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A milo leaf floats in the hands of healer Mahealani Kaiwikuamo'okekuaokalani Henry.photo by Linny Morris Cunningham
Vol. 8, No. 3
June/July 2005


A Hip-Hop Love Letter 

by Jeela Ongley

As a kid growing up in the hip-hop outpost of Honolulu in the 1980s, Jeff Chang soaked up the music and movies that spread hip-hop gospel, emulating what he heard and saw. When the seminal graffiti flick Wild Style played at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Chang was inspired to help organize, at his school Iolani, what may have been the state’s first graffiti art exhibition. The show attracted media attention—as well as fledgling aerosol artists who came from all over Oahu to check things out.

"I remember distinctly during the ’80s, any time something blew up in L.A., you’d get it in Hawaii like that," Chang says, snapping his fingers as he talks of the Islands’ early connections to hip-hop, "especially via Samoan communities, ’cause a lot of those families were going back and forth."

Chang headed for California himself, to get an ethnic studies degree from UC Berkeley, and then spent over ten years in hip-hop journalism, radio, business and activism. Now he’s written Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, a tome that tells the story of hip-hop’s rise from the streets to its current global prominence. His book, based largely on oral histories, combines scholarship with street smarts to put hip-hop culture in perspective as, in Chang’s words, "the kind of tidal wave that rolls through once in a generation and takes everyone with it." The book—which covers rap, DJing, graffiti and break-dancing—has drawn raves from the reviewers: The New Yorker called it "one of the most urgent and passionate histories of popular music ever written," LA Weekly deemed it "a book that should be on the shelves of every high school and college library" and Entertainment Weekly—shades of Iolani where it all started—gave it an A. Hawaii doesn’t make it into the narrative, but that doesn’t stop Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop from being a great read on the music that catalyzed a generation.