Brow Beat

Someone Should Tell Michelle Obama What “Lean” Means

First lady Michelle Obama dances with school children at a "Let's Move!" event.

First lady Michelle Obama dances with school children at a “Let’s Move!” event.

Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

It was announced today that Michelle Obama is spearheading a hip-hop album for children’s health, and, I should say up front, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that idea. Hip-hop has been one of the dominant forms of music for our youth for a couple decades, and the Obamas themselves represent our first hip-hop presidency. (Never forget: Michelle Obama can teach you how to Dougie.) So of course they would use hip-hop to spread their worthy message.


But the album makes the First Lady seem out of touch. Sure, it features names like Doug E. Fresh and DMC (of Run–), but these are the stars of the Obama generation, not the current one. Similarly, names like Jordin Sparks, Matisyahu, and Travis Barker might be closer to stars of today, but for a “Hip-Hop Public Health” collection, none of them are quite hip-hop. And surely there aren’t any budding junior athletes who care that “Stronger” features “E-Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren.” For FLOTUS, it’s been a long fall from pulling Beyoncé for the campaign’s first single.

But of all the most embarrassing, most Weird Al-esque song titles here, the most embarrassing isn’t “Veggie Love” or even the more straightforward “We Like Vegetables.” It’s “Hip Hop LEAN.”

As anyone who’s followed hip-hop in the 2000s knows, “lean” isn’t just a body type and a dance move, it’s a drug. Also known as sizzurp, purple drank, and a number of other nicknames, the codeine cocktail is the same drug that’s been linked to the deaths of DJ Screw (who pioneered the lean-influenced chopped and screwed subgenre) and UGK’s Pimp C (who also featured on Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin’ on Some Sizzurp”). Earlier this year, Lil Wayne’s seizures had the drink back in the news, though Wayne said they were caused only by his epilepsy and “just plain stress, no rest, overworking.”

Which is all to say that it’s a little weird to hear Artie Green and co. repeat “hip hop lean” over and over again on the song’s chorus. I’m not going to tell Wayne what to do, but I’m pretty sure that’s something best avoided on a hip-hop album for children. (It also makes the title of the following track, “Pass the Rock,” seem a little more awkward.)

Surely it was an innocent mistake, but someone in the room (Sasha? Malia?) should have spoken up. Or they should have had kid-friendly rappers who already get contemporary hip-hop, like Y.N.RichKids, who could have maybe pointed this out. (Who could be more perfect for this compilation than the kids behind “Hot Cheetos & Takis”?) For now, the old proverb holds true: “Parents just don’t understand.”