LOS ANGELES — The powerful narcotic popped up on the cultural grid around the turn of the millennium. A Texas producer-remixer named DJ Screw paid homage to its woozy, heavy-lidded high by dramatically slowing down beats and vocals to replicate the drug’s sleepwalker euphoria.
Among Southern rappers, the chemical mixture — called “sizzurp” on the street — soon became as ubiquitous as gold jewelry.
This wasn’t some exotic new hallucinogen. In fact, it was usually mixed with fruit soda and sipped from oversized plastic foam cups. A cough syrup, fortified with codeine and promethazine and bought with a prescription, it was highly addictive — and technically legal.
Over the last dozen or so years, sizzurp has become a quietly pervasive cultural force that has infiltrated the Top 40 by way of the hip-hop genre Chopped and Screwed, pioneered by DJ Screw. The sound has turned up on tracks by elite hit makers including Beyonce, Kanye West and, most notably, dreadlocked rap superstar Lil Wayne, who found an unlikely muse in the drug’s chemical composition.
When news that Wayne was hospitalized after suffering a seizure on a music video set March 12, many thought sizzurp might be to blame. Spokespeople for the rapper denied it, and he was released from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center six days after he was admitted. Stress, not substance abuse, caused his hospitalization, said Bryan “Birdman” Williams, co-chief executive of the chart-topping rapper’s label Cash Money Records.
But sizzurp has long existed in the shadows of the music industry, and is even suspected in several deaths.
Followers of Lil Wayne (Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.) know well his affection for “sippin’ on syrup,” as the phenomenon is known.
As far back as 2005, Lil Wayne rapped affectionately about his favored cocktail — sizzurp with fruit soda to mask its unpleasant medicine taste — on the song “Lock & Load”: “I’m probably drinkin’ that syrup/ Thinking I won’t slip/ Even though I’m leaning like a broken hip.”