Jay Z on The War on Drugs

By Jaylin Paschal

Rap phenomenon Shawn “Jay Z” Carter collaborated with producer Dream Hampton and visual artist Molly Crabapple to give a four minute history lesson on the War on Drugs and its effect on communities of color from the Nixon administration on. Carter’s writing and narration is scored over Crabapple’s haunting illustrations depicting the “epic failure” which was Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs. This production is different from that of standard drug and crime documentaries because Hampton, Carter, and Crabapple were able to combine history, sociopolitical commentary, and art in a captivating story-telling format, History of the War On Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush.

Viewers learn that--despite heavy policing, mass incarceration, and the demonization of drug dealers--drug usage rates are just as high today as they were in 1971, when Nixon’s campaign was launched, and they are shown how these repressive policing policies disproportionately disparaged black communities. Essentially, the short film displays how law enforcement and legislation has impacted black communities in regards to drugs from Nixon to Obama.

Jay Z deciding to team up with other artists and The New York Times to deliver this message is important for several reasons, but is especially important because of the following three:

1. Influence/Reach

Together, Jay Z, Molly Crabapple, Dream Hampton, and The New York Times will reach more people than any professor or ranting uncle ever will. As influential figures and a huge platform, the collaboration exposes a wide audience to the truths of one of America's most failed (or successful, if you're feeling rather cynical) initiatives.

2. Personal Experience

Jay Z can deliver this message without seeming condescending or preachy because of his own involvement in drug dealing. His voice is from a point of view that is often neglected, and he's therefore able to provide an interesting perspective on an issue that's usually discussed from the outside looking in.

3. Political Involvement

As a huge cultural figure, Carter’s piece could potentially encourage political involvement by showing exactly how government measures trickle down to impact our communities, often negatively and often disproportionately.

All in all, at the end of the video, one idea is made inarguably clear: “The War on Drugs is an epic fail.”

Check out my article on the short film for Howard University's The Hilltop.