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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Can't Stop Won't Stop

I've never really been into hip-hop, either the music or the culture; I have been and probably always will be a rock 'n roll kind of girl. Hip-hop never spoke to me, except for a brief moment in like ninth grade when I was trying to be cool. I can appreciate the music and the beats, and one of the best shows I've ever seen was the Word of Mouth tour with J-5, MC Supernatural, and Dilated Peoples, but I almost never listen to hip-hop. However, the history of hip-hop has always struck me as being interesting, in part because its beginnings were so grassroots, unlike this ridiculous bling-bling bullshit that we have today. Additionally, 20th-century history is fascinating, and I'm particularly interested in the 1960s and '70s, and that's when hip-hop originated.

So, I'm reading Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, by Jeff Chang (for the website, click on the title of this post), and it's dangerously interesting. I started it yesterday and I can't put it down. And I'm not even into hip-hop! But Chang is a really good writer, and it's obvious that he loves the music and the culture.

Reading this book has made me realize why hip-hop has never really spoken to me: it was originally the music of the disenfranchised, the residents of the ghettos of the South Bronx, who were the guinea pigs of a social experiment called "benign neglect." You ever wonder what happens when you conveniently forget about an entire segment of your city's population, depriving them of adequate housing and employment and healthcare? You get escalating racial tension and teenage gangs. You get a subculture that turns within to find law enforcement and creativity. You get an entire group of people--already oppressed by the mainstream white culture--that cannot rely on anything or anyone for survival but themselves and the sheer force of their energy. It seems clear, therefore, that hip-hop wouldn't appeal to a white, suburban kid like myself, even while in high school. I went to high school with plenty of wannabes and while they somehow managed to appear tough and appeal to the ladies, it always seemed sooo false and forced. I know myself and my peers well enough to know that quiet, shy girls who get good grades are generally not considered "down." And that's fine with me.

One thing that I'm already loving about this book is that Chang is utterly unapologetic about hip-hop and its culture. He doesn't apologize for gang warfare, he doesn't apologize for graffiti, so far he hasn't apologized for the bitches-and-hos aspect of contemporary hip-hop (possibly because that's not what the music was about in the beginning). Instead, he explores the positive aspects of the original Bronx gangs--how they chased out drug pushers and junkies, for example--while accounting for their violence and anger (gang warfare is not glossed over); he reveals the artistry and skill behind graffiti, while still acknowledging that quantity over quality isn't always a good thing; he quotes influential hip-hop artists and gang leaders, from Trenchtown, Jamaica, to the South Bronx, using their dialect, which allows them their own language. I can only imagine that someone who really appreciates rap music would looove this book.

2 Comments:

  • Sounds exciting. I want to read it.

    By Anonymous Lorien, at 10:00 PM  

  • You reading a book about hip-hop is intriguing enough to pick up the damn book and read it myself!
    I stayed up till 6am working on a paper, slept for 2 hours then came into work.....I have had way too many Rock Stars and Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles - my freak flag is totally flying!

    To make you hate me: There is not a cloud in the sky today and the forecast is 78 degrees - all of the cherry trees are in bloom in P-Town and its fucking beautiful here. Makes all that rain worth it.

    By Anonymous Ninon, at 1:45 PM  

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