Twenty-five years after crack cocaine ravaged American cities, a new VH1 Rock Doc explores how the drug also transformed popular culture, especially hip-hop. The latest addition to the Emmy-winning franchise, “Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation” premieres Sunday, September 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on VH1.
Narrated and executive produced by Ice-T, “Planet Rock” 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 times 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.
Crack first appeared in the early 1980s, but by 1986, it was raging through the inner cities of America like wildfire, leaving pain, grief, and death in its wake.
With candid, never-before-seen interviews from survivors, including Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and the Wu-Tang Clan’s RCA and Raekwon, “Planet Rock” looks at the hardships many young men had growing up in impoverished neighborhoods, which led many to deal crack cocaine as their only way out. This destructive drug provided not only 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 cookie 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 Los Angeles.
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 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.”
“Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation” is the newest installment in the Emmy Award-winning VH1 Rock Doc franchise. The Rock Doc “Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America” was recently nominated in the Outstanding Arts & Culture Programming category of this year’s News & Documentary Emmy Award.
VH1 Rock Docs are feature-length documentaries that tell unique stories of artists and music from a wide range of genres, styles and musical perspectives.
“Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation” will be available online following the on-air premiere on September 18.