Misc. Reviews

Jeff Chang's Total Chaos

Berkeley author Jeff Chang follows his American Book Award-winning Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by editing and curating a new anthology exploring hip hop's artistic achievements beyond the beats and rhymes. Total Chaos traces the genre's impact on visual art, literature, film, theater, and dance. But, more compellingly, it looks at the music through underrepresented and sometimes oppressed groups within the culture, from women and indigenous people to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/ transgendered community. While Chang is a more-than-qualified cross-cultural theorist to discuss these topics, the book's authenticity is cemented by the participation of a few dozen writers, artists, and activists lending their voices as authors and panelists in written roundtables.

“All in all,” writes Chang, “this collection [of essays] is loose, ungainly, contradictory, volatile, unstable.” This honest self-critique is a valid charge to level at Total Chaos; these same qualities will challenge readers with short attention spans attempting to process the academic concepts at hand. It takes time and patience to penetrate this dense material — note-taking is recommended. But it's worth wading through Chaos to discover underlying concepts on how hip hop threads together so many different people and artistic disciplines.

Beyond the theorizing panelists, some of Chaos' most exciting moments are the pure expressions from the heart: A Palestinian-American poet's ode to her borough (Suheir Hammad's “brooklyn”), a Bay Area native's nostalgic yarn about our local mixmasters' soul foundation (Robert Karimi's “how i found my inner DJ”). Even these chapters, though, are best digested slowly. In reading a book called Total Chaos, though, paying close attention is to be expected. In that respect, Chang and company channel the diverse spirit of the culture they document.

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