Rap mogul Jay Z teamed up with artist Molly Crabapple to produce a short video about the ‘War on Drugs,’ featured in The New York Times. While the video did point out some undeniable truths about race, class, and drugs, it also had a steady stream of anti-Republican political undertones.
The video begins with Jay Z describing what life was like during the Reagan administration, claiming that the 40th president doubled down on Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs, while making life worse for poor Americans.
“Drugs were bad, fried your brain, and drug dealers were monsters, the sole reason neighborhoods in inner cities were failing. Nobody wanted to talk about Reaganonmics, the ending of social safety nets, the closing of schools, and the loss of jobs in cities across America,” Jay Z says at the beginning of the video.
This is mostly fiction. Reagan was not responsible for closing any schools — that’s not the job of the president. As for cutting the social safety net, the Gipper’s administration only cut grants that indirectly helped poor people, like community development block grants, but he did not eliminate any direct aid to lower class Americans and, in fact, he increased spending on most of those programs.
Another fiction told in Jay Z’s video is that black unemployment grew during Reagan’s administration. In 1988, when the rapper was just 19-years-old, black unemployment numbers dropped from a high of 21.2 percent in 1983 down to 11 percent.
Jay Z then focuses on the drug policies and mass incarceration of black men across the country, but unlike the previous decade, he doesn’t name the president or his wife who were responsible for locking up hundreds of thousands of “super predators.”
Jay Z also doesn’t credit Richard Nixon for being the only president to focus more of his efforts on rehabilitation rather than incarceration.
As a former drug dealer, Jay Z draws a lot of attention to fair treatment for former dealers who are now legally allowed to open dispensaries in states like Colorado — he considers that racist.
Lastly, he said that drug addiction is as high as it was when Nixon declared a ‘War on Drugs,’ and then made a Mt. Rushmore with all the presidents who have fought against substance abuse except one — Jay Z’s friend Barack Obama.
Ignoring the role of the Clinton’s and Obama — who just raised the cost of fighting the War on Drugs to $31 billion — makes this video more of a partisan attack than a call for policy reform.