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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Hip Hop Hooray

Jeff Changs book, Cant Stop Wont Stop is available at the UMass Boston Bookstore
Jeff Chang’s book, Can’t Stop Wont Stop is available at the UMass Boston Bookstore

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop; Jeff Chang’s book is a biographical look at Hip Hop and the historical events that supported its inception. After entering the Ryan Lounge in McCormack Hall on Tuesday April 25th, I was surprised to see the amount of people who came to check out the event. High school students, UMass students, faculty and visitors from off-campus filled the lounge, even spilling over to the exterior areas. The event, continuing the campus wide programs supporting Black-Asian Relations, started out with Bobby Pres, a senior Criminal Justice Major with a Certificate of Program in Asian American Studies and the program organizer, acknowledging those involved in putting the event together.

The lecture was hosted by the Asian Student Center, and cosponsored by the Student Event and Art Council, Asian American Studies, Trotter Institute, Institute of Asian American Studies, Creative Writing Program, American Studies, and the Hip-Hop Initiative. Bobby then gave the podium to Professor Shirley Tang, PhD, Assistant Professor in the American Studies and Asian American Studies Programs who after a brief presentation introduced Jeff Chang. Chang began his lecture by giving us a much needed history lesson about the social and political climate in the late 60s that would lead to the phenomenon we know today as Hip Hop.

With some excellent footage capturing the alarming occurrences of that time, we learned about the Bronx abandonment movement: a strategically political plan to alienate the area from funding and resources until it simply dried out and withered away. This led to a grossly poverty stricken area which would become extremely attractive to nearby gangs, who began to take over desired territories. As gang influence began to spread, the violence escalated to the unfortunate death of a founding member of the Ghetto Brothers, an extremely influential and important Bronx gang.

This tragic event, occurring in the early 1970s, would also lead to a citywide meeting, bringing together all the local rivaling gangs. This monumental meeting would begin a dialogue towards peace and finding nonviolent means of coexisting in the abandoned environment they all called home; while at the same time sparking a creative movement towards representing survival and self-worth through style-expressed through the four elements of Hip Hop: DJ’ing, emceeing, breakdancing and graffiti writing.

Today, Hip Hop has grown to a global phenomenon connecting people across many different walks of life transcending social divides of race, sex, and class. Hip Hop has to a large degree become a universal language that embraces diversity. During the lecture, Chang addressed the characteristic that Hip Hop is vulnerable to the influence of social pressures, such as misogyny and homophobia. Later on at some point in the open forum part of the event, someone asked Mr. Chang what he felt about the current state of Hip Hop commercialism. Jeff Chang explained that there was not much that could be done to prevent the exploitation of Hip Hop considering its effective marketing appeal. But, he added that, if you consider yourself a supporter of Hip Hop you must be willing to do the work required to effectively support it. That means instead of illegally downloading or sharing music, actually buy the CDs of artists you support, go to their shows and demand their representation on local radio stations and music related television programs.

Another brave audience member asked to what extent Jeff felt artists were responsible for taking part in the social change they wish to see, giving as an example the comments made by Kanye West in response to the mistreatment of the victims of Hurricane Katrina or his highlighting of the plight of the children of Sierra Leone. Jeff responded that it was simply to the extent by which the artist decides and that it was more the responsibility of those affected by the words of change to make the next move.

The event was a successful introduction to fostering more dialogue around this phenomenon we call Hip Hop and how it’s able to bring us together. The response after the event was very positive, “I was moved and inspired by how much hard work and dedication that the organizers put into this event. I was also moved and enjoyed a lot of the content of the event.” Overall, the theme of the event was reflected in the makeup of the audience that came out to support it, by bringing together people from different backgrounds, cultures and generations to explore and discuss a social identity they share in common.

After the event people began to congregate around a small table in the back of the lounge where Jeff Chang was answering questions and signing books. One of the students who really enjoyed the event said, “I think this was a great opportunity to continue the vibe of bringing cultures together… we may find out that we share a lot more in common than we think.” After speaking with a grad student about how he felt after the event he added, “it was great to see how Hip Hop has evolved in such a short period of time… with the knowledge of where it came from and what it has become today, I only hope that it gives the next generation the courage and understanding to control where it’s going!” As the slang, dress, music and dance moves continue to change and evolve, the underlying ability of Hip Hop to connect different people from all across the globe simply ‘can’t stop won’t stop’! If you want more information about this event or similar programs feel free to contact the Asian Student Center.