Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang

bkcover-hpIf you are at all interested in hip hop or rap, then this book is an absolute must-read. Even if you have a fleeting interest in American culture in the last half of the twentieth century, then Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is a great way to examine it. It’s hard to discount how much of an impact rap music and culture has had on American modern culture – and that of the world, and this book works wonders to describe how it all started and how this form of music, art and expression has coloured a great deal of the world’s culture, industry and societal norms for years.

Jeff Chang melds the world of music journalism with general cultural criticism and historical discussion beautifully. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop describes the New York of the 70s and 80s in a way that gives an excellent and vivid backdrop to how rap music came about, and also gives readers who are not particularly well-versed in the intricacies of American politics and society a quick lesson in the societal factors that formed rap. As much as some would like to forget it, politics were vital in how a lot of rap music was created and how the form progressed, so the attention paid to political and societal factors in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is justified, in my opinion.

As a narrative, the book works well – there is a little unevenness in how some periods and events are described, but if there was to be a truly exhaustive account of the creation of rap music, it would be essentially unreadable, particularly since rap as an art form became so widely disseminated and spread. Chang gives a generally impartial, but at times fiery and impassioned, look at America in general to push this work forward. There are plenty of interviews and quotes from primary sources that lend much flavour and anecdotal interest to how the book plays out, and it truly does feel part of a cohesive whole.

It’s clear from the work how much research Chang has put into the book: one needs simply to look at the list of sources and references. This is a vital and important book for anyone interested in modern music, generally – it’s impossible to deny how much music nowadays owes to rap music in all of its forms.