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on 16 March 2014
'Cant stop wont stop' starts well in its descriptions of the emergence of what Chang describes as 'the four main elements of hip hop' - new styles of art (graffitti,) dance (break,) and music (forms of DJing and MCing) which fermented in the south bronx in the post-civil rights era amidst a brew of black nationalism, pan afro-centrism, political/institutionalised neglect, post-industrialisation, drugs, unemployment and gang warfare to produce a distinctly original and compelling new art-form - but loses its way considerably half way through the book when the story changes from hip hop as underground sub-culture to mainstream dominance.

Chang is excellent on the forces that drove the emergence of hip hop in its early days, casting his net wider than merely recounting anecdotes relating to hip hop's 'founding fathers' Chang illuminates the subject matter by looking deeper at the topic, unearthing insights such as; 'if blues culture had developed under the conditions of oppressive, forced labour, hip hop culture would arise from the conditions of no work.' So far, so well written. The further the book progresses however, a book about hip hop with the political context from which it emerged in the background becomes a book about the politics of multi-culturalism and race relations in America in the 1980s/90s with hip hop in the background. One learns much about Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan but little about Run DMC and Tupac Shakur. Anyone who bought this book due to an interest in learning more about hip hop as I did will no doubt feel short-changed as a result.

The underlying problem with the book is focus. What is the book about? a history of the 'hip hop generation'? What does that term even mean? Nowhere is it defined and therein lies the problem. In truth it is a meaningless term but one vague enough to serve as a broad canvas to enable Chang to use 'hip hop' as cipher for a discussion concerning the politics of race relations and multi-culturalism in the post-civil rights era in the U.S. Chang is apparently due to develop this theme further in his forthcoming book 'Who we be: the colorisation of America.' Perhaps Chang should have stuck to that with this book, instead he tries to straddle two horses and falls off both.
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on 6 October 2006
...of the origins of hip-hop. Chang spent years researching his subject and it shows. From the very beginnings in Kingstown and the Bronx, Chang interviews the major players and also gives an overview of the political landscape of the time and how it shaped the lives of everyone involved. A large portion of the book is dedicated to the first 10 years of hip-hop up into the 80's and quite right as this is the most interesting. He writes of not only the music but of the other components of the movement such as breaking and graffiti artists. The way he covers Public Enemy is fascinating and we uncover a lot of truths about the band, good and bad. I'm not a big fan of rap music but this book deserves your attention. It is comparable of Simon Reynolds 'Rip It Up And Start Again' in that both books are thorough documents of important musical movements and are the last word on both.
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on 17 April 2012
This is a really good historical text. The hip-hop community doesn't have very many of those, so if you're interested in the music or the culture in anything more than a passing way - you NEED to read this. The comprehensive run-down of the entire history of the movement starts in the South Bronx WAY before DJ Kool Herc, and gives us a little background information on just HOW neglected this part of New York had become under Reagan. This was a place where your landlords might cut off your water and a electric to force you to move out, so that they could burn the empty building down for the insurance money. People got hurt by the greed of some, and the "benign neglect" of others. Chang proceeds to outline the development of the culture and the music we all know, using key events like the LA riots, and key figures like Afrika Bambaabata & Grandmaster Flash, to draw a straight line between the 1970s South Bronx and the whole wide world in the now. It's very readable, and really illustrates just how much it's evolved (and even changed) over the years. He doesn't attempt to "cordon-off" whole areas of hip-hop like a lot of people do when trying to give it some academic credibility, and he illustrates very clearly how the existing musical heritage of hip-hop was arrived at.

On a side note, some commentators have been guilty of sidelining the Puerto-Rican origins of certain aspects, and the multitude of cultures that have helped to form the music and aesthetics of hip-hop, but Chang is objective and presents a reasonably balanced view as far as I can tell. This can only be a good thing for the continued growth and evolution of the style.
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on 19 July 2009
"Can't Stop Won't Stop" is a very well written and well researched book. However, be aware that it is a history of the "Hip-Hop Generation", as stated on the cover.
This means that it only sporadically delves into Hip-Hop music, b-boying, and graffiti (the elements of Hip-Hop culture). Chang is more interested in the generation of people who have grown up with Hip-Hop and he focuses on race, multiculturalism, the socio-economic background, and politics.
This makes it a tough book to review - taken on its own merits, it's extremely well done, but it comes off as disappointing to anyone who wanted a definitive history of Hip-Hop as a culture or music genre. As the book progresses, Chang's personal preferences for what he thinks should be the main points covered increasingly put Hip-Hop into the background, with politics, multiculturalism, and race taking center stage.
The book "Yes, Yes, Y'all" is the superior history to me, because although it doesn't cover as many years as "Can't Stop...", it successfully captures the voices of the people who were present in the creation of Hip-Hop, and it doesn't try to put a racial or political spin on everything that is said or done (it is entirely in the words of the pioneers).
So to sum up - "Can't Stop Won't Stop" is good if you're interested in multiculturalism, politics, and socio-economics, but not so great if you're a Hip-Hop fan.
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2009
Jeff Chang's "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" looks, on the outset, to be a book primarily interested in music. It's not. This is a stunningly well researched history of the entire Hip-Hop culture covering DJing, Rapping, Graffiti, and Breakdance B-Boy style. Chang puts the entire genre into context in a similar fashion to John Savage's "England's Dreaming" yet while Savage is interested primarily in the music, Chang is more of a social/cultural historian. Hence he charts the development of the actual music itself in a rather cursory fashion which is likely to infuriate anyone who wants a history of Rap.

That said the whole movement is put into context giving a vivid history of gang culture, the development of Jamacian dancehall, the orgins of crack, the police brutality in California (and elsewhere) during the 90's to mention just a few of the other facts included. This is something of a treasure trove and gives wonderful and vivid detail of what Chang ends up citing Robin D G Kelly's idea of polyculturalism - understanding that a culure is made up of, and referencing, different quite distinct culural experiences. From that it's fair to conclude that Chang's ideas are academic at times but his writing style is very readable. Taking the voices of the people involved to tell the story also gives this book a great sense of the authentic. Speaking of this, I could almost recommend it just for Kool DJ Herc's blistering forward where the original Hip-Hop DJ strikes out in wonderfully eloquent style. His introduction should be read, and acted upon, by Barack Obama for its clarity of vision.

Due to Chang's particular interests the early years feel more detailed and the story clearly told. Once reaching the 90's the book doesn't give much space to the commercialisation and commodifying of Hip-Hop. There is little mention of the big players of today, and the book shifts its tone to somthing akin to Naomi Klein's "No Logo" in its mistrust of the corporate. He, like Klein's anti-globalisation agitator protagonists, prefers to see things from the grass roots underground and look at the culture as an agent for social and political change. It's the book's only real false note and it may give some a feeling that the story is half told towards the end. That said, it gives a message of positivity and hope of the kind which probably helped Obama into the Whitehouse. As the book predates all of that, this point is more a matter of conjecture.

A book for music fans, possibly. The appeal of this is more for those who like to place music within the confines of contemporary culture as a whole. If you liked "Rip It Up & Start Again", "England's Dreaming",Dance: Chic & The Politics Of Disco", or even "No Logo" you will find something in this. It's a vivid account of the underground history of a movement which began with a few bloc parties in the ghettos of 1970's New York and is now found on the streets of almost every city in the world. A brilliant telling of the roots of a global phenomenon.
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on 16 December 2011
There's a lot of hip-hop historians out there and every one of 'em is gonna tell you that their version of history is the only true story. The fact of the matter is, hip-hop is a cash cow and everyone wants a piece of the pie... can't stop won't stop is no better than the rest, the writing is long winded, of topic at times and you can tell that the writer had a hard time not being full of himself whilst writing this book. Regardless of this fact, it is well researched and does present a good context for modern day hip hop, it jus should've taken more time delivering the message and less time massaging egos. There's times when you'll put down the book and think to yourself, "what was the point of that chapter?" the fact of the matter is what is said in this book has been said before a lot more eloquently and with a lot less senseless bravado.
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on 17 August 2011
If you would like an in depth review, see the others. They are pretty accurate and sum up the book well.

If you would like a short review, this is it.

Buy it. Its great. So good I read it twice.
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on 11 January 2008
I constantly referred to this book for my essay on b-boy subculture but it was also an entertaining read too.
I recommend this book as essential reading for anyone who has the slight interest in hip-hop and/or youth subculture.
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on 7 November 2012
A really great read, even if you are not the biggest rap fan in the world this book will keep you interested. Although definitive really well paced. Recommended.
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on 24 February 2014
Brilliant book, teaches you a lot about the history & racism in America.. Also the beauty of music.. Really enjoyed it.
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