Don't Stop the Planet Rock
June 5, 2006
Is it strange for an Asian Pacific Islander who grew up in the suburbs of Honolulu to be writing about hip-hop? I didn't think so.
But when I went out to promote my door-stopper of a book last year, I found out differently. Seemed like everyone wondered how someone of my background might have come to write a 500-plus page biceps-enhancer on the topic. (Thankfully, I never met the ones who didn't think there were 500-plus pages worth of the topic.)
I mean, did they live on the same planet as me?
When I got over being so defensive, I realized that unpacking that question could actually be quite interesting.
See, for me, hip-hop is the thing that connects me not only to the kids down the block and at my son's elementary school, it's the thing that allows me to not just talk, but as we say, build with someone my age who grew up under apartheid in South Africa. It's the thing that allows me to articulate to my elders how the political landscape has been completely altered since the civil rights movement, the depths of hopelessness that many young people feel.
It is the thing that allows me to express the specificity of being an Asian/Pacific Islander in America, while getting deep into the stories of young people of all kinds of backgrounds all around the globe, and most of all, of the African diaspora, spanning North America, the Caribbean, South America, in a loop to Africa.
Hip-hop is ancient and futuristic, it's local and it's global, it's progressive and reactionary, it's hot and cold. It's my world.
So for the next month, welcome.
In Can't Stop Won't Stop, I used hip-hop as a window through which to understand the history of the U.S. from the late 60s to the millennium, the period during which hip-hop culture came into being, and my generation moved from the margins into mainstream. I wrote a lot about the politics of abandonment that gave birth to hip-hop, and the politics of containment that have shaped its maturation. I wrote about how hip-hop became one of the big ideas of my generation, the thing that defines us, that we call our own. I'm interested in how this culture, which began with forgotten youths in New York City, came to infect and affect young people all around the world, including this boy on a rock in the middle of the Pacific.
Over the next month, in this blog, (I've got my own here) I'll return to these themes. I'll bring in some folks for us to hear from, who can help us understand the issues of race, class, gender, globalization, and power that hip-hop raises. We'll be hearing from Reginald Hudlin, president of entertainment at Black Entertainment Television, on how and why the environment has changed for Black cultural production over the past 25 years. I'll talk with Cristina Veran, a member of the Rock Steady Crew back in the day who now covers indigenous movement for the United Nations, on how hip-hop is allowing native youths around the world to transform and maintain their cultures. We'll be hearing from many others.
Where is this big idea headed? Will it help us get to a better or a worse world? Come back and we'll build.