So I picked this up thinking it was a history of Hip Hop, and after about two hundred pages of thorough descriptions of various gangs in New York city, the history of Reggae, the ramifications of the loss of social programs on urban youth, and a couple of paragraphs about Afrika Bambaataa, I stopped and looked back at the front cover. It’s a history of the hip hop GENERATION. It’s not what I was expecting and I have no one but myself to thank for that.
That said, I do wish Chang had narrowed his focus; this book tries to cover so much (politics, youth culture, gangs, hip hop, dancing, DJ-ing, MC-ing, music, the personal lives of the musicians) that it’s near impossible to follow. I enjoyed the second half of the book so much more than the first because I was at least familiar enough with The Source magazine, NWA, Public Enemy, and 80s-90s rap that when Chang jumped around I was able to follow the thread; I couldn’t keep track of which gangs popped up in New York in 1970 when, and the significance of various members arrivals and departures was difficult to ascertain when even in 1970 they wouldn’t have been household names. I would estimate that there are at least 300 individuals named in this 450ish page book. It’s a lot, and the book suffers from too wide a scope and too many players.
Which is a pity, because Chang has some interesting points to make. The lack of social programs contributing to gangs, the inherent racism of labeling nearly any group of youths a gang, how hip hop changed in recording what was live a spontaneous performance to emphasize the MC over the DJ, the other side of many misogynistic or racially charged comments by rappers, the media bias in reporting controversial statements by rappers – Chang has obviously researched the book exhaustively, and has thought deeply about the topics involved. I just wish he had picked one instead of twenty.