EPG & B: Hip-hop Cubano. Photo by Peter Graham for Eli Jacobs-Fauntauzzi's film "Inventos".
Total Chaos Q + A with Jeff Chang
Q: How is Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop different from Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation?
Jeff: Can't Stop Won't Stop was a narrative about the emergence of a generation, those of us who came of age during the late 80s and 90s, after the Baby Boomers. The rise of hip-hop culture is set within the context of the politics of abandonment and the politics of containment. Total Chaos forms a different argument: that hip-hop is one of the most important arts movements of the past two decades.
Q: You say "arts movement". You must mean "musical movement", right?
Jeff: No. I say "arts movement" deliberately. Hip-hop has never been just about rap music. In fact, it has moved far beyond the original "four elements" of MCing, DJing, b-boying/b-girling, and graffiti. Hip-hop has transformed theater, poetry, literature, journalism, performance art, dance, visual arts, photography, graphic design, film, video…the list goes on. Name your genre, and I can probably tell you how hip-hop has changed it. Hip-hop is one of the big ideas of this generation, a grand expression of our collective creative powers.
Q: What is aesthetics and what does it have to do with hip-hop?
Jeff: Aesthetics is just another name for what we think of the art we engage with. When we debate about Ghostface or Lil Wayne, Ciara or Beyoncé, that's aesthetics. In Total Chaos, over fifty artists address questions of what hip-hop arts are, what they are for, what they means, what is good, what isn't, and why these questions are important.
Q: What's the state of critical and scholarly discussions on hip-hop arts?
Jeff: Sometimes arts critics come up with bizarre terms that the artists themselves reject. Who wants to be called an "urban outsider artist"? Even within hip-hop studies, rap dominates the discussion. So Total Chaos represents the spectrum of the movement and centers the voices of hip-hop artists. They discuss what they are doing in their work, talk about their influences and innovations and histories, and debate what it all means.
Q: Is there a consensus about what hip-hop arts are and where it's going?
Jeff: Not at all. The range of issues we take in—including race, gender, sexuality, multiculturalism, globalization, capitalism, not to mention hip-hop's precursors, its past, present and future—seems to require that there be two or three or ten sides to each question. We call and respond, we air it all out, and we often part ways. That's what makes this book—and hip-hop—so much fun.
Q: Isn't hip-hop dead already?
Jeff: That is one of the most heatedly debated issues in Total Chaos. I'm comfortable speaking about hip-hop in the present tense, but hey—you should read the book and decide for yourself.