The scene was the 11th floor of the Paley Center for Media, roughly an hour or so before last night’s world premiere screening of VH1’s latest Rock Doc, Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation. The green room was filled with some of the larger-than-life personalities that make this powerful movie what it is: Notorious crack kingpin turned socially conscious rapper Azie Faison (pictured above), cultural critic and highly regarded journalist Nelson George, and the O.G. himself, Ice-T (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ice-T’s bombshell wife, Coco, was typing away on her Blackberry while sitting on a couch on the other side of the room). Because Ice was very forthcoming with his thoughts, I’m going to honor his request and put his scathing words for the likes of Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and Kanye West on hold for a bit (but don’t worry, we’ll get to ‘em quick).
Planet Rock is the first documentary film to focus on the undeniable effect that the crack cocaine “epidemic” of the 1980s had on the world of hip-hop, and vice versa. After watching the doc and its strikingly honest interviews with former gangbangers turned music superstars like Snoop Dogg, B-Real of Cypress Hill, and RZA and Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, you really get a vivid picture of not only how these worlds were intertwined from the outset, but also the incredible fallout that resulted when crack was introduced into these neighborhoods (which, some allege, was the direct result of C.I.A. intervention). Even Ice-T, who was out of the game when his single “6 In The Mornin” hit big in 1986, was running with some of the crack game’s biggest players.
“Freeway Rick is my friend, he came to my wedding,” Ice-T tells me when I ask him if he ever crossed paths with Freeway Ricky Ross, who has a starring role in the documentary and was the crack game equivalent of Scarface‘s Tony Montana in mid-eighties era Los Angeles. “I knew all those cats, I grew up with them. People would ask me if Freeway Rick was a drug dealer, and I would tell them that I never saw him deal drugs. How can you say that’s what someone is if you never see it personally?”