Can't Stop Won't Stop is a powerful cultural and social history of the end of the American century, and a provocative look into the new world that the hip-hop generation created.
Forged in the fires of the Bronx and Kingston, Jamaica, hip-hop became the Esperanto of youth rebellion and a generation-defining movement. In a post-civil rights era defined by deindustrialization and globalization, hip-hop crystallized a multiracial, polycultural generation's worldview, and transformed American politics and culture. But that epic story has never been told with this kind of breadth, insight, and style.
Based on original interviews with DJs, b-boys, rappers, graffiti writers, activists, and gang members, with unforgettable portraits of many of hip-hop's forebears, founders, and mavericks, including DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D, and Ice Cube, Can't Stop Won't Stop chronicles the events, the ideas, the music, and the art that marked the hip-hop generation's rise from the ashes of the 60's into the new millennium.
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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.
Read an Excerpt
Generations are fictions.
The act of determining a group of people by imposing a beginning and ending date around them is a way to impose a narrative. They are interesting and necessary fictions because they allow claims to be staked around ideas. But generations are fictions nonetheless, often created simply to suit the needs of demographers, journalists, futurists, and marketers.
In 1990, Neil Howe and William Strauss both baby boomers and self-described social forecasters set forth 'a neatly parsed theory of American generations in their book, Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. They named their own generation "Prophets," idealists who came of age during a period of "Awakening," and their children's generation "Heroes," who, nurtured by their spiritually attuned parents, would restore America to a "High" era. In between were "Nomads" inhabiting a present they described as an "Unraveling." What Howe and Strauss's self flattering theory lacked in explanatory power, it made up for with the luck of good timing. The release of Generations intersected with the media's discovery of "Generation X," a name taken from the title of a book by Douglas Coupland that seemed to sum up for boomers the mystery of the emerging cohort.
Howe and Strauss's book was pitched as a peek into the future. Cycles of history, they argued, proceed from generational cycles, giving them the power to prophesize the future. Certainly history loops. But generations are fictions used in larger struggles over power.
There is nothing more ancient than telling stories about generational difference. A generation is usually named and framed first bythe one immediately preceding it. The story is written in the words of shock and outrage that accompany two revelations: "Whoa, I'm getting old," and, "Damn, who are these kids?"
Boomers seem to have had great difficulty imagining what could come after themselves. It was a boomer who invented that unfortunate formulation: "the end of history." By comparison, everything that came after would appear as a decline, a simplification, a corruption.
Up until recently, our generation has mainly been defined by the prefix "post ." We have been post civil rights, postmodern, poststructural, postfeminist, postBlack, post soul. We're the poster children of "post," the leftovers in the dirty kitchen of yesterday's feast. We have been the Baby Boom Echo. (Is Baby Boom Narcissus in the house?) We have been Generation X. Now they even talk about Generation Y. And why? Probably because Y comes after X.
And so, by the mid 1990s, many young writers sick of what Howe and Strauss and their peers had wrought took to calling themselves "the Hip Hop Generation." In 2002, in an important book, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and The Crisis in African American Culture, Bakari Kitwana forged a narrow definition African Americans born between 1965 and 1984 a period bracketed by the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the assassination of Malcolm X on one end and hip hop's global takeover during the peak of the Reagan/Bush era at the other.
Kitwana grappled with the implications of the gap between Blacks who came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and those who came of age with hip hop. His point was simple: a community cannot have a useful discussion about racial progress without first taking account of the facts of change.
Folks got bogged down once again in the details. How could one accept a definition of a Hip Hop Generation which excluded the culture's pioneers, like Kool Herc and Afrika Bombaataa, for being born too early? Or one that excluded those who had come to claim and transform hip hop culture, but were not Black or born in America? Exactly when a Hip Hop Generation began and whom it includes remains, quite appropriately, a contested question.
My own feeling is that the idea of the Hip Hop Generation brings together time and race, place and polyculturalism, hot beats and hybridity. It describes the turn from politics to culture, the process of entropy and reconstruction. It captures the collective hopes and nightmares, ambitions and failures of those who would otherwise be described as "post this" or "post that."
So, you ask, when does the Hip Hop Generation begin? After DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. Whom does it include? Anyone who is down. When does it end? When the next generation tells us it's over.
This is a nonfiction history of a fiction a history, some mystery and certainly no prophecy. It's but one version, this dub history a gift from those who have illuminated and inspired, all defects of which are my own.
There are many more versions to be heard. May they all be.
Brooklyn and Berkeley
January 1998 to March 2004
Copyright 2005 by Jeff Chang
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction by DJ Kool Herc,
Loop 1: Babylon Is Burning: 1968–1977,
1. Necropolis: The Bronx and the Politics of Abandonment,
2. Sipple Out Deh: Jamaica's Roots Generation and the Cultural Turn,
3. Blood and Fire, with Occasional Music: The Gangs of the Bronx,
4. Making a Name: How DJ Kool Herc Lost His Accent and Started Hip-Hop,
Loop 2: Planet Rock: 1975–1986,
5. Soul Salvation: The Mystery and Faith of Afrika Bambaataa,
6. Furious Styles: The Evolution of Style in the Seven-Mile World,
7. The World Is Ours: The Survival and Transformation of Bronx Style,
8. Zulus on a Time Bomb: Hip-Hop Meets the Rockers Downtown,
9. 1982: Rapture in Reagan's America,
10. End of Innocence: The Fall of the Old School,
Loop 3: The Message: 1984–1992,
11. Things Fall Apart: The Rise of the Post-Civil Rights Era,
12. What We Got to Say: Black Suburbia, Segregation and Utopia in the Late 1980s,
13. Follow for Now: The Question of Post-Civil Rights Black Leadership,
14. The Culture Assassins: Geography, Generation and Gangsta Rap,
15. The Real Enemy: The Cultural Riot of Ice Cube's Death Certificate,
Loop 4: Stakes Is High: 1992–2001,
16. Gonna Work It Out: Peace and Rebellion in Los Angeles,
17. All in the Same Gang: The War on Youth and the Quest for Unity,
18. Becoming the Hip-Hop Generation: The Source, the Industry and the Big Crossover,
19. New World Order: Globalization, Containment and Counterculture at the End of the Century,
Appendix: Words, Images and Sounds: A Selected Resource Guide,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nothing can be taken away from Jeff Chang's passion on the topic. The book itself is very well written and inspiring. The historical portion, however, was not up to par. I grew up in the area of hip hop's birth, I passed out tapes from my backpack. I shook hands with music pioneers. I know the history of it's origin. Hip Hop's MCing subculture was preceeded by African American's toasting tradition. A tradition that can be well understood by a quick search of the album "Hustlers Convention", which inspired Kool Herc to start rhyming at his events. His parties and famous breaks that were inspired by those who danced over the breaks of funk records... NOT DUB MUSIC. I cringed when I had to read of what Chang thought the Bronx concieved Hip Hop from. Chang claimed that Kool Herc came to the Bronx as a DJ and continued on Jamaican musical traditions to create hip hop.. It is a well known fact(various interviews with Kool Herc) that when Clive Campbell(Kool Herc) came to America, he was 12. And did not begin DJing until 6 years later! Clive even noted that what influenced hip hop was James Brown and the Hustlers Convention album. When Clive was asked about how Jamaica influenced him in his DJing, he replied "..I would never try to take anything away from it...But [Hip Hop] didn't have nothin to do with Jamaica!". Clive Campbell also admitted that while in Jamaica, he was "too young" to appreciate the Jamaican music. Also, if (as Chang suggests) dub music was what inspired Hip Hop, then why did Kool Herc already give his infamous (hip hop starting) party before Dub music had officially come to the limelight? Chang's passion being focused to such a bogus theory on Hip Hop's origin is downright embarassin. If you want a better book on Hip Hop Culture, look elsewhere.
This is one of the most comprehensive histories of Hip Hop, written by Hip Hop journalist and activist Jeff Chang. It has an introduction by Hip Hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc and it is a fascinating as well as an instructive read.
Of course it will resonate most with hip-hop fans, but Can't Stop Won't Stop is about far more than music. This is a compelling and enlightening take on hip-hop's roots and growth over the last 30 years.