The Otherside of the Rap Industry: Lives Are At Stake
Otherside is the fourth track on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ five track “The VS. EP” released in 2009. The obvious description of the song’s lyrics on the surface is that it is a forward criticism of the glorification of drug use by performers in the rap industry; but Otherside goes so much deeper than that. Once I started looking into the background of the song and connecting all of the references in the lyrics, some more subtle than others, I was struck by the powerful message that is in itself a demonstration of Macklemore’s stance that rappers have more of an affect on the people that listen to their music than most of them realize. One of the primary topics addressed in the song is the abuse of cough syrup by popular rappers like Lil Wayne, who happens to be Macklemore’s favorite performer. At the age of 25 Macklemore himself rationalized his abuse of cough syrup by the belief that the drugs would help him be more creative, but in reality he would just sleep or play video games all day. Throughout the lyrics, Macklemore makes several references to Lil Wayne (also known as Weezy) and that correlation does not imply causation; that Lil Wayne’s drug use has nothing to do with his creativity as a rapper. “Despite how Lil Wayne lives/It’s not conducive to being creative” In reality his drug use only hurt his career in music because he didn’t get anything done in terms of writing or producing music because he actually lost his ability to be creative while under the influence of drugs. At 25 years old, because he had spent all his money on drugs and was not making any money, he was forced to move back to his parents’ house. Macklemore brings to attention that the fact that most rappers that glorify drug use have never understood the reality of addiction, and if they had been affected personally by the disease of addiction, that they would not glorify it the way they do. Macklemore draws not only on his own experience, but also uses the death of rapper Chad Bulter, aka Pimp C, who overdosed on cough syrup as an example of the downfall of drug use. “We live on the cusp of death thinking that it won’t be us”
People often think that cough syrup is safer than other recreational drugs but in reality it is just as deadly and addictive. “Little did he know it was just as addictive as base/And not the kind of hit from the kick drum” (reference to crack/cocaine) The abuse of addictive substances is a constant gamble of life and death, and every addict, whether they are famous or not, has an irrational sense of invincibility that they can control their drug use, that they will not use a particular drug, or that they have the self-control (for lack of a better word) to know their limits. It is unfortunately a rapid downfall from occasional recreational drug use to addiction because after a while of consistent use, your body begins to build up a tolerance to the chemicals and therefore, it takes more and more of a substance to experience the same high. It quickly becomes easier and easier to accidentally overdose, and the more you use, the higher the chances are that you eventually will. No one thinks it will happen to them until it does.
Many addicts don’t realize or recognize that they have a problem until they have already lost so much in their lives and given up on making their dreams a priority because the only thing they have their sights set on is chasing the next high. A few lines into the second verse Macklemore discusses the superficial nature of Hollywood through a reference to the television show “Californication” where the main character is a drug and sex addict but manages to maintain complete control of his life with very minimal negative effects of his using. This ties in to a previous analogy of Lil Wayne to an alien in the fact that there is only false positivity in the use and abuse of drugs and that it is next to impossible for a large majority of people to maintain control of their lives while maintaining an addiction, because all the drugs will do is “leave you broke, depressed and emotionally vacant”. Later in the same verse there is a comparison to the vicious cycle of addiction to the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” in which the main character experiences the same day on repeat. It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and this is a perfect description of living life in active addiction to drugs. Macklemore had four friends (three at the time of the release of Otherside) that overdosed on Oxycontin. He grew up with them and used to use with them, and even though he has seen the negative consequences of drug addiction from many different angles, fighting the disease of addiction is still a lifelong battle that Macklemore faces every day. Macklemore first got clean on August 10, 2008 and was clean for just over three years before he hit his rock bottom and relapsed on cough syrup and Oxycontin at the beginning of 2012 which lead to his song Starting Over on his album “The Heist” with Ryan Lewis.
Macklemore recognizes that people look up to rappers and use their drug use as a rationalization for their own use. He says that through that drug use, you are selling your potential to be successful to those drugs in the delusion that the drugs will help you achieve that potential. The last verse of the song says that growing up no one plans on becoming a drug addict. Everyone has dreams and goals they want to achieve and at a young age most people say they will never do drugs, and even after someone starts abusing drugs, comparing their use and addiction to others saying that they would never do a certain drug; this is the mindset of an addict that leads to that irrational sense of invisibility. Macklemore often refers to Otherside as “one of those songs that wrote itself”. He wants it to be a narrative of his own experience to specifically address young people that are influenced by artists in the rap industry, kids that are trying to define themselves and find their place in the world and what will define them, that using drugs does not make you more creative and will only ruin your life in so many different aspects. In my personal interpretation, Macklemore’s message to the rap industry here is that the perceived entertainment value of the “formula” of violence, drugs, and sex comes with a cost, and that rappers’ words and the example they set for their fans carries more weight than they realize.