Planet Rock

The proliferation of crack cocaine in the late 70’s and 80’s had a profound effect on ghetto communities from Harlem to Long Beach. The crack generation rode on a wave of economic prosperity fueled by the sale of crack. By the summer of 1986 the crack epidemic was in full effect, affecting not only ghetto residents but also white folks looking to get high. The media had focused attention on Black America and created a massive hysteria, stigmatizing Black communities coast to coast. Crack became an over-sensationalized enemy to American society that the Reagan administration took as an immediate threat to the national well-being. But there is another side to this hysteria, one that is not necessarily so negative. Though there were many victims of crack addiction, there were also many enterprising young Black men who generated quite a substantial amount of economic capital for themselves. Raekwon – also known by his cook-coke moniker “the Chef” – explains the high volume of wealth: “literally, in my neighborhood half a million dollars was going through Park Hill projects everyday. No lie.”

Crack dealers were influential figureheads in their communities that essentially generated the power to spawn Hip-Hop. Many commercially successful rappers had steeped their popular lyrics in their own experiences of the crack game. Artists like Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. & Rakim, and Schoolly D brought their stories of being on the corner pushing drugs to their music and lyrics. RZA, one ninth of the Wu-Tang Clan, is a product of this “attitude” that, as he says, “became a part of our culture… Rappers wanted to be drug dealers and drug dealers wanted to be rappers.” Eric B. & Rakim were prominent figureheads of early hip-hop style who harbored the growth of the emergent culture in the hood.

There is a level of empowerment that dealers got from trafficking their rocks to the community. However, the ethics of the issue are complicated and many of the dealers would refer to themselves and their profession as mere products of their environment. Cypress Hill rapper B. Real says simply that “the crack was so easy to get rid of that the money was like a floodgate.” Sadly, this economic prosperity tore communities apart rather than reinforce the economy and social capital of the ghetto. Many young dealers were victims of their affiliations and the violence in ghetto communities was unlike anything authorities had ever seen before.

Gangster Rap was a direct result of the crack game’s ability to generate funds. Apparently, the natural progression was from drug money to rap money, meaning that dealers most often channeled their funds into creating record labels. The dealers had a stories and they wanted a way to tell them. However, Gangster Rap garnered a great deal of negative attention from White America and it was used against the Black community as yet another dangerous element of their culture. Whether or not the music of these artists fueled the drug game and influenced kids to pick it up is debatable, but the bottom line is that it was a legal hustle that the government could not touch.

Economic strength is something that the hood has always required to really transgress the social borders that enclose it, but the cost of crack sales was drastic and incredibly destructive to these communities across the country. What has generally been ignored is the extent to which the “silent” enemy of crack was met with violent opposition by authorities, who operated on policies of profiling and statistical arrests. As Ice-T puts it: “fact is, if the streets seem out of control, so are the police.”

Drugs | History

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