Total Chaos (Book)

Artist: Book ReviewTitle: Total Chaos (Book)Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Sidik Fofana

There are people out there who are as expert on the subject of Hip-Hop as Bubba, Forrest Gump’s homie, is on shrimp. Jeff Chang is one of them. He serves as the editor of Total Chaos The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop (Basic Civitas Books), an anthology of Hip-Hop writings by today’s foremost authorities which include Greg Tate, Danny Hoch, Eisa Davis, Mark Anthony Neal, and others. The compilation provides commentary on almost every form of Hip-Hop via articles, memoirs, essays, panel discussions and more. Its goal is to contextualize Hip-Hop beyond the elements. On top of that, the book dispels any doubt that Hip-Hop has enough substance to be an academic subject with 363 pages of poignant commentary on the future of a genre in a hectic tug-of-war between the mainstream businesses and the purists.

Just as Bubba can reel off countless different shrimp combinations, so to does Total Chaos encompass many different variations of Hip-Hop. There are writings on hip-hop theatre, b-boy choreography, lit hop, Hip-Hop visual art, homohop, and international Hip-Hop, just to highlight a few. The anthology shines equal spotlight on all of the diverse wavelengths of Hip-Hop’s alternative rainbow. As Jeff Chang states in the introduction,”If there’s one thing this generation embraces, it’s getting messy in all the contradictions.” From the chaos are very helpful documents like Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon’s piece, “Physical Graffiti: The History of Hip-Hop Dance” and Danny Hoch’s manifesto on Hip-Hop theatre, “Toward a Hip-Hop Aesthethic.” Those pieces broaden the definition of Hip-Hop and embrace polyculturalism.

Surprisingly enough, Total Chaos is not a work that bashes the present state of Hip-Hop. In fact, the book’s contributors are generally optimistic about the genre’s future. In an insightful comparison of Hip-Hop to the jazz timeline, Adam Mansbach points out, “If jazz were hip-hop (and it’s a common enough metaphor), it would be roughly 1935, and we˙d be in the middle of the swing era. Charlie Parker would be a teenager in Kansas City, Miles Davis a nine year old in East St. Louis. John Coltrane wouldn’t be jamming with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot for another twenty years.” Another remarkable contribution is “Why ‘Street Lit’ is Literature” by Danyel Smith. The Vibe editor-in-chief effectively discourages the conflict between street fiction and black literary fiction, showing how the two genres not only share commonalities but also make-up for the other’s shortcomings.

A traveling panel on the aesthetics of Hip-Hop facilitated by Jeff Chang himself is scheduled to serve as part Total Chaos’ book tour. Just as Bubba’s enthusiasm with small curstaceans led to a worthwhile enterprise, so too can a healthy discussion lead to the positive fulfillment of this contagious American genre. Total Chaos may favor alternative expressions of Hip-Hop over ones more widely accepted (or co-opted), but it takes going further underground to get to the core.

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