Opinion: How Anti-Drug Pop Songs Are Only Making Drug Culture Look Cool
At the beginning of 2018, indigenous rap powerhouse and YNBL boss Olamide released Science Student, his first single of the year that ignited a controversy for its seeming glorification of hard drugs. Catchy and blippy, and full of Olamide’s playful lyrical imprints, the rapper had designed Science Student as a social corrective, speaking directly to the country’s drug problem predominantly associated with young people. “Don’t abuse alcohol. Stop mixing what you don’t know about. Live responsibly and drink responsibly.” Olamide clarified the song’s intention in an Instagram post.
Jointly produced by YNBL in-house producers Young John and BBanks, and voguishly enabled by the viral dance “shaku shaku”, Science Student‘s supposed anti-drug message could barely cut through its own aesthetics and gloss. In the February-released video, helmed by Unlimited LA and featuring most scenes in a kind of nightmarish crack house, a cautionary “Say No To Drugs” message is scribbled on a wall. Olamide wanders from space to space, slightly entranced by the occupants as they combine smoky chemicals frothing from conical flasks and beakers.
In a way, the song pays homage to laboratory chemistry classes undertaken by high school science students and, with their tendency to curiously combine and concoct, Olamide seamlessly grafts Science Student into this template. But it’s not exactly effective. I’d say the song makes drug users feel comfortable and acknowledged, a loving, barbless anthem dedicated to them from Baddo himself. There are no repercussions or consequences, and hence the drug culture the song claims to address breathes with a new glamorous fire.
Olamide emerged from the streets, and his music mostly always loops back to his origins, spliced with hard-boiled realities. That a controversy sprung from the release of Science Student isn’t all that surprising; it’s Olamide in his musical playground, unable to make a convincing youth-cultural critique on drug abuse while still being stylistically familiar. Science Student is a smokescreen at worst. When YNBL in-house disc jockey DJ Enimoney released the Sarz-produced Diet in January, in which he taps Reminisce, Slimcase, and Mavin’s first lady Tiwa Savage, the ties to Olamide’s anti-drug rap single were thematically clear.
Diet is loud and gaudy, and bellows with more atmosphere and rhythm. Essentially, the song takes up space. Shoehorned in the zeitgeisty shaku shaku, Diet is a street slang for “slow down” or “take it easy”, and ostensibly puts a caution on the use of codeine. “Saint sami ganja, saint sami ganja, slow down on a codeine diet,” rave-of-the-moment artiste Slimcase introduces the song. Saint sami ganja is Slimcase’s grandiose, self-applied catchphrase, but it rings with a suspicious note: Sensimilla, a seedless but highly concentrated type of cannabis. Cannabis culture and the Nigerian music industry are inextricably linked, from old-era Majek Fashek to the zesty, dancehall sounds of Burna Boy.
Like Science Student, the Clarence Peters-directed video for Diet comes with a caveat, albeit one written in small letters across a cough syrup bottle thrust at viewers. Other blink-and-miss references are the Purple Drank, concocted from prescription cough syrup, soft drinks like Sprite or Mountain Dew, and fruit-flavoured candy. Dancers fall into purple lakes in the video and never emerge again. Diet wears no ambiguity, though, and the song will be a useful footnote in understanding the industry’s gravitation towards glorifying drug culture masked as artistic activism. Or, maybe, it’s all just in my head.