Jay Z has kept relatively quiet of late, but the pieces he’s produced have been profound, to say the least. His latest single, “Spiritual,” brings police brutality into devastating focus, and now he’s offered his thoughts and voice to a stunning video that unpacks the War on Drugs and how it’s failed African-Americans especially.
In an audio-visual op-ed for the New York Times, Jay Z and illustrator Molly Crabapple team up for “The War On Drugs Is An Epic Fail.”
In the four-minute visual, Jay connects the very real, present failures of Reaganomics, the demonization of “hustlers,” and dismal data regarding the prison complex and racially targeted drug arrests to legislation that passed in New York for the sole purpose of filling prisons with convicts brought in on drug charges.
“Judges’ hands were tied by tough-on-crime laws, and they were forced to hand out mandatory life sentences for simple possession and low-level drug sales,” he narrates. “My home state of New York started this with Rockefeller Laws. Then, the feds made distinctions between people who sold powdered cocaine and crack cocaine, even though they were the same drug. The only difference is how you take it. And even though white people used and sold crack more than black people, somehow it was black people who went to prison ... Crack is still talked about as a black problem. The NYPD raided our Brooklyn neighborhoods while Manhattan bankers openly used coke with impunity.”
The statistics he provides are devastating — as is his personal testimony, given that he lived through this — and he makes very real correlations between arrests and tickets for marijuana use by comparing the smoking populations of predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods to those of Columbia dorm rooms. Crabapple’s art unfurls as Jay proceeds. It’s a work that requires multiple viewings to fully digest the intensity of it — but it’s a necessary viewing all the same.