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Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation Paperback – December 27, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

Many good books have been written about the history of hip-hop music and the generation that nurtured it. Can't Stop Won't Stop ranks among the best. Jeff Chang covers the music--from its Jamaican roots in the late 1960s to its birth in the Bronx; its eventual explosion from underground to the American mainstream--with style, including DJs, MCs, b-boys, graffiti art, Black Nationalism, groundbreaking singles and albums, and the street parties that gave rise to a genuine movement. But the book is about more than beats and rhymes. What distinguishes his book from the pack is Chang's examination of how hip-hop has shaped not only pop music, but American history and culture over the past 30 years. He shows how events such as urban flight, race riots, neighborhood reclamation projects, gang warfare in the Bronx and Los Angeles, and grassroots movements that influenced political agendas are as integral a part of the hip-hop story as the music itself. He also charts the concurrent rise of hip-hop activism and the commodification of the music and the ideological clashes that developed as a result.

Based on hundreds of interviews and over a decade of work as a respected music journalist, Chang offers colorful profiles of the lives and influences of "the trinity of hip-hop music"--Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and DJ Kool Herc--along with many other artists, label executives, DJs, writers, filmmakers, and promoters. Impressive in its scope, Can't Stop Won't Stop is a lively and sharply written exploration of the power of hip-hop to unite people across generational, racial, and economic lines. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Hip-hop journalist Chang looks back on 30 years of the cultural landscape, with a particular focus on the African-American street scene, in this engaging and extensive debut. Chang shows how hip-hop arose in the rubble of the Bronx in the 1970s, when youth unemployment hit 60%-80%; traces the music through the black-Jewish racial conflicts of 1980s New York to the West Coast scene and the L.A. riots; and follows it to the Kristal-soaked, bling-encrusted corporate rap of today. Chang's balanced assessment of rap's controversial trappings neither condemns gang culture nor forgives its sins, but places gangs in the conditions that birthed them and illustrates their influence on street culture. Chang also examines art forms that arose alongside the music: the b-boys ("break dancers") with their James Brown-inspired, acrobatic battles and the graffiti artists, who practiced their defiant, "outlaw art" on the sides of subway trains and any other flat surface available. The vivid narrative alternates between Chang's historical elucidation and first-person accounts from the major players, including DJ Kool Herc, the mythic DJ who started it all at a West Bronx party; Afrika Bambaataa, who crossed gang boundaries for block parties, inspiring scores of others to enact truces and do the same; and Kurtis Blow, the first major-label rap artist, along with countless more. Most importantly, he documents stories that have been left unrecorded until now, with the oral histories of the gangs and artists. Illus. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 546 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312425791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312425791
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeff Chang has written extensively on culture, politics, the arts, and music.

His first book, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, garnered many honors, including the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award. He edited the book, Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop.

His new book, Who We Be: The Colorization of America, will be released on St. Martin's Press in October 2014. He is currently at work on two other book projects: Youth (Picador Big Ideas/Small Books series), and a biography of Bruce Lee (Little, Brown).

Jeff has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature and a winner of the North Star News Prize. He was named by The Utne Reader as one of "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World". With H. Samy Alim, he was the 2014 winner of the St. Clair Drake Teaching Award at Stanford University.

Jeff co-founded CultureStr/ke and ColorLines. He has written for the The Nation, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, Foreign Policy, and Mother Jones, among many others.

He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

188 of 197 people found the following review helpful By J. Chang on April 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately I think the previous reviewer may have missed the point of my book.

As I've said, in the book and in talks I've given on the book, I never set out to do a "definitive" history of hip-hop culture, let alone one simply about rap music. I don't believe that any one book could capture the breadth and depth of the hip-hop generation's contributions to culture and politics.

In 14+ years of writing on hip-hop from the street level around the globe, working (and often battling) in an international cipher of incredibly talented, passionate, and committed hip-hop artists (not just rappers), journalists, activists, writers, and scholars, I have developed a very strong opinion on this point: there are millions of ways to tell the story of the hip-hop generation. Mine is but one version. It's not "the" history, it's just "a" history.

I want to point everyone to some of the incredible writing that is available-in anthologies edited by people like Raquel Cepeda, Oliver Wang, and Rob Kenner, in books by Joan Morgan, Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, Bakari Kitwana, Raquel Rivera, Michael Eric Dyson, Mark Anthony Neal, S.H. Fernando, Adisa Banjoko, and Cheo Hodari Coker, and in fiction by Danyel Smith, Black Artemis, Erica Kennedy, and Adam Mansbach. There are classics of hip-hop writing by Tricia Rose, Brian Cross, Steven Hager, David Toop, Greg Tate, Billy Upski Wimsatt, James Spady, Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn. As I write this, I know of future classics still coming by people like Dave Tompkins, Brian Coleman, and many others. Nor am I trying to exclude the many other worthy and important writers out there-trust me, I've only scraped the surface of this expanding field of hip-hop generation (not just rap) books.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ben Thapa on January 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a deaf Asian-American, I didn't grow up in a house where music was a big priority. It was the purchase of the album "Dark Side of the Moon" that opened the floodgates for me and now I grasp not only the music, but the history behind the people and socio-auditory changes.

I can't help but compare "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" to the recent movie "Cidade de Deus" about a young boy who manages to somewhat avoid the gangs, drugs and cyclical poverty of Brazil's slums. The movie's protagonist Rocket could be analogous to hip-hop itself, struggling to find an alternate path to the violence and ignorance brought on by apathetic governments, organizations and a few evil people in the right places. Chang gives us remarkably well-done portraits of the various social changes that combined to give us some of the most transcendent expressions of thoughts and feelings I've ever heard. The book is worth the time and money.

The shortage of Tupac and Biggie material arises from the book's focus on the "original generation" itself, as the creators of the format got older and had to deal with not only a changed society, but also the question of "Where to go next?" Chang does point out the commercialization of hip-hop has had, on the whole, a mostly negative impact upon the validity and "goodness" of the music being made; that the industry executives have managed to create a system where decent beats, attractive musicians and shoddy lyrics are rewarded more often than the intelligent, expressive and fun block party spirit in the beginning.

Read this book.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Maya Gurantz on February 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Any weaknesses in Jeff Chang's groundbreaking _Can't Stop Won't Stop_ come from what is also the book's lifeblood: an ambition to create a coherent disquisition of the braided threads of art-making, culture-making, commerce, exploitation, appropriation, political oppression, and resultant activism that characterize what has, over twenty years, become "hip hop" (a term itself which, in the book, casts a wide net over a wildly conflicted and contradictory territory of music, culture, techniques, and theoretical structures.)

He's trying to do a hell of a lot. And the writing succeeds when he sticks to a specific story in a specific time: reggae in the 1970s; the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx; the rise and fall of the Source. His narratives are clear and exciting; just the very fact of this information being documented with such strength and legitimacy makes it exciting.

However, the text starts to slip and slide when Chang tries to tell too big of a story all at once. As the book proceeds, it is dragged down by the accumulation of narratives he keeps trying to follow, threads he tries to tie up with generalizations; summary statements that lose power with each iteration.

I feel like if the book had tried less to make all the points connect; presented a more consciously disconnected juxtaposition of these various stories--various chapters of the development of hip hop, even out of chronological order--if Chang had left it up to the reader to hear the echoes between his beautifully narrated case studies--it would have been a far stronger work.

That being said--no one, to my knowledge, has attempted a project about hip-hop on such a grand scale. It's always difficult to be the first--Chang sets up a theoretical framework in whose wake many great books will follow.

For a similarly exhilerating/groundbreaking work with similar problems, check out Judith Halberstam's terrific "Female Masculinity."
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