Poppin’ Xanax: On Lucki Eck$’s Body High
Lucki Eck$’s second album, Body High, is only the most recent work within a milieu that has been slowly coming into focus. One might say that this milieu (known here as disavowalist works of art) first became visible in Charles Baudelaire’s prose poem, “Be Drunk!” However, this was only the first manifestation of a tradition that has always been clandestine; radical disavowal is akin to an untranslatable secret, like those (un)covered in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Having just been released this month, now is the perfect opportunity to look more closely at a contemporary example of this tradition.
In this album, we find the mutual manifestation of challenges to the sovereignty of the autonomous subject, projected “lines” of escape through drugs, and the search for a community of those who have nothing in common. Eck$ leads the listener on an outlandish Bildung in which the transgression of law is only the first act. We float along with him, at different rates of speed and slowness, like drunken boats who dance on savage waves. The light at the end of this bizarre trip is not the lighthouse guiding us home, but the illumination of transactions yet to come.
As we explore these themes in more detail, it would be helpful to chart our progress through each track by delimiting the bright and dim moments. A track presents us with a bright transaction when the subject finds itself undermined by the radical alterity which preceded it. Alternatively, the tracks that spiral into the black holes of dim days reveal the continued dominance of social machines. These social machines attempt to stratify the body of the subject into a particular role (worker, student, citizen, etc.) which inevitably isolates the subject from the other. While this procedure is complex, we need only to remember that the violence of the subject rests in its purity and rigor. Eck$ unhinges the subject through a unique provocation (i.e. Xanax) which serves as the ground for any legitimate community (communitas). As I write this, Eck$ has posted on Twitter: “go listen to #BODYHIGH, become a junkie and live a regular life.” Body High describes precisely how this is to be done.
Track One (bright)
Perhaps there are ten characteristics that form the foundations of contemporary subjectivity: property (“I possess”), private consciousness (“I think”), responsibility (“I do”), propriety (“I am”), pure economy (“I am I”), entitlement (“I deserve”), rigor (clarity of boundaries), safety (freedom from encroachment), autonomy (“I act”), and honesty (“I confess”). Each of these characteristics can be grafted onto the ten crack commandments, respectively. The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments” articulates the qualities of a good drug dealer. Despite participating in illicit activities, a good drug dealer is a model subject. This is precisely why crime will not save us from our current socio-political crisis. To defy the current order is to still react to it; the disavowalist seeks radical liberation.
Body High begins with the vibrant transgression of the most important commandment: never get high on your own supply. Eck$ unabashedly celebrates every low and high produced by the consumption of his own drugs. He consumes so much of his product (i.e. Xanax), that his entuerpeurnerial enterprise is losing money. Although he has broken Biggie’s Fourth Commandment, he is still stacking piles of cash. By the second half of the song, the listener is immediately struck with the consequence of this transgression. Eck$ is no longer an identifiable, trustworthy subject. His narrative becomes disorienting with a somnambulist summary of the recent film, Lucy. The rest of the album alternatingly leaps between the tightening up and unraveling of subjective self-affirmation.
To get high on one’s own supply: this is a formula for becoming other. The Fourth Commandment corresponds to the propriety (“I am”) of the subject. The body’s center of gravity is no longer forced into a particular place by the demand of various social stratifications. It drifts along a current that entirely destabilizes the ego or “I.” By partaking in my own drugs, I acknowledge that there is no longer anything which separates me from the other, subject from object, dealer from addict, and so on. The drug user is set free on an uncertain path, which is not to say that this path will not lead somewhere dangerous or even fatal. The first track of Body High anticipates the Xanax-fueled encounters of the later tracks. Most importantly, it announces the death of propriety as the core tenet of the subject and replaces it with radical alterity. Rimbaud said it best: “I is someone else.”
Track Two (bright)
By now, Eck$ realizes how great his life is and how he should stop complaining. As a liberated subject, he embraces his derangement: “Put your dreams to the side just to get high…I did.” Like Rimbaud’s drunken boat, he is no longer guided along the stifling shipping routes. In Plato’s allegory of the cave, the highest good is represented as a star (i.e. the Sun). Eck$ denies the highest Good, which also served to illuminate what is True in all appearances. This turn inaugurates a rejection of contemporary subjectivity insofar as it is founded on the Platonic-Cartesian commandments above. Eck$ is a virulent anti-Platonist. As soon as we depart from the absolute height of the stars, we can begin the derangement of all the senses or, in other words, becoming other: “Xan gonna kick in as soon as I come down [from the stars].”
Track Three (dim)
“197 Trap Talk” is the first dim track on the album. It describes the current affluence of drug dealers on the South Side. It is a reminder that we are still caught up in the exchange economy of late capitalism: “Sellin’ [ruined lives] for lows and they be buyin’ them for highs.” Is there a way out? Is there a high that is not immediately pulled back into the orbit of capital?
Track Four (bright)
There is little doubt that the fourth track does the most conceptual work. When Eck$ discovers that one of his clients is buying from someone else, he sets up the other dealer and steals his stash. Eck$ pretends to be a low-level dealer that wants to sell a package (of drugs) for the other dealer. When he receives the package, he simply keeps it. Eck$ is not a low-level dealer; in fact, he does not even play by the same rules. Shedding the guise of the familiar, the “friend” or “business partner” returns as an anomic other. The appearance of the anomic other introduces radical alterity into the economy, forcing every supposedly essential identity into contingency. It is this very idea to which the track title (“Finesse”) refers: to insert yourself in the restricted economy of the drug trade and extract from it something greater than what was possible in that economy alone.
In this way, what Eck$ calls “finesse” is closely related to the previous track. Indeed, there is a way out and finesse is one way of finding that line of escape. Nevertheless, finesse is contextual. The same finesse will not work in every situation; the finesse of a piano player is not the finesse of an archer. In other words: “I need to deal with shit my age, so I deal to kids my age.” Although not the only determinant, age is often a specific condition that influences finesse. We will see an example of this in the final track.
Through finesse, Eck$’s identity begins to slip away as well: “I call these yaps the Lucki Eck$, feel like I be poppin’ myself. Count that Cheddar Bob feel like I be poppin’ myself.” In this lyric there is a metonymic slide between the first iteration of “I be poppin’ myself” and the second iteration. In the first line, the author and the drug coincide and overlay. Who has authored these songs? Is it Lucki Eck$ (the rapper) or Lucki Eck$ (the drug)? In other words, is the album a confession from the person (Eck$) or is it a description of the experience of a body on the drug (X)? The answer to this question will always remain ambiguous and other tracks will reinforce this ambiguity.
The second iteration of “I be poppin’ myself” invokes a reference to 8 Mile (2002). In the film, Eminem’s friend, Cheddar Bob, accidentally shoots himself in the leg. Eck$ is keenly aware of the danger of drug abuse. Taking too much Xanax could lead to “popping yourself” like Cheddar Bob. By taking too much of one particular drug to become other, we no longer take up a “line” of escape, but find ourselves caught up in the gravitational field of another subjectivity. In this respect, drug addiction presents the same issues as sobriety. The fluidity of drug experience is lost in hyper-consumption of a privileged drug. Finesse is the balance between these two dangers. This balance is our goal, not only in drugs, but all aspects of life: “everything finesse.”
Track Five (dim)
“Crime Pays” claims exactly that. Flippant transgression of laws is profitable, so why not do it? After all, we all need to eat. As Eck$ often says: “everybody eats.” Crime places Eck$ in a life-threatening position where he must avoid cops and bullets. We are bad disavowalists when we resort to crime: “we a bunch of Xan addicts.” However, not everything is lost. We can still have “bright transactions on dim days.”
Track Six (dim)
Eck$’s girlfriend steals his stash of Xanax. At first he does not believe that she could have done it. Then, he realizes that it was her all along and she was not the kind of person he thought she was. Although he wants to forgive her, he believes that revenge is necessary. The critical line comes when Eck$ says, “I tripped, I fell for all that.” His “trip” could be a simple mistake or error, but it is also a consequence of “tripping” on X. Indeed, the paranoia may be entirely drug-induced. The guilt of tripping and being taken advantage of (signified by his girlfriend’s “witchcraft”) leads Eck$ to contemplate (and potentially commit) murder. He is reintegrated into the war of capital where every debt must be paid, even if it is paid in blood. A little paranoia opens a person to new possibilities and abnormalities, but too much paranoia causes the world to fold in around oneself and erase every line of escape.
Track Seven (dim)
The seventh track offers a series of reflections on the consequences of being a dealer. First, Eck$ deals to a girl that has a very controlling mother. The mother smells marijuana on the girl and looks through her phone to find out who is dealing to her. She finds texts to Eck$ and calls him. After realizing who is calling, Eck$ blocks the number. Second, Eck$’s uncle tells him that dealing will make him money. However, he witnesses his uncle using and notices that his uncle is broke.
The two examples represent the alternative dangers of not having “finesse.” Either we fall into the networks of surveillance we tried to escape, or we end up “popping ourselves” by abusing a drug and giving up any chance of liberation. “Reflections” is a turning point in the album: the reckless acceleration of the first three tracks is now tempered by the requirement of finesse. (Finesse should by no means be compared with moderation. Moderation can only arise within a restricted economy that holds an already anticipated extreme. Finesse is the actualization of a trajectory towards the outside. In this way, it is no surprise that Body High is brought to us by a member of the Outsider$ Clique.) The question mutates: How do I escape with others? Drug abuse is a defeatist and alienating solution. Eck$ is now concerned with the possibility of a community of those who have nothing in common (i.e. of radically different subjects who cannot be brought under the same law (nomos) but continue to maintain productive relationships).
Track Eight (dim)
Xanax is taking control. It has been the privileged drug in Eck$’s corpus for too long. He is beginning to lose his memory: “Have a heart to heart but by the morning I forget it.” At this point, quitting the drug seems to be just as imprisoning as maintaining addiction: “When I’m off all of these [Xanax] bars, I should be behind some bars.” Nevertheless, Eck$ is losing control of his body: “All this Xan in my system make a nigga go crazy.” This line is followed by, “trying to get off, but too lazy.” Eck$’s laziness is a result of X. He is caught within the black hole of Xanax. The very means by which he could quit taking the drug are blocked by the drug itself. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe this moment as the swirling of a line of escape into a black hole. The drug, which once offered liberation, now sends the body along an infinitely condensing spiral: ever-increasing acceleration without any movement. This is the point that drug abuse counselors call “rock bottom” (although we know there are many more subterranean levels below the rocks).
Track Nine (dim)
The condensing spiral continues. Eck$ notes that his aunt went crazy from taking too much Xanax. He zones out and rejects responsibility for his actions the previous night (whatever those may be). The voice of sobriety (Ran$ah) suddenly appears. He promises money, fame, women, and power if one simply abides by the life of crime. In this sense, this track shares a valence with “197 Trap Talk” and “Crime Pays.” Once the voice of sobriety finishes, there is 20 more seconds of the beat. Within this final 20 seconds, we do not hear Eck$ respond.
Track Ten (dim)
Eck$ reaffirms that no matter what happens, you cannot take his stash from him. He will continue dealing a lot of Xanax. As the track ends, he tempts would-be robbers: “How you gonna do it? How you gonna get it?”
Track Eleven (bright)
In the penultimate track, Eck$ asks his clients to “slow down.” He claims that he does not want to go to jail if they die from an overdose. This is expected. The unexpected part is when he tells us that he is a compassionate dealer: “I’m not like all the others, I care about my clients.” After a series of dim points, the album returns to the question of track seven. It is not enough for one to derange one’s senses individually; derangements must be shared because they are more potent when they are collective. Hence, “slow down” is not a call for sobriety; it is a warning concerning the black hole of drug addiction. At the same time that this track offers a warning, it advocates for the derangement of all the senses through drugs. “Slow down” means to lessen the quantity of drug consumption, but it also refers to the drug experience peculiar to Xanax. Indeed, drugs provide one line of escape. However, this line does not go very far if it is traveled alone. You must “slow down” individually so that we can “slow down” collectively.
Track Twelve (bright)
Even if we ask others to “slow down,” we cannot anticipate or code every form of derangement—this would be counter-productive in regards to our goal of liberation. So, we must accept losses to sobriety and the black hole of addiction. Eck$ describes how one girl overdosed because she thought the Xanax would make her “stand up.” He then says, “This ain’t that type of game.”
In order to continue selling drugs without getting caught, Eck$ uses finesse. He is always on the corner ready to sell. You can count on him to be there. The cops cannot touch him because he uses his age to his advantage. At a time when discrimination against underage bodies is ubiquitous, Eck$ utilizes his underprivileged position to bite back against his oppressors. He hides his product in his crotch. Since he is underage, the cops do not touch his crotch and he keeps hold of his product.
Throughout the final track, Eck$ calls out individual names telling them that they can count on him to be there if they “need that.” In fact, the entire town can rely on him: “Get the town on me…they can count on me.” “Count on me” signals the creation of a support network that exists alongside the State. Although not sanctioned by the State and in direct opposition to its laws, a communal space is formed in which each individual becomes a member by sharing in an experience. (The drug creates an immanent link that brings together diverse and disparate bodies. This process occurs in a very similar way to that of the link between cat and baboon. They share much of the same DNA as a result of a virus that affected them both and mutated their DNA in the same way.) This space embodies what others have called a situation, encounter, or temporary autonomous zone. Even though it will never be possible to maintain a territory free from State power, small pockets of liberatory zones can cause ruptures within the State. The genius of Body High as an album is that it connects the lone disavowalist to a community of derangement. While Eck$ believes that a community of those who have nothing in common must be facilitated by a mediator or dealer, this need not be the case. The kaleidoscopic types of liberatory zones might never be exhausted—we can never anticipate when a new type of zone may form.
In many ways, Body High can be read in terms of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming-animal: an “absolute deterritorialization” conducted by “knights of narcotics” who “blaze new paths of life,” but always risk falling into “black holes and lines of death.” Thus, it is no surprise that an animal appears at the end of the album. It is an animal for which Deleuze and Guattari have a specific fondness: the wolf. Eck$ repeats: “mouth on me like cujo.” The repetition quickly becomes incoherent. Different, but the same. Soon the speech turns into bodily hums and grunts. The drug now speaks for itself (if we assume that there ever was a person named “Lucki Eck$” who spoke in the first place). The explanation of the drug-affect (mouth-becoming-wolf) is co-opted by the drug-affect itself. It becomes drowsy; Xanax is primarily expressed through drowsiness and slowing down. “Lucki Eck$” (the drug and the person) is swept up into another becoming. He ventures down another line of escape. We cannot follow him forever. This album was only a taste. Now go out and try it on your own.