Mozzy stood at a gas station one evening in early January, a bottle of codeine cradled in his arm. He wore a black T-shirt and hoodie, his short dreadlocks gathered high on his head. A friend started rolling video.
Usually a joker, Mozzy took a more serious tone as he announced his New Year's resolution to quit codeine, the prescription opiate he’s been sipping daily for years.
He peeled the plastic casing from the bottle’s top and tilted it toward the pavement. The liquid poured out smooth, landing in a thick purple puddle next to the gas pump.
“It’s been hard to kick that sh*t, I ain’t gonna lie,” Mozzy said to the camera. “They say health is wealth, I need my bag.”
By “bag” he means success and stability. Mozzy said he had to drop codeine to be a better father and artist.
When mixed with soda, codeine is often called “purple drank,” “lean” or “sizzurp.” Mozzy’s new “Kick da Cup” challenge on social media — where he dares people to post a video of them pouring out bottles of codeine — could turn the tables on an epidemic that has gripped hip-hop culture for decades.
“This is somebody who abused it, who sip every day,” Mozzy told Capital Public Radio.
Now, he’s changed. “I wouldn’t sell it to my daughter, I wouldn’t allow my daughter to sip it. So I feel like why promote it to yours? Why promote it to your kids and damage they future? We all know what it do,” Mozzy said.
The rapper, who hails from Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood but is now a nationally renowned artist with millions of views on YouTube, admitted that he’s been hooked on the drug for the last eight years. He made a resolution to wean himself off of it by New Years, just before his second daughter’s arrival.
Mozzy described an agonizing experience trying to kick the addiction. “This ain’t the first time I fought it, but it’s the first time I beat it,” he said. He said his girlfriend brought him towels while he was throwing up during withdrawal.
“I slept on the bathroom floor … sweatin’, headaches. It was slimy. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world,” Mozzy said.
The prescription opiate codeine is highly addictive. It takes over the body’s natural endorphin system the same way morphine does, to the point where a user becomes reliant on its pain-relieving effect.
Dr. Chris Zegers, a chemical dependency specialist with Kaiser Permanente, said that small doses just slow people down. It’s used in cough syrup to suppress the respiratory system. But in large doses it makes the body sluggish to a dangerous degree, he said.
“The message from the brain to the breathing system of the body is ‘go ahead and relax,’ and it shuts it off, and people basically die from lack of breathing,” he said.
Zegers said quitting codeine cold turkey is extremely difficult. Most people who are heavily addicted require rehab to wean off.
“These folks tend to be surrounded by this stuff,” he said. “It’s sort of like going on a diet when you’re living in a candy store. It’s really hard to do.”
And Mozzy isn’t just fighting withdrawal; he’s working against a culture that has normalized codeine use for decades. Codeine is constantly referenced in rap lyrics, and Styrofoam cups (presumably filled with codeine and soda) are often visible in rap videos.
“You basically a dork, a nerd, a Pokemon if you ain’t sippin’,” Mozzy said. “It’s like smokin’ weed. It’s a part of our rap culture now.”
That’s despite the fact that multiple rappers have died from codeine overdose, including Pimp C in 2007 and 27-year-old Fredo Santana earlier this month.
Rappers and fans took to social media in reaction to Mozzy's "Kick da Cup" challenge.
Chris Coon, a Sacramento poet and youth mentor, hopes that Mozzy’s campaign sets a healthy example for fans.
“A lot of the big names we have right now in the rap game have done a good job of making it look cool,” he said. “If he’s takin’ a responsibility to stay consistent with the movement, but then also hold others cats accountable ... I could see it most definitely causing a tidal wave throughout the city - makin the youngsters at least think.”
Mozzy’s original “Kick da Cup” Instagram video, which features him pouring out an entire bottle of codeine, has gotten nearly one million views since he posted it in early January. Some have praised the rapper, but others have defended using lean.
Rap blogger Kay Lewertin said in a YouTube rant that he supports artists dropping lean, as long as nobody makes him quit his own habit.
“If all the others want to kick the cup all of a sudden, it’s gonna kick the price back down,” he said. “I encourage more rappers to do it. Get on your Instagram, whatever. Kick da cup. Just don’t kick mine.”
Mozzy said he knows not everyone is going to get on board.
“I participate in gangsta rap,” he said. “It’s a lot of people that really got problems, and that’s the way they cope with it. There’s people that’ve been sippin’ before me, and they gonna continue to sip after me.”
Either way, the artist said he feels free and easy without his daily cup of lean slowing him down.
Copyright 2018 Capital Public Radio