NEW YORK--Crack cocaine. In the 1980s, it was the newest thing. By 1986 it was raging through the inner cities of America, like wildfire, leaving pain, grief and death in its wake. Now, after 25 years, a new documentary explores how the drug also transformed pop culture, especially hip-hop.
“Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation,” premieres Sunday, September 18 at 10 PM on VH1.
Narrated and executive produced by Ice-T, “Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation” is the first documentary to focus specifically on the connections between crack and hip-hop. Based primarily on the first-person accounts of four famous dealers-turned-rappers, the film also widens its lens at points to show how crack changed America culturally, socially and politically. Using rare footage, photos, and animation, all set to the beats and rhymes of the iconic hip hop tracks of the day, the documentary explores how media hysteria, racism and political reaction produced policies and laws that have left us with the largest — and most disproportionately African-American -- prison population in the world.
With candid, never-before-seen interviews from survivors, including Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and Raekwon, “Planet Rock” examines the hardships young men encountered growing up in impoverished neighborhoods, which led many to deal crack cocaine as their only way out. This destructive drug not only provided an escape, but also paved the way for an entrance into hip-hop.
More than any other art form, hip-hop reflected and documented the crack epidemic. The chaos and madness of the crack phenomenon was fused with the sound and style of hip-hop during its formative years. From the gold dookie chain to Gucci, many hip-hop artists were influenced by the look and fashion of infamous dealers like Azie Faison in Harlem, who is prominently featured in the documentary, along with Freeway Ricky Ross, the Godfather of Crack in LA.
As hip-hop became increasingly popular, the fascination with crime and gangster culture, specifically the violence inherent in crack culture, became ingrained in the music. And soon the very kids dealing crack were turning their street tales into hit records.
After serving hard time in jail, Snoop Dogg became the biggest rapper of his day; after a bullet in the back nearly killed him, B Real went legit with Cypress Hill; and after crafting their business model on the crack hustle, RZA and Raekwon turned the Wu Tang Clan into a hip hop empire.
As journalist Cheo Choker reflects, “it’s fascinating to think that Jay Z, a global icon who had better seats at President Obama’s inauguration than Jesse Jackson, was once a New York City crack dealer.”