Stop Won't Stop: A
From the other end of the spectrum comes The RZA's The Wu-Tang Manual (Riverhead Books/Penguin). While Can't Stop is inclusive, the Manual focuses on one thing, the nine-headed beast known as the Wu-Tang Clan. And unlike Chang's scholarly take, RZA keeps it light.
R.I.P., Big Baby Jesus!)
Diced into 36 "chambers," the Manual features four separate sections, each with nine subdivisions.
Each chamber comes fully loaded
with a minutiae
Now that rap music is the most popular worldwide musical genre, it's hard to believe that a mere 25 years ago, New Yorkers were just about the only people who even knew such a thing existed. (It's also hard to believe that I'm this freakin' old—yikes!) Yes, in 1980 Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five and The Sugarhill Gang were serving as the Bill Haleys of the then primordial hip-hop sound. And like rock 'n' roll before it, rap music was often dismissed as a passing fad. How much has changed in the relative blink of an eye?
Taking on the monumental task of distilling the history of hip-hop into a single, all-inclusive tome, journalist Jeff Chang certainly displayed some masochistic tendencies. Thankfully, the author has risen to the task. Sure, Chang probably elided a thing or two in the making of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (St. Martin's Press). But the book's wide-angle overview delivers an artfully wrought, technicolor image of hip-hop, flavored by the cadence and patois of the movement.
More than a mere exploration of the emergence of the artistic triumvirate of rap music, breakdancing and graffiti, Can't Stop delves into the socioeconomic factors that created a breeding ground for hip-hop's cultural intermingling. The book begins by examining the Bronx milieu of the 1960s, including gang activities, race relations, housing and urban planning. Once this setting is established, the author proceeds to explain the genesis of the new style. Mixing a streetwise wit with a scholarly curiosity, Chang seems the ideal messenger for the story.
With a profound reverence for hip-hop's diverse array of source materials, Chang attempts the impossible and comes as close to success as anyone could in chronicling the divergent twists and turns of the genre's history: The author explains how DJ Kool Herc kick-started hip-hop with the isolation of the break beat; how Grandmaster Flash evolved from one of many deejays into the ur turntablist; how the Rock Steady Crew defied gravity and created breakdancing on a Bronx street corner, and that's just the beginning. With encyclopedic knowledge, Chang unfolds the history of hip-hop in a riveting, long-winded book that never flags on enthusiasm. Readers will be surprised just how fast Can't Stop 's 500-odd pages fly by.
Chang pays particular attention to three of rap's most important acts: Run DMC, Public Enemy and N.W.A. The DMC chapter reveals how the group honed its image and how their management and producer Rick Rubin influenced the rap/rock collision that caused a career breakthrough. Public Enemy gets a deserved lion's share of coverage. P.E.'s sonic reinvention and in-your-face political rhetoric is excellent fodder for discussion. Lastly, there's an examination of the ugly side of rap embodied by N.W.A.'s take-no-prisoners, gangsta style.
Can't Stop actually does stop just after the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. Chang takes a brief foray into the future of rap music, examining the East/West feud and the infusion of big-dollar rapper/moguls like Puffy and Jay-Z. But, compared to the in-depth reportage up to '92, the book's denouement only scratches the surface of modern hip-hop. Nonetheless, Chang provides an excellent basis for further exploration, delivering the best genre history so far.
From the other end of the spectrum comes The RZA's The Wu-Tang Manual (Riverhead Books/Penguin). While Can't Stop is inclusive, the Manual focuses on one thing, the nine-headed beast known as the Wu-Tang Clan. And unlike Chang's scholarly take, RZA keeps it light. (Interestingly, there's no mention of Wu-Tang member, Ol' Dirty Bastard's untimely death. R.I.P., Big Baby Jesus!)
Wu-Tang fans will be thrilled as RZA dissects every aspect of the multi-platinum group's history, philosophy, influences, spirituality, and more. RZA explains "the way of the Wu," which is a vexing mix of comic book-styled mythmaking, philosophy based on '70s kung fu cinema fetishism, streetwise humor and maybe a sprinkling of mystical substances here and there, if that makes any sense.
Diced into 36 "chambers," the Manual features four separate sections, each with nine subdivisions. Each chamber comes fully loaded with a minutiae of details that would make even Ghostface Killa's mama proud. It's clear that the author has examined the Wu-Tang experience from every angle, and RZA's humor, panache and skewed cultural amalgamation is infectious. Of most interest to devout Wu-Tang fans, The Wu-Tang Manual would provide excellent diversion for any fan of rap music, aficionados and neophytes alike.