Where does lean come from?
The term lean, and the practice of drinking it, originated in Houston, Texas during the late 1980s and 1990s. It was first popularized by innovative producer DJ Screw, who frequently rhymed the words codeine and lean in his music, the resulting high making him slump over (lean back). DJ Screw passed away from a codeine overdose in late 2000.
In the mid-2000s, mainstream hip-hop artists like Lil Wayne, Three 6 Mafia, and Gucci Mane helped further popularize lean as a recreational beverage by rapping about the practice of mixing cough syrup and soda.
Lean is glamorized as a relaxing, even euphoria-inducing homemade beverage due to the effect of opiates present in prescription cough syrup. The trend of sippin’ (on) lean has spawned countless hip-hop songs, mixtape titles, and entire album concepts.
Who uses lean?
Lean is commonly used with a positive connotation in hip-hop music. It’s seen as a recreational or party beverage and has been described as part of hip-hop culture. According to the lyric website Genius, lean was referenced in over 30% of all hip-hop songs that reached the Billboard Top 100 in 2017. Lean is also consumed on college campuses.
Rapper Lil Wayne has detailed his unhealthy relationship with lean in numerous songs, most notably in “I Feel Like Dying” from a 2007 mixtape. One music journalist described Wayne’s vivid description of codeine dependency as “torture cloaked in sheer bliss.”
Lean has been named as a cause of death for multiple prominent figures in hip-hop, including A$AP Yams, Pimp C, Big Moe, and several others.
I sip codeine /It makes a southside player lean /Steady stackin green, steady sippin' codeine
DJ Screw, “Sippin Codeine” (song), 1996
Don’t drink lean kids, don’t drink lean. I don't think it should be a drug that's glorified. It's liquid heroin, it's an opiate.
Danny Brown, TimWestWoodTV, April, 2014
quick check-up in Tokyo. v sweet doc told me to “PLEASE STOP” the japanese cough syrup i was taking. basically been drinking Lean for the last 36hrs oops #itkindahelpedtho
@yelyahwilliams, February, 2018