Feelin' Their Thizzle

How the culture of Ecstasy has changed as the drug moved from raves to hip hop

| March 23, 2006

For the last couple of years, residents in West Oakland have been watching with trepidation the rise of Ecstasy use among the hip-hop set. Formerly the domain of sensitive, starry-eyed ravers, the drug has recently saturated the West Oakland scene, Rachel Swan reports for East Bay Express.

Remembering the hole crack-cocaine punched in West Oakland in the 1980s, residents have got a right to be 'gun-shy.' If one drug could cause that much damage, the logic goes, then any drug done on a similar scale should be shunned at all costs. Swan argues, however, that these fears inflate the threat the drug poses. She quotes University of California at Santa Cruz sociology professor Craig Reinarman, who points out that 'People who are hooked on crack engage in increasingly violent behavior. But that's not true of Ecstasy. People use Ecstasy to have five to six hours of bliss.' Or, in local parlance, they are 'feelin' their thizzle.'

With all this talk of 'bliss' and 'feelings,' is Oakland is losing its edge? Probably not, Swan suggests, since crime still looms and some Ecstasy users are bypassing the bliss stage and 'freaking out.' That, however, may be blamed on the quality control surrounding the drug, which is non-existent. 'A lot of dealers are getting away with just selling whatever,' Swan writes. There may, indeed, be Ecstasy in the pill a dealer sells as Ecstasy. There also may be the antihistamine Benadryl and a 'speedy diet pill' substance called phentermine. Call it a buffet or call it a cocktail, but calling it Ecstasy is a lie.

Combination pills such as these may give users only a small buzz, leaving their minds rankled and feeling like hell. But, contrary to fears that Ecstasy is 'the new crack,' Swan reports that 'Ecstasy hasn't yet shown up in the emergency room,' and notes that, in 2003 -- the most recent year for data on the subject -- the Drug Abuse Warning Network didn't record a single instance of death resulting from using Ecstasy.

That's not to suggest, however, that E's social effects are as beautiful as that universe its devotees spot betwixt overlaid trance beats. Swan is quick to write that E 'is figuring into [hip hop's] sexual politics and amplifying some of the scene's sleazier values.' In a scene predicated on 'bumping and grinding,' a drug like Ecstasy, Swan suggests, 'starts reflecting the psychology of the space.' Yet, for Oakland, it must be a welcome change to see a drug that, as Swan puts it, 'is both sedative and euphoric, causing people to dodder around smiling and hugging each other.'
-- Nick Rose

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