Call it syrup. Call it sizzurp. Call it the purple. It's that dirty Sprite. Even call it that 'drank.' We all know that's what it is. It has been referenced in every era of hip-hop, starting with DJ Screw in the '90s. This, however, is not where it began.
Lean, a combination of promethazine and codeine, began in the 1960s, as a way for authors to access some part of their imagination that lies deep within. It was originally used by Lance Scott Walker, an author native to Houston. Originally, creative artists in Houston used Robitussin and beer together. As newer forms of alcohol became available to the public, the ingredients of lean were also adapted. With the introduction of wine coolers, the original mix was changed. The blues musicians of the time lived in the third and fifth wards, which we know today to be some of the roughest neighborhoods in Houston. As aspiring rappers assimilated into this fraternity of musicians, the lifestyle was also something they emulated. As hip-hop became the lifeline of the city of Houston from the late '80s to the early '90s, lean became the staple for social gatherings and became an identifying feature of why Houston hip-hop was unique.
One of the things often overlooked about lean — likely because of its presence in the hip-hop scene — is its potentially life-threatening impact on one's health. First of all, let’s talk about what lean usually contains today. From the late '90s to today, the premiere ingredients in the mix are promethazine and codeine. Although these ingredients are available only as prescription medication, obtaining promethazine and codeine is not a challenge for those who seek it. The danger behind promethazine and codeine taken together in larger-than-dose quantities is that they are in fact anti-psychotic drugs and can have the side effect of paranoia. The danger is not just an urban myth or Onion article-type satire — it is real. Many attribute the deaths of Houston legends like DJ Screw and Pimp-C to lean and how it posed serious dangers to their health. Lil Wayne's seizures have also been linked to his heavy use of lean. Lil Wayne has since come out in public and condemned the use of the drug, while also acknowledging the degree of his addiction early in his career. All things considered, although one would think that cough syrup and Sprite are both designed to be ingested, they were never meant to be used together as a recreational narcotic.
The drink has even moved out of the hip-hop circles and made its way into the sports realm. In 2005, JaMarcus Russell, who is the poster child for draft busts, was episodically drowsy and unable to perform. While many speculated that lean was involved, it was confirmed only when he was arrested for possession of codeine-based cough syrup. In 2006, Terrance Kiel of the Chargers was also arrested while sending cough syrup containing codeine to one of his friends. He was cut from the team immediately. Teams and players should understand the severity of this recreational drug and be vigilant in enforcing a zero tolerance policy, as well as encourage individuals addicted to the drug to seek help.
H-Town and drank might go hand in hand, but understanding the risks behind its recreational use is important. While we can still bump to songs like “Drank in My Cup” and albums like Dirty Sprite 2, maybe recreational lean use is better suited to stay in the songs.