Jeff Chang is a powerhouse. He is a hip-hop activist, father, proud male feminist and author of the authoritative book Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation. Can’t Stop is a must-read—with an introduction by the legendary DJ Kool Herc, and chapters spanning from the history of Bronx street gangs all the way to Ice Cube’s “Death Certificate” LP—once you pick it up, you can’t stop reading and you won’t stop learning.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop is one of the most comprehensive books on hip-hop culture and history. How did you make the decision to take your interviews and historical research to the next level and put them out in non-fiction form?
I started thinking about the book when Solesides ended in 1997. It was a way of working through all that I thought I had learned up to that point. Back then it was going to be a book just about Ice Cube’s “Death Certificate”. As time went on, I realized I had a much bigger story: the story about how the hip-hop generation emerged in this post-civil rights, globalized era.
Of all the interviews you conducted, which individual made the most significant impression on you and on the outcome of the book?
So many people had such an indelible impact on me. I think meeting Benjamin Melendez and Carlos Suarez from the Ghetto Brothers brought many things together. The 1971 gang peace treaty, organized in the Bronx, still affects us today. In many ways, it made hip-hop possible. It is the ultimate example of a butterfly effect. Something that happened amongst a small number of forgotten youths in an abandoned borough of the big city still touches us more than three decades later, all around the world. Yet, you can’t read about it in most “official” histories of New York City, let alone hip-hop. The thing that sticks to me about all of these Bronx pioneers – from Benjy and Carlos through DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash – is that they felt they had to do what they did. They weren’t getting paid at first, they did it out of love and passion and a desire to live. DJ Kool Herc says in the introduction, “It was something we did for fun.” That’s the beauty and power of hip-hop right there in seven words.
What’s next for Jeff Chang?
I’m working on an anthology on the aesthetics of hip-hop, a book that will be artist-centered and move beyond just rap music to look at how hip-hop has moved into performance arts, visual arts, literature and all kinds of other forms. People can always catch up with me at my website, www.cantstopwontstop.com and check out my blog to see what I’m obsessing about at any given moment. I don’t know if that’s healthy, but that’s what’s up!