Hits from the bong: Rap has fewer drug references than other music genres, study finds

Put away that purple drank - you're less likely to hear references to drug use in rap music than any other genre, new research has found.

An analysis by drug rehab site addictions.com of more than 1.4 million popular songs found drug references in only 1.3 percent of them.

If you like your music to hit a bit harder, try country. Yes, the genre that gave the world Shania Twain and Billy Ray Cyrus sits high atop the list, with 1.6 percent of all tunes mentioning drug use. Country is followed closely by jazz and pop.

Country is followed closely by jazz and pop. Hip hop and rap came last, just behind folk music.

A bad rap

James Cox, lecturer in popular music and music technology at the University of Queensland, did his PhD on hip hop. He says the results aren't surprising to him, as a "scholar of hip hop culture".

"For most of its 40-year history, hip hop has been subject to a variety of stereotypes that have not been representative of the genre as a whole."

While mainstream hip hop might have a heavy focus on drugs, Dr Cox told Newshub there's more to the genre than the likes of Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne.

"The study does not take into account songs that might contain drug references, but are anti-drug songs. Recently there have been many hip hop songs that have taken this path, where artists have talked about selling and using drugs but also discuss the negative effects of drugs and how their use of drugs negatively impacted their lives."

When it comes to individual artists, rap does lead the way. Veterans Kottonmouth Kings topped the list, clocking up 440 references.

"For those more familiar with drug-related slang, this might not sound terribly surprising," the study says. "The hip-hop band's own name is a clear giveaway, referring to one of the less-celebrated effects of cannabis."

Eminem, The Game, Lil Wayne, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Insane Clown Posse also made it into the top 10, of whom all were rappers - whose songs tend be more lyric-heavy than country.

Dr Cox says there's likely more the study didn't pick up on.

"They only take into account the most common names and drug nicknames that people are aware of. For example, D.R.A.M.'s song 'Broccoli' with Lil Yachty, a song about marijuana, would not have been included in the study as this weed nickname was not in the list of terms used to search."

Because they got high

Addictions.com data scientist Logan Freedman told Newsweek many people have an outdated view of rap, a style of music that's relatively young and still evolving.

"I think there was a huge drug culture in the '90s that was blossoming into rap music that simply isn't as big as it once was," he said. "It's really amazing, I think because marijuana has become more normalised in our culture, a lot of country artists are signing about it more often than ever."

Meanwhile Dr Cox says rappers have diversified into a wide range of topics.

"There is a lot of really positive hip hop that discusses a range of social issues, particularly racism. We are also starting to see hip hop that deals with sexism and homophobia in society.

"Hip hop is like an iceberg - the visible section in the mainstream media is only a small part of hip hop culture."

Hits from the bong

Rock band Queens of the Stone Age got a special mention in the study. They had the third-highest rate of mentions for the drug ecstasy, despite only mentioning it one song - 'Feel Good Hit of the Summer' - in which the phrase "nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol" appears 15 times.

Rapper Method Man topped the list for references to meth, Eminem for pills and English rock band Kent for heroin.

The most popular drug overall was marijuana. While jazz singers prefer acid and folk singers opt for cocaine, every other genre's most popular drug was the green.

Drug references peaked in the mid-2000s, at around 6 percent of songs, and appear to have been falling ever since.

The drugs don't work

Dr Cox says drug references in music aren't necessarily "harmless entertainment", but parents shouldn't worry too much about their kids filling their ears with drug-fuelled lyrics by Dre and Snoop.

"There has always been a moral panic around music, movies, TV, and video games that might 'set a bad example', but there has been little conclusive proof that this is the case.

"Also, there are many songs that have hidden sexual meanings that when you hear when a young child you don't pick up on until later years. In the same way, many songs that have drug references are often not understood as being about drugs unless the listener already has a knowledge of drug slang and context in which to understand these references.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that it is harmless entertainment, but it certainly is entertainment and should be viewed as that."

Addictions.com used data from website Songmeanings in the study.