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

4.2 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jeff Chang has been a hip-hop journalist for more than a decade and has written for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, Vibe, The Nation, URB, Rap Pages, Spin, and Mother Jones. He was a founding editor of Colorlines Magazine, senior editor at Russell Simmons's 360hiphop.com, and cofounder of the influential hip-hip label SoleSides, now Quannum Projects. He lives in California.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–This isn't a musical history, but rather an urban social history. While learning about those who originated hip-hop, readers are informed of the social conditions that led to its creation in the Bronx and its expanding popularity. In the '70s, the borough was in the throes of an urban-development scheme that left it cut off from the rest of New York City by major highway construction, as illustrated by two small maps. With crushing poverty and little to do, teens turned to gangs, but also to house parties, break dancing, and graffiti. Soon, Lower East Side art dealers and club owners discovered the scene and brought it to the mainstream. But hip-hop wasn't destined to be a fad, and suburban Long Island's Public Enemy appeared, followed a few years later by the Los Angeles scene, led by NWA and Ice Cube. The contrast between the Bronx gangs of the '70s and the Crips and Bloods of the '90s shows how rap lyrics–and the daily lives of rappers–got more violent. This is an extremely well-researched, heavily footnoted, thoroughly indexed book that, although lengthy, isn't the dry scholarly read it might appear to be. Chang wears his left-leaning sensibilities on his sleeve, and artists who tried to advance the art form are given more attention, to the detriment of those who were shallower but just as popular. The conclusion the book draws is its real strength–hip-hop is the culture of youth, and teens today have never known a world without it.–Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD
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: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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