By now you've probably heard that failed Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was arrested earlier this week at his home in Mobile, Alabama, and charged with illegal possession of codeine syrup, a controlled substance. This narcotic is apparently the key ingredient in a recreational mixed drink called variously "Purple Drank" or "Sizzurp" or "Lean," a mix of alcohol, codeine syrup, 7-Up and Jolly Ranchers candy.
In all the press coverage about this that I've seen, "Purple Drank" is inevitably described as being popular in the "hip hop music scene" in the South. The ubiquity of this terminology across dozens of news reports got me wondering whether this is the literal truth, or whether the term "hip hop music scene" was actually just some sort of racial euphemism, like "urban."
News reports like This One in USA Today, which uses the term, note that the drink was initially popularized by southern rap artists, lending credence to the former interpretation. But JaMarus Russell was an NFL football player, not a musician. And this same USA Today article notes at its conclusion that, "In 2004, the University of Texas found that 8.3% of secondary school students in Texas had taken codeine syrup to get high." Surely those school kids are not all part of the "hip hop music scene" in the South. While "Purple Drank" is illegal and unhealthy, is its apparent popularity among an identifiable subset of the population really a racially sensitive issue requiring the use of convoluted code words in lieu of more direct demographic descriptors?