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Can't Stop Won't Stop

A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Jeff Chang; Introduction by D.J. Kool Herc


Can't Stop Won't Stop Download image

ISBN10: 0312425791
ISBN13: 9780312425791

Trade Paperback

560 Pages



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Winner of the American Book Award

Winner of the Asian American Literary Award Winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award
New York Magazine's Best Music Book of the Year
Winner of the ARSC Award for Excellence

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 the kind of breadth, insight, and style that informs this study.

Based on original interviews with DJs, b-boys, rappers, graffiti writers, activists, and gang members, and 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, ideas, music, and art that marked hip-hop's rise from the ashes of the 1960s into the new millennium.

Here is a powerful work of cultural and social history that documents the end of the American century while taking a provocative look at the new world the hip-hop generation has created.


Praise for Can't Stop Won't Stop

"Can't Stop Won't Stop gives us the bustling, rumbling, all-or-nothing personality of the hip-hop generation while launching us into a desire for its ideals. 'Concede them a demand and they would demand more,' [Chang] writes. 'Give them an apocalypse, and they would dance.' Dancing in the streets is the eternal image in Chang's powerful new history of America in the last three decades. Scattered legend is now transcribed: America built the 'hood, which created a global culture of ghetto chic and hip-hop couture. As celebrity threatens hip-hop's integrity, it propels the movement to look for its roots. Who does hip-hop belong to, if anyone? Where were you when it all began? The culmination of ten years of research by Chang, [this book] creates a geography for the nostalgia, a cure for the identity angst . . . [Chang] plunges us into a world of Uzis and knives, Rastafarianism and Islam, vinyl and hot beats. His steely, economical style reveals the story inside rap, straight up without any rhythmic painkillers."—Evelyn Nien-Ming Ch'ien, The Village Voice

"The birth of hip-hop out of the ruin of the South Bronx is a story that has been told many times, but never with the cinematic scope and the analytic force that Chang brings to it. Robert Moses unleashes the destructive juggernaut of the Cross-Bronx Expressway; landlords set fire to worthless tenements; police stand by and do nothing; and, against a backdrop of gang warfare, peacemaking DJs lay down the heavy beats and spidery loops around which a rapping, dancing, graffiti-painting culture grows. This is one of the most urgent and passionate histories of popular music ever written. Chang is blind to no one's greed or viciousness, but he retains an idealistic view of a music that speaks the truth about the alternately stultifying and horrifying urban landscapes that the parents who hate hip-hop have made."—The New Yorker

"Jeff Chang's history of what he calls 'the hip-hop generation' . . . is less a history of music than a record of the cultural movement the music inspired, as well as an attempt to define the 'hopes and nightmares, ambitions and failures' of a generation whose only unifying characteristic may be its opposition to any definitions an outsider might impose."—The New York Times Book Review

"'During the mid-1970's,' Chang writes, 'most of the youthful energy that became known as hip-hop could be contained in a tiny seven-mile circle.' That circle was the Bronx, an economically ravaged borough of New York City that was home to such nascent cultural heroes as DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, who were busily rewiring turntables and re-engineering the powder-keg racial politics of their home turf and in the process creating the future of American popular culture. Obsessively researched, beautifully written, Chang's book is the funky, bootleg, B-side remix of late-20th century American history."—Time

"For me, and I think for many of us of the hip-hop generation, [Can't Stop Won't Stop is] probably the most important text ever written on hip-hop culture—it's about all the social, political, artistic and economic forces that crystallized in the late '70s and gave birth to what we call hip-hop."—Marc Bamuthi Joseph, San Francisco Chronicle

"This is a book that should be on the shelves of every high school and college library, an engaging and entertaining full-blown excursion into American inner-city culture's rapid proliferation into every nook and cranny of culture at large."—LA Weekly

"His scope is operatic, sprawling, and concerns itself with the people, places, and politics that drove hip-hop from its infancy . . . It is essentially a people's history . . . perhaps Jeff Chang is hip-hop America's Howard Zin."—

"Not just another publicist-approved hip-hop encyclopedia, music writer Chang's sprawling collection of well-researched chronological essays smartly preserves and politicizes three decades of cultural history . . . Can't Stop Won't Stop remains vibrant, relevant, and vital. Grade: A-."—Entertainment Weekly

"Chang's new and necessary book [is] a vivid account of the last third of the American 20th century, a time span that Chang—a fearsome music critic with academic training in ethnic studies—believes was defined and catalyzed by the improbable rise of urban youth culture. That is, hip-hop culture . . . [This] book is as much a cultural history as a music history."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"The most important new genre of the last quarter-century finally has a sweeping historical overview as powerful as the music with Can't Stop Won't Stop . . . The best-argued, most thoroughly researched case for hip-hop as a complete and truly American culture."—Chicago Sun-Times

"The history of hip-hop is sometimes portrayed as a cartoon—all superhero pseudonyms, zipper pants and fades, bling and braggadocio. But Jeff Chang traces hip-hop's evolution with great skill, painting a focused narrative about the music and its artists without ever forgetting the larger social picture that frames them . . . Chang's narrative sweeps you along like a great novel . . . One that you will eagerly read from cover to cover."—Washington City Paper

"Far from a list of famous names and hit records, Can't Stop Won't Stop delves into the culture that produced some of music's most pressing, volatile, and outrageous statements and personalities."—San Jose Metro

"Fierce but accessible, meticulously researched yet compassionate . . . Chang manages to locate the truth, pulse, and most important, the conscience of a genre."—San Francisco Bay Guardian

"The dizzy dance between opposing forces—oppression and sovereignty, style and workmanship, mythological figures and rank policymakers—informs the bulk of Can't Stop Won't Stop, a rich sociological history of hip-hop as both a cloak and an umbrella . . . Can't Stop's real strength, however, derives from its big-picture vantage. Chang is a formidable reporter who follows individual actions to their collective vanishing point."—The Onion

"Chang [reminds] us exactly what hip-hop's context is, forecasting its future by focusing on where it's been . . . Can't Stop Won't Stop reaffirms hip-hop as a culture moving in an apparently endless cyclical loop, sampling itself and the outside world with equal parts reverence and irreverence."—East Bay Express

"Those reading Chang's heavily researched, well-written love letter to the genre that hooked him hard as a kid growing up in Honolulu will no doubt learn something about hip-hop that they didn't know . . . [Chang] is less interested in the salient musical productions of hip-hop and more interested in its cultural worth as a vibrant, local movement that still never fails to inspire and incite."—Alternet

"From the intellectual roots of Black cultural and political movements to the emergence of hip-hop activism, this is the most comprehensive book out on hip-hip."—Henry Chalfant, co-producer of Style Wars and co-author of Subway Art and Spraycan Art

"Flow without the ego, intellectualism without Ivory Tower disdain, and, finally, history with heart and passion and fire: Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop manages to go from wide-lens overview to pinpoint accuracy in covering the biggest cultural-political movement of our time. A true accomplishment."—Farai Chideya, author of Trust and The Color of Our Future

"Chang is a master alchemist, spinning narrative gold from a weave of sociology, history, political theory, and old fashioned boom-bap . . . Can't Stop Won't Stop is one of the best books yet written on the shifting, tumultuous history of hip-hop culture and the generation of adherents it spat onto the American and global landscape. It is a tour de force."— Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, author of Gunshots in My Cook-Up: Bits of Hip-Hop Caribbean Life

"An exuberant and revelatory history of the inner-city cultural revolution that still rocks the world. Jeff Chang is hip-hop's John Reed."—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Planet of Slums

"One of our most insightful commentators on urban music takes a panoramic survey of hip-hop's entirety . . . Authoritative, incisive, and entertaining, Can't Stop Won't Stop is a massive achievement."— Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 and Generation Ecstasy

"Don't be misled; this is not just another rap book . . . Inflammatory, illuminating, and anything but myopic . . . The scope of Chang's work is awe-inspiring."—DJ Shadow, hip-hop artist (Endtroducing and The Private Press)

"This book belongs on your shelf next to Criminal Minded, Illmatic, and All Eyez On Me."—William Jelani Cobb, Ph.D, author of To The Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic

"Orale puesCan't Stop Won't Stop draws from the fire, verve, rage, injustices, pains, victories, and creativity of a whole generation of marginalized, forgotten, pissed-on, and pissed-off youth."—Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running and Hearts and Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times

"Chang backspins the uninterrogated truisms that plague so much hip-hop scholarship . . . Can't Stop Won't Stop is a fluid, incisive analysis built from the ground up, with plenty of funky breakdowns."—Adam Mansbach, author of Angry White Boy and Shackling Water

"Has any scholar ever loved hip-hop so well—and taken it as seriously—as Chang does in Can't Stop Won't Stop?"—Bill Adler, author of Tougher Than Leather

"Can't Stop Won't Stop brings us so much closer to fully understanding the complexities that inspired the hip-hop generation."—Mark Anthony Neal, author of Songs in the Key of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation

"Chang has created a new rhythm in hip-hop writing. A must-read and an instant classic."—B+ (Brian Cross), photographer, producer/director of Keepintime, and author of It's Not About a Salary: Rap, Race + Resistance in Los Angeles

"Hip-hop didn't grow or operate in a vacuum . . . and Chang shows how political and social events affected and were affected by hip-hop's progress . . . A fascinating, far-reaching must."—Booklist

"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 . . . isn't the dry scholarly read . . . 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."—School Library Journal

"Engaging and extensive . . . [A] balanced assessment of rap's controversial trappings . . . A vivid narrative [that] most importantly . . . documents stories that have been left unrecorded until now, with the oral histories of the gangs and the artists."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Jeff Chang; Introduction by D.J. Kool Herc

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, and cofounder of the influential hip-hip label SoleSides, now Quannum Projects. He lives in California.

© Jeremy Keith Villaluz