The New York Times recruited Jay Z to write and narrate their new short film, A History of the War on Drugs: From Prohibition to the Gold Rush. Set to vivid illustrations by artist Molly Crabapple of the legal and social ramifications of the war on drugs in New York City from the late 1980s to present-day, the film shows the harsh realities and double standards that exist for drug dealers, especially those of color, and white entrepreneurs getting rich off today’s growing marijuana business.
“In 1986, when I was coming of age, Ronald Reagan doubled down on the war on drugs that had been started by Richard Nixon in 1971,” Jay says in the film. “Drugs were bad, fried your brain and drug dealers were monsters – the sole reason neighborhoods and major cities were failing.” Dream Hampton – filmmaker and co-author of Jay Z’s book Decoded – set the project in motion when the social agency he works with, Revolve Impact, sought to tackle the contradictions presented in Michelle Alexander’s 2014 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by illustrating the effect the war of drugs has had in African-American communities.
The hip-hop mogul – who has been criticized for rapping about his drug-dealing past – hits out at the discrimination against men of color who push drugs in the film. “Young men who hustled like me became the sole villain and drugs addicts lacked moral fortitude,” he says. He goes on to reveal how in the 1990s, incarceration rates in the United States were at an all-time high, “more than any country in the world” including Cuba, Iran, Russia and China.
Jay Z, who has rapped about getting high on songs like “Allure,” then issues a call for action. “Forty-five years later, it’s time to rethink our policies and laws. The war on drugs is an epic fail,” he says.
Watch the full short film above.