Vol. 15 - Crack is Wack

The [failed] War on Drugs, New Jack Swing, and Teddy Riley

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Cocaine: power, glamour, parties, decadence, wealth, status. Crack: scourge, ghettos, prostitutes, birth defects, trash, filth, disgust.

Is it just us, or is all of this wack? Nixon fired the first shot in the “War on Drugs” 50 years ago, coining the term that inspired Nancy to “just say no”, big Bush to crack down on mandatory minimum sentencing, and Mr. Clinton to call the third strike by militarizing police and expanding the prison industrial complex to unprecedented levels. 

Everyone agreed, freebase cocaine was a serious problem. The drug’s Iow cost and hyper-addictiveness ravaged communities — particularly those of color — throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, rampant media sensationalism and increasingly aggressive “no tolerance” policies didn’t heal the inner cities, but instead expedited their demise. 

Turns out, current scholars and former power players now agree that a 1:100 ratio of crack to powder cocaine possession disproportionately targeted communities of color, poor suburban white folks were just as likely to become crack addicts (but those figures don’t quite add up in incarceration rates), crack babies didn’t dismantle every wholesome fiber of the US education system, and the biggest, baddest drug dealer out there just happened to be the US government vis-à-vis its clever orchestration of the Iran-Contra affair. 

Today, cannabis legalization, prison reform, and widespread decriminalization are hot topics. And over 80 percent of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, given the benefit of hindsight, admit that the war on drugs was an utter failure. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

P.S.: Addiction and Mental Health is no joke — SAMHSA’s National Helpline saw a 27% increase in 2020 from the prior year. If you or someone you know needs help, get it.

P.P.S.: Dial 1-800-662-HELP on any touchtone telephone.


“Crack” the Case / Netflix Doc Rocks Preconceived Notions of Crack Epidemic

Rhyme and Punishment / A Look at the Simultaneous Rise of Hip-hop and Mass Incarceration

Hashbrowns with a Side of Coke? / Vintage McSpoon Blows Up on Ebay

A Different Len / What ifBias Played for His Dream Team?

Fall for Snowfall / 5th Season Greenlit for Delectable Drug Trade Drama

Juneteenth Jubilee / Raise a Red Glass with Mixologist Tiffanie Barriere

The New Powder Room / “Cocaine Chic” -- the Latest Decor Trend No One Saw Coming

Instant Icon / Keith Haring Foundation Develops Flashy New Polaroid Line

Get Jacked / New Jack Swings into Podcast Hosted by Taraji Henson

Land of the Freebase / Measuring 110 Outcomes for Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization Experiment


Here’s a watchlist that’ll give you a rush without all the horrible side effects or legal troubles. So pack a bowl of popcorn, crack open that ‘64 Dom Perignon and get watchin'.

City of God / Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund, 2002 (R)

A picture is worth a thousand words unless the subject is escalating drug violence in a favela known as Cidade de Deus throughout the ‘70s & early ‘80s — in which case, there are no words to describe the brilliance of this film. 

Jackie Brown / Quentin Tarantino, 1997 (R) 

What do Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Roberts De Niro & Forster, and Bridget Fonda have in common? Chemistry. 

Deep Cover / Bill Duke, 1992 (R)

Larry Fishburne (now known as Laurence) plays Russell Stevens Jr., an undercover police officer who plays John Hull, a drug dealer who is working to bust some seriously bad dudes who all mostly go by their given names. Fun fact: this flick’s theme song was Dr. Dre’s first solo single featuring a newcomer, Snoop Doggy Dogg (who was briefly known as Snoop Lion). You tracking? 

Dope / Rick Famuyiwa, 2015 (R)

Boy genius Malcolm and his homies Jib and Diggy started at “The Bottoms” and together they hilariously ride the ups and downs of teenage nonsense, young love, and an innocent stint involving drug hustling and money laundering. 

Scarface / Brian De Palma, 1983 (X, then R)

You can’t talk about cocaine without including Scarface. That aside, even the dregs of the internet offer surprisingly little information regarding the most important fixture in this film: Tony Montana’s epic bathtub...surrounded by carpet.

Curated by: The Fast Times Staff


“Groove Me” by Guy

Few events in history rival the swift rise and decimating sweep of the crack epidemic — and Teddy Riley gave struggling communities something fresh and uplifting: New Jack Swing busted onto the inner city scene quicker than an overzealous DEA operative. 

While our words tend to groove swankier than most, we’re turning the mic over to Barry Michael Cooper, the reporter credited for coining the term “New Jack Swing” in 1988:

“Harlem was flat-lining in the mid to late ’80s because of the crack epidemic. So my reporting served to set the record straight, about the people I knew, the dignity they had, the intelligence they never lost, despite some losing their way temporarily because of this monstrous plague of a drug. The crack era reminded me of the prohibition era of the 1920s, and Teddy’s music — with its jazz-like swing and melodic force — reminded me of stories like the Great Gatsby from writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“But what Teddy was doing was brand new. That’s why I named it ‘New Jack Swing’. Teddy’s music was the soundtrack to a new version of the Harlem Renaissance, and I wanted my reporting and writing to reflect that, too: a sense of historical relevance, social and political accuracy, and spiritual uplift to make it memorable.” — Barry Michael Cooper

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