Kanye West has written a lot of provocative songs about politics and culture, but “Crack Music” is undoubtedly one of his most controversial. Kanye uses a wide range of references to paint a complex picture about how drugs have affected the African-American culture and how music might offer a solution to those problems. It’s a fairly long song, so you might want to find free lyrics online to help you follow along.
Kanye opens the song by rapping “that’s that crack music… that real black music.” This line sets a tone for the rest of the song by drawing a connection between drugs and music. By doing so, it creates opposing positions that get explored throughout Kanye West’s song. On one hand, Kanye complains that crack has been used to harm African-American culture. On the other hand, though, he uses the strength and addiction of crack to emphasize the energy of black music.
After the introduction, Kanye immediately jumps into a controversy by stating “How we stop the Black Panthers? Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer.” Kanye’s the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to tell the world that “George Bush doesn’t like black people,” so it’s no surprise to find him blaming President Reagan for the crack epidemic.
In “Crack Music,” though, Kanye isn’t willing to let drug users completely off the hook. When he raps that “crack raised the murder rate in Baltimore and DC” he explains that “we invested in that.” One could interpret this as blaming African-American communities for turning to heavy drug use instead of finding a more effective way of dealing with oppression in the inner-city. Kanye wags his finger at crack smokers in Baltimore, but he never forgets to give them a small out by comparing the state of oppression and economics to the U.S.’s history of slavery. Sure, black people invested in crack, but it’s like they got “Merril-Lynched.”
Kanye then compares crack with the power of music. Instead of relying on drugs to make money and build a new world where black people can live successfully, he finds a solution in politically conscious rap that energizes people and helps lift talented rappers from the ghetto. He even goes so far as to explain the creative process in drug-making terms by cooking, bagging, and selling music.
“Crack Music” recognizes that many people in the African-American community have used drugs to go from being broken to having it all. This, however, lifts certain people into affluence at the expense of the community. It’s a system that Kanye West openly blames on politicians, even as he recognizes that the community had a hand in its own downfall.
Lest you think that Kanye West has forgotten about George W. Bush, he slips in a pot shot with the lines “Who gave Saddam Hussein anthrax? George Bush got the answer.” Perhaps that’s not the most historically accurate description of Bush’s War on Terror, but it is consistent from within Kanye’s framework, which sees aggression and violence as necessarily leading to more aggression and violence… as long as it gives money and power to the people on top and keeps crushing the people struggling to survive.