Friday, September 22, 2006


A required text in your syllabus

Hip-Hop vs. Post-Punk:

Just finished reading Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, and before that, Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up & Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. Both of these are books written so that they can be taught in future graduate seminars, where Public Enemy and Public Image Ltd. are taught alongside fucking Kant or something. Reynolds does a much better job of presenting an actual history of a genre of music, even though the one he chose is impossible to define. Chang's "history," on the other hand is, like a menstruating nun: bloated as diggedyshit. He wants to give all of hip-hop a sociological/economic context, because, after all, Rakim's virtuosic wordplay and Dre's Funkadelic samples were obviously directly precipitated by Reaganomics. Also, there is very little about actual hip-hop music. We get Kool Herc, but Chang has to write 40 pages about Jamaican history first. We get Afrika Bambaataa, but not before a few chapters on Robert Moses building highways. Ice Cube and Chuck D get the most treatment in terms of rappers that are less than 50 years old, and rightly so, even though Chang is more interested in how they are "black leaders" or something. But instead of Biggie, Tupac, Wu-Tang, and the shit that anyone less than 30 considers the real heart of hip hop as it is today, there's barely a passing mention. Biggie is literally mentioned once. IN A FUCKING 350 PAGE BOOK ABOUT HIP HOP!! ONCE!!. Chang apparently thinks it's more important to talk about the editorial politics at The Source and Reginald Denny than about the best emcees who ever lived. I mean Chuck D is, well, Chuck D, but in terms of sheer fluid mic prowess if you think he can hold a candle to the next generation of NY rap (Biggie, Nas, Wu) you must be eating paint. The problem with this book is that, ultimately, Chang thinks hip-hop is about politics and race before it's about what it's actually about: music. I would still recommend this book just because there aren't any other histories of hip hop that as well researched as this (actually there aren't really any histories of hip hop at all), but seriously, where's the chapter dedicated to Ghost?

Reynolds, on the other hand, sticks to the meat and fries it (like a corndog). A lot of the postpunk bands ate more speed than an entire graduate math program, so they all had these hilariously high-minded conceits and manifestos. Luckily, he doesn't harp on them, because, you know there's some actual music that he might as well write about. Devo, Talking Heads, The Fall, Brian Eno, Wire--we get the full story on all the heavyweights, but perhaps more interesting were the more stridently avant garde bands that never blew up becuase, like, they insisted on throwing sheep viscera on the audience. Another fun part of this book is keeping track of all the genres Reynolds drops like babies from a stork's beak, if there was free overnight shipping on babies from A NYTimes critic catalogued the genres: "funk punk," "punk funk," "folk punk," "anarcho-punk," "Hi-NRG," "psychobilly," "angst rock," "trad rock," "death rock," "death disco," "mutant disco," "Teutonica," "Goth," "proto-Goth," "post-Goth," "Oi!" "New Romanticism," "New Rock," "New Americana," "New Pop," "electropop," "synthpop," "synthpop noir," "synthfunk," "avant-funk" and, deep breath, "neopostpunk." Holy fucknugget that's some taxonomical clintitude. But the book's good, esp. if you want to impress the girl with the bangs.

No comments: