Of cough syrups and creativity: The Weeknd admits taking drugs

Abel Makkonen Tesfaye opens up on his troubled childhood, addiction with drugs and his struggle to become an established singer.

The Weeknd
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Canadian Singer, songwriter and record producer The Weeknd recently admitted to being heavily addicted to drugs at the early stage of his music career. He claimed to have used various drugs, including cough syrups, to battle depression and overcome writer's block.

Speaking to The Guardian, The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, said the only way he could make music was by using drugs. "When I had nothing to do but make music, it was very heavy. Drugs were a crutch for me," he says, reflecting on his struggle to become the recognised artist he is today.

Tesfaye grew up in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, with only one parent to look after him, his mother. "She was working three, four jobs. Single-mother jobs. The way you see in the movies," recalled the "Earned It" singer. "I didn't have a father figure in the house. No boys around. Just me and my mom," Tesfaye told The Guardian. The singer's longing for a sibling, a brother to be exact, was mostly fulfilled by his childhood friend La Mar Taylor, with whom he explored his passions for music, cinema and did drugs.

A chaotic life ensued, living in a one-bedroom apartment after leaving his home, becoming a drug addict, lifting groceries from supermarkets, robbing others and trying to impress people with his lyrics and voice. Not the most shining idol to aspiring singers and songwriters.

"There were songs on my first record that were seven minutes long, rambling – whatever thoughts I was having when I was under the influence [of drugs] at the time." However, he insists that he's changed now - "I can't see myself doing that now." He added that at the moment, he feels "in control," though "Where it takes me after, I don't know."

Control doesn't mean total abstinence, however, as he does seem to fall back on that contentious 'crutch' every now and then. "I'll be completely honest with you. The past couple of albums, I do get back to that," he told Tom Lamont of The Guardian. He talked about using drugs while composing the lyrics for 'Starboy.' "Even on this new album. You have writer's block. And sometimes you're like, I can't do this sober," Tesfaye said.

'Starboy,' the singer's third studio album, which features guest appearances from Lana Del Rey, Daft Punk, Kendrick lamar and Future, was released on 25 November this year.

This article was first published on December 5, 2016