Call it the multiple Grammy-winning rapper’s cultural prerogative, a byproduct of his New Orleans upbringing. Within the gritty environment that spawned Lil Wayne and Southern hip-hop, purple drank provides a cheap, legal, often medical-insurance-subsidized alternative to dangerous street drugs like crack and heroin, especially for those below the poverty line, according to “Leaning on Syrup,” a report on opioid cough syrup abuse from the Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
Recreational users generally mix two ounces of codeine-promethazine cough syrup with a 12-ounce can of soda to achieve a high. Habitual abusers with a high opioid tolerance have been known to take up to 25 times the recommended dosage over the course of a day.
In a videotaped public service announcement Lil Wayne posted to the Web in 2011, the multi-platinum-selling Louisiana rapper addresses his complex relationship with cough syrup:
“I don’t do this to be cool,” Lil Wayne explains, holding up a container of promethazine codeine syrup clearly bearing his given name. “I did this because I was sick.”
The risks of sizzurp certainly seem to outweigh its intoxicating benefits.
In 2000, just as he was coming to prominence for the Chopped and Screwed sound, DJ Screw died from an overdose on cough syrup and other substances, including marijuana and alcohol, a medical examiner concluded.
DJ Screw’s protege and member of his Screwed Up Click crew, MC Big Moe, died at 33 in 2007, after a heart attack and a weeklong coma. No direct connection was made to sizzurp, but Big Moe, whose music was a psychedelic take on Chopped and Screwed mixes, was not shy about discussing his use of codeine cough syrup. His best-selling song was “Purple Stuff” on his “Purple World” album.
Also in 2007, Pimp C of the Texas rap duo UGK died at age 33 in Los Angeles after overdosing on codeine cough syrup in conjunction with a preexisting sleep condition, according to the Los Angeles County coroner. Ironically, the rapper may have helped popularize the substance that sped his demise. He provided a guest rap on Three 6 Mafia’s underground hit “Sippin’ on Sizzurp,” which spread the gospel of recreational cough syrup use in 2000.