Drugs. Muse, enhancement, and, often, tragic thief of lives. Music’s history is deeply intertwined with narcotics of all kinds: singers opining about the joys and perils of marijuana, cocaine, and a whole host of other narcotics (not to mention alcohol, another topic with its own storied collection of songs for another day) further back than recorded sound can attest. Cataloging the best sampling of songs about drugs is a tall order, with a rich body of work already in existence and new tracks coming out at breakneck speed.
Check out 35 of our favorite odes, warnings, and meditations about music’s old companion, drugs.
Hit “next” or click the pictures to read on…
35. Danny Brown – “Die Like a Rockstar”
Drug(s): Cocaine, Marijuana, Adderall, Alcohol, MDMA, Mushrooms
Though Danny Brown is a newcomer to rising stardom, he’s certainly no novice in the realm of rockstar trappings–least of all drugs. On “Die Like A Rockstar,” Brown eschews specific drugs for a kitchen sink approach, talking about any drug and every drug in range, and running down a menagerie of stars who liked to get high and were ultimately laid low by their addictions.
34. John Holt – “Police In Helicopter”
Detailing the harrowing travails of marijuana growers and dealers, John Holt’s “Police In helicopter” lends a low-key groove to a weighty topic, a deceptive set up for a rebellious cry against lawmen and legislators that preaches live and let live when it comes to Jamaica’s unofficial national crop.
33. Devin the Dude – “Doobie Ashtray”
As one of the most relatable and humorous everyman rappers, Devin the Dude is no stranger to flipping common hip-hop tropes on their heads. On “Doobie Ashtray,” Devin marries DJ Premier’s molasses-slow bass thump with a cautionary tale of two-faced friends who smile in your face when you’re doing well, and steal your weed when you’re down.
32. The Amps – “Hoverin'”
Fuzzy guitars, lurching drums, and vocals by Kim Deal that rise and fall, often getting buried in the mix, give The Amps’ “Hoverin'” a hazy feel that perfectly complements lyrics like “Hoverin’ above the universe/ We were floatin’/ We didn’t know where we were.” While “Hoverin'” doesn’t name check any particular narcotics, it nails the aura of an aimless high.
31. Lil Wayne – “I Feel Like Dying”
Drug(s): Codeine, Marijuana, Alcohol, Antidepressants
No stranger to rapping about drugs, Lil Wayne took his predilection for narcotics to psychedelic heights on mixtape track “I Feel Like Dying,” an ode to being so high you feel like, well, dying. Wayne adopts a brooding, interior tone, unusual for a musical landscape laden with brazen celebration and extroversion. Shining the light on the depths of his mind, Wayne hits a darker chord.
30. Third Eye Blind – “Semi Charmed Life”
Drug(s): Crystal Meth
Beneath the upbeat melody of one of Third Eye Blind’s most popular songs is the grim undercurrent of a person succumbing to crystal meth. Lead singer Stephen Jenkins tells the tale of a girl “wanting something else” in her life, turning towards meth. Eventually, the unnamed protagonist of the song laments her decision, wishing to have never gone down that path.
29. Redman and Method Man – “How High”
Though its verses don’t deal directly with Redman and Method Man’s drug of choice, the title, chorus, and any knowledge you might have of Red and Meth should lay their love bare. Weed is most certainly on the duo’s collective mind and the spare, bass heavy Erick Sermon production sets a hypnotic foundation for letting your mind drift.
28. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five wrote “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” as–surprise!–an anti-cocaine song, mocking the party lifestyle that involves surrounding the drug of choice for many during the 1980s. In a time before so called “conscious” rap, the group pointedly spells out the reality of those who depend on coke, warning those tempted to try it.
27. Black Sabbath – “Sweet Leaf”
Plodding, shrieking, and coughing into gear, Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” provides one of music’s heaviest love letters to a long celebrated intoxicant–one that lead singer Ozzy Osbourne sings “introduced me to my mind.” “Sweet Leaf” rides a harder and, at times, faster groove than one might associate with the drug best known for making the couches and iTunes visualizers exciting, but Osbourne’s lyrics shred any doubt: Black Sabbath loved Mary Jane.
26. The Small Faces – “Itchycoo Park”
Nothing says mind-altering fun like a nice sunny melody and a metaphorical journey to a happy place with a silly name like Itchycoo Park. Short-lived, influential British quartet the Small Faces provide such a journey on the curiously titled single, which potential refers to one of several parks in London where, as lead singer Steve Marriott intones, one might go to get high and cry because “it’s all too beautiful.”
25. Fleetwood Mac – “Gold Dust Woman”
When Spin once asked Stevie Nicks what “Gold Dust Woman” was about, the Fleetwood Mac singer replied: “I don’t really know. It’s weird that I’m not quite sure. It can’t be all about cocaine.” While there are many interpretations to the lyrics–like a woman succumbing to drugs after a bad break-up–the song undoubtedly at least in part about drugs.
24. Cypress Hill – “Hits From the Bong”
As the old adage goes, keep it simple stupid. Rocking a classic Dusty Springfield sample and heavy drums, Cypress Hill’s B-Real pushes metaphors and complexity out of the way and celebrates his favorite herb and method of delivery with two straightforward verses that have been etched in the memories of rap fans, stoners, and Bonnaroo attendees (not mutually exclusive groups, of course) since the song’s release in 1993.
23. The Rolling Stones – “Mother’s Little Helper”
A cautionary tale about drug abuse may seem a bit odd coming from some of rock’s hardest partiers, the Rolling Stones, but “Mother’s Little Helper” is precisely that, detailing the the plight of domestic mothers turning to barbiturates to escape from the stresses of daily life. The song–an eerie composition with a driving beat and sitar-mimicking guitar riff–ends with the haunting portent: “And if you take more of those / you will get an overdose/ No more running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper/ They just helped you on your way/ through your busy dying day.”
22. Public Enemy – “Night of the Living Baseheads”
Drug(s): Cocaine, Crack
As crack ravaged America’s cities throughout the 1980s, many rappers immortalized the drug in song. Few attacked the destructive narcotic with as trenchant and intelligent a take as that of Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads,” examining the word “dope,” attitudes toward crack and cocaine, and the damage visited on communities by dealers and junkies alike.
21. Johnny Cash – “Cocaine Blues”
Drug(s): Cocaine & Alcohol
While Johnny Cash had his own public battles with drugs, his iconic performance of “Cocaine Blues” actually details the coke-fueled crimes of a character named Willy Lee. Originally written by T.J. “Red” Arnall and covered by artists as wide ranging as Woody Guthrie, Led Zeppelin, and Keith Richards, “Cocaine Blues”–Cash’s version in particular–remains one of the great outlaw tales in the American songbook, a warning to the perils of whiskey and cocaine: “Come all you hypes and listen unto me/ Just lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be.”
20. The Gravediggaz – “Defective Trip (Trippin’)”
Drug(s): Exhaust fumes, Marijuana, Glue, Sodium Pentathol, Angel Dust, Mescaline, Alcohol
Paranoia. Dementia. Hallucinations. Glue sniffing. That’s the short list of funhouse treats awaiting listeners in “Defective Trip (Trippin’),” the singular dedication to all types of narcotics from pioneering horrorcore group the Gravediggaz (consisting of legendary producers RZA and Prince Paul and emcees Frukwan and Too Poetic). With its murky house-of-horrors production and three completely unhinged verses, “Defective Trip” is as close to a recorded encapsulation of a bad trip as you can get.
19. Cannibal Ox – “Painkillers”
Drug(s): Alcohol, Cocaine, Marijuana
Opening with a hazy, vaguely Middle Eastern-inflected sample before bursting into watery organ blasts and a rising, unsettling bassline, Cannibal Ox’s proggy, meandering “Painkillers” takes a sharp eye to the drugs and why people do them, examining the pros of escape from stress and the cons close at hand with equal parts humor and the gravity of daily struggles.
18. Elliott Smith – “Needle in the Hay”
Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” is beautiful, but it’s tragic, heartbreaking, and depressing as well. Its weight is only increased by Smith’s own tragic story. Capturing the dark, desperate side of addiction through music isn’t an easy thing to do, but for all of his talents, Smith’s strongest may have been his gift for devastating honesty, an double-edge skill that makes “Needle in the Hay” one of the most powerful drug songs ever written.
17. Eminem – “Drug Ballad”
Drug(s): Alcohol, Glue, Ecstasy, Marijuana
In a catalog rife with odes to uppers, downers, pills, powders, leaves, and liquor, it’s hard to choose one fitting representative, but “Drug Ballad” represents Eminem’s definitive statement on narcotics, outlining highs and lows, and reminding us that if the parents did drugs, the kids probably will too.
16. Nine Inch Nails – “Hurt”
Throughout Nine Inch Nails’ two-plus decades at the forefront of industrial rock, lead singer and maestro Trent Reznor has led the band through psychosexual torment, anti-establishment screeds, and politically fueled paranoia. In a catalog packed with evocative, disturbing writing, few songs cut as deeply as “Hurt,” Reznor’s haunting exploration of the psychic consequences of heroin addiction.
15. Luniz – “I Got 5 On It
The Luniz, like Devin the Dude, understand your pain: you want to smoke, but you’re short on funds. Not to be deprived of their cheeba, the duo devises the perfect plan: “I got 5 on it, let’s go half on a sack.” Over an indomitable beat that manages to sound of its era and simultaneously contemporary (and packs plenty of bass), the Luniz weave their classic tale of splitting the costs of a dimebag.
14. Snoop Dogg – “Gin and Juice”
Drug(s): Marijuana, Alcohol
Though Snoop Dogg’s iconic party anthem is most closely associated with its eponymous drink, there’s plenty of chronic smoke to go around–as evidenced by the song’s unforgettable chorus: “Rolling down the street, smoking indo/ Sippin’ on gin and juice.” A toast and a toke to the good life.
13. D’Angelo – “Brown Sugar”
The metaphor of weed as woman is no stranger to the funk and soul canons. Few artists, however, have attached the requisite cool to their love letters. D’Angelo’s debonair “Brown Sugar” rides a sultry, understated groove that feels as intimate as a hit taken alone with the lights and music low.
12. Bob Marley – “Kaya”
“Kaya” is unmistakably a weed song, but it takes on an light, natural tone instead of leaning towards the heavy vibes of some tracks on this list. Bob paints a scene of a rainy day outside while he’s inside, floating above it all, and feeling good. “I feel so high, I even touch the sky/Above the falling rain.” Instead of glamorizing getting fucked up off bong hits in college dorm rooms, Bob’s weed anthem (one of many) celebrates the herb with respect.
11. Rick James – “Mary Jane”
If D’Angelo is afraid to take off his cool in the presence of Mary Jane, Rick James is throwing off his pants and jacket and declaring his love with reckless abandon. With a popping, plucked bassline and lush arrangement, James gushes over his beloved plant in the subtly titled “Mary Jane,”
10. Eric Clapton – “Cocaine”
Though originally written and performed by J.J. Cale, “Cocaine” became an enduring hit for Eric Clapton a year after its initial incarnation. Clapton has noted that the song is slyly anti-cocaine, with lyrics such as “If you wanna get down, down on the ground, cocaine” and “Don’t forget this fact, you can’t get it back” suggest a life wasted in pursuit of the next high.
9. Neil Young – “The Needle and the Damage Done”
Inspired by the heroin overdose and eventual death of Crazy Horse roadie Bruce Berry, Neil Young paints a picture of an addict’s slow descent. While the allusion is clear, the most poignant lyrics appear in the metaphor of final verse, as Young describes the darkest fate of the junkie: “But every junkie’s like a settin’ sun.”
8. Notorious B.I.G. – “10 Crack Commandments”
Drug(s): Crack, Cocaine, Marijuana
While some songs might teach you how to enjoy drugs, few give you the blueprint for building your own drug empire (not that we recommend that–haven’t you seen the end of Scarface?). On 1997’s “10 Crack Commandments,” the late Notorious B.I.G. lays out the cardinal rules for becoming a crack kingpin.
7. Bob Dylan – “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”
To be fair, Bob Dylan insists that this is not a drug song. He insists that he’s never written a drug song. Instead he has said the song is about relationships, about cripples, about Biblical stories. We’re not going to argue with the artist about the meaning of their own song, but we will say this: to many people, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” is about getting stoned. “Rainy Day Woman” has even become a slang term for a joint, and (perhaps coincidentally) if you multiply 12 by 35, guess what number you get…
6. Peter Tosh – “Legalize It”
Peter Tosh was ahead of his time. Back in 1976, he released a full album called Legalize It, a defiant declaration against the war on drugs, that made as much sense then as it does today. Without any aggression, the titular song is overtly confrontational, demanding legalization instead of just praising pot (although it did that too). It may have taken a while, but it looks like we’re finally all starting to heed Tosh’s message.
5. The Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Under the Bridge”
Though typically known for funk-inflected rock and, in their latter days, alternations between arena-ready riffs and open-book balladry, the Red Hot Chili Peppers took a break from partying on 1991’s BloodSugarSexMagik to unleash the surprisingly tender and affecting “Under the Bridge.” Detailing the loneliness lead-singer Anthony Kiedis felt in the years since kicking his heroin addiction, “Under the Bridge” introduced listeners to a new dimension of RHCP, solidifying the band as a commercial juggernaut.
4. Jimi Hendrix – “Purple Haze”
Cherished for its indelible opening riff and iconic (though occasionally misinterpreted) lyrics, Jimi Hendrix’s towering monument to LSD (not pot, as you might expect), and a dream he had about being under water has become one of rock’s more enduring popular songs–concerning drugs or otherwise. “Purple Haze” remains one of Hendrix’s most beloved and influential songs, an enshrinement of the drug so synonymous with the late 1960s.
3. Curtis Mayfield – “Pusherman”
Drug(s): Cocaine & Marijuana
The track that birthed a million hustlers, Curtis Mayfield’s gorgeous, bittersweet ode to the drug dealer “Pusherman” packs style, substance, and serious funk into five captivating minutes. With a bassline announcing the coolest cat this side of Superfly–the 70s film whose score includes “Pusherman” (and was composed entirely by Mayfield)–and lyrics balancing celebration with warning, “Pusherman” rings as true today as it did in the coke-covered 70s.
2. The Velvet Underground – “Heroin”
While many songs have dealt with the highs and lows of heroin use, few have painted as arresting a portrait of the act, feeling, need, and aftermath as the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin.” The unadorned title and harrowing arrangement enhance the power of Lou Reed’s brutal honesty, crafting a lasting depiction of a drug that is as frightening as it is compelling.
1. Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit”
“Feed your head.” In the pantheon of psychedelic rock, “White Rabbit” stands atop the heap, co-opting the imagery of Lewis Carroll’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to craft the seminal ode to LSD, a ride as scintillating, world-expanding, and, ultimately, frightening as the legendary drug that spawned its creation.