David Farber


On his book Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

Cover Interview of November 06, 2019

A close-up

While Crack is, as books go, on the slim side, it covers a lot of ground. While I hope the chapters on the history of cocaine, the lure of crack, and the crackdown on crack cocaine will captivate readers, I think many will be most fascinated by the chapters in the book that explore the crack trade as a business. To explain how crack distribution worked, I touch on a lot of different places and people, but I concentrate on the history of the crack industry in two cities: New York and Chicago.

Of New York, I tell the story of the “Supreme Team,” which operated in Queens. Led by Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, this crack crew became notorious for its economic success and for the violence the crew used to protect and expand its business. The Supreme Team became the stuff of Hip Hop myth and legend. In real life, as readers will learn, things went less well for most of the Team’s leadership, many of whom, decades after their criminal organization was taken down, are still imprisoned.

Chicago’s crack distributors emerged out of the city’s well-organized and powerful street gang culture. At the top of the crack pyramid in Chicago stood the Gangster Disciples (GDs), led from prison by the irrepressible Larry Hoover (the man Kanye West asked President Trump to pardon in 2018). The GDs controlled many of the massive public housing projects in Chicago and at one point had tens of thousands of gangsters selling crack cocaine in a highly organized and disciplined network. Along with their main rivals, The P. Stone Nation, the GDs had the city locked up tight. The story of crack distribution in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s is an alternative history of life in America as it is usually told. It was a difficult history to research, and I think it is the part of the book that will hit readers the hardest.