FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hip Hop and the Crack Generation

I was born into the crack era.  Although not old enough to take part in the crack game, it did not leave me immune to the detrimental effects the drug had on my community.  Growing up in the Bronx, I was surrounded by crack users, drug sellers and poverty.   I first took notice of the crack epidemic while playing basketball with friends, when I complained of all the crack vials surrounding the concrete.  Eventually, it was not out of the ordinary to see my cousin – and others –strung out on crack or relatives locked up for selling crack.

These stories are nothing new to those living in the 80s and it played as the backdrop to the VH1documentary, “Planet Rock: The Story of Hip-Hop and the Crack Generation,” which aired on Sunday, September, 18.  The VH-1 Roc Doc focused on the impact the crack epidemic had on hip-hop and vice versa.  It was a balanced portrayal of the crack epidemic – without being too educational or dumbed down — that showed the harms of crack, and how the response by the media and elected officials added to the ruin of the inner city.  Narrated by executive producer, Ice-T, Planet Rock also got insights from rappers Snoop Dogg, Raekwon and Rza about the impact crack had on their lives and musical careers.

The documentary skillfully explained the story of how the drug sellers of the 80s were the new stars of the decade.  Their flashy cars and fast money excited the youth, who were bogged down by an economic recession.  With few opportunities to work, people gravitated to the drug trade to earn money.  By adding commentary by former real life drug kingpins, Azie Faison and “Freeway” Ricky Ross, the film became more authentic, explaining how the dealers became the model for up and coming rappers.

As the status of the drug sellers rose, rappers imitated the style and swagger the dealers.  The big gold chain became a status symbol of success.  Designer labels like Gucci, Fendi and Versace were now accessible through tailors like Dapper Dan.  Also, the lyrics of rappers began to reflect the lives of drug dealers.  Thanks to the stories of Snoop and Rza, the documentary was more intriguing — taking us through the thought process of why these artists rapped about the drug trade.

The movie not only talked about the link between crack and hip-hop, Planet Rock dug deeper into the personal stories and larger effects of the drug war, giving a more comprehensive view of what was going on at the time.

It put a spotlight on how the media overstated the crack explosion.  Every news broadcast, newspaper and magazine was saturated with stories of the crack epidemic.  A telling scene is when the film showed a commercial with Clint Eastwood, Nancy Reagan and Pee-Wee Herman — of all people — denouncing drug use.  It all leads to politicians — on both sides of the political spectrum — trying to out do each other in punishing crack dealers and users.  Possession of crack was punished way more harshly than cocaine.  The infamous 100 to 1 crack powder disparity became law and a mere five grams of crack resulted in an automatic five-year prison sentence. However, it took a whopping 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger that same sentence. As a result, people of color filled up jails and the prison population skyrocketed. Experts on the drug war gave valuable insights into these policies and further exposed the allegations of the C.I.A smuggling drugs into urban communities and how the drug war changed the relationship between police and the community. (See Cockburn and St. Clair’s Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press.)

At the end of the film, I was reminded of the importance the crack epidemic and hip-hop had on my life.  The film provided great prospective.  Although crack longer dominates inner city life – thanks in part to the negative connotation of being a “crack head” – drugs are still around.  I’m fortunate to have survived in such a troubled time, but today is no different.  We are in the same predicament in 2011.  We are in a recession.   The drug game is still in effect.  Plus, rappers are still in the business of glorifying the drug dealer lifestyle.

VH-1 should be commended for highlighting the impact the drug trade had on Hip-Hop.  If you are a fan of hip-hop you should definitely try and see“Planet Rock: The Story of Hip-Hop and the Crack Generation.”

Brent Woodie is a freelance journalist and an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance’s media department (www.drugpolicy.org).

 

More articles by:
June 21, 2018
Dean Baker
When Both Men and Women Drop Out of the Labor Force, Why Do Economists Only Ask About Men?
Bruce Lerro
Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down the Iron Curtain on Yankeedom
June 20, 2018
Henry Giroux
Trump’s War on Children is an act of State Terrorism
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail