Possibly the single best book about the history of hip-hop. Journalist Jeff Chang excels at placing it a historical, cultural, and social context. Required reading.
Well, going into this I had the wrong idea of what this book was going to be about. As I'm typing an essay about the "history of hip hop" I was looking for a book about important figures in hip hop. This isn't that book. This book is more about the effect rap music and hip hop culture has had on society.
Finally, a hip hop text that successfully puts it all in context as a major sociopolitical movement!
Can't Stop Won't Stop tells the story of hip-hop alongside the stories of polarizing housing and economic reforms, police brutality, drug trafficking, and the fight inner-city communities have put up to create meaning via music, dance and the visual arts. Chang has an encyclopedic knowledge of the cultural and political events that birthed hip-hop, and in Can't Stop Won't Stop he gifts that knowledge to us, taking us from 1960s Jamaica to 1990s L.A., with a twenty-year stop in New York on the way.
Chang does skip major artists in his history, which might disappoint some hip-hop fans, but I thought it was a great move in the context of this book. LL Cool J, Biggie, Wu-Tang -- they aren't really represented here, Chang having opted instead to showcase key artists in depth to emphasize sociopolitical conditions in inner-city communities: Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, Ice Cube. Chang resits the urge to deify these greats by offering a complex view of their work, putting it in dialogue with feminists and other activists who've often clashed with their views along the way.
One of my favorite chapters is about Ice Cube's Death Warrant, the uber-macho gangster rap album that evolved out of the race politics that defined L.A. during the Rodney King era of police brutality. Chang juxtaposes this with a prominent black feminist's critique, questioning Ice Cube's portrayal of women on the album. Chang both celebrates the art form and dissects the politics, giving us layers upon layers to enjoy unraveling.
More a look at the world of Hip hop than the music necessarily. Chang gives the music the social recognition that few others have. His chapters always feel as though they are driving headlong as fast as possible and have frequent cuts. Which is fine, but sometimes difficult to get a full sense of,.
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