Hip Hop and the Crack Epidemic

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It was during the mid-1980s that the emergence of a new smokable form of cocaine, called crack, had been introduced to the United States. Crack, was highly-addictive and swept through impoverished areas of cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Miami. In the end it caused devastating effects for black and Latino Americans. As crack cocaine was becoming a grim and rising epidemic, hip hop was evolving alongside it. It was in the 1980s that crack cocaine and hip hop became the two leading fundamentals of urban street culture. It is not suggested that hip hop caused the crack epidemic, or vice versa. But, it can be argued that both fed off each other, particularly hip hop off the crack culture itself. Crack cocaine quickly gained popularity among users in the 1980s due to its cheap cost, and the quick, intense high it left. Compared to freebase cocaine, which involved a complicated ritual involving Ether, crack cocaine had become simplistic and easier to manage. The drug was “made from powder cocaine, but because its production [did] not require the use of flammable solvents, it [was] safer to make than freebase cocaine” (Watson). It had been poverty stricken, Donnell “Freeway Ricky” Ross, who learned how to simplify the free basing process by using baking soda instead of Ether. Ross became legendary for spreading the idea linked with the formation of “ready rock”, which allowed the drug to be smoked instantaneously (Planet Rock). In reality, crack cocaine had been a drug first used among rich, Caucasian, Americans due to its high selling price. With the creation of “ready rock”, the drug was no longer strictly used among the wealthy. It was in the 80s when crack cocaine was able to stray away from the faces it once knew, and move into inner-city, urban areas. The mass production of “ready rock” put a whole new twist on the drug game (Planet Rock). Crack cocaine soon brought violence and tragedy to the streets of America. Louis Freese (also known as B-Real, from the hip hop group Cypress Hill) explained, “You had the gang bangers killing each other. You had the drug dealers battling for territory. It was like the wild, wild west when crack came [along].” The drug had hit during the recession of the early 80s. At the time people were struggling and facing poverty, along with the fact that unemployment was at a record high. Crack became easy to come across, easy to sell, and therefore easy to make a living off of. Jobs were minimalistic, so people in urban areas turned to the lifestyle of selling drugs. This idea had been explained perfectly, “You are a teenager and perhaps barely that. You live in an inner city ghetto. You probably have dropped out of school and you have a chance to earn $1,000 a week … selling crack. What do you do? You sell crack” (Plant Rock). Simple as that. “The collapse of inner city economy had created a new way of life; an economy based on drugs” (Planet Rock). Crack addict parents did not care about their children and women would prostitute themselves to pay for their own “thrill”. The drug was so powerful, it emptied the little money people had from their pockets, into those of drug dealers. In the meantime, hip hop had started exploding in the 80s and cocaine was seen as “fly”; shaping the culture at the time. It was the drug dealers, bystanders, and people who smoked crack themselves that wanted their voices to be heard. Hip hop became the soundtrack of their experiences, whether it was directly or indirectly related to the crack cocaine epidemic. Rappers were becoming the voice of a group of people. At the time, crack cocaine dealers were ultimately funding hip hop, whether it was for the success of their career or someone else’s. Eric Wright (Eazy-E) was the founding member of the rap group N.W.A. He had used his drug money to finance his own label known as Ruthless Records. “Eazy-E was a man that defined gangster rap for a generation. He...
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