11 Things to Know About Hip-Hop and Crack

By Guy Cimbalo

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Designer bulletproof vests, the origin of "biyatch" and so much more


It’s hardly news that a lot of rappers got their start hustling rock, but the crack game isn’t just a trainee program for some of hip-hop’s biggest stars. As revealed in the new documentary Planet Rock: The Story of Hip-Hop and the Crack Generation, the influence of the crack era is nearly inescapable in today’s popular culture. The film, from exec producer Ice-T and directors Richard Lowe and Martin Torgoff, premieres on VH1 this Sunday at 10 p.m. ET. Before then, we drop some knowledge about crack’s lasting imprint on hip-hop.

01 Most early hip-hop labels were funded by crack money. It wasn’t just for love of the music–record labels were simply an easy way for dealers to launder money. Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records was started with the money Eazy made from dealing. Murder Inc.’s Michael “Harry-O” Harris not only co-founded Death Row Records from the millions he made selling rock, he even produced a Broadway play starring Denzel Washington.

And of course, Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records might sound like the name of an oil tycoon, but first and foremost it’s all about the rock.

02 The rapper Rick Ross pretty much stole the identity of “Freeway” Rick Ross, the man who invented crack cocaine. During the 1980s and early ‘90s the FBI estimates “Freeway” Rick made more than $600 million from his drug empire. As you might expect, Freeway wasn’t too happy to hear about a former prison guard playing the imposter.

03 Hip-hop’s taste for high-end fashion started with Dapper Dan, the Harlem tailor who could fake a brand name on everything, even a “Louis Vuitton” bulletproof vest. Before Kanye presented a line at New York Fashion Week and Pharrell designed for Louis Vuitton, crack dealers with money to burn weren’t exactly welcome in Madison Avenue boutiques. So they turned to 125th Street’s Dapper Dan, the man who could put fake designer logos on anything–car interiors, gold chains, brass knuckles and, yes, bulletproof vests.

04 LL Cool J’s original name was J-Ski, and it wasn’t because of his love of moguls. You’ll find Ski’s all over hip-hop-there’s EA-Ski, DJ Ski, Boo Ski the Flyest, Joe Ski Love, and Kool Rock-ski of The Fat Boys. Hell, if you didn’t realize they were talking about coke, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were Polish.

05 Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, who performed “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” probably should have heeded their own advice. As Grandmaster Flash explained in this NPR interview from 2002, the legendary anti-drug track was recorded while the boys were tweaking on freebase and cocaine. We probably wouldn’t mind so much if they hadn’t set a precedent for every celebrity-endorsed anti-drug PSA for the next 30 years.

06 RZA modeled the Wu-Tang Clan’s record deal after his crack-dealing enterprise. Why don’t we just let RZA explain that one?

07 Those baggy Hilfiger clothes were popular because it’s a lot easier to hide your gat in loose jeans and big jackets. The taste for Tommy Hilfiger probably took its most bizarre turn when Raekwon walked the runway at a Hilfiger fashion show. Have you seen Raekwon? Let’s just say he’s no Tyson Beckford.

08 The now-ubiquitous “biyatch” got its start with Too $hort’s imitation of a crack ho.

09 The legendary Toddy Tee single “Batterram” is about an actual battering ram used by the LAPD to raid stash houses. In his quintessentially bully-boy style, Los Angeles police chief Darryl Gates fought the city’s crack problem with a militarized police force and enormous battering ram, affixed to an armored vehicle. In one particularly notorious incident, Nancy Reagan joined the LAPD on a drug raid, watching as the cops went medieval on the front door of a crack house.

10 Azie Faison, the East Coast’s biggest coke and crack dealer, started an underground hip-hop group called Mobstyle. Azie was earning more than $100 grand a week, but he was forced into retirement after getting shot nine times. Having made a miraculous recovery and seeing the error of his ways, Azie dedicated himself to fighting the crack epidemic through hip-hop.

Based on the video below, it’s safe to assume that Azie was a better crack dealer than rapper.

11 Dr. Dre is not a licensed doctor. And even if he were, there’s no such thing as pharmaceutical-grade crack.


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