Jay Z’s ‘Drug Dealers Anonymous’: How True Are the Rapper’s Drug-Dealing Claims?

On Pusha T’s new track, not-so-Young Hov claps back at a conservative pundit and opens up about his drug-dealing past.

Eric Thayer / Reuters

“I mean, I know about budgets. I was a drug dealer.”

Jay Z made the following remark to Vanity Fair in a 2013 cover story that emphasized the rapper-entrepreneur’s past dalliances with the white, mentioning the word “drugs” no less than 15 times. Earlier this year, that past was rehashed again in the wake of his wife Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime performance, wherein a gaggle of conservative pundits experienced temporary insanity, endeavoring to manufacture controversy by appearing to take issue with its messaging. One such news troll, The Blaze’s Tomi Lahren, claimed that the pop superstar was “perpetuating the great battle of the races,” and proceeded to deride her husband, saying, “For fourteen years, he sold crack cocaine.”

Well, apparently Jay Z was listening.

On Tuesday night, Pusha T released the new track “Drug Dealers Anonymous.” It features a snippet of Lahren’s asinine right-wing fanfic, followed by a ferocious 2-minute verse from Jay Z, including the lines, “Fourteen-year drug dealer and still countin’, who deserves the Medal of Freedom is my accountant.”

But the more telling lines come later in the song, when the man formerly known as Shawn Corey Carter, 46, opens up in greater detail about his history in the drug game. “Before Reasonable Doubt dropped, the jury hung, bling bling. Every time I come around your city, bling bling. My tenure took me through Virginia. Ask Teddy Riley ’bout me, ask the Federalis ’bout me, tried to build a cell around me, snatched my nigga Emory up, tried to get him to tell about me. He told 12, ‘Gimme 12,’ told them to go to hell about me.”

For those unfamiliar with Jay Z’s story, this will all sound like typical hip-hop posturing. But for those familiar, these names—especially that of childhood friend Emory Jones—take on greater meaning.

In his track “Takeover,” Jay Z raps, “I was pushing weight back in ’88.” He was 19 back in ’88, but by Jay’s own admission began dealing around the age of 14 after his father, Adness Reeves, turned to drugs and left the family. According to Zack Greenberg’s excellent book Empire State of Mind, Jay began moving serious “weight” along with his childhood pal, DeHaven Irby, and Emory Jones. While Irby has accused Jay of exaggerating his drug-dealing past, claiming that most of the raps more closely resemble himself, no one is disputing that Jay Z was involved in dealing drugs.

“One person who spent time with both Jay Z and DeHaven during the early 1990s estimates that Jay Z was moving a kilogram of cocaine (a $12,000 value before the fourfold street markup) per week,” wrote Greenburg. “‘He was definitely involved in the narcotics game,’ says the source, who asked to remain anonymous. ‘There’s no denying that.’”

Jay Z’s track “Do U Wanna Ride?” was made in dedication to Jones, who, in 2000, received a 16-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to trafficking cocaine (he ran a large crack cocaine ring based in Maryland). In it, Jay rapped about the high life waiting for his old pal once he was released from the slammer.

In his autobiography Decoded, Jay Z discussed his years working as a street-level crack and cocaine dealer for Jones in Maryland, writing about how it ended with “police investigations, whole crews arrested,” and adding, “I got out of there just in time. Some of my best friends weren’t so lucky. It was tragic.”

Ten years after Jones went to prison, Jay Z wrote a letter to a federal judge that was included in a series of documents as part of Jones’s motion for a sentence reduction. In the letter, which was acquired by The Smoking Gun, the rapper writes that there is “an employment opportunity for Mr. Jones to fill a recently vacated executive assistant position” at his company Roc Apparel Group, which came with a $50,000 starting salary. “It is my strong desire to have Mr. Jones fill this position,” the CEO added. “I have known Mr. Jones for 15 years. I believe his attributes, including intelligence, interpersonal skills and solid work ethic will be a significant asset for my organization.”

The letter apparently did the trick, and Jones was released nearly six years early in 2010. He was picked up from prison in a Maybach, courtesy of Jay Z, and is currently a creative director at Jay’s company Roc Nation Apparel.