Hip hop recently turned 30, and there's a good chance you don't recall a world without it. But the booming, chest-pounding cultural behemoth was once young, and as Jeff Chang's new book, Can't Stop Won't Stop, demonstrates, hip hop had a fragile childhood marked by incidents, and sometimes accidents, that collectively created the atmosphere for its success.
If the pubescent Grand Wizard Theodore hadn't inadvertently "scratched" a record when his mother barged into the room, or if DJ Kool Herc (one of the culture's architects) hadn't emigrated from Jamaica in 1967, we'd be looking at a different America. Chang's history captures similar moments and finds both vulnerability and power implicit in hip hop's brittle genesis: While the institution is vulnerable, susceptible to the whims of happenstance, the individuals within it are powerful, wielding their influence to change the course of American music.
This insight is one of many in Chang's flawlessly written and meticulously researched book. The Bay Area author is one of hip hop's most prominent historians and a central figure in the flowering of the local scene. He's written for the Village Voice, Vibe, and Spin, and he co-founded the influential hip hop label Quannum Projects, which helped launch the careers of DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, and Lyrics Born. Tonight he reads and signs books (accompanied by live music from the Quannum crew to benefit Media Alliance) at 9 at the Element Lounge, 1028 Geary (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $7; call 546-6334 or visit www.cantstopwontstop.com.
-- Sam Chennault
One of the city's most popular art galleries + one of the city's most popular hobbies = you might have to wait in line to get in. But once you breach the entrance to "Back Room: Erotic Art," you'll warm up to a huge group exhibit with prints, photos, and more, all celebrating carnality. The opening reception is something of a show itself, featuring live burlesque performances. Revelers, says organizer and artist Katie Gilmartin, are urged to "dress sexy." The reception begins at 7 p.m. on Friday (and the exhibition continues through Feb. 27) at the City Art Gallery, 828 Valencia (at 19th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 970-9900.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Luck contributes mightily to photography; even a duffer can occasionally snap a decent image in eye-catching surroundings. But then there are the pros who control everything from background to lighting in search of a particular effect. Norma Cordova's high-fashion images are products of obsessive mastery, her models dressed and posed and illuminated just so in glossy, gorgeous tableaux. See Cordova's work -- as well as images from seven other female photographers -- at "dandelionblack," a party (which also boasts a fashion show, DJs, and live sounds from Bucho! and Voodoo Cabaret) that begins at 9 p.m. at Club Six, 60 Sixth St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $5; call 863-1221 or visit www.dandelionblack.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
New to You
Beautiful clothing can be hard to ditch. No matter how long it's been since that magnificent velvet vintage dress fit you, it's tough just piling it into a trash bag and handing it over to Goodwill. But watching a new owner prancing around delightedly in a well-loved castoff can make the pain of parting easier. So haul your discarded duds to the "DNA Swap" this Sunday, where piles and piles of sharp, pre-worn, mostly women's garments await good homes. Out with the old -- in with the old. Wear clean undies to try stuff on, starting at 1 p.m. at the DNA Lounge, 375 11th St. (at Harrison), S.F. Admission is $4; call 626-1409.
-- Joyce Slaton