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Authors: Jeff Chang

Can't Stop Won't Stop

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Can't Stop
Won't Stop

Can't Stop
Won't Stop

A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Jeff Chang

Introduction by
DJ Kool Herc

St. Martin's Press
New York




. Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Chang. Introduction copyright © 2005 by DJ Kool Herc. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

“Two Shot Dead In Bronx Duel.” From
The New York Amsterdam News,
January 11, 1975. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from “Black Art” by Amiri Baraka, from the book
The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader,
William J. Harris, editor. Copyright © 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1989, 2000 by Amiri Baraka. Appears by permission of the publisher, Thunder's Mouth Press, a division of Avalon Publishing Group.

Excerpts of letters, quotes, and lyrics by Chuck D and excerpts of quotes by Sally Banes, Simon Reynolds, and Richard Goldstein are reprinted with permission.

Design by James Sinclair

ISBN 0-312-30143-X
EAN 978-0312-30143-9

First Edition: February 2005

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1





To Lourdes, who walks with me

To Eugene and Eleanor and Nestor and Melinda,
who haven't always understood where we were going
but packed lunch and warm clothes anyway

To Jonathan and Solomon, who will soon be leading us

Special Livication to
Rita Fecher, Benjamin Davis, Richie Perez and the Ancestors





Longing on a large scale is what makes history.

—Don DeLillo


Introduction by DJ Kool Herc


Loop 1: Babylon Is Burning: 1968–1977

  1. Necropolis: The Bronx and the Politics of Abandonment

  2. Sipple Out Deh: Jamaica's Roots Generation and the Cultural Turn

  3. Blood and Fire, with Occasional Music: The Gangs of the Bronx

  4. Making a Name: How DJ Kool Herc Lost His Accent and Started Hip-Hop

Loop 2: Planet Rock: 1975–1986

  5. Soul Salvation: The Mystery and Faith of Afrika Bambaataa

  6. Furious Styles: The Evolution of Style in the Seven-Mile World

  7. The World Is Ours: The Survival and Transformation of Bronx Style

  8. Zulus on a Time Bomb: Hip-Hop Meets the Rockers Downtown

  9. 1982: Rapture in Reagan's America

10. End of Innocence: The Fall of the Old School

Loop 3: The Message: 1984–1992

11. Things Fall Apart: The Rise of the Post–Civil Rights Era

12. What We Got to Say: Black Suburbia, Segregation and Utopia in the Late 1980s

13. Follow for Now: The Question of Post–Civil Rights Black Leadership

14. The Culture Assassins: Geography, Generation and Gangsta Rap

15. The Real Enemy: The Cultural Riot of Ice Cube's
Death Certificate

Loop 4: Stakes Is High: 1992–2001

16. Gonna Work It Out: Peace and Rebellion in Los Angeles

17. All in the Same Gang: The War on Youth and the Quest for Unity

18. Becoming the Hip-Hop Generation:
The Source
, the Industry and the Big Crossover

19. New World Order: Globalization, Containment and Counterculture at the End of the Century

Appendix: Words, Images and Sounds: A Selected Resource Guide




by DJ Kool Herc

When I started DJing back in the early ‘70s, it was just something that we were doing for fun. I came from “the people's choice,” from the street. If the people like you, they will support you and your work will speak for itself. The parties I gave happened to catch on. They became a rite of passage for young people in the Bronx. Then the younger generation came in and started putting their spin on what I had started. I set down the blueprint, and all the architects started adding on this level and that level. Pretty soon, before we even knew it, it had started to evolve.

Most people know me as DJ Kool Herc. But sometimes when I introduce myself to people. I just tell them that my friends call me Herc. Later on, they might ask, “Are you
Herc?” My thing is: come and meet me as who I am. My head is not swollen, I don't try to front on people. If you like what I do, if you like me playing music or giving parties, hey, that's what I do for my friends and people. It's what I've always done.

To me, hip-hop says, “Come as you are.” We are a family. It ain't about security. It ain't about bling-bling. It ain't about how much your gun can shoot. It ain't about $200 sneakers. It is not about me being better than you or you being better than me. It's about you and me, connecting one to one. That's why it has universal appeal. It has given young people a way to understand their world, whether they are from the suburbs or the city or wherever.

Hip-hop has also created a lot of jobs that otherwise wouldn't exist. But even more important, I think hip-hop has bridged the culture gap. It brings white kids together with Black kids, brown kids with yellow kids. They all have something in common that they love. It gets past the stereotypes and people hating each other because of those stereotypes.

People talk about the four hip-hop elements: DJing, B-Boying, MCing, and Graffiti. I think that there are far more than those: the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you look, the way you communicate. Back in my era, we had James Brown and civil rights and Black power; you did not have people calling themselves hip-hop activists. But these people today are talking about their era.
They have a right to speak on it the way they see it coming up.

Hip-hop is the voice of this generation. Even if you didn't grow up in the Bronx in the ‘70s, hip-hop is there for you. It has become a powerful force. Hiphop binds all of these people, all of these nationalities, all over the world together.

But the hip-hop generation is not making the best use of the recognition and the position that it has. Do we realize how much power hip-hop has? The hiphop generation can take a stand collectively and make a statement. There are lot of people who are doing something positive, who are doing hip-hop the way it was meant to be done. They are reaching young people, showing them what the world could be—people living together and having fun.

But too often, the ones that get the most recognition are those emphasizing the negative. And I think a lot of people are scared to speak on issues. “Keeping it real” has become just another fad word. It sounds cute. But it has been pimped and perverted. It ain't about keeping it real. It's got to be about keeping it right.

For example, rappers want to be so “bling-bling.” Are you really living a luxurious life? Don't you have other issues? What things touch you? That's what we'd like to hear rappers speak about. Start a dialogue with people. Talk about things going on in the neighborhood.

Music is sometimes a medication from reality, and the only time you get a dialogue is when tragedy happens. When Tupac or Biggie or Jam Master Jay died, that's when people wanted to have a dialogue. It was too late. Not enough people are taking advantage of using hip-hop as a way to deal with serious issues, as a way to try to change things before tragedy strikes.

We have the power to do that. If Jay-Z comes out one day with his shirt hanging this way or LL Cool J comes out with one leg of his pants rolled up, the next day everyone is doing the same thing. If we decide one day to say that we're not gonna kill somebody senselessly, everyone will follow.

I don't want to hear people saying that they don't want to be role models. You might already have my son's attention. Let's get that clear. When I'm telling him, “Don't walk that way, don't talk that way,” you're walking that way and talking that way. Don't just be like a drug dealer, like another pusher. Cut the crap. That's escape. That's the easy way out. You have the kid's attention. I'm asking you to help me raise him up.

You might be living lovely. But if you came out of the neighborhood, there was somebody who was there to guide you when you needed it, someone that said, “Son, here's two dollars.” You might have beat up on the ghetto to get out of it, but what have you done for the ghetto lately? How can you come from nothing to get something, but yet the same time, still do dirt to tear it all down?

Hip-hop has always been about having fun, but it's also about taking responsibility. And now we have a platform to speak our minds. Millions of people are watching us. Let's hear something powerful. Tell people what they need to hear. How will we help the community? What do we stand for? What would happen if we got the hip-hop generation to vote, or to form organizations to change things? That would be powerful.

Hip-hop is a family, so everybody has got to pitch in. East, west, north, or south—we come from one coast and that coast was Africa. This culture was born in the ghetto. We were born here to die. We're surviving now, but we're not yet rising up. If we've got a problem, we've got to correct it. We can't be hypocrites. That's what I hope the hip-hop generation can do, to take us all to the next level by always reminding us: It ain't about keeping real, it's about keeping it right.


Generations are fictions.

The act of determining a group of people by imposing a beginning and ending date around them is a way to impose a narrative. They are interesting and necessary fictions because they allow claims to be staked around ideas. But generations are fictions nonetheless, often created simply to suit the needs of demographers, journalists, futurists, and marketers.

In 1990, Neil Howe and William Strauss—both baby boomers and self-described social forecasters—set forth a neatly parsed theory of American generations in their book,
Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069.
They named their own generation “Prophets,” idealists who came of age during a period of “Awakening,” and their children's generation “Heroes,” who, nurtured by their spiritually attuned parents, would restore America to a “High” era. In between were “Nomads” inhabiting a present they described as an “Unraveling.” What Howe and Strauss's self-flattering theory lacked in explanatory power, it made up for with the luck of good timing. The release of
intersected with the media's discovery of “Generation X,” a name taken from the title of a book by Douglas Coupland that seemed to sum up for boomers the mystery of the emerging cohort.

Howe and Strauss's book was pitched as a peek into the future. Cycles of history, they argued, proceed from generational cycles, giving them the power to prophesize the future. Certainly history loops. But generations are fictions used in larger struggles over power.

There is nothing more ancient than telling stories about generational difference. A generation is usually named and framed first by the one immediately preceding it. The story is written in the words of shock and outrage that accompany two revelations: “Whoa, I'm getting old,” and, “Damn, who are these kids?”

Boomers seem to have had great difficulty imagining what could come after themselves. It was a boomer who invented that unfortunate formulation: “the end
of history.” By comparison, everything that came after would appear as a decline, a simplification, a corruption.

BOOK: Can't Stop Won't Stop
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