The History of The Double Cup (or Putting Purple Drank In Context or Why Our Cups Are Empty)

(Note from Clif – The Early Hours – So, this article is written by Mac Mccann, from Dallas, Texas (currently living in Austin), and my notes after are written to give some context to The Double Cup design we feature on our products.  The first part is written to give some history and context to The Double Cup in culture and society, and then I have added some notes on why we thought about using it in the first place, how it fits into our brand, and why we didn’t include codeine splashes, but rather an empty cup. It’s factual but only as far as we have been able to research/experience, so please read it first and email us at the email at the bottom of the article if you have any corrections or suggestions. Thanks all, enjoy..) 

While drugs and music have seemingly been related since the dawn of culture, few drugs are intertwined with a specific culture in the way that ‘lean’ is connected with hip-hop – especially Texas hip-hop. From DJ Screw and Big Moe to Lil’ Wayne, lean and hip-hop have expanded their influence hand-in-hand.

‘Lean’ is a slang term for a recreational drug that’s typically made with prescription-strength cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine, mixed with soft drinks such as Sprite, Mountain Dew, or Big Red, and sometimes with Jolly Rancher hard candy.  The concoction has a variety of nicknames, such as ‘syrup,’ ‘sizzurp,’ ‘barre,’ ‘purple drank’ (or simply ‘purp’), and ‘Texas Tea.’ As it’s typically consumed in double Styrofoam cups, it’s often alluded to by discussing ‘styrofoam cups’ or ‘double cups’ or simply ‘drank.’ (note from Clif - A double stacked cup not only helps to insulate the drink in the hot Texas summer, but it also is a silent way of announcing what is in your cup. Recognition around Texas spread quickly with songs by S.U.C. members from some of the first Screw tapes that featured local rappers talking about pouring up in double cups.)

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As Ben Westhoff explains in his book Dirty South, “Containing the sedative drug promethazine and the opiate codeine, [lean]’s substantially more potent than your over-the-counter Nyquil. Though prescribed to treat bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses, its street value is hundreds of dollars per dose.” Dr. George Fallieras told the Los Angeles Times that “The codeine in the medicine serves as a pain reliever and also suppresses coughing. A second drug in the cough syrup, known as promethazine, is used as an antihistamine and commonly used to treat motion sickness and nausea. It’s also a bit of a sedative -- employed partly to keep people from drinking too much of the stuff.”

Me and DJ Screw poured up a pint
On my twenty second birthday
And that day was a Monday
But a nigga didn't wake up until Thursday
I handle my business
So I think I deserve to get throwed
So I'm a barre baby now just like my nigga Big Moe

- Z-ro, “Can’t Leave Drank Alone”

Typically used in higher doses than doctors recommend, lean “makes you feel warm and slows things down.” Often used with marijuana, it usually causes lethargy, drowsiness, and a general dissociative feeling. Writer Jim Hogshire described the experience of consuming lean by saying, “My whole way of thinking and perceiving had changed. I had full control over my motor functions, but I felt ungainly. I was detached from my body, as if I were on laughing gas.”

Ben Westhoff notes that, like many drugs, “Its intake is highly ritualized.” He explains how users first mix a few ounces of the cough syrup into a two-liter plastic bottle of soda. Next, some users add a Jolly Rancher. Then, users put the cap back on and shake the viscous solution. After removing the lid again, users usually pour the mixture into a Styrofoam cup over ice, then sip, but not gulp, the liquid.

“Way back in '94 Screw still had his gate up
He called me over to his house and he poured me an 8' up
I asked him what it was, he said Bun, get your weight up
This is lean, them white folks call it promethazine
Shit, but we gon' call it drank dog cause that's what we be doin to it
Now take this Big Red and pour about a 2 into it”

- Bun B, “Purple Rain”

While lean is now used by a wide variety of people around the country, it still is usually associated with Houston’s hip-hop scene, where the drug first became popular. As Westhoff wrote, “Like Cali weed or Kentucky bourbon, prescription cough syrup is synonymous with Houston.” Not only has hip-hop affected the use of lean, the use of lean has also affected hip-hop. The drug and the music have grown together.

Before today’s version of lean became popular, blues musicians in Houston during the 1960s would combine beer or wine with Robitussin, a narcotic cold medicine. These musicians (and their children) often lived in Houston’s 5th ward, 3rd ward, and South Park neighborhoods, which were ground zero of the emergence of Houston rap – and today’s version of ‘purple drank’ - in the 1980s and ’90s. Until Houston hip-hop became mainstream, lean was largely a local Houston phenomenon.

Led by “The Originator” Robert Earl “DJ Screw” Davis, Jr., Houston’s hip-hop scene began to produce their distinct ‘chopped and screwed’ style in the 1990s and early 2000s. In contrast to other fast-paced, energetic rap, DJ Screw’s music included slowed-down beats, skipped beats, scratched records, and deeper, slower vocals. Because of this style of music and the local drug of choice, Houston is often called the “City of Syrup” or “Screwston.”  On the cover of his album, City of Syrup, which had already sold over 100,000 copies by the end of 2000, Big Moe stands above the Houston skyline, dousing it in purple syrup.

The rise of lean coincided with the rise of the DJ Screw-led Houston hip-hop collective, the Screwed Up Click (S.U.C.), which includes rappers like Big Moe, Big Hawk, the Botany Boyz, Lil’ Keke, Z-Ro, and more. Especially in Houston, the popularity of lean grew with the popularity of syrup-sipping hip-hop artists; 3 n’ the Mornin’ (Part Two), DJ Screw’s 1995 album, has been named one of the best Houston rap albums of all-time by the alt-weekly the Houston Press.

Explaining the widespread use of lean, Westhoff explains, “Connoisseurs of the addictive elixir imbibe while they drive, while they’re writing rhymes, or while they’re smoking pot. Screw insisted that one needn’t be high to enjoy his music, but many consider syrup essential to the Screw experience.”

Lean continued to become more prominent in hip-hop, especially southern hip-hop, in the early 2000s, with songs like Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia’s 2000 hit featuring UGK, “Sippin’ on Some Sizzurp,” bringing “purple drank” to nationwide attention. In the song, the hardcore rap group says, “I got the red promethazine, thick orange and yellow tuss (referring to Tussionex, a yellow hued hydrocodone cough syrup), hydrocodone on the hands free phone…Sexy thang on my arm, cup of drank in my palm…And for the most I’m steady sippin’ on some sizzerp.” While lean was widely used in Houston in the 1990s, syrup use became common to the point of “epidemic proportions” in the mid-2000s.

Many of today’s prominent ‘syrup sippers’ were first introduced to ‘purple drank’ by those 1990s and early 2000s rappers. Lil’ Wayne explained how he got into lean:

“I started drinking it ‘cause I’m from the South, New Orleans, and we grew up on UGK and Geto Boys and people been drinking syrup for years. That was where it was made popular, know what I mean? I’m human. Just like I was young and I watched Michael Jordan in Game 6 and it made me want to go right into my driveway and shoot around. Well, I was also young and I listened to Pimp C and they said, “We was drinking that lean” and that made me want to drink the lean. So I picked the cup up.”

Like most recreational drugs, lean does appeal to a lot of people. But, also like many recreational drugs, lean can be extremely dangerous and harmful. Codeine is an opiate – like heroin and morphine – and is also highly addictive.  Largely because promethazine is a depressant of the central nervous system and because codeine is a respiratory depressant, lean can be especially dangerous in higher doses. If used in excess, and especially if used with alcohol or other drugs, lean can cause the user to stop breathing, and increases one’s chances of seizures.

In a way, Houston’s hip-hop artists gave birth to lean. Unfortunately, lean brought death to many of Houston’s hip-hop artists as well.

Perhaps most notably, “The Originator” DJ Screw died in his studio’s bathroom on November 16, 2000 at the age of twenty-nine years old, due to what the autopsy report noted as a “codeine overdose with mixed drug intoxication.” Along with lean, Screw also had alcohol, PCP, and Valium in his system. Screw’s death occurred only months after Three 6 Mafia debuted their “Sippin on Some Sizzurp” music video.

DJ Screw’s protégé, Big Moe, as previously noted, was a huge promoter of lean, with album titles like Purple World and the previously mentioned City of Syrup. Big Moe died at the age of thirty-three in October 2007, due to a heart attack likely brought on by his lean use and his already unhealthy lifestyle.

In December 2007, Pimp C of Texas rap duo UGK was found dead at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, California. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office reported that Pimp C died “due to promethazine/codeine effects and other unestablished factors.” It should be noted that Pimp C did have a history of sleep apnea, which can cause one to stop breathing for short periods during one’s sleep. However, when his sleep apnea was combined with the use of lean, it led to the rapper’s death. Sadly, only four months earlier, UGK had hit #1 for the first time in their careers.

Growing together, lean and screwed music began as a local phenomenon in Houston, before exploding onto the national scene in the late 1990s and early- to mid-2000s. Yet some of the same people who built the culture – like DJ Screw, Big Moe, and Pimp C – were destroyed by the same drug they promoted.

(note from Clif - The Early Hours ---

Cities like Chicago have seen a huge increase in the black market price for Codeine/Promethazine cough syrup over the last several years as rappers like Chief Keef have endorsed it’s use on records. The double Styrofoam cup is widely known from NYC to Oakland as a sign of what it contains – a badge of honor almost; you obtained the nectar of the gods. Meanwhile, in Texas today you are more likely to find bottles shipped from either coast than from a local prescription.

The popularity of drank and drank culture continues to rise, from Los Angeles to New York, and even internationally.  Music sharing and apps like Instagram can carry culture around the world in seconds, open for consumption and interpretation far from where the culture develops. Overseas, where regulations keep opiate cough syrups out of production, or include other ingredients that induce vomiting, fans of American hip-hop or drank culture will pay exuberant prices for American branded products.  There are maybe a dozen or more American apparel brands, from Algierz - which has been around for over a decade now - to new brands popping up everyday that feature drank in their imagery. The double Styrofoam cup and signature pink/purple splash is ubiquitous, alongside popular American syrup brand labels (Actavis, Hi-Tech) for the purists. Actavis recently announced* that their syrup will be discontinued due to media attention and abuse, causing black market prices to skyrocket to over $800 a pint in American cities, while also boosting the market for bootleg branded apparel, double cup imagery, etc.

Besides our new wallets, we’ve intentionally left the syrup out of our Double Cup graphics. I understand that many wish we would include it, and like our wallets, we may offer limited runs in the future with a purple splash on our Polo’s, etc. However, I wanted to post this to give some context to our choice to use the graphic at all, and explain why our cup is empty. I grew up in Texas for 18 years, not in Houston but Dallas, which lacked a more developed hip-hop sound of it’s own. As a fan of hip-hop, I soon found S.U.C., Screw, UGK, Z-Ro etc. and preferred it over what I was hearing out of the east and west coast (I now listen to much more than Texas hip hop, but you gotta know where you come from…)  However, no matter where you are from in Texas, things are still the same - life moves at a different pace here. It’s slower everywhere, from the way we talk to the way we walk. So chopped and screwed music made sense to me before I had ever tried syrup or weed.  Of course, after listening to hip hop for years already, when I could drive and drive around listening to Screw like they did in all the Texas music, weed and drank soon followed. I was young when Screw passed and it didn’t affect me in the moment, but rather gradually more and more as I realized his massive influence on Texas, hip hop, and music in general. While I still use some recreational drugs here and there, I don’t sip on a regular basis. Besides trying to run a business every day, I can’t afford a habit like that – neither in time or money. I don’t care if you sip – don’t overdo it if you aren’t otherwise healthy and happy, that’s proven to be a bad formula – but I am not an active drank consumer. My friends sip, some don’t, I might again, maybe I won’t.

            So now you know a little about where the double cup comes from, and my side of the story and how it became an important symbol of culture where I am from. I can’t pretend to be sipping every day and posting shots of muddy cups to Instagram, and that’s why you don’t see the typical drank pictures here. But I still listen to S.U.C. or some affiliated member every day, and I wish more than anything that Chad Butler and Robert Earl Davis Jr were still here to create, inspire, and lead the way for the next generation of hip hop, not just in Texas but worldwide.

 So that’s why our cups are empty. We have immense respect for the music and culture that has come from Houston, Texas. But we don’t sip daily and don’t pretend to, so I always felt it would be disingenuous to include a purple splash on every item we make. I’m glad that people from all over can identify with the cups now, and proud that it came out of Texas, where I grew up and we’re currently based. I believe everyone should experience music however they prefer, but I think it’s important to focus on where it all comes from, like anything, instead of chasing the high (or in this case, the purple drank trend).  So roll up, po’ up, do whatever it is you do…but put on some Screw for me, please.  

Thanks all for reading and thanks so much to Mac McCann who wrote the original article, saving me some time from writing a historical context as well as my piece. Anyone who has any corrections or edits please contact me @ – we’re probably not right about something.)

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13 responses
Good read, Keep this info circulatin so its not forgotten
Let's get it straight this is not Texas this was straight up Houston Texas.... people was calling us dope heads and shit all over Texas and everywhere else.. now these same people are stealing our culture and tryin to claim our shit ...future or any other rapper needs to recognize the dirty south before they start copying our style
The lyrics are not even smart or about real root needs and surviving. Just pushing a drink of drugs and hyped life of sex and party..pretty sad and no progress..
Chris in the comments above said it best, this is a Houston Texas thang!!!
Now I understand why lean is so dangerous and highly addictive and shit
Excellent article Mac! Ghetto Pulitzer Prize worthy in the way that you broke down the history of lean in hip hop!
Your post is amazing and please keep updating your content. I love to read your blog.
6 visitors upvoted this post.