CRACK was King, CRACK was the KingDevil

The summer of 1985 was pretty hectic here in NYC. Crack had taken hold of the city by then. Not the imaginary crack of DipSet or G-Unit, but the real crack up in Breevort, up in Taft, up in Baisley, and the 40 Houses. The real crack that forced grandmothers to have to raise their grandbabies. That is, if they weren’t selling crack too. Everyone and their grandma would be selling it because it was in demand that much.

Black neighborhoods were already established as the outposts where you went to get all the vices you craved, because that is how the system works. Just like you might go to a mall or an outlet complex to do your shopping, the drug trade works the same way. These drug outposts are set up and the local people are used to work the outlets. These local people are the last stop in the chain of drug distribution. They aren’t part of the production division which refines these narcotics from farmed plants through a chemicalization process. These local people aren’t part of the transportation division which has to move tremendous amounts of these narcotics over many miles, requiring boats and planes and devices that can accomodate large loads. The local people surely don’t own the factories and manufacturing centers that produce the vials and containers that these narcotics are sold in. These local people aren’t even part of the process that decides which drugs go to which neighborhoods so that the communities may be studied for the long term effects of these drugs. Nope, when it comes to dope the Black communities are just the retail division. The last stop before the consumer.

In 1985, law enforcement made little distinction between the retailer and the consumer when it came to the prosecution of drug possession. The media trumpeted the center city violence that was a by-product of all the money that was up for grabs. This in turn forced the police to come down hard on the local dealers in their efforts to hold press conferences showing Black people criminals were being handcuffed. This is where T.C. and I come in the picture…

T.C. and I were not from the side of the neighborhood that the drug trade was conducted on. Trees lined the streets of our block and most of the houses had detached garages and manicured lawns. LOUIS ARMSTRONG’s house was around the corner as well as radio personality FRANKIE CROCKER and former baseball player TOMMIE AGEE. But even with that relative prestige there was still a call to us from the other side of the neighborhood where the working class people lived. Its almost as if they lived a realer ‘Black’ experience than we did. Nevermind the fact that our parents had struggled to graduate college and squirrel away their pennies to buy their homes. For T.C. and I as well as many middle class Black kids it wasn’t enough for us to have the melanin to confirm our ‘Blackness’. We needed something more.

T.C. and I were friends with a 5% dude named BAR-KIM (R.I.P.) whose government name was BARRY. He was from the other side of the ‘hood. Back in our graffiti days BARRY used the tag name BAR ONE. He always wanted to get up in our black books because he would see the names of writers from places he had never been to. By tagging up in someone’s black book you got to travel to other places. It was a chance to become immortal. T.C. and I now wanted what BARRY had which was the right to stand on the corner. The right to claim a 5ft. square flag of concrete pavement as your own place. When people would pass by BARRY they would acknowledge him and defer to him as though he was the overlord of that corner. BARRY was willing to share his corner with us, but we were going to have to help him with the administrative duties. STAT and LIL’ MIKE were in charge of the opposite corner, but they weren’t as committed as BARRY was. I didn’t think BARRY ever slept because I would see him on that block at every conceivable moment. BARRY had our ticket to street credibility within the neighborhood and he could see that we wanted it badly. One summer weekend BARRY made us an offer. If we would hold down the corner with him, direct traffic and look out for police he would give us a piece of his profit. If we were out there for about 10 hours we could have $50 dollars. In 1985 $50 dollars was a lot of money. Shit, I could use $50 dollars now and its more than twenty years later. The really good money though was in flipping packs. The actual selling of 100 vials of crack. So this was what we wanted to do. To take the express elevator to the top of the game.

Holding down a corner is without a doubt the hardest, most nerve-wracking job that you can ever do. There isn’t a minute to relax. People are steered to you on foot, on bicycle, in cars. You explain to them what you are holding and what the prices are. They have to move quickly and if they take too long to decide you don’t serve them. This teaches them to be decisive and to understand the pace of the block. The big danger were the undercover cops. Their cars were indistinguishable from all the vehicles that passed through the block. The busiest day of the week for them was Tuesday. To this day, I know people who call it ‘Task Force Tuesday’ and they don’t even sell or buy drugs. But even they know.

The lesson that T.C. and I were taught from this experience was how difficult selling drugs is around the people that you grew up with. Crack cocaine was such a powerful drug. The dependency it caused was relentless. The users were rabid and ravenous. I had never registered any of the buyer’s faces before, and I had never been on the block during a pay day either. Everybody was working their piece of concrete. The harried scene was surreal. It was as if crackheads were materializing out of thin air. Then they would disappear from you in the same manner as if the night shadows swallowed up their bodies. BARRY was moving wild amounts of work. He needed T.C. and I to help maintain order among the desperate drug abusers.

Some were returning for the second, third, tenth time that evening. I looked at them as if they were inhuman. It was as if their souls were removed from their bodies. The users were so paranoid that it offended me to witness them. Their constant state of panic annoyed me because I thought that it might be contagious like smallpox. The jittery twitching and repeated scratching wasn’t the only telltale idiosyncracy. These people spoke inaudibly because they were saying 100 words per second. I hated them. I hated their look. I hated their smell.

As the night moved on I found out how spiritually draining it would be to stand on the corner as a profession. We were approached by a tall hooded man with the most godawful filthy jeans on and a ridiculous pair of no name sneakers. There is nothing worse than a bummy crackhead and I was ready to kick this man in the azz just for being a junkie. My attitude changed when I saw the man’s face. He was my little league coach, LESTER TAYLOR. BIG LES was like the coolest motherfucker ever. He was a neighborhood fixture because he had been a college worthy cager back in the day. I remember that BIG LES always had a crispy pair of sneakers on when he came out to the field. I made my mother buy me a pair of Puma cleats because BIG LES always wore suede ‘CLYDE’ Pumas. He was tall and strong and loud and proud. More importantly, he was a really good coach. He never yelled at me when I made errors. He didn’t make fun of me for being a fat kid either. BIG LES didn’t force me to play catcher because in little league baseball the fat kid always has to play the catcher position. How in the world does this guy go from being a teacher, a hero, to being the biggest loser on the planet?

When T.C. saw LES he was as sad as I was. LES head dropped below his shoulders. He realized that we recognized him and his shame became an almost unbearable weight. I watched LES go to BARRY and give him a crumpled ball of cash. BARRY cursed at him for giving him the money in that manner. LES hunched over even further. BARRY told him that he wasn’t going to give him another sale unless he brought money that hadn’t already been used to wipe someone’s ass. LES skulked away into the darkness without raising his head to look back at T.C. or me.

Seeing LES that night was actually like going to my very first funeral. That little kid that played third base in little league was killed that night. I had to grow up now and remove the cover of innocence that had shielded me up to this point. Seeing LES made me angry at him for being a drug abuser. I became angry with myself for ever giving him the respect of an older brother. I was angry with BARRY, STAT and MIKE and all the other kids that sold crack. My anger became self-destructive and I turned it onto other people. I needed an outlet to vent. New York City was a big place. It almost wasn’t big enough to contain me.

21 Responses to “CRACK was King, CRACK was the KingDevil”

  1. Skein says:

    One of the more powerful things I’ve ever read on the net. Thank you.

  2. LM says:

    A real tear just fell from my left eye on a Monday morning

  3. Monica says:

    This was defintiely intense. You should be wriiting the Diary of DP. Atleast I hope you’ve started to….

  4. p-city says:

    It is rare that I read something on a blog that I can’t get out of me head. This is one of those occasions. I read it at home this morning and then I got to work and read it again.

    BIG LES’ shame, the breakdown of the “vice system” , that crazy 80’s jacket from the picture, “the anger”…

    Nice work! Nice work!

  5. Miss Ahmad says:

    Amen! Damn not only is your memory so good to be able to capture the sight sound and smell of your youth, you have translated it into words and actions. Damn damn damn….growing up in the 80’s weren’t no joke.

    this is the most amazing post yet!

  6. Travis says:

    This entry was better than any book I read in 2005.

  7. Ray says:

    No smiles this time, but a very powerful piece. Brave of you to reveal this. Whatever happened to BIG LES. What did you do…

  8. Damn! Those words are powerful.
    I felt what you were saying!
    I come often but never speak!
    I HAD to speak up on that one!

  9. kevmatic says:

    long time reader, first time poster. powerful entry man. yall should write professionally.

  10. apple halsey says:

    This moved me tremendously. Bravo my brother.

  11. dan says:

    seconds to all the aforementioned sentiments. i feel i can sympathize with much of your anger and frustration, having seen what heroin can do to a family. i hope to see more of your work published in the future.

  12. geneva jones says:

    thank you.

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  14. Dirty JAX says:

    Cuzzin better be on the fast track to a book deal. Rare stuff. The world is fiending to hear this story.

  15. coolout says:

    This the reason I don’t f*ck with “crack-rap”.

    Anybody that has really been touched by darkside of hard drugs should know that sh*t ain’t cool…

  16. nation says:

    >> How in the world does this guy go from being a teacher, a hero, to being the biggest loser on the planet?

    >> I had to grow up now and remove the cover of innocence that had shielded me up to this point.


  17. todd whitney says:


    As always, good stuff. I grew up in the ‘burbs’ in westchester or so some would think. when that crack epidemic hit man…things changed quickly out there, we are the last stop in ny before ct. my Lester was Reggie Gathers. he was about 5 years older than me and he was the town athlete…led the parade and all that, MY IDOL. i remember him standing in the snow and offering to sell us his jordans. right then…i had a disgust for the “crackhead”. not long after that he was killed…

    amazing story my brother…keep it up.


  18. dubz says:

    I am from Jersey, right below Trenton and a lot of your work I can definitely relate to. We had 5%’ers in my hood, graffiti shit, gear shit and most def-crack shit. Reading this entry made me think of my pops and how I saw him hit straight rock bottom when crack made its debut. When you said that seeing LES was like going to your first funeral, damn, that’s some real shit.. When your “friends” are serving your pops, as a kid, you feel extremely lost. That shit not only changed his life but my immediately family as well. Of course, the user of the drug may exhibit some long term effects but I never touched the drug and I am still affected by it today. My pops is still on a crash course. It’s amazing that he is still upright. “Escapism”, everybody is looking for a way out- whether it’s music, drugs, sex, or art, people have to release that anxious energy. My pops was just trying to self medicate himself in this ultra-stressful world. I just wish he knew of the ramifications and also the many positive alternatives that he could have chosen. Salute DP, our purpose on this blue ball is to enlighten the next man. Job well done bro.

  19. BIGNAT says:

    i myself have sold some drugs in my lifetime. doesn’t make me more better or worse than anyone but crack i would never sell. seeing people piss/shit on themselves and jump to the ground because they think they see a crack rock. offers of sexual service and will be your slave was disgusting. when i go to visit some of my buddies who still live in the hood. i see them out there like really people are still using crack? this lady i have known all my life is hooked on that shit now. i have not seen her in about two years but now she is a crack head. from what i’m told the man she got involved with was one and now she is one. i ask her about her sons she said they went on vacation. keep in mind she has three boys one is my age but the other two were teenagers. she came close to me real quick. she wanted to hug me and kiss me on the cheek which would not be out of the question any other time. now it was like death was coming to me. she is not that bad yet she was always a slim women. now she looks super skinny and very tired in the face. once i backed away. she stopped and put her hands on her hips. she asked me if she could borrow some money i told her no. then she said i know you got some cash you want me to work for it baby? i said i don’t have any money and walked away she yelled tell your mother i said hello. that was hard for me to see a women who looked out for me from like 4, 5 till i was 27, 28. who would let me know which girls was talking about me around the way. also would let me know when people not from the block were looking for me. who kissed my knee when she saw me fall off my bike when i younger. who would only tell my parents all the good stuff i did. who would be proud of me like a parent.

  20. JMW says:

    Damn Dallas! You just took me back so hard….it could be the 80’s all over again. I worked in the Bronx….raised three sons in Brooklyn and was scared to death everyday that the lure was gonna catch one of them. I saw families being torn in my neighborhood, on my block…hell….in my building and I often why how me and mine made it through and others didnt. By the time 2000 came around and some of us was able to exhale…I felt blessed and guilty at the same time.
    You left it on the page raw with this; I guess this is how it is when you are courageous enough to speak from the inside. Thanks for sharing!

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