In an ideal world, rappers aren’t role models. The sad truth is that we are not living in an ideal world. In reality, teens look up to famous musicians, emulate their fashions, and dream of living their lifestyle. Trinidad James is a Trinidad-born rapper who found fame with his song “All Gold Everything” and is now the CEO of his own record label. After the Huffington Post published a thought-provoking article about drugs in the world of hip hop, James defended his own use in a recent interview—stating, among other things, that “people who die from drugs are just weak-minded.”
Rap and Drugs
The Huffington Post article was written by deejay and producer A-Trak, who reveals his inner conflict regarding the relationship between rap and drugs. While he enjoys the music and what he sees as a newfound abstract musical expressionism that could be tied to drugs, he’s consciously aware that his involvement in songs with lyrics about drugs is a sort of silent endorsement. He references Lil’ Wayne’s recent health scare, Pimp C’s death and “raps du jour” that mention “Molly” or other drugs in a bid to stay up to date with the scene. He says there’s an elephant in the room, and speculates that there may be a “profound lack of understanding” in the rap community regarding drugs.
Trinidad James and Molly
Molly is basically the pure form of ecstasy, commonly abbreviated to MDMA. The drug has numerous risks, of course, but referencing it has become an easy way of conveying that you’re “cool” in the world of rap. Trinidad James makes a reference in his hit “All Gold Everything,” and the line “Popped a Molly, I’m sweating” is among the most popular lyrics in the last year of hip hop. In the interview with XXL Magazine, he insists that “I wasn’t telling you to do Molly, I was just telling you about my experience,” but the explanation doesn’t cut it.
Headlined as “Trinidad James Admits ‘Doing Drugs Is Not Right,’ ” it seems as if the tone would be refreshingly positive. Indeed, Trinidad James is more insightful than might be expected—repeatedly extolling the benefits of moderation and not being influenced by what other people are doing. However, the half-positive messages stop there. He points out that people don’t want to listen to “positive rap,” but spuriously uses this as a justification for rapping about the negative things he’s done. He claims that in the song, people choose to focus on the line “Popped a Molly, I’m sweating,” rather than the alternative line “Count your blessings,” and that it isn’t his fault. He also clarifies that he’s never quoted the line or used it on merchandise.
Whether the lack of “Popped a Molly” merchandise or the fact that (aside from on a recorded track and therefore at every live show) he doesn’t say anything else about popping Mollies makes a difference to the impact of the message is extremely unclear. He does say that doing drugs is morally wrong in the interview, but repeatedly insinuates that only “weak-minded” people die from drug abuse, as if addiction wasn’t a real condition. He sees people’s inability to moderate their intake or make up their own minds about drugs as some type of psychological failing.
The Truth of the Matter
Firstly, Trinidad James is intelligent, but his comments are nothing other than a justification for something he knows he’s doing wrong. If the most famous line of your biggest hit was confessing that you’ve taken an illegal drug, would you want to believe that people will be influenced by that, take drugs, and overdose? Of course not. Otherwise, you’d feel like some of the responsibility lies with you. He doesn’t make T-shirts or quote the line because he knows it could encourage people to take drugs, which he acknowledges “is not right.” However, he’s all too conscious of the fact that “positive rap” doesn’t sell records.
If you’re a rapper like Trinidad James, this leaves you in an uncomfortable position. He evidently wants to make money from rapping about drugs, but isn’t stupid enough to think that it’s the right thing to do. In order to justify this hypocritical stance, he talks about how listeners have personal choice, how he is just relating “his experience” and how moderation is essential. This way, he can say he rapped about Molly because he was being “real” and anybody who takes the drug because of that is weak-minded. In other words, he can profit from talking about drug use while simultaneously claiming that he isn’t advocating it.
It’s clear that these two things are contradictory. He’s saying “you shouldn’t take drugs – but I do, and I have made a lot of money from bragging about it.” He’s pretending that teens aren’t influenced by rappers. The final, crushing blow to his “weak-minded” argument comes from arguably the most damaging thing about drugs: addiction.
Addiction arises from the natural, adaptive mechanism within the brain. To protect functioning while under constant onslaught from illicit chemicals, the brain makes structural changes to account for the chemical imbalance. This is a very real physiological mechanism that underpins addiction—it literally creates tolerance, as well as drug cravings and withdrawal when you stop taking the substance. Becoming addicted to drugs isn’t a sign of a weak mind; it’s actually an expected neurological response to regular drug use.
Trinidad James, in the name of absolving his conscience, is spreading misleading and insulting ideas about people who become addicted to drugs. He may want to pretend that only “weak-minded” people take his raps seriously and become addicted to drugs, and he may want to believe that you can talk about drugs in a song without becoming an unspoken advocate, but we have to live in the real world. Overdoses aren’t a sign of weakness; they’re a consequence of a serious health problem.