An Analysis of Substances Referenced in Hit Rap and Rock Songs

Drugs and Music

Most people can say they’ve heard some sort of drug or alcohol reference while listening to a popular song. These references, whether it be in the title of the song or in the lyrics, have appeared throughout many decades and across multiple genres. They can be as straightforward as using words such as “alcohol” or “cocaine,” or disguised by using slang terms such as “henny” and “molly.” Today, it almost seems as if it’s more difficult to listen to popular songs that don’t have some sort of reference or subliminal message having to do with drugs or alcohol.

Thinking about popular music made us wonder how many times substances are actually mentioned in popular songs. At American Addiction Centers, we figured it would be fitting to analyze the most popular music from specific genres in the past few years to see how many of these references are made. We decided to take a closer look at rap and rock songs specifically. By taking the Billboard Top 100 rap and rock songs each year from 2012 to 2018 and recording the number of times substances are mentioned, we were able to find out exactly how many references are made. Take a look at what we found below:

Drugs Influence on Music


Count of Drug/Alcohol References in Rock & Rap Songs Graph


We counted every different substance or nickname for a substance referenced in a song’s lyrics just once, regardless of how many times it was repeated in a song. According to our data, 2018 had the most unique drug or alcohol references among the year’s most popular rap and rock songs with 3.11 unique substance references per song on average. 2015 had the lowest average with just under 2 unique references per song on average. Overall, however, there were 2.67 unique drug or alcohol references per song on average throughout both genres from 2012 to 2018.

When it came to comparing the two genres against each other, we found that rap has a substantially larger amount of unique references per song on average than rock. The largest difference was found in 2018, where rock music had 1.48 unique references per song on average while rap had an average of 4.89 unique references per song. The combined average of drug and alcohol references in rock music from 2012 to 2018 was 1.55 references per song. For rap, there were 4.21 unique references per song from 2012 to 2018.


Artists with the Most Unique References to Substances in Top Rock & Rap Songs Chart


Since there are plenty of songs that have drug or alcohol references, we wondered which artists used the most unique drug and alcohol references each year. Rap artists had the most unique references every year except for 2015 when Twenty One Pilots topped the charts with 17 unique references. Eminem had the highest amount of unique references in a single year with 24 unique references in both 2013 and 2014. Eminem is followed by Drake in 2016 with 21 unique references in 2016. Most recently, Migos songs featuring Gucci Mane and Travis Scott each have 16 unique references in 2017 and 2018 respectively.


Artists and Songs with the Most Unique Substances Referenced in Top Rock & Rap Songs Chart


Out of all the songs that have unique references to drugs and alcohol in them, which specific songs and artists have the most? We found that Drake had the most unique substance references (61) from 2012 to 2018. Drake is followed by Kendrick Lamar (57), Eminem (55), and Twenty One Pilots (45).

For songs, “Move That Doh” by Future Featuring Pharrell, Pusha T, and Casino took first place with 18 unique references to substances in 2014. After “Move That Doh,” “Slippery” by Migos featuring Gucci Mane was next with 16 unique references in 2017. “Rap God” by Eminem and “Karate Chop (Remix)” by Future featuring Lil Wayne were both tied with 15 unique substance references each in 2013 and 2014.


How Many Total Substances are Referenced in Top Rap & Rock Songs Chart


Across both rap and rock, 2017 was the year with the most references (including multiple instances) of alcohol or drugs overall with 7.52 total references per song on average. 2018 comes close behind, with 7.25 total references per song on average. The lowest year was 2015, with only 5.54 total references per song on average. From 2012 to 2018, all Top 100 songs in rap and rock music combined had 6.73 total references per song.

For rap, 2016 had the highest amount of total references mentioned per song with almost 12 being used on average. For rock, 2015 was the highest with 4.8 total references mentioned per song on average. The largest difference between the averages of rap and rock was in 2016.


Artists and Songs with the Most Total Substances Referenced in Top Rap and Rock Songs Chart

In a single year, Ella Mai had the highest number of total substance references (including multiples) with 95 total references in 2018. The second highest was Tyga featuring Lil Wayne in 2012 with 80 total references. After Tyga and Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar took the third-highest spot with 79 total references in 2013.


Artists and Songs with the Most Total Substances Referenced in Top Rap and Rock Songs Chart


The last pieces of data we wanted to highlight are the artists and songs with the most substance references (including multiples) of all hit songs. When it comes to the artist, Kendrick Lamar has the highest amount of total substances references with 183 references. After Kendrick Lamar come rock bands Twenty One Pilots (160) and Imagine Dragons (147), who are then followed by Drake (145).

The song with the most total substances references is “Trip” by Ella Mai with 87 total references in the song. “Faded” by Tyga featuring Lil Wayne is next with 80 total references, and next is “Swimming Pools (Drank)” by Kendrick Lamar with 69 total references.

It’s pretty interesting to note that although 9 out of the ten songs with the most total references are rap songs, two out of the top three artists who rank in the number of total substances referenced are rock bands. Generally, however, rap dominated in most categories in the number of references used, whether it be each unique reference or total references. 

Drug Addiction Treatment

While singing these songs may be harmless, the substances are not. At Laguna Treatment Hospital, we strive to help people recover from their addictions. If you need assistance in your path to recovery, don’t hesitate to call us at (855) 976-9331.

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