A Time Before Crack

I read about this amazing book and its predecessors [as well as its brilliant photojournalist Jamel Shabazz] over the summer while combing the internets for Black men with style. And, doggonit, I just love how I stumble upon things like this. It was meant to be. Of course the wonderful images stopped me in my tracks and made me smile, so you know I had to share.

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Amazon’s synopsis: Once upon a time before crack, inner city communities were blighted by poverty and unemployment—but not by the drug wars that tore families apart, destroying lives with needless violence and mindless addiction. Once upon a time before crack, pride and style were as inseparable as a beatbox and mixtape, or as a pair of shoes and matching purse. Once upon a time before crack, Jamel Shabazz was on the scene, working the streets of New York City, capturing the faces and places of an era that have long since disappeared. 

Best known as Hip Hop’s finest fashion photographer for his blockbuster best-selling monograph, Back in the Days (powerHouse Books, 2001), Shabazz revisited his archive and unearthed an extraordinary collection of never-before-published documentary photographs collected for his third powerHouse Books release, A Time Before Crack, a visual diary of the streets of New York City from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, Shabazz’s distinctive photographs reveal the families, the poses, and the players who made this age extraordinary.

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And we all know, in gist, why crack was created and how its use saturated Black and poor America; just as Black people were really regaining their strength and solidarity and love for their fellow man, the other man came in and said “fuck that!” and skillfully paved yet another dark avenue to destroy us-make us weak, useless and severely addicted. Imprison us. Break up our homes and obliterate our families. Kill us.

That is why this book is so beautiful.

A Time Before Crack and Shabaaz’s other works remind us of our true beauty, style, pride. Power. Strength. It displays our freer moments in American history. Not to erase or discredit our struggle, but so much of our history in America glorifies our  plights or the same few triumphs, like Rosa Parks’ story or Dr. King’s speeches are as good as it got.

But this at this point, slavery had been abolished. We were no longer fighting for integration or the right to vote. We were happy. We could relax a little, put our feet up. Shabaaz shows a time when things were much better -GREAT even- in the Black community. Albeit some of us were poor, we had each other and we had plenty of love. For us, there was hope. There was a bright bright future. We had more reasons to smile.

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It is always disheartening to be reminded that we have always been fighting-that we will always have to fight-just to be human. Just to be. But on the other side of the same coin, it brings me joy to see our sweet moments in history and know we are such a strong, resilient people.

[all photos ©Jamel Shabazz]

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