Response to Jeff Chang’s “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation””

“Hip-hop had been reduced to a kid-friendly Broadway production, scrubbed clean for prime-time, force-fitted into one-size-fits-all” (Chang 194). Before McDonalds adopted it as yet another marketing tool, Jeff Chang describes hip-hop’s birth from within the neglected wasteland that was the South Bronx. City officials instituted a policy of “benign neglect” towards the Bronx with the hope that it would destroy itself from within and save the city the cost of relocation and revitalization projects. As a product of financial and political neglect, did hip-hop negate itself by submitting to corporate exploitation?

Chang writes that The New York City Breakers “earned an ovation from Ronald and Nancy Reagan at his second inauguration” (Chang 194). This incident highlights the contradictions inherent in the commodification and mass production of hip-hop culture. Hip-hop is receiving accolades from the chief representative of the very system it was born to oppose. As hip-hop was gaining momentum in the ghettos of New York City, the American CIA was facilitating the import of heroin and cocaine with the profits going towards anticommunist and counterrevolutionary operations in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Chang quotes Aqeela Sherrills, who witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the CIA’s entrepreneurialism, “‘The neighborhood was already tough, but people literally lost their families to drugs and the violence that came out of people utilizing drugs and making money off drugs. Folks went to jail for the rest of their life. People got murdered. It totally devastated the neighborhood’” (Chang 208). The movers and the consumers of these drugs were the impoverished inhabitants of the nation’s urban slums. As corporations were capitalizing on the mass appeal of hip-hop culture, and Ronald Reagan was patronizing a group of break artists at his inauguration, the CIA was aiding in the destruction of American ghettos to fund the assault on democracy abroad.

Does hip-hop’s definition as a “‘fuck you’ to white society and the previous black generation” make it unable to be commodified? Did hip-hop cease to be hip-hop the moment the record companies found it? The answer is a complex one. Without the megaphone of corporate sponsorship hip-hop might never have made it out of the boroughs of New York City. The mass production of hip-hop essentially gave a voice to the voiceless; however, that voice quickly acquiesced to “the kid-friendly Broadway production” which Chang describes. DJ Kool Herc addresses this issue in his introduction: “And now we have a platform to speak our minds. Millions of people are watching us. Let’s hear something powerful” (Chang xiii). The mainstream voice of hip-hop has become one which reaffirms the ignorant, racist stereotypes about black culture. Rather than using their “platform” to speak out against the injustice and inequality which gave rise to the hip-hop movement in the Bronx, the mainstream of the hip-hop community has chosen to submit to the will of their sponsors. When they flash “bling-bling” and drive around in expensive cars they are dancing at the behest of their corporate puppet masters and fueling a consumer culture that willfully ignores the suffering of the poor, disenfranchised masses. The very same poor and disenfranchised masses that gave birth to hip-hop beneath the ruins of the South Bronx.


About josephdmoore

I am currently teaching English at a small private school in Samut Sakhon, Thailand. Prior to coming to Thailand, I substitute taught in several urban school districts in Northern and Central New Jersey. I also worked part-time as an SAT instructor for The Princeton Review. In 2010, I received a Master of Arts degree in teaching from The College of New Jersey where I specialized in teaching English literature and writing at the secondary level. In 2008, I finished a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. My hobbies include traveling to remote parts of the world, reading the news voraciously, debating politics with friends, hiking, surfing, playing soccer and watching movies.
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