Rapper and music mogul Jay Z criticized America’s decades-long War on Drugs as an “epic fail” in an animated op-ed video produced for the New York Times and released Thursday.
Narrating over illustrations by graphic artist Molly Crabapple, the 45-year-old New York City rapper and former drug dealer chronicles the history of the war on drugs in the four-minute clip, beginning with Richard Nixon’s presidency and intensifying in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan.
“Drugs were bad; fried your brain. And drug dealers were monsters, the sole reason neighborhoods and major cities were failing,” Jay Z says of the early thinking of the politicians attempting to address the problem. “No one wanted to talk about Reaganomics and the ending of social safety nets, the defunding of schools and the loss of jobs in cities across America. Young men like me who hustled became the sole villain, and drug addicts lacked moral fortitude.”
“In the 1990s, incarceration rates in the U.S. blew up,” he adds. “Today, we imprison more people than any other country in the world: China, Russia, Iran, Cuba — all countries we consider autocratic and oppressive.”
The video op-ed was reportedly conceived by filmmaker Dream Hampton as a means of exploring the impact of the drug war on the country’s African-American community, and also to address the issue of marijuana legalization, with several states set to legalize the drug for recreational use this year.
According to the Times, Hampton wanted to address a contradiction raised by author Michelle Alexander in 2014: “Why were white men poised to get rich doing the very same thing that African-American boys and men had long been going to prison for?”
“Rates of drug use are as high as they were when Nixon declared this so-called war in 1971,” Jay Z concludes the video. “Forty-five years later, it’s time to rethink our policies and laws. The War on Drugs is an epic fail.”
The rapper — whose current net worth is estimated at around $600 million — has previously spoken openly about dealing drugs while growing up in Brooklyn.
“I know about budgets. I was a drug dealer,” he told Vanity Fair in 2013. “To be in a drug deal, you need to know what you can spend, what you need to re-up. Or if you want to start some sort of barbershop or car wash—those were the businesses back then. Things you can get in easily to get out of [that] life. At some point, you have to have an exit strategy, because your window is very small; you’re going to get locked up or you’re going to die.”
Watch the Jay-Z narrated New York Times video op-ed above.
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