‘Radical Historian’ Jeff Chang Speaking Monday on ‘Hip-Hop and The Colorization of America’

It may seem unlikely, but I’m a hip-hop head. Old school. From the time I can remember listening to anything, rap was there. I didn’t grow up in the inner city, but I didn’t grow up in the suburbs, either. If there was such a thing as the outer city, that’s where I’d be from. But even there, in the outer city of Boston, in my mostly white neighborhood, I got into rap.

Obviously, I don’t say this to make the case that I’m some kind of early rap adopter or that my musical tastes, even as a young child, were extremely overdeveloped (or, underdeveloped, depending on your view), rather I note that to indicate that by 1987, less than a decade after hip-hop’s inception, it had reached me where I was, and taken hold.

Hip-hop is just over 30 years old now, only slightly my elder and that of the millennial generation, but the impact that it has had on the world, and specifically on the United States, is immeasurable. It has reshaped our country’s landscape, revolutionized race relations, redefined popular culture, and, according to Jeff Chang, author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, it has given rise to a new majority.

This and much more will be Chang’s topic when he comes to speak at New Jersey City University on Monday, April 19. As a featured guest in NJCU’s University Lecture Series, Chang will give a lecture entitled “Hip-Hop and The Colorization of America.”

Jeff Chang has been described as a “radical historian,” and this is true, as long as the full meaning is attached to both words. That is, by covering topics most often overlooked by academia, Chang has cut out a niche for himself conducting serious (but not stuffy) academic research in areas traditionally labeled and looked at as simply popular culture. The Chicago Sun-Times called Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop “the best-argued, most-thoroughly researched case for hip-hop as a complete and truly American culture.”

In addition to his work in history, Chang also writes for several magazines, including Vibe, for which he covered the 2008 presidential election and penned the magazine’s cover story on Barack Obama. Additionally, he has written for The New York Times, Mother Jones, and The Nation, and he served as the Senior Editor of 360hiphop.com. On top of all of this, Chang is credited with founding the independent hip-hop label SoleSides (which became Quannum Projects) and launching the careers of several of underground hip-hop’s most influential MCs and DJs.

The NJCU lecture will combine the focus of Chang’s study of hip-hop from Can’t Stop Won’t Stop with the subject of his forthcoming book Who We Be: The Colorization of America, which investigates the change in American culture after the civil rights era.

You can bet I’ll be at this event (and not just because I teach at NJCU). In my hand I’ll hold a notebook and pen to vigorously take notes, and on my feet, of course, will be My Adidas.

a writer and educator living in Jersey City with his wife Stephanie, a painter. He teaches composition at New Jersey City University and works as a Writing Center Specialist at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. He is the managing editor of Patrol.