"You see my way of doing things is sort of different." - Jean Grae, A-Alikes
Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang (St. Martin's Press). I have to step my game up. That was my first thought after closing the cover of Jeff Chang's tome of grit, grime, power, pain & pride. It ends with a photo of fists, young, many hued, dual gendered fists, raised in the air outside the 2000 Democratic National Convention that was in my home in front of the building where I go to see concerts and
Lakers Clippers games. I have to step my game up.
I don't read a lot of contemporary history books. I think it is incredibly difficult to put events into a context that is accurate and relavent in historical terms as they are happening. A good journalist presents all the facts in a situation and allows the reader to form opinions, hopefully without much guidance by the journalist's own opinions. A good historian, though, provides the context for which the reader can see how the threads of time and place and people and actions come together to form something significant for the world around them and after them. What Jeff Chang has done with Can't Stop Won't Stop is do exactly that. Like hip hop itself, it all has a rhythm. What did The D.O.C. say? Rhythmic American Poetry. Yeah, and so much more.
One would presume that if you've been a lover of hip hop since the 80s, you know its basic roots. If you weren't in New York at the time -- I was a wee one in Maryland and remember shutting the door in my room so my 8 year old self could get down with a vinyl single of The Show and La Di Da Di in a grey album jacket on my cookie monster record player -- you listened to the radio and you saw Beat Street and Wild Style and you knew about graffiti and deejays and emcees and beatboxing and breakdancing and poplocking. That all came before you but fast forward five years or ten and now you're in it. You're 13 with Eazy Duz It in your Walkman turned down low so the curse words don't leak out into the kitchen and get you a beat down. You're 15 and not getting what today looks like comedy: Kid N Play tapes next to your PE tapes next to your X-Clan and your Paris and your MC Hammer and your Tim Dawg and your 2 Live Crew and your Redhead Kingpin and your Kwame the Boy Genius and your Salt-N-Pepa and your MC Lyte.
The sub-genre labels weren't there yet.
You're 16 and there's a riot going on. The real LA riots and the riot in the minds of young people who look like you (and many that don't but you don't know that) and the sometimes sociopolitical but mostly party and bullshit rhymes of NWA become the highly politicized words of Ice Cube and that energy drives you to want to be involved with politics and with art and with culture and with...just with something. With change.
You're 19 and you're volunteering for political campaigns. You want to be a speech writer. You march. You make signs. You Americorps. You organize. All the while, you're nodding your head to this and you're not really making the connection between the energy of the music with the rhythms of your life.
You're 22 and you don't know where all that energy has gone. It is elsewhere. It is more concerned with getting paid than getting over. Its warring over imaginary lines. Its getting shot in Vegas. Its getting murdered in LA. You still love the party but you're getting tired of the bullshit.
You're 25 and you're watching that Democratic National Convention. That peaceful protest. That riot of the mind going on. Yeah, you're watching it from the comforts of home. You always thought you couldn't stop. that you wouldn't stop but maybe you did.
Jeff Chang provides the context for why all of that happened for me and while it isn't a blueprint for what happens now, it gave me goosebumps when his story of my history left New York for Los Angeles during my formative years, when hip hop and who I am came together like voltron. What I realize now is that I'm not nostalgic for that time in the music and in the culture, I'm hungry for the spark that it provided for my soul. It isn't hip hop that is in need of a revolution, in need of a push forward. It's me.
Gotta step my game up. Get up. Stand Up.
Can't Stop. Won't Stop.
Best book I've read this year. Easily.