Can’t Stop Won’t Stop
Hip hop culture is often depicted as violent, greedy, and misogynistic, but by understanding its roots and the perspective of those delivering the material; you’ll find a very different story. Jeff Chang, a writer for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and Vibe, paints an extensive history from the late 60’s to the start of the new millennium on what were the circumstances that birthed hip hop, and how did it evolve and flourish. Chang does well at focusing on the catalyst events that drove the attitudes, lyrics, and perspectives of hip hop’s pioneers. From street wars in Jamaica, to the crippling effects of Reaganomics of African Americansf the ‘80s, to the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict, Chang gives some textured histories of some of the most vital moments in hip hop history.
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is at its best when discussing hip hip’s origins. Hip hop was an important form of expression and an alternative to gangs and violence that was lifesaving in the Bronx, thanks to former gang members turned hip hoppers like DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambataaa. Chang’s depiction of Public Enemy’s brilliant breakthrough and subsequent breakdown was among the most interesting stories in the book, thanks to the anachronistic nature of Chuck D and his crew.
Hip hop is inherently political, as so much of it came out of racial injustice in America, but I still wish Chang’s history would have been a little less skewed by politics. It was insightful to hear some of the ways Reagan and Bush Sr. Administrations damaged or handicapped Black America, in a time that was supposedly prosperous for all, but was only prosperous for those who already prospered. Some of Chang’s statistics in terms of income disparity, gentrification, and increases in gang violence were startling, and definitely shade your view of those supposedly golden ‘80s. So while I did appreciate Chang’s political perspective for the empathy and greater understanding about the importance of hip hop it gave, his political shading into all areas of the book proved distracting at times.
All-in-all, this is an excellent read for anyone looking to gain the cursory history of hip hop and to peek inside the minds of some of hip hop’s biggest figures.