I'm on that Pimp C / I'm on that DJ Screw / I'm on that Big Hawk / I don't know what to do / Pour up a 3 or 4 / My sprite so dirty fool / My b***h remind me all the time 'that drink will kill you.'" — Future, “Dirty Sprite.”
Somehow Future’s cautionary plug on his 2011 ode to his predilection for sipping “lean” fell on deaf ears — hell, even his. So, while references of the mixture’s imminent doom over one’s very existence ride low-key on the Mike WiLL Made-It produced track, nobody seemed to give a damn then, before that and certainly not now.
Simply put, a cough syrup-based cocktail — codeine (prescription cough syrup), promethazine (an antihistamine), Sprite (on ice) and an optional Jolly Rancher candy for taste. The combination of codeine (an opiate) and promethazine (a sedative) creates a narcotic effect that depresses the central nervous and respiratory systems, making abuse of the drug an easy way to end up with heart and lung failure, namely Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal and is marked by symptoms that include fever, stiff muscles, confusion, abnormal thinking, fast or irregular heartbeat and sweating.
Taking into account the medicinal ingredients of the mix are not accessible to people under 18, nor distributed without a prescription, you would think...
Not quite thanks to a black market that seems to have codeine and promethazine on tap.
With a history that finds its roots in 1960s-era Houston, lean (AKA “purple drank,” “dirty sprite,” “barre” and “syrup”) is nothing new. But it’s profile in mainstream culture has been elevated to a state of reverence in the past three decades thanks in large part to the co-signs of several rappers, including the aforementioned Future.
While rappers are busy promoting this drank, a lot of them aren’t living past 35 years old. Not quite the potion for everlasting life, lean consumption is responsible for the high-profile overdose deaths of Texas chopped-and-screwed musical pioneer DJ Screw (d. 2000), Pimp C (d. 2007) and, most recently, the untimely 2015 death of 26-year-old A$AP Yams. It is also rumored to be the culprit in the non-fatal seizures and subsequent hospitalizations of rappers Rick Ross and Lil’ Wayne in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Now, you may be asking yourself, why in the hell would anyone drink lean?
Well, in part, they’re idiots. We jest...somewhat. But the answer doesn’t seem to be 100 percent clear in the court of cultural opinion. In a vacuum, this product is irresponsible at worst, but when coupled with the current popularity of “pill pop” rap and it’s general effects on the body, it is definitely not harmless. What is clear is its “marketing” is concentrated to the hip-hop community, a community that influences various groups that cross color and age lines.
Enter: Legal Lean.
Launched in 2016 by an unidentified businessman, Legal Lean is positioned primarily as a specially formulated relaxant blend of natural herb extracts and essential vitamins. Think a reverse 5-hour ENERGY®. And like every good snake oil, it supposedly also works as a stress-reliever, treatment for insomnia and a possible salve to illegal drugs. Sold online at LegalLeanStore.com, the Florida-based company also produces tutorials on how to prepare and serve the “relaxant” and posts several pictures of fans sipping the product from Styrofoam cups — the official chalice of most illegal lean drinkers.
Much like candy cigarettes and K2 — the latter of which was marketed as legal weed only to be revealed as something far more sinister — this legal alternative finds its core demo in teens and young twenty-somethings who want to emulate their favorite rap artists. And the people involved with the distribution of this product aren’t fazed by criticism that they are taking fiscal advantage of that fact.
“Stop pocket watching the next man. Let us do our thing,” said the company’s resident ambassador and rapper Bezz Believe (born Brad Markowitz) in an interview with BET.com last year. “We aren’t judging what you’re doing. We’re not selling a product that’s harmful. [Legal Lean is] a lot safer than [what] I know a lot of people are doing. Just let us do our thing…So relax on it. It’s a good product and there is a demand for it.”
A 2014 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration report said that one in 10 teens admits to using cough syrup or cold medicine to get high. And if that wasn’t alarming, 20,101 of the accidental deaths in 2015 caused by opioid abuse were a result of overdoses related to prescription pain relievers. But those stats don’t have anything to do with Legal Lean — because it is legal, remember? And it's “100 percent hustle.”
The 28-year-old Markowitz, in his own words, has flipped a once-negative situation into an enterprise that street heads can attach themselves to that won’t have them facing jail time. “The streets really f**k with me, because I’m like a lot of their tickets to legitimize what they’re doing.”
The longevity of this virgin narcotic is up for debate. But Markowitz and his brothers in Legal Lean slanging are focused on expansion. “[We want to] keep expanding at a nice pace,” he shared. “We’re hoping to sponsor concerts and events, [and attach ourselves to] whatever is really poppin'.”