This song, one of the first hit rap songs about drugs, is often mistakenly described as being a collaboration between Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel. Grandmaster Flash actually had nothing to do with the song. He had already left Sugar Hill Records before the song was even recorded. When the single was first released, it was credited to “Grandmaster and Melle Mel,” in order to create the impression that Flash was involved. In his autobiography, Flash wrote that he once heard the song was while he was on the way to buy crack and, at that moment, he felt that Melle Mel was specifically speaking to him.
This song was recorded at a time when much of America — specifically, white America — was either unaware of or unconcerned with the drug epidemic that was ravaging America’s poorest neighborhoods. White Lines attacks both cocaine and a legal system that punishes poor black kids more harshly than rich, white businessmen. “The businessman who is caught with 24 kilos” is a reference to car manufacturer John DeLorean, who was arrested after trying to buy 24 kilos from an undercover FBI agent. DeLorean was later acquitted after he made the case that the FBI agent had entrapped him.
(DeLorean today is best remembered for designing the car made famous by Back to the Future. Between 1981 and 1983, 9,000 Deloreans were manufactured and 6,500 of them are reported to still be in working condition. I once came across a classified ad from someone who was looking to sell his DeLorean. I called and offered him a thousand dollars. He laughed and hung up.)
This video was shot by Spike Lee, who was a film student at NYU at the time and yes, that is Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne appeared in this video shortly after playing Cutter in Death Wish II and he has the same look in the video as he did in the movie.