Lil Wayne's "Sizzurp" Habit Is the Hustler's Choice

By Jeff Deeney 10/12/11

Cough syrup, which the rapper says had him hooked, is considered an acceptable high among street dealers, while crack is frowned upon.

Lil Wayne quit sizzurp last year. Photo via

Yesterday 29-year-old rapper Lil Wayne publicly admitted what anyone with a passing familiarity with his work—such as the song Watch My Shoes, which contains the line "Syrup got me slow, like a turtle"—already knew. He's got a problem with the "sizzurp," or "purple drank," as codeine and promethazine cough syrup is known down South. And it was listening to the lyrics of UKG rapper Pimp C—who died of a sizzurp overdose in 2007—that got Lil Wayne started on his own addiction, he says. Cough syrup has long been the hustler's preferred high. It's considered among drug dealers as a manageable alternative to harder, more addictive opiates like heroin. Hustlers need to keep up the appearance among their street associates of having their substance abuse under control, in order not to be considered a liability who can't be trusted with large quantities of drugs and money. You would never front a kilo of coke to a dopefiend who runs needles—a hustler who smokes blunts all day while tippling codeine syrup and eating Xanax like they're Tic Tacs is considered more trustworthy and reliable. Cough syrup is just as popular in the North as the South: in the big East Coast cities it's known on the streets as "water"—or as "pancakes and syrup" when it's taken in combination with Xanax. Public perception is that street drug dealers aren't addicts. But social workers in the criminal justice system routinely page through casefile after casefile of corner hustler biographies that tell you it's not the case. Certain drugs are off limits for dealers: crack use, particularly, is a big taboo. (Remember the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ten Crack Commandments: Never get high on your own supply.) But syrup, pills, blunts, wet—basically anything that doesn't get lit on the end of a glass stem or put in a syringe—is game on. And the hustlers hit it pretty hard.

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Jeff Deeney is a social worker, freelance writer and recovering addict in Philadelphia. He is a contributor to the Atlantic and has written for the Daily Beast, The Nation, and The Marshall Project. Follow Jeff on Twitter.