his early days, DJ Screw had the habit of defacing a record with a screw if he didn’t like the record. One of his buddies nicknamed him DJ Screw for this habit. Lean derives its name from the fact that the high of sipping makes one… lean over.
DJ Screw pioneered screwing and chopping hip-hop records in the 1990s to suit the slow Houston vibe. Screwing and chopping is the practise of slowing down the beat and lyrics, chopping the song into parts, adding vocals using a microphone, scratching the record to make a new version of the song.
As per Walker, these slowed down and remixed hip-hop songs by DJ Screw helped the listener relax while coping with the Houston heat. His memorable remixes have inspired rappers to embrace the chopped and screwed style. After his early mixes started gaining traction, DJ Screw formed Screwed Up Click (S.U.C), consisting of Houston-based emcees like Big Moe, Big Hawk and Z-Ro.
DJ Screw most notable album on the subject is 3 ‘n the Mornin’ (Part Two) (Bigtyme Recordz, 1996) that was remixed from the works of southern artists. ‘Sippin Codeine’ featuring Big Moe boasts about the lean sipping tradition.
On 16 November 2000, DJ Screw, aged 29, was found dead in his studio after overdosing on codeine, valium, and phencyclidine, also known as Angel Dust. This Texas Music Pioneer has influenced many artists and shaped the southern hip-hop culture.
2. Big Moe
Big Moe opens his first verse of ‘Sippin Codeine’ by declaring, “I sip codeine/ It makes a southside playa lean (makes me leeeaaaan)/ Stackin green (yeeea)/ Steady stackin green, steady sippin’ codeine (codeine)”.
Big Moe is another codeine club member who didn’t hide his love for lean and Houston. He started his career freestyling on DJ Screw’s mix tapes and later signed with Houston based Indie label Wreckshop Records. His debut album, titled City of Syrup, is all about Big Moe’s love for Lean. On the cover of City of Syrup, the inimitable Big Moe is seen pouring purple drank from a cup onto the Houston cityscape. If you type cityofsyrup.com in your browser, you will end up on the official website of City of Houston.
“Can’t nobody sip more than Moe, yo/ It’s Big Moe drank baby,” Big Moe brags about his lean-sipping capacity on the title track. On ‘Barre Baby,’ Big Moe says “Now I got the whole world sippin drank with me.”
Big Moe’s second album, Purple World, peaked to number three on Billboard hip-hop/R&B album chart.
Big Moe rapped about lean in songs titled ‘Barre Baby’ and ‘Leanin’. His ‘Purple Stuff’, featuring D Gotti from the Purple World, album is well-known among fans. He released a very entertaining music video based on the theme of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which may be lean-influenced.
Moe Life was his third and last album. Unfinished Business was released after his death due to a heart attack-induced coma. Although his death wasn’t directly connected to codeine, it’s believed that his long-term consumption of purple drank may have contributed to the heart attack.
3. Pimp C
Pimp C and Bun B were the duo of UGK (Underground Kingz). After making three albums for Jive Records and gaining critical acclaim and commercial success, UGK gained national fame by featuring on Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin” and Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin on Some Syrup”.
In “Big Pimpin”, Pimp C opens his verse with “Smokin’ out, pourin’ up/ Keepin’ lean up in my cup”. Three 6 Mafia, consisting of DJ Paul, Juicy J and Project Pet, further popularized sizzurp with their video for ‘Sippin on Some Syrup’ featuring UGK, playing on MTV and BET. Pimp C sips lean and spits venom in the song with a caustic verse and finishes it with, “I’m choking on that doja sweet and sipping on that sizzurp”.
In December 2007, Pimp C was in California working on new music when he was found dead in a hotel room. The coroner’s report said that the death was due to a combination of overdosing on purple drank and his sleep apnea condition.
4. Juicy J
“If you listen to someone else to tell you what to do, you stupid. Before I said anything about ‘A Zip and a Double Cup’, my fans were sipping and smoking. You just got to know your limits. Don’t kill yourself. Save some of that lean for a rainy day, or share some with your friends,” Juciy J said in an interview with Dazed.com in October 2013. “The only time you will see me on a rehab show is if I overdose on money.”
Juciy J is a rare sizzurp-sipping veteran who has come a long way from his days as the young co-founder of Three 6 Mafia in 1991. He has mentioned lean in songs such as “Beans and Lean” and “Codeine cups”, featuring The Weeknd. In the album Gas Face released in 2017, “Leanin”, featuring Chris Brown and Quavo, pays homage to the Three 6 Mafia’s Sizzurp classic “Sippin on Some Syrup”. Juicy J raps “Still sippin’ that Sizzurp/ I been ballin’ like arenas”.
It’s not clear if Juicy J is still sipping sizzurp in 2019. Going by his earlier music and interviews, we can assume that he is in control of his habits.
5. Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne romanticizes lean like no other rapper. In his 2008 song, “Me and my drank”, Lil Wayne refers his double cup sizzurp as his “beloved”. “I love it when she’s near me/ I hate when she’s away/ And Satan’ll see the day/ That Hell freeze over”. He acknowledges that he needs “her” even though lean has killed Pimp C. “It feel like the whole world is against me/ Ever since the death of Pimp C”.
In an interview with MTV News in 2008, he said, “Everybody wants me to stop all this and all that. It ain’t that easy.” He later added that quitting lean will feel like “death in your stomach”/
In “Trippy”, from the album I Am Not a Human Being 2, Lil Wayne opens the second verse with, “Shoutout to my weed man/ Shoutout to my lean man”. He goes onto explain the weed plus lean experience, “My tongue’s numb, I can’t talk/ No balance, my spine hurts/ My mind surf, my eye jerks”.
In “Codeine Dreaming” from Kodak Black’s Project Baby 2: All Grown Up released in 2017, Lil Wayne throws some insight into codeine-induced dreams. “Bout to take off on you peons and go back to Mars/ ‘Bout to leave these peons behind like the Jackson 4/ Tried to moonwalk on the moon and had to wax the floors/ Tried to put me in a box and then I crashed the Porsche, err!”
He then later quips, “I’m wet dreaming ’bout Actavis, two new cups feel like new boobs”. Actavis was a cough syrup brand that was discontinued in 2014 by the parent company Wockhardt Limited.
“Codeine Dreaming” is not the first song in which Lil Wayne vividly details his lean-induced hallucinations. In “I Feel Like Dying” from the album The Drought Is Over 2 (The Carter 3 Sessions), released in 2007, Lil Wayne gives us a glimpse into one of his codeine trips. “Swimmin’ laps around a bottle of Louis the XIII/ Jumping off of a mountain into a sea of Codeine/ I’m at the top of the top, but, still I climb/ And if I should ever fall, the ground will then turn to wine”.
Lil Wayne was hospitalised on multiple occasions after suffering seizures. There were rumours the seizures were caused by codeine abuse. After his 2013 hospitalisation, Lil Wayne spoke about the cause of seizures in an interview with Power 106 Radio. “The thing is, man, the bad news is, I’m an epileptic, so I’m prone to seizures,” he said. “The reason being for the seizures is just plain stress, no rest and overworking myself. That’s typical me, though.”
In 2016, Lil Wayne’s private jet had to make an emergency landing after he had seizures during the flight and in September 2017 he was again hospitalised in Chicago after suffering from multiple seizures. This resulted in the cancellation of a show at a Vegas night club.
It’s not clear if Lil Wayne is still sipping sizzurp in 2019. Let’s hope he has realized lean isn’t as relevant as his music.
Future made a career swimming in purple drank and building a persona around it. One of his early mixtapes went to become a hit is called Dirty Sprite. He followed it up with DS2, short for Dirty Sprite 2. Future used lean as a therapeutic tool to reduce his anxiety and focus on creating more music.
In a June 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Future talked about his experience with lean, which he popularized as “Dirty Sprite”. “At first, it wasn’t something that I loved. It wasn’t till I discovered what I loved about it. Some people take drugs and they don’t understand the high. They take it just to be high. It started making me more relaxed. Sometimes you experience anxiety, and it did me some good for that. I don’t feel like I ever abused it. I used it for what I felt was needed.”
In the title track, he pays his respects to the early Codeine Club members and ends with a warning. “I’m on that Pimp C/ I’m on that DJ Screw/ I’m on that Big Hawk/ I don’t know what to do/ Pour up a 3 or 4/ My sprite so dirty fool/ My bitch remind me all the time ‘that drink will kill you'”.
In his 2014 album Monster, Future went “Codeine Crazy”. “Codeine crazy, codeine crazy/ All this motherfucking money got me codeine crazy”. While working on his WRLD on Drugs album, young rapper Juice WRLD confessed to Future that his music made him try lean as a child. “When he told me that, I was like ‘Oh shit. What the fuck have I done?'” Future said in an interview with Rolling Stone in January 2019. In an earlier interview with Genius.com, Future has confirmed that he has quit lean for good and admitted that he worried about letting his fans know, fearing a backlash after making so many codeine-fueled tracks.
7. Gucci Mane
Gucci Mane’s music life can be split into two parts. Before his incarceration in 2014, Gucci Mane was a lean connoisseur who put images of purple drank on his album covers. In the album World War 3: Lean Vol. 1, there are lean references in “Servin Lean”. In “Confused” on the same album, Gucci Mane and Future, both codeine club brothers, reveal that everything looks confused (“discombobulated”) when they are high on drugs and lean.
“Molly, kush, I’m leaning screwed.” Gucci Mane paid homage to early purple drank rappers like Big Moe by naming his 2014 album, Purple Album. He also came up with a dopey full form for PURPLE: People Usually Ridicule the Powerful Lead by Example.
Gucci Mane steeped out of jail in May 2016 as a physically and mentally reformed man. HIs reformation was so surreal to some internet trolls that they went on to fuel the conspiracy theory that the new Gucci Mane is a clone of old Gucci Mane. “It’s funny to me. I guess people ain’t used to me being healthy and taking care of myself and being happy, so I can understand why they shocked… I embrace it. A clone is like perfection. If I look like a machine or a robot then I’m doing something well,” Gucci Mane said in an interview with Fader Magazine after his release.
In the 2016 Mike-Will-Made-It hit song “Black Beatles”, Gucci Mane turned up, along with the Rae Sremmurd duo Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee, for a verse with a question and an answer. “Why you bring the money machine to the club for?/ Pint of lean, pound of weed, and a kilo”. He may have been referring to his old days as a lean sipper.
In an interview with Highly Questionable of ESPN in January 2017, Gucci Mane reflected about his past mental health issues and lean addiction, which made him bloated and gain weight. He was drinking lean every day for around seven years and he said the drying up process was “indescribable and terrible”.
8. Young Thug
Young Thug carries his stuffed two cups around the country like a trophy. He pushes his lean-sipping habit further, although his mentor Gucci Mane has quit lean and become health-conscious. For example in December 2017, Young Thug posted an Instagram story showing him getting the lean drip fed into his body intravenously.
In “2 Cups Stuffed”, from the album 1017 Thug (2013), Young Thug rapped about his purple drank. “I don’t need no pork, I just need to two cups stuffed/ Lotta ice, I just need two cups stuffed/ Gimme a cup twice, I just need two cups stuffed”. He goes on to say that getting between him and his favourite drink could be fatal. “Gamble with ya life if I don’t get two cups stuffed”. The tradition of “two stuffed cups” is not just a stylistic quirk — the two cups facilitate a proper mix of the viscous and thick cough syrup with the soft drink.
In Young Thug’s 2015 song “I Wanna (Drinking Lean is amazing)”, he raps “Lean is amazing, ‘mazing, ‘mazing, ‘mazing, amazing/ ‘Mazing, amazing, amazing,’ mazing, ‘mazing, amazing”.
Young Thug’s lean sipping on Instagram could be a publicity stunt. He doesn’t have a “lean belly” and there is not reporting of health problem. He is known for his vocal artistry. Maybe he pretends to sip in public, but was never really a lean addict. This type of behaviour was labelled as “studio sipping” by Danny Brown in an interview with English DJ Tim Westwood in April 2014.
In any case, it’s not clear why or even if Young Thug is still sipping sizzurp in the studio.
9. 2 Chainz
Before 2 Chainz dropped his debut studio album Based on a T.R.U Story, he had nine mixtapes and three of the titles had the word “codeine” in it. “GasoLean” from Codeine Cowboy (2011) is a lean club song with 2 Chainz, then known as Tity Boi, rapping about the weed and lean combination. The gas in “GasoLean” is a reference to Sour Diesel strain of weed that is known for its diesel-like aroma and cerebral effects. “Yeah, I’m on that gas, and yeah, I’m on that lean/ We mix it all together and we call it gasolean”.
In a 2011 interview with Vibe Magazine, 2 Chainz said about his favourite drink, “I’ve probably been drinking since maybe 2007, so it’s a little different for me because it wasn’t well-known, but the truth about promethazine/codeine is that it’s a pharmaceutical drug. No one makes it in a tub or anything. Moderate use is cool but I think that’s hard for people to do that. But I definitely don’t promote people using it.”
2Chainz seems to be an on-off lean sipper. In 2013, he was arrested at LAX airport for possession of weed and promethazine. In June 2014 he told MTV News that he quit lean as a New Year’s resolution.
10. Danny Brown
Danny Brown has been very open about his drug us. In “Float On” from Old (2013) he opens the song with some trippy confessions. “Backwood of that good to the pain for the brain/ A cup of lean for me to sleep, see I be going through thangs/ Music business got me stressed Xanax to maintain/ Waking up on wrong sides got me writing in vain/ Vicodin to numb me up help me cope with the struggle.” In “Smokin & Drinkin”, from the same album he mentions that he smokes blunts and sips lean to fall asleep for extended periods of time.
While there will be no dearth of new and young rappers jumping on the bandwagon and flashing their double cups, it’s up to the experienced and former members of codeine club to talk about the side effects of lean and put some sense into young rappers.
Lean is not a creative fuel and lean sipping shouldn’t be glamorized as a harmless addiction. Many rappers seem to have awakened from their deep lean-induced slumber. Juicy J’s frequent collaborator, Wiz Khalifa, with a joint in his hand, has openly dissed lean through an Instagram post. Danny Brown has made a decent effort to deglamourize lean.
In 2013 in an interview with English DJ Tim Westwood, who runs YouTube channel TimWestwoodTv, Danny Brown talked about weight gain and issued a PSA against Lean. Lean by recipe has a lot of sugar in it from the soda, the cough syrup, and the hard candy, if any is added. Using Gucci Mane as an example, he talked about being constipated and bloated when one drinks too much lean. And once you quit lean, he revealed it will be an all-out flood-gates-open diarrhea. “So, don’t drink lean, kids, don’t drink lean. I don’t think it should be a drug that’s glorified. It’s liquid heroin, it’s an opiate.”