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Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  2,940 ratings  ·  231 reviews
Many good books have been written about the history of hip-hop music and the generation that nurtured it. Can't Stop Won't Stop ranks among the best. Jeff Chang covers the music--from its Jamaican roots in the late 1960s to its birth in the Bronx; its eventual explosion from underground to the American mainstream--with style, including DJs, MCs, b-boys, graffiti art, Black ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 1st 2005 by Picador USA
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Ben Winch
For those popular music fans who still can't see the innovation in hip-hop, maybe this book will help. It's flawed - by the second half I mostly tuned out as Public Enemy and Ice Cube (not my favourites) took centre stage and the political thrust of Jeff Chang's argument grew strained - but for putting the birth of the movement in perspective musically and culturally it's hard to beat. Chang knows his stuff, and whether he's talking about gang wars in the Bronx, block parties and Jamaican sound ...more
So I'm biased 'cuz this was written by a friend of mine. But not so biased not to recognize when a seminal book on the historical and political context of hip-hop cultures and its generations since the late 1960s emerges that finds fans in academia, arts spaces, and all middle/high schools alike. The writing is accessible, with wily turns of phrases and references that embrace the high & low, the mass popular & artistic aesthetic, the mainstream & the undergroud alike. I'm a history ...more
Mar 13, 2007 teddy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone remotely interested in hip-hop
Shelves: in-limbo
academic tomes on hip-hop have a sobering tendency to come from artifice, revisionist histories written by out-of-touch scholars eager to stamp their name on uncharted territory. they pick landmarks and artists who, perhaps, are emblematic of the genre, but do not come from the perspective of a fan that's where jeff chang's "can't stop won't stop" is so successful.

i'd say it's one of the first times i've read something scholarly about the genesis of -- arguably -- one of the world's most potent
Rachel Smalter Hall
I've spent a long time craving the perfect history of hip-hop. Watched a few documentaries here, read a few books there... but never quite satisfied that desire to put it all in context as the sociopolitical movement it's always felt like to me. Until now, that is!

Can't Stop Won't Stop is a dense little volume, telling 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 surv
Panoramic biography of hip-hop: its birth, flourishing, and growing pains. Tough read, but worth the struggle. Why tough?

(1) Text is dense. Chang packs paragraphs with obscure names and pithy phrases, so unless you're both hip-hop guru and literary genius, you must slow down to unravel the language. First few chapters are a doozy, but keep going. The storytelling gets better.

(2) Storylines are many and non-linear. Chang jumps between decades and locales, skipping around in time and constantly i
As a socio-economic/cultural history of hip-hop, it's brilliant and extremely comprehensive. As a history of the music, it's not. But then again, I don't think an encyclopedic history of the music was what the author intended.

Still, there are things in hip-hop history that I wish Chang had discussed---the 90s East/West coast tension and the murders of 2Pac and Biggie are stunning omissions from the narrative. And on a personal note, I was bummed that the Wu didn't get any discussion. Hip-hop ma
The first half, chronicling the beginnings of hip-hop from early dub records to Grandmaster Flash and the first graffiti artists is great. It brought a new perspective to the music for me and had me digging for countless albums for weeks. The second half, where the book focuses more on the "hip-hop generation" than the story of the music, is where it begins to fall apart a little bit. There is still great stuff, especially where the author helps place some songs and albums in the context of what ...more
I loved this book. My only criticism is that it has a political bias (but so does much of hip hop culture, so in some ways, it's appropriate).

Things I praise in this book:
-The volume, depth and scope of the author's research
-The mix of many angles from which he writes history, going from biography/storytelling to economic/political history to cultural history to material culture to musical analysis - Chang demands your sustained attention by presenting a unique challenge to merely keep up with h
Sep 09, 2007 Nickie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: b-boys, b-girls, anyone who's just read the comments after the rodney king vid on youtube.
I feel bad about only giving it 3 stars, but this only really took off from about page 200 when it got into Public Enemy and beyond. It's impressibly expansive - from the birth of dub in jamaica, to the black panthers, b-boys, punk, the new wave art scene, police brutality, woeful/intentionally non-existent domestic policy in inner cities, public enemy, anti-semitism, the L.A. riots and beyond. chang is so much better on social history/politics than he is on actually describing the music. shame ...more
Jake Epstein
Interesting read overall, though I feel the author could have checked his ideology at the door in some instances. As someone who's read works by James Q. Wilson and John DiIulio, I can definitely say they are not the far-right demagogues that Chang presents them as. At best, I'd label them center-right.(That's just one of the many examples of unnecessary political bias in this text).

Overall, I'd say the first half (which traced hip hop's origins out of the politics of abandonment in the South Br
Dave Peticolas
I don't know much about hip-hop, but I think this history of the music, dance, and graffiti which combined to form it, the people that started it, and the communities that sustained it is pretty good. Not great, but good. There is an extensive list of further reading and listening and when the author gets out of the way and just tells us the story it's really very good. And he does tell us a lot, including the more unsavory parts of the history from many perspectives. It's when he tells us what ...more
Aug 24, 2007 vowelry rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cultural connoisseurs / music junkies
Shelves: underground_art
The bible for Hip-Hop culture.

Can’t Stop, Wont Stop:
A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
Hip-Hop, the word means many things to different people. Some may say it’s that annoying stuff on the radio while others may say it’s an art form or just another musical genre. Can’t Stop, Wont Stop will change the way you think about Hip-Hop. It starts in the birth of Hip-Hop at the Bronx during the 1970’s when people are just starting to rap, break dance and graffiti. It shows the hardship of being in “The Game” back then when you had t
I'm not sure what audience this book was aimed at. It wasn't really an academic work - the tone was conversational and assumed a fair bit of knowledge of the main players in hip-hop in the past. It would not really appeal to younger fans of hip-hop, though, because although it did discuss a lot of the founders of the movement and how they affected social culture, it did so in a superficial way without, again, really explaining to an outside/younger audience why these players were important. I wo ...more
Justin Evans
I found this a bit disappointing to be honest, but that's in large part because I was expecting something different. Chang doesn't really get into music/graffiti/lyrics/dancing very much at all; he does, though, do a great job of explaining the social context in which all that art was produced. So keep in mind that that's what you're getting - a history of gang culture, youth politics and (most impressively) urban geography at the end of the twentieth century - and you'll probably enjoy the book ...more
One of the best books I've ever read.

To place Can't Stop, Won't Stop in my life, it's one of the first books I've read where the baby boomers and us were seen as two different groups - one as not better than the other, just different and products of their times. I felt galvanized by Chang's story, how my world, fits in with this larger tale of the 70s, 80, 90s. So often I feel the nation has a hangover from the 60s and 70s and we're struggling to put the 80s and 90s in a context that's not iron
Chad Walker
Pay attention to the title here: emphasis is on the word "generation." As Chang says in the intro, generations are fictional constructs we use to make sense of Middle History (not current/not old). When he says "hip hop," he means multi-racial/cultural/lingual, largely urban (I don't mean black, I mean based in an urban area), and a group whose common cultural currency will include everything from Different Strokes to Thriller to cassette mixtapes. In other words, a generation come of age in the ...more
Overwhelmingly sad but extremely likable and engrossing. What's even more sad is that St. Martin's Press barely bothered to give it the proper editing job a book like this clearly deserved. The writing needed a little fine-tuning but the proofreading (or lack of it) was extremely embarrassing; missing words, repeat words, even double sentences throughout this 460+ page book. I hope that someone reading it doesn't equate the numerous editing mistakes with the credibility and depth of this book. I ...more
Sep 06, 2007 George rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in anything about hip hop
i just heard an interview with KRS where he criticized Jeff Chang and this book saying it was a little too "fan boy" and didn't compile contradicting sources and sort it out, just if "kool herc said it, it's true." he's right in some ways, and i don't think that really interfers with the book. he's definitely not too much of a oozing/gushing kiss ass; sometimes he's obviously excited by a record and at other times he's obviously taking an overly academic approach to the music. In terms of it bei ...more
Feb 09, 2008 Mrlunch rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes hip hop and history
This book is blowing my mind.
I knew it was gonna be a hip-hop overview but I had no idea it was gonna be such a wonderful historical textbook full of intricately weaved stories that touch on the political, personal, artistic, economic, etc.
Want to know how New York mayor Abraham Beame's 1977 "Plan to Revitalize the South Bronx" affected the 22 gangs in that area? And how that directly influenced Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, and the Rocksteady Crew's art?
Want to know what Chuck D. and Pro
This was an ambitious effort, and I learned a lot from reading it. Chang's book is a history of urban minorities from about 1965 to 2000, primarily the Black communities, but he also handles Latino and Korean populations. One of my criticisms of this book are that it is really difficult to follow who Chang is talking about and exactly when the events are. If I reread this book, I'll have to keep a running who's who list to refer to. And often Chang will talk about a specific event, then summariz ...more
I just watched The Warriors for the first time a few weeks ago and can't believe I hadn't seen it before then. You know what else I couldn't believe I procrastinated doing? Reading this book! Tracing the history behind hip hop through all of it's genre-bending transformations (from art-hiphop like Afrika Bambabataa to NWA's Tipper Gore offending gagsta rap), Chang also details the peripheral influences on some of hip-hop's now cultural elite, like Fab Five Freddy, Jay-Z, Eazy-E, and tons that mT ...more
Outstanding cultural history! Weaves in stuff that a casual listener would never expect - like how DJ'ing started as a cultural response to the blocked political and economic aspirations of Jamaican shantytown residents as the hopes of a new post-colonial nation gave way to political corruption, and politically-sponsered violence. From there you journey with the young DJ Kool Herc to the projects of the South Bronx in the 70's, as New York burned, the Panthers (broken by Cointelpro) were replace ...more
Really wonderful, gripping book. It's great for explaining all the different musical roots and evolutions of hip hop and especially for its excellent contextualizing of hip hop in terms of political shifts happening in America.
On the whole, exceeded my expectations after hearing about how good this book was from non-hip-hop heads over the past decade. Found myself very engaged with the first half of the book, but that can be attributed to my predilection for origin stories. The dual totems at the heart of the second half, Public Enemy and Ice Cube, are without a doubt important figures and worthy anchors, but I wish that Chang's survey of the late-80s/early-90s landscape wasn't as limited. Admittedly, I was only a hal ...more
Musical histories rely too much on things already known. It is rare for one to encompass an entire people group that results in and paradoxically becomes the result of a genre, or in this case an entire generation. Shirking the standard traits of journalistic historiography, Jeff Chang instead gives the reader one of the most in-depth cultural studies I have ever read. Most people jump the history lessons of musical genres, opting for a quick overview of the decades they started in (punk, hardco ...more
I finally got around to Jeff Chang's book after Q-Tip went off on a fascinating tweetstorm about hip hop history directed at Iggy Azalea. Backstory here:

Chang's book is a history of hip hop philosophy as much as music, describing its first two decades as one of evolving and competing sociopolitical movements. Early chapters on gang treaties in New York, the rise of reggae in Jamaica, and black nationalist religious sects may come off as digressions at fir
I know, you don't need me to gush about this book. And maybe if I read it again from top to bottom I wouldn't be quite as excited as I was the first time. But Chang's copious footwork--first- and second-hand interviews, news and academic documentation--plus his scope and earnestness earns this the 5-star "amazing" rating from me. Even if you don't think you're interested in hip hop history, the insights into New York and LA through musical landmarks will hold your attention.
Chang approaches the history of Hip-Hop by exploring its many socio-economic roots and contextualizing the lives and events of the culture's innovators and key players. It's an incredible read that reminds us that hip-hop is not just a genre of music or stagnant set of stereotypes we press upon others (and ourselves), but rather that hip-hop is a dynamic force for social and political change, a movement, a source for identity creation, an art, and a state of mind. Personally, it gave me a framew ...more
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Jeff Chang has written extensively on culture, politics, the arts, and music.

His first book, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, garnered many honors, including the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award. He edited the book, Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop.

His new book, Who We Be: The Colorization of America, was released on St. Martin's Pr
More about Jeff Chang...

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“Generations are fictions.” 0 likes
“If blues culture had developed under the conditions of oppressive, forced labor, hip-hop culture would arise from the conditions of no work.” 0 likes
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