Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

KRS-One on Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Back from being underwater swimming with the honu and hanging with fam far away from all the madness.

Just closing up the loop begun last week on KRS-One and Can’t Stop Won’t Stop.

Here’s an interview published last week where KRS-One outlines his problems with my book generally and particularly with the section I did on “Stop The Violence”. I’ll leave it to yall to read my argument in the book and KRS’s argument and determine what you think.

Most debates are good debates. They reflect people taking this shit seriously, which is the most important thing at the end of the day.

Listen. Lots of folks act like Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is it. Like, you read it and it’s done. Don’t need to know nothing else. But that was never my intention.

That’s why I’ve always been insistent on being humble about my own contribution to hip-hop scholarship. People think it’s cute or just Asian of me to deflect praise sometimes. It’s not an act. I recognize the fact that people sometimes place a burden on this book that I just don’t want.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop was and is never meant to be the last word on anything. It’s meant to be a small contribution to the larger wave of thinking about the hip-hop generation (not just rap music).

If it’s the first word for some of yall, that’s great–now go on and get you some more. Lots more. One perspective–even if, like mine, it’s filtered through hundreds of other people’s perspectives–is never enough.

KRS’s criticism is on point in one sense: I wasn’t able to speak to everyone I wanted to–Grandmaster Caz and the Cold Crush were at the top of the list, as well as many other b-boys, b-girls, graf writers and other pioneers, especially women pioneers.

Should I have waited to do so before releasing the book? In the best of all possible worlds, yes. Could I have waited to do so? For many personal reasons that you will never know…No.

Luckily some of the information that KRS cites is lacking in CSWS (and lots more that is just as crucial) is already out there. Let’s big up Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn’s Yes Yes Y’All: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade and Cristina Veran’s essay in Hip Hop Divas as just two of the major undersung contributions to the field, not to mention Steven Hager’s Adventures in the Counterculture: From Hip Hop to High Times (originally printed in a now stupidly expensive, out-of-print paperback called Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music, and Graffiti).

(BTW that piece he says about H. Rap is on point too–it’s all there in CSWS, just not as explicit as he lays it out in the interview. In fact, you can check p. 186 to see how Whipper Whip flipped the script.)

But the bottom line–not to sound redundant, because this is all in the CSWS Prelude, and it undergirds the entire Total Chaos project as well–is that if we all take this as seriously as we should, there ought to be many many other perspectives other than mine under consideration. Period.

If there’s gonna be disagreement and arguing about this one is better than that, hey that’s human.

I respect KRS’s perspective a lot–and he shaped this book and my thinking more than he may ever know, just check the essay I did on BDP for Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide. Nothing more need be said.

I did say I got a strong enough ego to try to step on. And in the end, it ain’t about me, it’s all about building this…

Holla if you like, KRS.

UPDATE 6/24 :: Another interview with KRS from Robbie Ettelson can be found here. When KRS refers to me working at Def Jam, he’s probably meaning I noticed I’ve been getting another wave of emails about this and a bunch of new commenters coming through. I guess it’s because there’s been another wave of links to this page. It’s a little strange to be hosting a debate on your own book in your personal blog, but hey! That’s hip-hop. Step in the cipher. Take your knocks. Move on.

posted by @ 10:47 am | 26 Comments

26 Responses to “KRS-One on Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”

  1. oscar says:

    thanks for keepin the discussion movin and the recommendations for further reading. any thoughts on raquel rivera’s New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone?

  2. Zentronix says:

    great book, great scholarship, great person. highly recommended…

  3. Q says:

    I really hope people read moe than just CSWS, but I also hope people read CSWS. Any hip-hop fans knows that you can’t fit all of hip-hop history in one book.

    But the thing I liked most about CSWS, that I never read in any other hip-hop book (and I’ve read a lot) is actually the beginning about how the Bronx got the way it was with the burnt out buildings and the rubble lining the streets. I learned something.

    I really don’t know how KRS saw those sentences as disses and he was speaking about you as if you’re an outsider when you’ve been covering hip-hop for years. That kind of irked me.

  4. supahyphyrappin2007 says:

    coupla things here.
    KRS is a legend, we know that. So we’ll give him a pass when it comes to referring to himself in the third person.

    ok. moving on, on one hand dude is kinda on point, but on the other he’s kinda buggin. sounds like he wishes he would have written a book himself instead of playing small clubs for the last ten years.

    he contradicts himself a few times, and seems genuinely outraged that the way history is written is not the way he remembers it.

    okay, fine, but if krs was really a scholar as he claims, he WOULD have written that book himself and then opened himself up to the possibility of some smart-aleck “i was there” type mr. hip-hop dude critically dissecting every word he wrote.

    ok, he gets props though for recognizing oakland as the birthplace of popping (yadidahmean–a lot of east coast cats can’t give it up like that), but in his own discussion, he lets out that hip-hop didn’t start in the south bronx as he said on the first BDP record, but in the west bronx, according to grandmaster caz (who, by the way, is a really humble dude with maybe 1/100th the ego of KRS) — so therefore, his own reading of history is inaccurate. see the point?

    sure, any true historian is gonna compile their information from numerous sources, and hip-hop history can be traced back to h.rap brown, scott joplin, mali, niger, nubia, or kemet if you try hard enough. is it still hip-hop at that point? or is it just all part of a much larger cultural tradition that continues in the form of hip-hop?

    basically, krs’ issue seems to be, first and foremost, that he wasnt interviewed in jeff’s book. but if that’s the case, he should just say that. or maybe in this case, he should just write that himself.

    yo kris, if you’re reading this, tell me, are you the teacher, or the complainer?

  5. Anonymous says:

    As it was put to me(I think by Jeff himself) CSWS is not a definitive document but a comprehensive one.

    Maybe that should have been somewhere in the subtitle! Or perhaps an advisory warningis in order. They could slap stickers on every new copy…

    It seems like there is a need for more meta hh scholarship and more common sense expectations about journalism. (instead of going rhyme for rhyme, tit for tat)

    Max B

  6. Anonymous says:

    KRS needs to get up off that high nose of his and relax. Everything in Hiphop is not about him.

    Jeff wrote a great book. There are lots of great books on Hiphop. Nothing stops KRS from writing a book. Nothing besides the fact he wont do it. He wont do it because he is a living contradtiction.

    I saw him do a rap one day about how only girls wear diamonds. It was all about how a lot of men are very fem now. He always talks about all the rappers that disrespect women on record. But in person, he dances a jig with the rest of them.

    Just the other day I saw him kissing 50 Cents ass on BET! What kept him from speaking truth to power then? His fading relevance, thats what.

    He said nothing of how 50 disrespects the ladies or how his materialism promotes murder in the Black community.

    He talks about Kwame Toure all day. But Kwame was no coward. He spoke it to Black folks just as hard as he spoke it to White America.

    KRS is no leader.

    He does not want it with 50.

    So he cosigned the entire show. Sad.

    But what should we expect from the guy who shoved the fat kid in PM Dawn? Nothing.

    What was the last relevent album KRS made that HIT on the streets?

    Hiphop transcends his nose and the South Bronx. It is hyphee, it is crunk. It is so much more than a few cats pop locking on sed and cedar.

    Do not tell me this thing is global and then tell me we have to pretend its 1973 all day for it to be legit.

    Jeff, you are a good writer. KRS is a perpetual hater of Hiphop journalists and himself. Keep doing what you do.

    He needs to recognize that the game is bigger than his nose. BTW, did I mention his nose is REAL big?

    It really is gigantic. Quote me.

  7. Anonymous says:

    KRS ONE: But as scholars we got to ask hard questions.

    If that is the case, why does KRS threaten those who ask him hard questions? Why is it he can never admit the limits of his half baked ideologies?

    Look at the new video. He says he’s talking to developers about a city “we biulding”. Whatever.

    Hiphop has not taken over NY, or LA, or GA. But now it will somehow erect its own city? Come on.

    Jeff was correct about Stop The Violence not being a movement. It had no legs. Just a video.

  8. supahyphyrappin2007 says:

    i agree that jeff wrote a great book. but no book is perfect. caz should have been in there, and as someone else pointed out on another site, tupac and biggie aren’t mentioned either. but that’s not to stop KRS or anyone else from writing that history. and that also doesn’t take away from the book itself, which accomplished what it set out to do, namely carve a scholarly path through hip-hop history.

    is it a be-all and end-all? no. is the bible a be-all and end-all where religion is concerned? no.

    as for KRS, well, what can you say? the dude is riddled with contradictions.

    anyone ever read his quasi-metaphysical ramblings in print? they’re literally all over the place, and wouldn’t stand up to a thorough critique by anyone who knew what they were talking about.

    and if i may bring up the stanford panel last year, that event showed exactly what’s wrong with mr. “i am hip-hop.” namely, that he feels his view of hip-hop is the only view that matters. that’s not just didactic, it’s ignorant. KRS, who’s not even a first generation hip-hopper and is actually from mmanhattan, not the south bronx, i might add, had the nerve to claim that no one in the room of esteemed academics and journalists was hip-hop because they werent from the south bronx. he was corrected by joan morgan and davey d, who are from the boogie down–joan actually lived in krs’ building!!! he then had the gall to proclaim that too short –who embodies hip-hop’s “create something from nothing” principle as well as anybody and was actually signed to jive BEFORE Kris — wasn’t hip-hop. why? because he wasn’t from the south bronx.

    yet in his own words,kris allows that oakland, where short is from, developed popping and locking, which implies that hip-hop did not–could not–just emanate from one source. does that diminish the historical significance of the south bronx or KRS? of course not.

    but to define hip-hop so rigidly as to exclude the majority of its cultural participants, especially when regions outside of nyc have been feeding krs for years after his own hometown lost interest, is to reveal oneself as a ig’nant-ass supa-hater.

    now that hip-hop culture lives everywhere but the five boroughs (don’t hate me, hate nas for that) and regions across the country and the world have developed their own strains of that culture, anyone with such a narrow viewpoint is an idiot. i dont care if they made some classic records back in the day, that’s still stupider than humpty hump on helium.

    and speaking of asking hard questions, when kris was challenged to publicly debate the validity of the statement “i am hip-hop”, and whether being “hip-hop” transcended religion, race, creed, etc., mr. “stop the violence” threatened to beat up a peaceful panelist. no wonder that “movement” fizzled.

    right there, that was when i realized kris has lost it.

    but then what do you expect from a former homeless kid who surrounds himself with a bunch of “disciples” who do nothing but sit around and tell him how great he is?

    sounds like the t’cha needs some schooling…

  9. Anonymous says:

    All I’m saying is that KRS got real lucky at Stanford.

    I think KRS is a nut job but I would never want to see him get choked. Davey D and Bam get real respect for making the peace happen. It was real tense in that venue.

  10. Dumi says:

    Aight, I finally listened to that entire long ass interview(s) and now I’m pissed. First, it’s clear that your book CSWS is not meant to be The history of Hip-Hop, clearly KRS is obsessed with the idea that there is A history of Hip-Hop and more importantly that he possesses it. It’s amazing how he sideswipes Herc, Bam, etc. as mythos, without acknowledging the mythos that he creates and projects. It sounds more like he wants an idiosyncratic reports of every mention of the words hip or hop or better yet rhyme scheme used to communicate between black or brown folks. And don’t even get me started on his interpreting you as an outsider, which is clearly based on your race and ethnicity. This is really disappointing. All that to say, I still appreciate you work and will teach it in my classes Jeff. Peace

  11. dubmugga says:

    OK heres a question I’ve asked and never got a decent answer to and i’d love to put it to KRS…

    …if hiphop is a global culture, then what is that those who live the culture do differently from those who still appreciate and participate in the artforms but aren’t living it ???

    who decides who is and who isnt, what is and what isnt hiphop culture and really what difference does it make except as a point of difference in an argument ???

    …my point is you don’t see metallers or drum an bass heads etc etc all with their own language, dress, art, music, dance going off about we’re a culture, respect us change the world, transcend the racial, sexual, religious geographical boundaries , live the culture *yawn*yawn

    give it a bloody rest will ya ???

    …cos ya ruining the buzz and brainwashing a bunch of kids into thinking they’re living a unifying global dream usually at the expense of their indigenous cultures

    hiphop is a medium for expression, the ‘culture’ is what you bring to the table…

    …if hiphop is dead or in its death throes it cos people tried/are trying to make it into something it isnt and thats the surest way to kill something

    IMHO 🙂

  12. Hashim says:

    I share *some* of the criticism KRS has for the book.

    Jeff, it seemed that CSWS started with and solidified the folklore, which wasn’t useful to me.

    For instance, why is some of the book structured around the so-called 4 elements of hip-hop? I believe the real elements of hip-hop are the same as any other music culture – it’s the dancing, the music, the style, and the mentality. (Self plug:

    Also, where is the examination of streetball’s impact on the hip-hop generation? I’ve always wondered, with streetball’s origins and timeline being so close to hip-hop’s (early 70’s, NYC) why hasn’t anyone linked the two?

    Jeff, you already know how much I love the book, but I hope that if anyone stands on your shoulders and attempts another history, they will go past, or even dare to contradict the folklore.

  13. Zentronix says:

    hashim, i agree and that’s exactly the point. the conversation needs to move forward. if csws is a starting point that’s cool. but no one–and i certainly never did–should think it’s an endpoint. if we need to criticize to keep it moving, like they teach you to do in some places of higher learning, or on some destroy-build thing, then so be it. but i’m not moses delivering the tablets or something.

  14. dubmugga says:

    I’m all about destroying and rebuilding…

  15. O.W. says:

    Jeff – you worked for Def Jam? Word?

    Sounds like KRS…didn’t do his homework.

    Oh, the irony.

  16. Alan says:

    i’ve known you since and i must say this was a very respectful and thoughtful reply. krs’ concerns are the concerns of anyone coming from a culture as maligned by the mainstream media as hip-hop. yeah, he’s defensive about the portrayal of hip-hop and understandably so. i think your reply to him was perfectly stated. let’s all keep this movement going forward.

    a quote that i use is apt for this situation:

    “the aim of an argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress” – Joseph Joubert, essayist, 1754-1824

  17. Puzzle says:

    I think KRS’s whole point was if you REALLY study Hip Hop or anything for that matter you’ll find all the truth you need by looking thoroughly! That fact he is even able to step outside his own views to make a point for the sake of Hip-Hop is commendable. Some people are happy he said what he said about Kool Herc, some arent, but the truth is Kool Herc knows this TRUTH himself, hell, its all documeneted in MUSIC HISTORY, thoroughly! Does that mean we pick Hip-Hop apart and go as far as to start to discredit NYC for the actual birth place? HELL NO! Facts are facts though at the end of the day, and I think his entire point for Jeff was if you document 1 inaccurate fact, you can print another when you dont do your fact finding. Also the fact that the term “Hip-Hop” is just another term for “Rap music” in the commerical world today is proof that its vital to perserve what little essence is left of the culture so you have to be vocal. No kid in 2007 (well the majority) is anxious to pass down, let alone hear the history of Hip-Hop as it is, so I praise KRS for FIGHTING or willing to fight in the name of Hip-Hop to keep its true meaning alive, and Mr. Chang should continue to be open to the critique from someone at KRS’s level. A journalist is gonna be what he was taught to be, someone who writes what is expressed to him (no disrespect), cats like KRS or whoever else was actually THERE and actually IN THAT ENVIRONMENT made him what he is today. I come from the same era, these were the guys who made cats like me go apeshit in the parks, so I myself get offended sometimes when “outsiders” offer their point of view on something that isnt even naturally in your being! You gotta keep in mind Hip-Hop as a whole wasnt made for the whole world to chime in on like it is now. Thats why I can’t feel what a journalist has to say all the time, or is told sometimes especially about something that was right outside my door even when I didnt know what it was. All in all CSWS is iight, and for the cat who thinks KRS just complains all the time and wants to just lable him an ego maniac, just be glad we got someone who gives a damn, IF you really care about Hip-Hop that is…

  18. Anonymous says:

    Let’s be real. The book was poorly researched, and riddled with factual errors which could have been avoided. The real scholarly document on hip hop’s history and it’s cultural impact just doesn’t exist yet. Hell, a complete outsider like David Toop offers more insight and manages to stay true to the historical timeline. That anyone applies the term scholarly to your book shows what lack of respect and understanding people have for the culture. The fact that you know better (or should) makes it all the worse. Truth be told, I was just dissapointed with the book. I ran out and bought a review copy from Strand when I heard about it, and had high hopes for something that resembled a history book. I was angry that people like Christie Z. were promoting it as a history book, and that you didn’t market it for what it really is, just a cultural theory book surveying Hip Hop pop culture and urban music. Lord knows Hip Hop didn’t need another surface retelling of the standard mythology while ignoring the real stories.

  19. Zentronix says:

    I needs to make this clear: KRS mentions one factual error, the date of conception of the song, “Stop The Violence”. I intend to fix that. There have been other small mistakes, but I’ve made every attempt to straight these out in newer editions. I stand by the facts in the book, and remain humble enough to fix anything if it can be shown and proven to be wrong. Opinions and interpretations–well, those will always be open to argument, even yours.

  20. O.W. says:

    KRS seems really into picking on this book in particular. What’s a little suspect are the other books he’s promoting instead.

    I think the real issue here is that KRS didn’t get interviewed and he’s mad about that.

  21. O.W. says:

    “The book was poorly researched, and riddled with factual errors which could have been avoided.”

    Just curious but what shortcomings in the research are you talking about?

  22. M.Dot. says:

    In approaching a conflict I allways ask myself, “What do I want to come out of this argument/debate or confrontation with?”

    In listening to KRS, I wonder, specifically 1.) is he more concerned with the perceived FACTUAL ERRORS. or is he hatin’ because HE wants to write. 2.) Is he aware the the dismissiveness in his tone risks undermining the credibility points that he makes about CSWS?

    It came across as if he had an ax to grind.

    Writers a are special species.

    People think it’s cute or just Asian of me to deflect praise sometimes.
    Awwwish. Thats what happens when you are a model minority:)

    For the record.
    This entire discussion
    is nerdy and del.lic.ious.

  23. Brother OMi says:

    i love KRS and I love your book. I big it up all the time. i think the problem is this:

    about ten years ago, the only “hip hop” scholars the colleges and universities could book legitimately was KRS, Chuck D, and Harry Allen. today you have many hip hop heads who go to school and write very well researched books on hip hop. you have several hip hop heads who are now professors who teach wonderful courses on hip hop. So now there are scores of legitimate lecturers on the culture. KRS is not a rare commodity anymore on the lecture circuit.

    he wants to remain relevant.

    he should be honest. it’s all love. there is plenty of props, interviews, and lectures to give around.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Cool blog. What do you all think about hip hop fashion accessories like grillz and pimp cups?

  25. Caddy One says:

    KRS One: Hip Hop’s Leading Light

    For Immediate Release

    February 12, 2008

    Undoubtedly one of the most respected artists in the music industry, KRS One’s 20-year career demonstrates not only longevity, but true and lasting leadership as well. Critical of materialism and immaturity in Hip Hop, KRS One continuously puts his money (and his work) where his mouth is.

    Photo Credit:


    Over the last five months, KRS One has met with influential institutions on behalf of the Hip Hop community to discuss the culture’s public image and urge content providers to instate positive change. Dynamic meetings have occurred with BET’s Senior VP of Music Programming and Talent, Steven Hill as well as Matt Smith of the network’s Rap City program. He has also held meetings with representatives from VH1 and MTV. KRS One also participated in a prestigious panel discussion with FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin and spoke at length with Koch Records President Alan Grunblatt and Jeff Harleston at Geffen Records about the need for the decriminalization of Hip Hop.

    Stop The Violence Movement Recording Project

    While music’s elite schmoozed and boozed for Los Angeles Grammy Week, KRS One focused his energy on curbing violence in American society. A leader among leaders, KRS One focused his influence to confirm vocal contributions from 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Fat Joe, Cassidy, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Lil Mama, Talib Kweli and MC Lyte for a recording project benefiting his newly revitalized Stop the Violence Movement. Building on support from these artists, KRS One locked himself into the Los Angeles Recording School for three days of sessions February 7-9. Nelly, David Banner, The Game, Chamillionaire and 55 other artists joined the legendary artist/activist over the weekend as he produced a historic audio and video recording for the Stop the Violence Movement. KRS One also welcomed cornerstones of the LA underground like 2Mex (Visionaries), Rakaa Iriscience (Dilated Peoples) and Planet Asia, demonstrating a true connection to community through the three days of recording sessions, which also included Raheem DeVaughn. The resulting music project will be distributed through the Stop the Violence Movement to promote peace and non-violent means of conflict resolution. Get your teaser copy on Monday February 18th.

    For KRS One Information & Interviews:

    Morgan Wells

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