• Sheldon Kessel

Can't Stop, Won't Stop (book review)


I’ve had Jeff Chang’s “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” sitting on my shelf for a few years. I’d been waiting for a time I could spend the amount of time I felt it would be necessary to fully absorb this book which seems to have become a classic text on Hip-Hop history. In December I decided it was time – I would consume the book during my yearly two-thousand mile round-trip to visit my family in North Dakota during the holidays.

I was immediately struck by the thoroughness – the history begins in mid-20th-century New York and Jamaica. However, I kept thinking to myself, “when is he going to get to the music?”

As it turns out, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” is less a history of Hip-hop MUSIC and more about the political, cultural, and socio-economic factors which influenced Hip-hop culture and, in turn, Hip-hop music. Yet, even within Hip-hop culture, the book primarily focuses on the culture within New York City, and later, in Los Angeles/Compton.

At points I was tempted to skip ahead, but kept telling myself, “this has got to be leading to SOMETHING important.” It rarely did. I was especially tempted to skip ahead during the long passages detailing various gang wars.

I appreciate the passion and detail Mr. Chang put into this work, but I feel there was too much emphasis and too much space devoted to irrelevant details.

I read this as a scholar and musicologist with my handy pen ready to underline, take notes, and write in the margins. I left the book feeling like I had just read an interesting collection of historical anecdotes that had little to do with the music. This book will stay in my musicology library, but only as a supplemental, background text – not as musicological study of the music.


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© 2017 by Sheldon Kessel