Entertainment

03.17.13

Lil Wayne Hospitalization: What the Hell Is Sizzurp?

Rapper Lil Wayne found himself in critical condition after allegedly overdosing on sizzurp. But what exactly is the purple drink? Melissa Leon explains.

What the hell is sizzurp?

That was question of the hour after a TMZ report tore through the Internet on Friday and sent fans of the four-time Grammy Award–winning rapper Lil Wayne into a panic. Wayne, né Dwayne Carter Jr., suffered multiple seizures on Tuesday and was rushed to Los Angeles’s Cedars Sinai Hospital. But according to the report, only hours passed after Wayne’s release on Wednesday before his bodyguard found him unconscious on the floor of his bedroom and rushed him back to the hospital, where he did not stabilize. TMZ went on to say that the rapper, who was supposedly in a coma and breathing through tubes, was being given his last rites, with crying family members and friends standing around him. Doctors had found high amounts of codeine in his system, with TMZ reporting he went on a sizzurp binge in the hours after his release.

Friends of the rapper refuted the reports in several tweets, with Mack Maine—president of the record label Wayne founded, Young Money—tweeting, “Wayne is alive and well! We watching the Syracuse game ... thanks for the prayers and concern ... he will update you all soon. We will be releasing an official statement shortly but dont believe the nonsense about comas and tubes to breathe ... that's false!!” An hour later, Wayne himself also tweeted, “I’m good everybody. Thx for the prayers and love.”

Rapper Pimp C
Rapper Pimp C, whose real name was Chad Butler, speaks during a jailhouse interview at the Terrell Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice near Rosharon, Texas, in March 2005. Overdosing on cough syrup killed Pimp C in 2008. ()

No one, however, denied that sizzurp caused the seizures.

The prescription-strength, cough syrup-laced drink, usually made with sugary fruit-flavored soda and dissolved Jolly Ranchers thrown in for extra sweetness, is addictive though not illegal if the medicine is obtained with a prescription (selling it, of course, is illegal). Typically consumed out of Styrofoam cups, it gets users high through the euphoric side effects of the active ingredients in prescription cough syrup: codeine and promethazine. Motor-skill impairment, lethargy, drowsiness, and a dissociative feeling from all other parts of the body are also side effects of the drink. Over-the-counter cough syrup may also be used, though the effects of that are more hallucinogenic than euphoric. In either case, we’re not talking about a few extra doses of medicine. Sizzurp-sized helpings of cough syrup can exceed up to 25 times the recommended dose. On top of this, vodka or crushed painkillers are sometimes tossed into the drink as well.

You can see then how this could be deadly.

Overdosing on cough syrup is what killed rapper Pimp C in 2008 and what is suspected to have caused the death of Big Moe in 2007. Internet rumors have also speculated that Rapper T.I. is a user of the substance, since photos of his car during an arrest for marijuana possession in 2010 showed Styrofoam cups inside. Lil Wayne’s alleged love of sizzurp is no secret either, as he’s regularly appeared in interviews with a Styrofoam cup in hand.

Video screenshot

Lil Wayne talks about his addiction to sizzurp.

Wayne often raps about the drink as well, most famously in his 2008 single “Me and My Drank,” in which he refers to sizzurp as a woman “with service road curves and highway eyes.” In defense of his love of the drink, which had come under increased scrutiny since Pimp C’s death, Wayne raps: “This is how we do it, do it in the south / One more ounce will make me feel so great / Wait, now I can’t feel my face.” The “south,” as Wayne notes, is where the drink as we know it today has its origins. The 1990s underground hip-hop scene of Houston first popularized the drink, along with the music of DJ Screw (creator of the “chopped and screwed” remix style now associated with sizzurp) and Three 6 Mafia’s 2000 single “Sippin’ on Some Syrup.” Sizzurp—also known as “purple drank,” “lean,” “barre” and “purple jelly”—then spread to several nearby Southern states, including Wayne’s home state of Louisiana.

Of course, it isn’t only rap stars who are into sizzurp. Cheap and easy to make, the drink is popular among teenagers. Last year, a study found that 5.5 percent of surveyed 12th graders had gotten high off cough syrup in one way or another. Sizzurp is also sometimes used to dip blunts of marijuana in before smoking, or to help with the chest congestion that crack-cocaine users often experience. Those into “robo-tripping” often just chug the medicine without any chaser at all.

As for Wayne, as of Saturday, he is said to be still in critical condition, but “recovering.”