Jay-Z Narrates A New York Times Video On The Failed Drug War

The Grammy-winning artist used to be a drug dealer. Now he's criticizing the judicial system.

Jay-Z and The New York Times are an unlikely but powerful combination.

In a newly released video, the Grammy-winning artist is heard narrating a fascinating short film on America's failed drug war. Illustrated by Molly Crabapple, the four-minute video takes you on a journey from Richard Nixon's America to the complexities of the present-day legalization of pot, including the fact that former marijuana offenders can't participate in the new economy

Jay-Z is a particularly interesting choice for a narrator, not just because of his New York roots and illustrious rap career, but because he has spoken candidly about his experience as a drug dealer. The video was largely inspired by Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness, which dives into the War on Drugs.

Both the book and the video point out a contradiction in drug enforcement history: namely, that during the largest drug crackdowns of the 1980s and 1990s, African-Americans and Hispanics were punished far more extensively for drug use than white Americans, despite the fact that usage rates were nearly identical.

Now another contradiction is being thrust into the spotlight: in the age of legalization, former marijuana offenders — most of whom are people of color — are unable to participate in the marijuana industry, while white men get rich off the end of prohibition in Colorado and Washington. 

Change is coming, though. In California, Proposition 64 will be voted on in November. The New York Times described Prop 64 as the "most racial-justice-oriented marijuana legalization measure ever." It not only aims to end the criminalization of marijuana but also aims to retroactively affect people who previously broke the law. In other words, marijuana offenders sitting in jail would be released and have their records expunged. On top of that, millions of dollars would be poured into the communities who were hurt most by the systemic racism of the judicial system.

But that's not all: in October, leaked United Nations documents suggested that the U.N. may be pushing to decriminalize drug use across the globe in the near future. 

Jay-Z's narration is a small glimpse into a world of drugs we've all too often ignored; thankfully, awareness and change are both becoming the mainstream.

Watch the video below: