Originally published in Verbalisms’ Power Juice, this is an exclusive—the original, full-length version of the interview with Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop‘s author Jeff Chang! I highly recommend Can’t Stop to all readers, regardless of expertise on or interest in Hip Hop culture. It’s simply an amazing read. This is the book I’d ask my own father, jazz musican Buell Neidlinger, to read if he cared enough to discover and understand my culture, music, and life, the way my generation is expected to understand the Jazz era. And don’t miss the mixtape that comes with the book (depending on the retailer)—IT ROCKS.
The interview was first published as “And It Don’t Stop: Documenting Hip-Hop’s Power and History” by Miranda Jane
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.
Miranda Jane: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is one of the most comprehensive books on Hip Hop culture and history that has ever been written. When and how did you make the decision to take your interviews and historical research to the next level and put them out in nonfiction form?
Jeff Chang: 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? Why? What particular quote from that person could sum it up?
So many people had such an indelible impact on me. I think meeting Benjamin Melendez and Carlos Suarez from the Ghetto Brothers brought a lot of things together. The 1971 gang peace treaty organized in the Bronx still affects us today—in many ways, it made hip-hop possible. It’s 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, Grandmaster Flash, and others—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.
How do you follow up a project like this? What’s next for Jeff Chang? How/where can people learn more about what you’re up to?
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. The next book is top secret but I’m beginning to think about it a little bit right now. I’m taking most of the summer off—though I’m still doing some appearances, and there’s always hip-hop activist work to do—and then I’ll be back out on the road a little bit in the fall. People can always catch up with me at my website, 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!