With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

“Entrepreneurial Greed” — A Review Of Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, And The Decade Of Greed

Farber, David. Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Reviewed by Kim Hewitt

In Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed, David Farber does dual duty—first recapping contemporary drug policies and then tracing the US history of cocaine use and cocaine business operations. The book might serve as an introductory text in a drug policy class, but it could also enliven studies in entrepreneurship and small business management. 

Farber provides a detailed examination of how in the late eighties and early nineties the cocaine trade transmuted itself both domestically and globally into crack dealing, a highly visible and troubling feature of life in major American cities. A rock solid form of powdered cocaine, crack, rather than being snorted, could more conveniently be smoked. 

In his unique analysis of crack as a business, Farber compares operations in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Within the economic context of each location, he provides a sense of the variations in organizational structures, street business policies, and leadership styles. Marketing strategies, violence conducted in the name of competition, and police responses are also considered. In this business-oriented approach, crack dealing comes across as old-fashioned “cut throat capitalism.” 

As a sidelight, the connection between crack, gangs, and hip-hop have, to my knowledge, never been so well documented. While “Freeway” Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Tupac, and Biggie Smalls are the best-known names in Farber’s story, he offers stories of the business acumen of less well-known rappers and dealers. 

Farber’s analysis of the interplay between crack and other illicit substances used recreationally is briefly couched within the context of an array of theories on the development of the underclass and the deindustrializing U.S. economy. In his balanced view, the devastating effects of crack on impoverished urban neighborhoods fell short of being the massive epidemic depicted in the mainstream media. What happened was bad enough. Farber details the rise in the eighties of African American infant mortality, the increase in the number of African American children put into foster care, and rising urban homicide rates. These trends are set within the context of Ronald Reagan’s cuts to funding for public housing. Chapter 5, “Crackdown: The Politics and Laws of Drug Enforcement,” offers a particularly detailed recounting of the politics and effects of the federal 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which in a city like Chicago became a travesty in the way drug cases were handled.

Read entire article at The Metropole (Urban History Association)