On the strange habit of dope-dealing and its anachronistic appeal



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Today, practically every one of America's notorious ghettos is undergoing a major facelift. The urban landscape, once replete with condemned buildings and abandoned lots, is fast becoming a homogenized and sterile shopping mall. A process which begins in New York or Chicago goes on duplicating itself in the other American cities. Every city is becoming a mirror image of the other with its big box stores, non-smoking restaurants and bars, and bike lanes. The process of gentrification has also made the city safer -- police are more present, streets are more well lit -- yet we still find a robust attraction to crack dealing in the music of the day (hip hop). Selling crack successfully is the hallmark of the contemporary rapper's reputation. But where is all of this crack being sold?

To be sure, many cities have maintained small outposts of urban blight and crime (even if those areas are also on the gentrification cutting block as well), yet the extent of the drug trade is at low tide compared to its more visible and widespread presence in the early 90s. Most young people today, especially niggas, are not anxious to sell crack in order to get ahead. Why then is the mention of the practice so inextricable from much of today's best rap?

Those of us who survived the Crack Years know that the drug's pecuniary benefits could never hold a candle to its side effects: drive-by shootings, police raids, crackheads, &c. But more and more, the audience for hip hop is simply too young to recall those social ills. Various features of crack culture are reaching new listeners as mere tropes of anti-establishment or non mainstream success.

I cannot point to any especially negative consequences spawning from this appropriation beyond a kind of historical revisionism that makes the Crack Years seem like the Roaring Twenties for Niggas. The phenomenon can be understood in one of two ways: either the nigga has digested and come to terms with crack to the extent that he can now treat it lightly (a la Dave Chappelle skits) or he has not grasped the near genocidal nature of the drug and risks being tripped up by the next one.